Archive

December 4th

Shopping Doesn't Have to Be a Drag

    First there was "Black Friday." Then there was "Cyber Monday." The holiday shopping markers plod through the calendar like a procession of Groundhog Days. The big difference is that Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog sometimes offers surprise. Will he see his shadow this year or bite his handler?

    The latest retailing news predictably relates the change in consumers' shopping habits -- the move from bricks-and-mortar stores to online merchants. The convenience of online buying and an aversion to crowds are the usual explanations, and they no doubt play a part.

    But there's another reason for the change in shopping habits. It's the change in selling habits. The mall-ification of America has made shopping a bore.

    From 1970 to 2009, retail space in America grew by 54 percent. Almost all that new square footage went into malls populated by chain stores featuring the same layout, the same signage, the same merchandise made in the same low-wage countries. Once inside a chain outlet, shoppers can't easily tell whether they're in Columbus, Ohio, or Birmingham, Alabama.

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Republicans' new, twisted climate logic

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., published a twisted op-ed over the weekend in The Post arguing that "Obama thinks it's okay to push a power plan that threatens working families for the benefit of, at best, a carbon rounding error." How does he know President Barack Obama's plan will be so insignificant? In part because he and other Republicans are determined to make it ineffective. In other words, Republicans oppose Obama's climate plan because it won't work, and it won't work because Republicans oppose Obama's climate plan.

    Here's the illogic behind McConnell's argument: The amount of carbon dioxide that Obama's Clean Power Plan would remove from the atmosphere is relatively small in the context of global climate change. In isolation, it would do relatively little to prevent dangerous global climate change. Therefore, the GOP Congress will fight it.

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Putin’s Great Syrian Adventure

    When President Vladimir Putin of Russia announced he was setting up an air base in the middle of Syria to take on the Islamic State, also called ISIS, and bolster President Bashar Assad, more than a few analysts and politicians praised his forceful, game-changing, strategic brilliance, suggesting that Putin was crazy like a fox. Some of us thought he was just crazy.

    Well, two months later, let’s do the math: So far, Putin’s Syrian adventure has resulted in a Russian civilian airliner carrying 224 people being blown up, apparently by pro-Islamic State militants in Sinai. Turkey shot down a Russian bomber after it strayed into Turkish territory. And then Syrian rebels killed one of the pilots as he parachuted to earth and one of the Russian marines sent to rescue him. Many of the anti-Assad rebels in that area are ethnic Turkmens, with strong cultural ties to Turkey; Turkey was not amused by Putin bombing Turkmen villages inside Syria, because it weakens Turkey’s ability to shape Syria’s future.

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Political roots of Donald Trump run deep

    Donald Trump is unique. But he's not without antecedents, and it's not hard to locate his performance in some well-worn grooves of American politics.

    Substitute the word "segregation" for "immigration" in Trump's rhetoric, for instance, and it recalls the bitter bite of Alabama's George Wallace, whose presidential campaigns in the 1960s leveraged white backlash more viciously than even Trump dares.

    Yet Trump's no Wallace. His extravagant business success, and public indulgence of luxury and "class," is a long way from Wallace's hardscrabble solidarity with the (white) working man. Often as not, Trump explains in so many words that he'll succeed at a given task because his riches prove he's already a spectacular success. "I'm rich," he reminds his audiences, as an all-purpose validation of incorruptibility or competence, and a sly suggestion that he knows how to hit the big boys where it hurts because he's one of them.

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In 'poisoned environment,' growing our own terrorists

    You bet it was political. Moments after it happened, we were all certain.

    That was in 1995 when Timothy McVeigh’s fertilizer bomb made rubble of the Oklahoma City federal building, killing 168.

    You bet it was political as well last week when a wide-eyed, white-bearded Obama-hater was charged with the deaths of three and the wounding of many, outside a Planned Parenthood clinic lin Colorado Springs.

    You bet. And without question you can credit political discourse that has run so far off course as to be in the craggy ruts and roots where killers like McVeigh and Eric Rudolph would hide.

    You may remember Rudolph, the “pro-life” terrorist who set off bombs at Atlanta’s Olympic Park and at a women’s clinic in Alabama. He is among a growing list of players in a home-grown holy war – physicians slain, clinics firebombed and vandalized.

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Clean energy gathers steam

    As the Paris climate talks begin, the die is already cast: The world is going to move toward cleaner, more sustainable sources of energy. The question for U.S. policymakers is whether the world's biggest economy gets left behind.

    President Obama is trying his best to ensure this doesn't happen. He told the world leaders assembled in Paris that he saw the effects of global warming firsthand on a recent trip to Alaska. He wanted to make clear, he said, "that the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it."

    Obama has set a target of reducing U.S. carbon emissions, over the next decade, to a level at least 26 percent below what they were in 2005. Republicans in Congress -- and on the presidential campaign trail -- vow to do everything they can to sabotage this effort, claiming it will be bad for the economy. But if the naysayers succeed, they will only guarantee that the other great industrial powers, China and Europe, dominate the new energy landscape.

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Anyone But Ted Cruz

    You’re evaluating candidates for an open job in your company, and you come across one who makes a big impression.

    He’s clearly brilliant — maybe smarter than any of the others. He’s a whirlwind of energy. And man oh man, can he give a presentation. On any subject, he’s informed, inflamed, precise.

    But then you talk with people who’ve worked with him at various stages of his career. They dislike him.

    No, scratch that.

    They loathe him.

    They grant him all of the virtues that you’ve observed but tell you that he’s the antithesis of a team player. His thirst for the spotlight is unquenchable. His arrogance is unalloyed. He actually takes pride in being abrasive, as if a person’s tally of detractors measures his fearlessness, not his obnoxiousness.

    Do you hire this applicant?

    No way.

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Poland's disturbing tilt to the right

    Americans have been slow to grasp that Europe's familiar, centrist, European Union-centered political order is endangered. Poland's new government could deliver a wake-up call.

    It's been just two weeks since Beata Szydlo, a mild-mannered parliamentarian from the right-wing Law and Justice party, was sworn in as the country's prime minister. During that time, the administration nominally under her control has installed a new chief of the secret security services who was previously convicted of abuse of power for prosecuting political opponents,replaced five members of the Constitutional Court in order to avoid challenges to that first appointment, and named as defense minister an outspoken anti-Semite.

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Forget FDR's 100 days: Republicans can do it in one

    Starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, it became a tradition to take the measure of a new president by sizing up his first 100 days in office.

    Today, perhaps reflecting our obsession with speed, the candidates for president are proposing a new timetable: one day. To hear the 2016 contenders talk about their plans for their first day in office, you have to wonder what'll be left for Day Two. You also have to wonder if they understand that Congress, and sometimes the courts, get to have a say.

    Donald Trump, for example, says he would seal the borders to keep out illegal immigrants the minute he takes office. Trump also promises to declare China a currency manipulator. That, he says, would force China to the negotiating table. Perhaps, but it would also require the U.S. to begin the process of imposing duties on Chinese goods, a move that could provoke China to retaliate. Voila, a full-blown trade war might dominate Trump's first 100 days, or even his entire presidency.

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Needed: A GOP statement of conscience

    As Donald Trump's behavior on the campaign trail grows ever more outrageous, the time is long overdue for leading Republican establishment figures, past and present, to speak out in unison before their Grand Old Party is irreparably compromised.

    Trump's latest egregious comments and mockery of a New York Times reporter with a physical disability goes beyond the pale even for him. He wasn't satisfied with earlier disparaging the looks of rival presidential candidate Carly Fiorina ("Look at that face! Would anyone vote that?").

    His latest target is a man with severe malfunction of his arms, which Trump for good measure appeared to be mimicking. He also mocked the reporter's employer as "rapidly going down the tubes," even as the Times editorial board continues to pummel him for his bullying.

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