• Don’t Forget: MBS Approved the Preposterous New Khashoggi Story

    Just a quick note. Donald Trump and others have been suggesting that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wasn’t personally responsible for ordering the death of dissident activist Jamal Khashoggi. The odds of this being the case are minuscule, but they aren’t zero. There is a tiny chance that MBS wasn’t involved, and this is what keeps Trump going.

    But it hardly matters anymore. MBS did authorize the public release of the latest explanation of what happened. It’s a plainly preposterous story, and MBS knows it. But he approved it anyway.

    In other words, regardless of his initial personal involvement, he knows that the true story is so appalling that it has to be suppressed at all costs. If that means making his complicity in a coverup obvious to everyone, so be it. It’s worth even that.

  • Three Cheers for Driverless Buses!

    Kevin and Marian are on a weekend getaway, but where are they?Kevin Drum

    I’m on vacation this weekend, but right now I’m sitting around waiting for some photos to upload very sl-o-o-o-w-ly to my ancient tablet.¹ I would buy a new Surface Pro if it were even slightly better than the one I have now—and I’m such a hopeless fan that it wouldn’t take much to talk myself into it—but Microsoft’s latest is a joke. I guess I’ll have to wait for the Surface Pro 7, assuming Microsoft doesn’t kill the whole product line before then.

    Anyway, I was perusing my blog reading list and noticed Atrios once again mocking the concept of self-driving cars. And that’s OK. We all need a hobby, and besides, I’m now confident that advances in the treatment of multiple myeloma will let me to live long enough to see full, no-shit driverless cars for sale in ordinary Chevy showrooms. So I’ll have the last laugh.

    In the meantime, though, I just have one comment: if the software boffins can build driverless cars, they can also build driverless buses, trains, blimps, hyperloops, and hovercraft. It’s just a matter of a little more time.

    ¹It’s one year old.

  • Saudis: Khashoggi Committed Suicide By Cop, Sort Of

    This was four days ago. Today we finally got to hear the new story, which turned out to be laughably preposterous.

    Saudi Arabia has finally caved in and admitted that Jamal Khashoggi died in their consulate in Istanbul. This comes about two weeks after everyone else on the planet already knew it.

    So here’s their new story. I hope I have it right. The Saudis now say that they intended to negotiate a return to Saudi Arabia with Khashoggi, so they sent a 15-man team to meet him at the consulate. Fifteen men! Unfortunately, a fistfight broke out during the negotiations and one of the negotiators accidentally killed Khashoggi.

    It seems odd that a 60-year-old man would pick a fight with 15 guys, doesn’t it? But that’s what happened. At that point, the Saudi team apparently went rogue and decided they had to cover up what happened. Luckily, they had come equipped with a bone saw and a forensic pathologist, so they were able to dismember the body and dispose of it. However, everyone on this rogue team has been arrested now, so the case is closed.

    I’m pretty sure that a six-year-old could come up with a better story if he had two weeks to work on it. But that doesn’t matter. Donald Trump calls it credible and “a good first step.” And who would know better?

  • Friday Cat Blogging – 19 October 2018

    To celebrate my 60th birthday, today’s catblogging features both cats. Exciting!

    Events here unfolded as they usually do. Hopper was up on the table. Hilbert decided that meant he wanted the table, so he jumped up and plonked down. He didn’t really do much of anything after that, but I suppose Hopper is pretty good at mind reading these days, so after a minute or two she vacated the spot. Then, a minute after that, Hilbert jumped down too. Naturally, if Hopper no longer wanted it, then neither did he. Just another day at the preschool.

  • Study Suggests Richer Countries Are More Gender Divergent

    How different are men and women? Not physically, that is, but in terms of personality characteristics. What accounts for those differences? Nature? Nurture? Both?

    Spoiler alert: the answer is “both.” But that’s boring. We want details. If there are variations, what specific kinds of things affect them? Armin Falk and Johannes Hermle decided to take a look at gender differences by country and produced this map:

    That’s kind of interesting, isn’t it? In rich countries, where men and women have much more freedom to act as they please instead of obeying culturally-assigned gender roles, gender preferences are larger than they are in poorer countries.

    There are several possible explanations for this, but first let’s dig a little deeper into the details:

    In every case, people who live in richer countries have stronger gender preferences. Looking at the top row, women have greater altruism, more trust, and higher levels of positive reciprocity (i.e., returning a favor with another favor). Looking at the bottom row, men have greater levels of negative reciprocity (i.e., returning an eye for an eye), more tolerance for risk, and greater patience.

    This is basically it. This is a study showing associations, but that’s all:

    Our findings do not rule out an influence of gender-specific roles that drive gender differences in preferences. They also do not preclude a role for biological or evolutionary determinants of gender differences. Our results highlight, however, that theories not attributing a significant role to the social environment are incomplete….Greater availability of material resources removes the human need of subsistence, and hence provides the scope for attending to gender-specific preferences. A more egalitarian distribution of material and social resources enables women and men to independently express gender-specific preferences.

    In other words, being richer provides more opportunity to act the way you want to, and it turns out that this means men and women are more likely to take on gender-specific roles. However, this study merely notes these differences, it doesn’t try to explain them. This means that you should feel free to offer up any wild-ass guesses you want in comments.

  • Building More Apartments Won’t Reduce the Rent, Says Rent Control Group

    Housing and rent cost too much in big cities. That means we need to get rid of antiquated zoning statutes and build, build, build. But wait:

    The Federal Reserve recently determined that increases in supply won’t automatically reduce rents. New York City’s former planning director said the “more housing” theory didn’t work in practice there. Zillow data show that adding market-rate units only benefits the rich: Though rents have declined slightly for luxury rentals, rents for working people continue to rise.

    This is not coming from some neoliberal shill or NIMBY die-hard. It’s coming from the progressives at the LA Tenants Union. What’s up with that?

    It’s simple: the LATU wants to convince us that more construction isn’t enough. We also need rent control, which means that everyone should vote yes on Proposition 10, an initiative on the November ballot that would repeal a California law limiting rent control.

    That’s good to know, I guess. But when more construction and more rent control also fail to bring down prices, I wonder what we’ll need next?

  • Existing Homes Sales Have Declined For Six Straight Months

    Sales of existing homes have been declining for the past half year:

    The Wall Street Journal has more:

    “Without a doubt there is a clear shift in the market, as evidenced by lower sales and more inventory,” said Lawrence Yun, the trade group’s chief economist. “We’re also seeing soft data in foot traffic. [It] has notably slowed in previously super heated markets.”…Meanwhile, mortgage rates have risen in the past year and appear to be nearing 5%, a threshold analysts say could deter many from purchasing a home. The average interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage in September was 4.63%, up from 4.03% in January, according to Freddie Mac.

    Hum de hum. Just another data point in our strong yet somehow skittish economy.

  • Three Stories for Friday Morning

    Depo Photos/Zuma Press/TNS via ZUMA

    The following three stories are from the front page of one newspaper (the Washington Post) on one day. First up is a report that conservative Republicans are starting up yet another smear campaign:

    Hard-line Republicans and conservative commentators are mounting a whispering campaign against Jamal Khashoggi….privately exchanging articles from right-wing outlets that fuel suspicion of Khashoggi…and raising conspiratorial questions about his work decades ago as an embedded reporter covering Osama bin Laden.

    Donald Trump Jr….Khashoggi was “tooling around Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden” in the 1980s…. Mark Levin…Khashoggi a “longtime friend” of terrorists.

    I’m sure this will soon go mainstream. The point, of course, is that this is a handy way to provide cover for President Trump’s appallingly amoral handling of the Khashoggi affair. There’s no other reason for it.

    Second, the Post reports that Trump is now publicly celebrating the congressman who assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs:

    President Donald Trump on Thursday openly praised Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) for assaulting a reporter in his bid for Congress last year….The remarks from Trump at a campaign rally — staged at an airport hangar here with a mountainous backdrop — drew boisterous cheers from the conservative crowd….“Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of — he’s my guy,” Trump said.

    Just for the record, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs, threw him to the ground, and then punched him—for no reason. He denied doing it until he won the election, then fessed up and pleaded guilty to assault charges.

    Finally, another story profiles the Republican war room that, among other things, ruined Elizabeth Warren’s week:

    It was another trophy for a team of about 60 GOP researchers, bookers and attack dogs who spend their time churning out the ammunition that conservative media and Trump supporters use daily to pummel the president’s foes. The relentless stream of carefully curated — and sometimes misleading — political hits has been throwing Democrats off message for months while steadily stoking the daily fires of conservative outrage that power Trump’s political movement.

    “I understand their weaponry, and frankly I don’t underestimate it at all,” said one aide to a Democrat considering a 2020 campaign, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy. “They are really effective when they want to be. Within an hour, they are all on the same message and they are all pushing it.

    The DNC promises to have a similar operation running next year—when there’s no election. In fairness, though, the DNC’s spokesman makes a good point: this kind of operation is uniquely effective for Republicans because of Fox News, which will uncritically use anything it produces and hammer at it long enough to force it into the mainstream media. Democrats simply don’t have a similar tool at their disposal.

    Anyway, welcome to Friday morning.

  • The Big Lie(s)

    Right off the bat, let’s acknowledge that Donald Trump has kept some of his campaign promises: he pulled out of TPP, the Paris Accord, and the Iran deal; he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; he started up a trade war with China; and he’s nominated lots of conservative judges. There are probably a few other small things too.

    That’s not the worst record in the world for a politician. But Trump keeps claiming that he’s kept lots of other promises too, and an awful lot of people seem to buy it. If you look a little closer, though, “Promises Kept” is yet another Trump lie.

    As Matt Yglesias points out, Trump didn’t just promise to build a wall on the Mexican border. He promised to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. That was a lie, and one that he’s never even tried to make good on.

    Ditto for tax cuts. He didn’t just promise a big corporate tax cut, he promised to raise taxes on the rich. That was another lie.

    Nor did he promise merely to repeal Obamacare, he promised to replace it with something better and cheaper for everyone. Yet another lie.

    He promised to break up big banks. He promised price controls on prescription drugs. He promised to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan. He promised that he was committed to upholding clean air and clean water goals. He promised a $1 trillion infrastructure package. He promised $20 billion toward funding charter schools. He promised bigger tax deductions for childcare and eldercare. He promised new ethics reforms. He promised to introduce a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on Congress. He promised a federal hiring freeze. He promised to label China a currency manipulator. He promised a lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying for foreign governments. He promised to bring manufacturing jobs back.

    Some of these were probably lies that he never intended to follow up on in the first place. Some were things he just forgot about. Some he changed his mind about. And some he tried to implement by, say, writing a few words on Twitter, but never anything more.

    This isn’t just partisan nitpicking. These are all real things that Trump promised and that people voted for. The problem is that no one cares. Republicans don’t care because they got a big tax cut and a lot of conservative judges, and that’s all they really wanted anyway. The press doesn’t care because they figure that all presidents fail on lots of things. And liberals are so inured to Trump lying about everything that it’s hard to care all that much about this stuff.

    But just for the record: He didn’t try to make Mexico pay for a wall. He didn’t propose a health care program that would be great for everyone. He didn’t raise taxes on the rich. He didn’t introduce price controls on prescription drugs. He didn’t propose a $1 trillion infrastructure program. He did nothing on childcare. He did nothing on ethics reform. He did nothing on troop withdrawals.

    Those are all things he promised to the ordinary folks who voted for him. But they were lies. He never seriously intended to follow through on any of them.