Archive

August 1st, 2016

There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Free Market’

    The debates leading up to the election this year will no doubt invoke the “American value” of capitalism. But what, exactly, does that mean? And what should it mean?

    I’m no economist, but I took a few economics courses while earning an undergraduate business degree. Growing up in a capitalist society, I thought I understood the basic concepts underlying capitalism — free markets, competitive advantage, and so forth.

    Then I actually read The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, the founding work that described what we call capitalism in the first place. That was a game changer.

    We’re all probably familiar with Smith’s ideas at some level.

    The market regulates itself, as each of us operates based on our own self-interest. Businesses try to earn profits, and consumers try to meet their needs at the best prices. The market ensures that the demand of consumers is met with supply from business.

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The Democrats' well-deserved WikiLeaks blowback

    Over at the CIA and the National Security Agency headquarters, they must be really enjoying watching Democrats in Philadelphia squirm over WikiLeaks's exposure of tens of thousands of internal Democratic Party emails. There's a word for what is happening in the intelligence community:

    Blowback.

    Throughout the entirety of the Obama administration, nothing was done as WikiLeaks damaged our national security with its serial leaks of highly classified intelligence documents.

    When in 2010 WikiLeaks released more than 76,000 secret intelligence documents in 2010 - exposing "the identities of at least 100 Afghans who were informing on the Taliban, including the names of their villages, family members, the Taliban commanders on whom they were informing, and even GPS coordinates where they could be found," as I wrote in The Post - nothing was done.

    When in 2011 WikiLeaks released a trove of classified documents it dubbed the "Gitmo Files" in 2011 - including secret details about the CIA's enhanced interrogation program - nothing was done.

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Putin, Trump and Our Election

    Some foreign leaders settle for stealing billions of dollars. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, may have wanted to steal something even more valuable: an American presidential election.

    As our election takes a turn that could be drawn from a Cold War spy novel (except it would be too implausible), Putin has an obvious favorite in the race: Donald Trump.

    “It’s crystal clear to me” that Putin favors Trump, says Michael McFaul, a Stanford professor who was ambassador to Russia until 2014. “If I were Putin, I would rather deal with Trump, too, given the things he has said about foreign policy.”

    Look, Democratic Party leaders exchanged inappropriate emails showing bias for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, and a hacker’s disclosure has properly triggered a ruckus. But that scandal pales beside an effort apparently by a foreign dictatorship to disrupt an American presidential election.

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Populism Even Republicans Can Get Behind

    What if organizers and volunteers joined forces to run a nationwide campaign to replace today’s corporate-owned congress — all at once?

    Yes, one sweeping campaign against all incumbents of either party who owe their jobs to Big Money.

    A new campaign called Brand New Congress is trying to do just that, aiming to oust those congress critters with hundreds of coordinated campaigns running simultaneously in every state. They’ll back local candidates publicly pledged to fight for an agenda of economic, social, environmental, and political justice.

    Sound impossible? Not in the minds of the plan’s architects, which include several of the former Bernie Sanders staffers who conceived and implemented the Vermont senator’s successful grassroots campaigns.

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Philadelphia challenges a conservative myth

    My hotel room in Philadelphia features a magnificent view of City Hall. Each day, I've stood at the window and marveled over it; on Tuesday I made a visit. Constructed over the last three decades of the 19th century, the building is larger than the U.S. Capitol. The Washington Monument is only seven feet taller. City Hall's 700 rooms are constructed of 88 million bricks covered in granite and marble. Some walls are 25 feet thick.

    And ooh-la-la is it ornate. The City Hall website refers to its design as "High Victorian Picturesque Eclecticism," though it's more commonly called French Second Empire. The most exquisite rooms feature gold leaf on the ceilings, marble columns, mosaic tile. Inside and out, there are more than 250 relief and free-standing sculptures. And, of course, the whole enterprise is topped by the statue of William Penn, who still commands the skyline of the city he lovingly designed.

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Media Has History Of Inventing Hillary 'Scandals'

    It's always been my conviction that if Hillary Clinton could be appointed president, she'd do a bang-up job. Getting elected, however, might prove more difficult. Michelle Goldberg does an excellent job defining the problem in a Slate article about why so many people say they hate her.

    "There's a reason actors do screen tests," Goldberg writes. "Not everyone's charm translates to film and video. For as long as Hillary Clinton has been in public life, people who've met in her person have marveled at how much more likable she is in the flesh than she is on television."

    As a friendly acquaintance since 1980, I'd second that. My wife, who worked with her on the board of Arkansas Children's Hospital, will hear nothing against her. We recently read a Facebook posting from a friend in Eureka Springs. Neither a big shot nor a political activist, she was profoundly touched that after her husband died in a bicycle crash, one of her first callers was New York's newly elected senator. Hillary had left Arkansas for good, but not its people.

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It's Clinton's world, and Sanders lives in it

    Psychology is a powerful force in politics. Voters who believe in Donald Trump's vow to "make America great again" have a vision of themselves, and what they are owed, by whom and what for, that is distinct from the supporters of other candidates.

    The division between Hillary Clinton supporters and Bernie Sanders supporters is also partly psychological. Issues matter greatly. The minimum wage, global trade, military adventurism and the health-care system were all animating forces behind Sanders's candidacy. The pressure the Vermont senator brought on Clinton pushed her to adopt different positions from what she would have absent his potent challenge.

    But Sanders people are also just different from Clinton people in a profound way. I'm about to make a broad generalization, so supply your own caveats. But, in general, Bernie's people approach the world as outsiders looking in, Clinton people as insiders working a room. That has consequences.

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Incandescent With Rage

    No one need ask me anymore about how to heal the racial divide in America. No one need inquire about the path forward beyond racial strife. You will not be put at ease by my response.

    James Baldwin once said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all the time.” Well, I am now incandescent with rage and at my wits’ end about how to responsibly aim it and morally marshal it.

    I am at the screaming place.

    Following three acquittals of officers in the death of Freddie Gray — which was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner! — Baltimore prosecutors on Wednesday dropped all remaining charges against the other officers awaiting trial.

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Hillary on the March

    Now, everybody wears the pants in the family.

    While the Democrats have been celebrating the nomination of Hillary Clinton, I’ve been thinking about all the American women, from the 1600s through World War II, who got arrested for wearing trousers in public. You’d like to imagine them out there somewhere watching those Clinton pantsuits, exchanging high-fives. Ditto all the women who supported the deeply uncomfortable bloomer movement, in the name of a feminist future.

    The idea of the first-woman-major-party-nominee is a political event, but it’s also a historical marker. Once everyone leaves here and goes home, we probably won’t have much chance to talk about that angle. Really, there’s going to be a lot of other stuff on the agenda. The Democrats hadn’t even gotten to Clinton’s acceptance speech before everyone was distracted by Donald Trump encouraging the Russians to spy on his opponent.

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Globalization: Restrained, or reshaped

    Well, the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia hasn't exactly opened with the show of unity organizers hoped for, as some of Bernie Sanders's delegates loudly expressed disappointment with both the primary process and nominee Hillary Clinton.

    With that backdrop, allow me to offer what might, given the rocky start in Philly (and Philly is, of course, where Rocky got started), seem an unlikely forecast: By the end of the DNC, the underlying differences between the two parties' political and policy approach to this current, anxious moment will be bracingly clear. Differences like divisive versus inclusive, "you're on your own" versus we're in this together, government's the problem versus government must offer solutions, vagaries versus specifics, bombast versus planning and finally, restraining globalization versus reshaping globalization.

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