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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.

Trump deserves credit for sticking by Kavanaugh

By ruben navarrette jr.
Trump deserves credit for sticking by Kavanaugh

RUBEN NAVARRETTE COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Navarrette clients only)

By RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.

SAN DIEGO -- Americans have long lived as part of different tribes. Now we live on entirely different planets.

Half the country can't stand the other half. With liberals cornering the market on compassion and conservatives having a monopoly on patriotism, everyone thinks they're superior to everyone else.

We all have to do our part to heal the breach. One way to do that is to examine issues from the opposing perspective, and to look for the positive even in those cases when all you see initially is negative. It's also not a bad idea to get out of attack mode now and then, and acknowledge when the other side does something that is good and helpful.

I'm a Never Trump'er who thinks the president has hurt America more than he has helped it. I'm also someone who would welcome impeachment if Democrats take the House of Representatives. Even so, I get tired of seeing those in my camp look down their noses at President Trump and insult his voters as dumb, dangerous or -- to borrow a word -- deplorable. Many critics are so blinded by their outright hatred and contempt for Trump that they can't even imagine praising him when he's on the right track, pursues the right policy or displays the right instinct.

In that spirit, here's my humble contribution to fixing America's broken dialogue.

Each week, I resolve to find one positive trait that Trump exhibits. I'll start with something that can be rare in Washington these days: loyalty.

Hold the snickers. I realize this has not been one of Trump's strong suits. Witness his shabby treatment of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.

Still, if you're not an employee but simply a nominee, perhaps you'll enjoy more loyalty.

Trump should be commended for standing by Brett Kavanaugh, through slings and arrows, until the embattled Supreme Court nominee took his seat.

During the White House swearing-in ceremony on Oct. 8, Trump patted himself on the back.

"Those who step forward to serve our country deserve a fair and dignified evaluation, not a campaign of political and personal destruction based on lies and deception," he said. "What happened to the Kavanaugh family violates every notion of fairness, decency and due process. In our country, a man or woman must always be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty."

Kavanaugh responded by showing his gratitude to Trump for not cutting him loose as a political liability.

"Mr. President, thank you for the great honor of appointing me to serve as a Justice of the Supreme Court. I've seen firsthand your deep appreciation for the vital role of the American judiciary. I am grateful for your steadfast, unwavering support throughout this process. And I'm grateful to you and Mrs. Trump for the exceptional, overwhelming courtesy you have extended to my family and me. Mr. President, thank you for everything."

Trump gets praise from many Americans for keeping promises and talking straight because most politicians aren't known to do either of those things. Likewise, it serves him well that he displays loyalty now and then -- because many presidents aren't known for leveraging capital and sticking their necks out for someone else. Sadly, that's true even if it was the politician who tossed that person into the lion's den to begin with.

Bill Clinton wasn't loyal to Lani Guinier, his old law school friend who he nominated to head up the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. When Republicans attacked her as a "quota queen" over her support for affirmative action, Clinton bailed.

George W. Bush wasn't loyal to Alberto Gonzales. When Democrats accused the attorney general of politicizing the firing of U.S. Attorneys -- a trend that emanated from the White House -- Gonzales was the scapegoat. He resigned, and Bush didn't stop him.

Barack Obama wasn't loyal to Thomas Saenz, the Yale-educated civil rights lawyer who made a name for himself litigating cases of the Los Angeles office of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund. When Obama offered Saenz the chance to head the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, anti-immigrant groups began a smear campaign. Obama rescinded the offer.

So here comes Trump. When the Left threw everything at Kavanaugh -- the kitchen sink and every other appliance -- the president didn't flinch. He stood by his guy.

That counts for a lot. And Trump deserves credit for it -- no matter what planet you live on.

Ruben Navarrette's email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, "Navarrette Nation," is available through every podcast app.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

A brooding crown prince searches for a scapegoat

By david ignatius
A brooding crown prince searches for a scapegoat

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

By DAVID IGNATIUS

WASHINGTON -- Inside his royal place in Riyadh, Mohammed bin Salman is said to have alternated between dark brooding and rampaging anger in the days after the death of Jamal Khashoggi, as the crown prince looked for someone to blame for what Turkish officials have said was a grisly murder.

One possible scapegoat, according to several sources, may be Major Gen. Ahmed al-Asiri, deputy chief of Saudi intelligence. Asiri "has made numerous approaches to MBS on taking actions against Khashoggi and others," said one source who's familiar with Western intelligence reports.

The U.S. government learned last month that Asiri was planning to create a "tiger team" to conduct covert special operations, I'm told, although the U.S. didn't know the targets. U.S. intelligence also learned, but only after Khashoggi's disappearance from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, that the crown prince had told his subordinates this summer that he wanted Khashoggi and other Saudi dissidents brought back home.

The swirling reports and recriminations surfaced as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the kingdom Tuesday and urged King Salman and his son to conduct a "transparent" investigation of the disappearance of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist. But such efforts will face rising skepticism in the U.S. Congress, epitomized by the blast Tuesday from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that MBS "had this guy murdered."

Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and adviser, urged MBS last weekend to organize an investigation that could identify the culprit responsible for Khashoggi's death, two sources told me. The next day, Trump said he thought "rogue killers" may have been responsible, seemingly telegraphing a fall-guy strategy.

The Khashoggi case isn't the first time that the palace allegedly attempted to kidnap a critic. After one prominent Saudi criticized aspects of the crown prince's plan to privatize Saudi Aramco in a meeting abroad with potential foreign investors, a Saudi plane arrived along with an official who allegedly tried to arrest the man as a terrorist. He escaped, but the message was clear: Challenging MBS was risky.

The darkening mood inside MBS' palace in recent months shows a crown prince facing economic pressure and tightening his circle of advisers.

MBS' key counselor is said to have been Saud al-Qahtani, his media adviser but increasingly also his consigliere in the kingdom's battles with foreign adversaries such as Qatar and Iran as well as domestic critics. Qahtani is young and headstrong, like his boss.

Qahtani organized interviews with MBS for visiting foreign journalists. But sources say he was quietly assuming a larger role overseeing strategy in social media, which the Saudis (like the Russians) view as a domain of war.

Qahtani is a demon in Saudi Twitter debates, with 1.3 million followers and barbed messages to dissenters. He has created a hashtag with the Arabic term for "Black List," and he urges Saudis to report enemies of the kingdom on social media, Qahtani and other advisers have helped MBS use the latest and most aggressive hacking techniques against adversaries.

MBS' tight inner circle has helped him push modernization efforts, such as reducing the power of the religious police, allowing women to drive, and opening movie theaters and other public entertainment. But his team of palace advisers has often amplified, rather than challenged, MBS' worst impulses.

This breakdown was evident immediately after Khashoggi's disappearance, when official Saudi statements were all happy talk. Behind the scenes, says one knowledgeable source, "MBS went into a funk for several days after learning of Khashoggi's death before re-emerging on a rampage of anger around what happened and trying to figure out a response."

Adding to MBS' anxiety in the weeks before Khashoggi's disappearance was the erosion of his big plans to boost the Saudi economy. In August, the kingdom delayed indefinitely its plans for the Aramco privatization, which MBS had hoped would raise more than $100 billion. That same month, plans for a big investment in Tesla cratered. An investment deal with the Japanese company Softbank also hit a snag.

Surrounded by yes-men who saw suppressing dissent as part of a media war, and rattled by the reversal of his dreams for economic reform, MBS moved toward the fateful moment when Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. When the brave journalist opened the door, he began a catastrophic process that has now put MBS' own future in question. Putting a lid on a murder investigation won't be easy, even for a brashly confident prince.

David Ignatius' email address is davidignatius@washpost.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

23andMeToo

By kathleen parker
23andMeToo

KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Parker clients only)

WRITETHRU: Fixing spelling of Carlos Bustamante's name in 8th graf, 1st and 2nd sentences.

By KATHLEEN PARKER

WASHINGTON -- Now that the DNA is out of the bag, Sen. Elizabeth Warren can put her Native American heritage down for a nap -- maybe.

After two and a half years of being mocked by Donald Trump as "Pocahontas," referring to the Massachusetts Democrat's claim that she's part American Indian, Warren had her DNA tested. The results released Monday showed "strong evidence" that she is, indeed, a little bit Native American, possibly going back six to 10 generations -- somewhere between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Indian.

She had to do it. As long as Trump breathed, Warren would be viewed by many as the caricature he had drawn. If Trump knows anything, it's branding -- and he had painted a big P (not for president) in the middle of Warren's forehead. His reaction upon hearing the news? "Who cares?"

Indeed. But, of course, Trump did care and loved the Pocahontas moniker so much that he couldn't stop using it -- over and over and over. Others also cared because Warren had listed herself as a minority in an Association of American Law Schools directory.

The senator also once recounted her aunt's common refrain that Warren's grandfather "had high cheekbones like all of the Indians do."

There's nothing sinister about repeating family lore that there might be Native American blood in the lineage going way back. And, until recently, there was virtually no way to prove or disprove it.

I heard similar tales growing up about my own family's possible Native American roots. And as a child, I wanted -- deeply -- to be an "Indian princess," and always played on the Indian side when the neighborhood cowboys invaded our territory. As far as I was concerned, the plainly Irish Connor clan (my maiden name) composed an entire Illinois tribe. In fact, at a family reunion in Newton, Illinois, we once traipsed a mile into the woods to view a family burial ground that included stone markers thought to belong to Native Americans. Thus, I'd always sympathized with Warren's story and how she grew up believing she was part Indian.

To find out if her story was true, Warren enlisted the help of a Stanford University genetics professor, Carlos Bustamante, whose DNA testing "strongly" supported that Warren is Native American. And, proud of it, according to a video released by her campaign, in which Warren is shown talking by phone to Bustamante and saying, "The president likes to call my mom a liar. What do the facts say?"

I don't know Cherokee for "Oy," but consider it said.

Meanwhile, what is all this business about pride in one's genetic heritage, especially at the minuscule percentages under discussion? At what point does one get to brag about his or her ancestry? Outward pride in a faint, distant heritage does carry a whiff of confiscatory entitlement. Or, perhaps, a type of territorial one-upsmanship, as in: "My family was here before your family."

Native American leaders didn't exactly embrace Warren's announcement. "A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship," said Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. in a statement. "Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage."

Poor Warren. All she wanted to do was defend her mother's honor and she has only gone and made things worse. It seems she has no one with whom to celebrate her proud heritage.

Ahem. As it turns out, I'm not busy, and, I, too, am part Native American, according to the genetic-testing company 23andme -- a whopping 1 percent. I'm also part Viking, as well as Neanderthal, but probably so are you.

Which is to say, this is all fun and interesting -- and also ridiculous. "What's your sign?" may soon morph into "What's your DNA?" It will be nice if someday we no longer find it necessary to segregate ourselves according to our long-ago lineage. We are, after all, descended from the same original source, and our differences, while interesting, are largely inconsequential.

You'd never know it by our politics, which daily vacillate between the surreal and the absurd. In that vein, it's hard to imagine what could top a celebrity game-show president causing a brilliant, scholarly woman to test her DNA so that he would stop teasing her and she could run for president.

I've got an idea: Kathleen Parker for president on the Viking ticket.

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Democrats' smear of Kavanaugh sunk their own Senate chances

By marc a. thiessen
Democrats' smear of Kavanaugh sunk their own Senate chances

MARC A. THIESSEN COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Thiessen clients only)

By MARC A. THIESSEN

WASHINGTON -- Just a few weeks ago, analysts thought that control of the U.S. Senate was in play this November and that momentum was shifting to the Democrats. Thanks to their brutal campaign of character assassination against now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh, those chances appear to be slipping away.

Case in point is Tennessee, where Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn was struggling in her Senate race against popular former Democratic governor Phil Bredesen. In mid-September -- after the first Kavanaugh confirmation hearings -- a CNN poll showed Blackburn trailing by five points (in a state Donald Trump won by 26 points). But as the ferocity of the attacks on Kavanaugh grew, so did Blackburn's poll numbers. By early October -- after Christine Blasey Ford testified and Kavanaugh was accused of exposing himself to a college classmate and participating in high school gang rapes -- a CBS News poll showed that Blackburn had pulled ahead by eight points. And last week, after Kavanaugh was finally confirmed amid scenes of angry protesters banging on the doors of the Supreme Court, a New York Times poll showed Blackburn leading by 14 points. That is a shift of 19 points in one month.

In other words, the Democrats' smear campaign of uncorroborated sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh has united Tennessee Republicans behind Blackburn and poured cold water on Democrats' chances in the Volunteer State. And rightly so. It probably didn't help with Tennessee voters that Democrats excoriated Kavanaugh for his high school drinking and for inside jokes in his high school yearbook -- as if being a beer-drinking jock was some sort of crime. Worse, Kavanaugh was publicly branded a sex offender for accusations decades old and uncorroborated by any witnesses or evidence. A man's good name was being destroyed. The treatment of Kavanaugh wasn't fair, just or right. And it backfired. Politico reports that retiring Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., that Democrats' attacks on Kavanaugh hurt Bredesen badly. Bredesen clearly saw the impact the Kavanaugh fiasco was having on his support among Republican voters he needed to win, because he tried to cauterize the bleeding by coming out at the last moment in support of Kavanaugh's confirmation.

But while his endorsement did not mollify angry Republicans, it enraged many of his Democratic supporters. The super PAC Priorities USA said it would not support Bredesen, while MoveOn announced, "We're cancelling a planned six-figure digital video ad expenditure for Phil Bredesen in Tennessee due to his Kavanaugh position." Campaign volunteers have reportedly been bolting from his campaign.

The Kavanaugh fiasco crystallized the stakes for Tennessee Republicans, reminding them while they may like Bredesen, a vote for the Democrat is a vote to make Schumer majority leader. A Democratic takeover would be a game-changer, giving Schumer the power to block any more Trump Supreme Court nominees and put a halt to the president's transformation of the federal appeals courts. In the wake of the Kavanaugh fiasco, 58 percent of Tennessee voters say they want Republicans running the Senate. So, Democrats may have blown a chance to pick up a seat in a deep-red state thanks to the blowback over their efforts to destroy Kavanaugh. As Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., so poignantly told Senate Democrats at the Kavanaugh hearing, "Boy, y'all want power. God, I hope you never get it. I hope the American people can see through this sham." It appears that the American people have.

With Tennessee slipping out of their grasp, the Democrats' chances of a Senate takeover are slipping as well. Among vulnerable Democrats, it looks as if Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., is a goner. After the Kavanaugh hearings, her Republican opponent's lead expanded from four to 12 points. If she goes down, Democrats will need to pick up three GOP-held seats to win the majority. That does not appear to be happening, as races have shifted toward Republicans in Texas, Nevada and Arizona -- the states other than Tennessee where Democrats have pinned their hopes for flipping GOP-held seats.

There are three weeks before Election Day, so a lot could still happen. But if Democrats fail to take the Senate, they can thank their horrific treatment of Kavanaugh for what would amount to a double defeat -- securing a conservative majority not only on the Supreme Court but in the Senate as well. If so, they richly deserve it. And hopefully they learn the right lesson: When you drag your party and your country down into the depths of political depravity, Americans will not reward you at the polls.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

Here's a reality check: The odds of your child getting a full ride to college are pretty low.

By michelle singletary
Here's a reality check: The odds of your child getting a full ride to college are pretty low.

THE COLOR OF MONEY COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Singletary clients only)

By MICHELLE SINGLETARY

WASHINGTON -- As the deadlines for early college admission get closer, many parents dream of big scholarships for their star athletes or academically gifted students.

They argue that they didn't need to save. Instead, they shuttled -- or dragged -- their children to sports practices, hoping all that time on courts or fields would pay off in big money for college. Or they banked on their children getting merit-based financial aid because of their superior grades.

But when they finally get the financial-aid packages after the joy of the acceptance letters, many will be shocked into reality -- or debt.

Only 0.2 percent of students got $25,000 or more in scholarships per year based on the 2015-16 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), the most recent data available, according to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research for savingforcollege.com.

In analyzing the scholarship figures, Kantrowitz notes that a total of $6.1 billion in scholarships were awarded to 1.58 million recipients. That's 8.1 percent of students and an average of $3,852 per recipient. If you limit the data to students who are enrolled in bachelor's degree programs, the figures are 12.7 percent (1 in 8 students) and $4,202 per recipient.

The odds are not in your child's favor to get enough money for college that you can afford (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) to save.

My eldest child was in the top 5 percent of her high school class and was an AP scholar, a status awarded by the College Board to students who receive scores of 3 or higher on three or more AP exams. We were through the roof with happiness when she got a $20,000 presidential scholarship from the University of Maryland. However, divided over four years, it was $2,500 a semester. We had to make up the difference of about $60,000 with our savings and investment returns built up over 18 years in a 529 plan.

"Parents have a tendency to overestimate eligibility for merit-based aid and underestimate eligibility for need-based aid," Kantrowitz said. "I often hear from parents who think their child will get a free ride because they are their high school valedictorian or salutatorian. But there are more than 80,000 valedictorians and salutatorians each year, so that doesn't really distinguish them from other students. Thousands of students get perfect SAT or ACT test scores. With rampant grade inflation, hundreds of thousands of students get a 4.0 GPA each year."

Looking deeper into the data, here's what Kantrowitz says is the reality when you combine scholarships with need-based grants.

-- 1.5 percent of students in bachelor's degree programs got enough scholarships and grants to cover 100 percent of the cost of attendance.

-- 2.7 percent got enough to cover 90 percent of the cost of attendance.

-- 5.9 percent got enough to cover 75 percent of the cost of attendance

-- 18.8 percent received enough to cover 50 percent of the cost of attendance.

Still dreaming you child will slam dunk an athletic scholarship?

Only 2.3 percent of students in bachelor's degree programs received athletic scholarships, with an average of $11,914 each based on the 2015-16 figures.

Of course, some will get more, others less. The point is that being athletically gifted doesn't guarantee a full ride. Even with a pretty substantial partial scholarship, many families are left with a deficit -- especially for student-athletes who attend more expensive colleges, Kantrowitz said.

So this is yet another reminder to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form (FAFSA). Whether your child will be applying for early admission to college or is a returning student, complete the form sooner rather than later. With limited funds, schools often hand out scholarships on a first-come, first-served basis. Even if you're a high-income family, fill out the FAFSA.

If you've got some years to go before your child is ready for college, save all that you can, preferably in a 529 college-savings plan. Under a 529, earnings are not subject to federal tax -- and generally state tax -- if they are used for qualified education expenses such as tuition and fees.

OK, so now you know. This doesn't mean your child shouldn't be aggressive in applying for scholarships. And fall is the time to do it. In fact, November is National Scholarship Month, which is sponsored by the National Scholarship Providers Association.

When it comes to counting on scholarships, aim high. But prepare for the possibility that the amount will be lower than you expect -- and much less than you need to pay for college.

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Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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

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