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Limo ride and White House tea: when tradition tops partisanship

By Margaret Talev
Limo ride and White House tea: when tradition tops partisanship
Workers adjust an American flag at the U.S. Capitol building during rehearsal for the 2017 Inaugural Ceremonies in Washington on Jan. 15, 2017. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer.

Three days from now, Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, will arrive at the White House for morning tea with President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. Upstairs, in the residence, movers will rush around, simultaneously packing up the outgoing family's last belongings as they unload those of the Trumps.

By lunchtime, Obama will have handed over the reins of the world's most powerful nation to a man who vowed to tear down his biggest achievements and who defeated Obama's chosen successor. A military aide with a briefcase holding the U.S. nuclear launch codes will stop trailing Obama and leave the U.S. Capitol in Trump's entourage.

After a rancorous campaign that blew away precedent, an election result that shocked the political establishment and a transition by Twitter that upended convention, the unorthodox will be overtaken -- at least for a few hours -- by tradition.

The inauguration is "one of those great turning points" in the nation's political consciousness, historian William Seale said. "Everything was going along one way and suddenly there's a turnaround, and he won. A stop and a change. A re-evaluation."

Trump's swearing-in will be "the moment on the head of a pin," he said.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the day will be the limousine ride that Obama and Trump will share on the ride to the Capitol past thousands of onlookers. It promises to be especially awkward: Trump, the real estate magnate and reality-TV star who never held political office, spent years stoking false doubts about Obama's legitimacy to hold office. Obama spent months telling voters that Trump was uniquely unqualified to be president, declaring that it would be a personal insult were he elected.

"His instruction to me was, 'The campaign is over, I am now president for all the people,"' Tom Barrack, the chairman of Trump's inaugural committee, said at Trump Tower this week. Barrack, the chairman of Colony Capital said that the Republican wants to "heal the wounds" of the election, to reach out to Americans with questions and doubts and "build a bridge and tie them back in."

Some Democratic members of Congress, including African-American civil rights icon John Lewis, have said they are boycotting the ceremony. In a Twitter post Saturday, Trump criticized Lewis, who suffered a cracked skull while fighting for voting rights in the 1960s, as "all talk," a day after the Georgia congressman said he doesn't consider him "a legitimate president."

"Obviously we'd love for every member of Congress to attend," Trump transition spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday, "but if they don't, that's some great seats that other folks can hopefully partake in."

Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that "People are pouring into Washington," adding "Bikers for Trump are on their way. It will be a great."

Law enforcement officials expect between 700,000 and 900,000 people to attend inauguration events, about half the 1.8 million the Washington D.C. local government estimated were at Obama's first inauguration. About 100 different organizations are planning demonstrations either for or against Trump, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said.

Much of downtown Washington will be closed to traffic to maintain tight security for the occasion. At recent inaugurations, dump trucks and buses have blocked streets just inside the perimeter to protect against truck bombs. About 28,000 personnel will be dedicated to security, from agencies including DHS, the FBI, U.S. Capitol Police, U.S. Park Police and local law enforcement, Johnson said.

In a nod to the heavily rural constituency that helped propel him to the presidency, country singers Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood will be featured performers along with military bands at a "Make America Great Again!" event on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial the evening before the inauguration, the inaugural committee announced. Trump will address the crowd at the concert.

The inauguration itself will reflect Trump's background in reality television. Jackie Evancho, a teenager featured on "America's Got Talent" is to sing the national anthem.

Trump is seeking a "delicate balance between abiding by tradition" and leaving "his own fingerprint on a fresh canvas," Barrack said, but added, "Mostly he's abiding by tradition especially in the swearing-in ceremony."

That tradition includes having the chief justice of the U.S., John Roberts Jr., administering the oath of office to Trump; Vice President-elect Mike Pence has chosen Justice Clarence Thomas for his swearing-in.

Trump will parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, past a flashy new hotel that bears his name, back to the White House, to rest up and get changed for the evening's inaugural balls. He may use his presidential authority to issue executive actions even before the night-time balls -- as Obama did eight years ago.

Trump plans to issue some executive orders on inauguration day and may swear in some of his Cabinet members, Spicer told reporters Tuesday. But the incoming president will wait until Monday, the first full business day of his presidency, for "a big flurry of activity."

When Obama was inaugurated, he and first lady Michelle Obama stepped out of the armored presidential limousine and walked a stretch of the parade route. Trump's team hasn't said yet whether he will do the same.

The is always the potential for drama. Since the early days of the republic, the transfer of power often has been an awkward hand-off. President Dwight Eisenhower thought President John Kennedy too young and inexperienced for the job, and Kennedy's wife Jackie hated that the Eisenhowers let them know it. Rosalynn Carter and Nancy Reagan didn't talk in the motorcade limo they shared on Inauguration Day.

While most of focus will be on the Trumps' arrival, the Obamas will have their own emotional experience, said Kate Andersen Brower, a former Bloomberg News reporter and author of "First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies."

On their last morning at the White House, the outgoing first family traditionally gathers the residence staff, about 100 people, in the State Dining Room to say goodbye. The staff present the family with a gift. By tradition, staff carpenters handcraft a box to hold two American flags, the one flown over the White House on the day the president was inaugurated and the one flying on his last day in office.

After the swearing-in ceremony, the Obamas will lift off from the Capitol grounds one last time in the presidential helicopter, heading for Joint Base Andrews.

At Andrews, he'll board a presidential aircraft, though it will no longer carry the designation Air Force One. The commander-in-chief won't be aboard.


Bloomberg's Chris Strohm contributed.

As pot prices plunge, growers scramble to cut production costs

By Jack Kaskey
As pot prices plunge, growers scramble to cut production costs
Brian Lade, president of Smokey Point Productions, stands for a portrait at the company's facility in Arlington, Washington on anuary 12, 2017. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by David Ryder.

The increasing supply of legal marijuana is turning into a major buzz kill for growers as prices plunge -- and an opportunity for companies that can help cut production costs.

Prices are tumbling as formerly illicit cultivators emerge from the shadows to invest millions of dollars in massive pot factories. In Colorado, the average price sought by wholesalers has fallen 48 percent to about $1,300 a pound since legal sales to all adults started in January 2014, according to Cannabase, operator of the state's largest market. Supply is surging as growers expand and install the latest agricultural technology.

"Anybody that is investing in this sector or starting a business in this sector needs to be doing so with the understanding that the price of cannabis is going to drop precipitously," said Troy Dayton, chief executive officer of Oakland, California-based Arcview Group, a marijuana investor consortium. "The agricultural technology space is already booming, and now they get to lay their hands on the cannabis industry."

The focus on efficiency can cut production costs for some indoor growers to less than $300 a pound from more than $1,000, said J. Chandler, vice president at Cultivation Technologies in Boulder, Colorado. His company sells machinery originally developed for tomato greenhouses, such as automated feeding and watering systems from Israel's Netafim Ltd. and France's Dosatron International.

"If you want to compete on a price game, you have to use versions of our technology to do it," Chandler said. "Everybody is putting in irrigation systems, so that's good for us."

Cultivation Technologies also sells high-efficiency lights from Canada's PL Light Systems, which compete with Gavita, a Dutch company purchased this year by Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. Scotts has been on a buying frenzy over the past two years, gobbling up leading companies that provide specialty fertilizers, lighting and other supplies for hydroponics, the indoor method of growing crops favored by U.S. cannabis cultivators.

Retail prices also are dropping, though not as fast as in the wholesale market. Marijuana shops in Colorado collected an average $6.61 per gram in November, down 25 percent from the first quarter of 2014, according to BDS Analytics, a research firm.

The regulated market in North America could triple to more than $20 billion in five years, from $6.7 billion last year, after California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada legalized adult recreational pot use in November, according to Arcview.

One caveat surrounding the booming cannabis industry is President-elect Donald Trump's choice for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, an ardent marijuana foe. But it remains to be seen if Trump or the Republican-controlled Congress will attempt to challenge the states that have legalized the drug.

While more than half of U.S. states permit medical use, transporting cannabis across state lines remains a federal crime, making each state a market unto itself. That means growers in cloudy coastal Oregon or frigid Maine must use technology to create the warm, sunny conditions favored by pot plants, and they need to do it as efficiently as possible.

Seeking Sunlight

Decades of prohibition necessitated growing marijuana in clandestine basements, warehouses and garages, making growers comfortable with indoor production, said Leif Olsen, managing partner at Denver-based Good to Great Consulting. But with legalization comes an increasing need to compete on cost, and that will eventually shift the industry to efficient greenhouse production, he said.

"Growing inside is definitely an antiquated concept," Olsen said. "It's coming out of hiding."

A hybrid greenhouse featuring insulated walls and a glass ceiling may consume less than half the energy of a warehouse, said Brandy Keen, vice president at Boulder-based Surna Inc. And a well designed climate-control system can cut energy needs while also providing pure water for plants with reclaimed condensate, she said.

The drive toward efficiency isn't cheap. Brian Lade, owner of Smokey Point Productions in Arlington, Washington, started growing marijuana in a garage at age 17. He endured police raids and a few days in jail before the laws changed. Now he's raised $25 million to expand his 15,000-square-foot warehouse operation to 135,000 square feet (12,500 square meters).

That's enough space to pump out 1,700 pounds of buds monthly from dozens of custom-bred strains such as Dirty Girl and Cinderella's Dream, up from 100 pounds (45 kilograms). He also can process 2,200 pounds of purchased marijuana into cannabis oil and other concentrates for vaping.

While Lade increased production by 16 times, his employee count is up only four-fold, to 100, thanks to economies of scale and automation, he said. A machine mixes soil ingredients, pours the dirt into containers and then digs holes for young plants. A conveyor belt carries the container to an employee who does the delicate job of planting. Rather than relying on people to trim away leaves and stems from harvested pot, he's trying out machines that automate the job.

"If you want to provide cannabis to your people, you've got to adapt or die," said Lade, 40. "We are basically just going way bigger and then adding efficiencies like the machines and computer software."

Energy-efficient Gavita lighting is installed in his old and new facilities. Computerized plumbing delivers custom-mixed nutrients to the plants. A climate-control system supplied by Surna not only maintains ideal pot-growing temperatures and humidity levels, but also helps eliminate mold problems, Lade said.

A hospital-clean environment with employees wearing uniforms washed on premises cuts down on plant pests.

"The cleaner you can be, the less chemicals you have to use," Lade said.

Yet Lade knows he can do more to cut costs, specifically by building a hybrid greenhouse to capture light from the sun. That's not a good option in perpetually overcast Washington, so he's exploring the possibility of setting up shop in sunny Nevada or California, states where recreational use was approved in November.


Bloomberg's Jennifer Kaplan contributed.

Security grid for inauguration means thousands of police, street closures

By Peter Hermann
Security grid for inauguration means thousands of police, street closures
A worker prepares for Donald Trump's presidential inauguration at the U.S. Capitol during a rehearsal on Sunday. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Matt McClain

WASHINGTON - The first visible signs of security measures for Friday's presidential inauguration soon will be evident - parking restrictions begin Wednesday in the District of Columbia's downtown. Streets will start closing on Thursday.

The nation's capital will quickly transform into a virtual fortress of roadblocks, fences and armed police. Streets will be barricaded with trucks filled with sand. Five Metro stations will close Friday. Crossing Pennylvania Avenue will be next to impossible.

The peaceful transfer of power is made possible by overlaying a tight security grid using 28,000 security officials over 100-square-blocks of prime downtown real estate - from the White House to the Capital and beyond, with a price tag in the tens of millions of dollars.

An estimated 700,000 to 900,000 people are expected to watch Donald Trump become president. Security officials said there are 63 demonstration groups, pro and con, expected on Jan. 20, and additional 36 on other days. Those include groups with permits and others who have signaled participation through social media.

To accomplish a tranquil event amid worries of terrorist attacks and threats by some groups to disrupt the celebration requires bringing in 3,000 police officers from across the nation and 5,000 members of the National Guard, bolstering the already large law enforcement footprint imposed on everyday Washington. The numbers this year are the same as in years past.

"We're constantly adapting, evolving and enhancing our protective methodology to protect against emerging threats," said Brian Ebert, the Secret Service special agent in charge of the Washington field office. "We are monitoring our adversaries, paying close attention to their trends and tactics."

Authorities said it makes little difference whether the Secret Service is protecting Trump, known for unpredictable behavior, or someone more apt to follow established customs. They dismissed notions that protecting Trump might be more difficult given his unique personality and the variety of people and groups he has angered.

"A lot of people think it's different because of the individual," said Jonathan Wackrow, a retired Secret Service agent who worked on President Barack Obama's inauguration in 2013 and now runs a security consulting group in New York called RANE. "It's very much the threat level as a whole."

But Scott J. White, a professor and director of the cybersecurity program at George Washington University, said Trump's use of Twitter and the language he uses has spurned outrage that poses new risks.

"There are elements of the president-elect's behavior that may pose a slightly greater threat," White said. "I think his use of social media has a tendency to inflame people's attitude toward him. And I think this particular method of engaging the public has definitely resulted in a different kind of adversary."

For the most part, security experts said police say they will do what they always have done for such events: snipers on rooftops, boat restrictions in the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, manhole covers welded shut; light poles removed, trash cans and mailboxes hauled away and multilevel perimeters established along the parade route and viewing areas at the U.S. Capital, with metal detectors and bag checks.

The list of prohibited items is long, and includes things one might expect - ammunition, weapons, explosives - but also balloons, selfie-sticks, supports for placards and coolers.

"Bring a little bit of patience," Ebert said. "We have a lot of checkpoints and we have a lot of people."

Crowds are expected to be smaller than the two million who attended Obama's first inauguration in 2009; and on par with the one million or so who came to his second swearing-in in 2013. But more protesters are anticipated this year, coming off a polarizing campaign and reflecting divisions evident across the nation.

One group called DisruptJ20 has plans for "massive resistance" with rallies and marches. The group plans a permitted, family-friendly gathering, as well as what it calls "unpermitted anti-capitalist marches," some targeting as many a dozen security checkpoints along the parade route and others crashing inaugural balls.

Yolanda Rondan, who works with a group that advises activist groups, such as Black Lives Matter, raised another concern while testifying Thursday at a D.C. Council public safety committee hearing: Whether police are prepared to protect anti-Trump demonstrators from those who may oppose their views or their tactics.

Monica Hopkins-Maxwell, the executive director of the ACLU of the Nation's Capital, said at the hearing that the "First Amendment is rarely convenient and is rarely comfortable. ... especially during this inauguration and with this heightened emotion."

Hopkins-Maxwell said the police should make every effort to single out instigators in an otherwise orderly crowd and not use isolated incidents to disperse an entire group or start mass arrests.

Demonstration organizers have planned for housing and legal support, as well as transportation. The ACLU is distributing 10,000 pamphlets called "know your rights guide" to help demonstrators who may encounter law enforcement.

District officials said officers from local and federal agencies are prepared for any unrest and both the mayor and police chief have said they will allow people to express their views but won't allow violence from either Trump supporters or Trump critics. "We expect people to exercise their rights peacefully, and we will be prepared for anybody who chooses not to," said D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said at a news conference Friday that demonstrators could reach the parade route by going through security checks and leaving prohibited items behind. "Peaceful demonstrations are certainly permitted as long as they aren't violent," he said. But Johnson stressed, "Special precautions are being taken to ensure that the official event cannot be disrupted."

Authorities said police have been practicing for months with rehearsals and moving index cards symbolizing demonstrators around a giant map of the District. An entire team of Secret Service agents is monitoring social media.

The last time violence occurred at an inauguration was in 2005, when George W. Bush began his second term. A melee at a checkpoint at 14th and Pennsylvania Avenue injured two officers, and riot police sprayed a group with pepper spray. Police reported being pelted with glass bottles. Fixtures from light poles were torn down.

At Bush's first swearing-in, in 2001, numerous protest groups roamed D.C., some clashing with police, in what The Washington Post described as the largest inaugural demonstration since the Vietnam War. The paper reported than an egg, four green apples and a plastic water bottle were tossed in the direction of Bush's limousine as protesters along the parade route shouted, "Hail to the thief."

Protests turned ugly in 1969 and 1973 for Richard M. Nixon's inaugurations. Rocks were thrown at his limo during his second-swearing-in.

"It was a huge challenge for the Secret Service," said W. Ralph Basham, a retired director of the agency with 33 years experience, who has helped protect popes and presidents dating back to Nixon. "It's critically important to make sure proper security measures are in place. We want to make sure that not only is the president and his family safe, but also the people who are there to witness this incredibly important Democratic event."

Authorities said they are prepared for any potential acts of terrorism, though they say no specific threat has been received. One tactic receiving new attention is vehicles turned into weapons, as they were during attacks in Europe last year. D.C. is planning to use sand-filled trucks and other barricades to address that possibility.

The parade route ends at one of the most protected buildings in the world, the White House, though short trip from the swearing-in at the Capitol and the president's new home is privately referred to as the "two-mile nightmare."

It is where exuberant new leaders make the slow drive, and sometimes walk, typically where Pennsylvania Avenue bends a bit near the grandstands. Presidents sometimes greet the crowds, pausing to shake hands or chat. There's a new wrinkle this year - the parade route goes by the Trump International Hotel at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

Ebert said it's up to Trump if he wants to stop at the hotel. "We're prepared to protect Mr. Trump in any environment," he said.

The Secret Service official noted that the hotel is within the security perimeter, and the restrictions are the same there as with hundreds of other private and public buildings along the parade route. Everybody, from guests to workers to residents, will be checked by agents and rechecked should they leave and return.

Basham said that inauguration "is pretty much controlled. Whether the president rides down Pennsylvania Avenue or he walks some portion of it, it's all choreographed. Basically, there are no surprises. My understanding over the years is that the president understands the significance of his safety and his security and what it means to the world."


The Washington Post's Aaron Davis, Jennifer Jenkins, Michael E. Ruane and Perry Stein contributed to this report.

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Trump: a Gong Show with no gong

By richard cohen
Trump: a Gong Show with no gong

WASHINGTON -- Whether he knows it or not, the specter of Lyndon Baines Johnson haunts Donald John Trump. There are some jarring similarities -- two big fleshy men given to vulgarities and gauche behavior, boastful, thin-skinned, politically amoral, vengeful, unforgiving and, most important, considered illegitimate presidents. For Johnson that took some time to sink in; Trump is already there.

Johnson ascended to the presidency upon the death of John F. Kennedy and then won election in a landslide over Barry Goldwater. Nevertheless, an air of illegitimacy clung to him like an odor. It thickened as opposition to the Vietnam War became more and more furious and it peaked, in my estimation, with a hoax in 1967 by Paul Krassner in the counterculture magazine The Realist. Tongue in cheek, it reported that Johnson had climbed into Kennedy’s casket and there done unspeakable things. The story was abominable, tasteless and deserved any other insult you could throw at it, but some people believed it. I know. I heard it.

Jump now a half-century to the recent stories relating to Trump and alleged shenanigans in Russia at a time not all that distant. The accounts, unverified and as revolting as any concocted about Johnson, had a currency that can only be explained by Trump’s own behavior -- a persona that seems so self-indulgent, so juvenile, that almost any sort of behavior seems credible. Trump called the report fake news and, as always, blamed the messenger (the media, the intelligence community, etc.) but he ought to have looked in the mirror and wondered why he looks so ugly to so many people.

Krassner is an obscure 1960s figure; Rep. John Lewis is not. He said the other day that Trump’s presidency was illegitimate and he would not, as an invited member of Congress, attend the inaugural. Trump, of course, tweeted a disparagement. As he did when he belittled John McCain’s heroism under torture, Trump said Lewis was “all talk” and “no action.”

Lewis is one of the last of the great civil rights era heroes. He marched. He protested. He had his head cracked at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. It was 1965 and the Alabama police nearly beat him to death. He is a man of immense courage and morality, so much greater than Trump in those respects.

Yes, Trump won in the Electoral College and that, alas, is all that matters. But on the larger point, Lewis is right. Trump conducted a dirty, dishonest campaign which sullied the very presidency he won. He questioned Barack Obama’s legitimacy, trafficked in racism and demagoguery and seems to have had poll workers in far-off Moscow. Still, he’ll be the president.

But Trump ought to pay attention to Lewis and what he represents. The president-elect will take the oath with a minority of the popular vote -- a substantial deficit of almost 3 million votes. He enters the Oval Office with historically dismal poll numbers, lower now than right after he won the election. He has done nothing to woo the majority of Americans who rejected his candidacy and has, instead, adhered to his schoolyard habit of tweeting his every grievance, denigrating his every critic, making cameos with vaccine- and global-warming doubters or, as if to show some versatility, rascals like Don King and Kanye West. It is a Gong Show with no gong in sight.

Lyndon Johnson would no doubt warn Trump that he is already on thin ice and he will plunge through it the moment Congress takes the measure of his unpopularity. Johnson was a man of huge political abilities and experience and his achievements in civil rights entitled him to greatness. Yet, when Vietnam went sour so did the public and it seemed, after a while, that his personal characteristics, scathingly caricatured by artists such as David Levine or Jules Feiffer, oozed out of him so that they obscured both him and his accomplishments. He was deemed capable of anything -- of lying and perversion of all kinds. This is where Trump stands now.

By the end of the week, Donald Trump will be the president. I wish him the best; I wish him the worst. The dilemma is how to separate loathing for him from love of the country. I am leaving it to time to work that out. In the meantime, Trump will have his moment, that’s for sure, but when things go wrong he will be chased from office -- just like Johnson once was. The ancient Greeks knew why: A man’s character is his fate. In that case, Trump’s presidency is doomed.

Richard Cohen’s email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump is wrong about black America

By eugene robinson
Trump is wrong about black America

WASHINGTON -- Rep. John Lewis is the son of sharecroppers. As a child, he wanted to be a preacher; he practiced by delivering fiery sermons to the family’s chickens. But history had other plans for him: lunch counter sit-ins, Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the Edmund Pettus Bridge, a seat in Congress representing most of Atlanta. No sane person would accuse such a man of being “all talk, talk, talk -- no action or results.”

But that is precisely what Donald Trump said of Lewis. It was not the first time the president-elect raised questions about his own sanity, and I doubt it will be the last.

As I’ve said before, Trump’s compulsion to answer any perceived slight with both barrels blazing is a sign of dangerous insecurity and weakness, not strength. We are about to inaugurate a president with the social maturity of a first-grader.

There is another troubling aspect of this episode, however: Trump took a gratuitous swipe at Lewis’ majority-black congressional district, saying it was “in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested).” In a subsequent tweet, he said Lewis “should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S.”

We’ve heard this sort of thing before from Trump. When he thinks of African-Americans, Trump apparently pictures “inner cities” that are godforsaken hellholes of despair. He sees dystopian enclaves beset with record levels of crime -- ramshackle places that are “falling apart” in every sense.

This vision is patently wrong, grievously insulting and guaranteed to ensure that the new administration’s support from black America remains minimal. Trump received just 8 percent of the African-American vote; if anything, he is driving some of those few supporters away.

In August, Trump made this campaign pitch to an almost all-white audience in Akron, Ohio:

“The Democrats have failed completely in the inner cities. For those hurting the most who have been failed and failed by their politicians -- year after year, failure after failure, worse numbers after worse numbers. Poverty. Rejection. Horrible education. No housing, no homes, no ownership. Crime at levels that nobody has seen. You can go to war zones in countries that we are fighting and it’s safer than living in some of our inner cities that are run by the Democrats. And I ask you this, I ask you this -- crime, all of the problems -- to the African-Americans, who I employ so many, so many people, to the Hispanics, tremendous people: What the hell do you have to lose? Give me a chance. I’ll straighten it out. I’ll straighten it out. What do you have to lose?”

Ridiculous. Begin with the question of poverty. It is true that the poverty rate for African-Americans, at about 27 percent, is almost triple the rate for whites. But that ignores history and context. Since 1971, according to a December 2015 Pew Research Center report, African-Americans have improved their income status far more than any other racial group.

Black Americans now have roughly $1 trillion in annual purchasing power. Dotted around the country are African-American neighborhoods, lined with McMansions, that are affluent by any standard -- including parts of Lewis’ district.

As for education, black attainment has risen steadily in recent decades; nearly a quarter of African-American adults have college degrees, compared to slightly more than one-third of white adults. The story in home ownership is similar: gains paralleling those of whites, but starting from a lower baseline and thus not having reached full parity.

And someone really should let Trump know that the rate of violent crime is barely half what it was in the early 1990s. Most big cities are safer, wealthier, more vibrant places than they were 20 or 30 years ago. How can a real estate developer not know that?

To be sure, many big-city public school systems are failing. Poor urban neighborhoods are desperate for jobs, much like the Rust Belt towns that put their trust in Trump. And in terms of crime, Chicago is a tragic outlier worthy of presidential attention; Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s city saw more murders last year than New York and Los Angeles combined.

But the president-elect seems to have no clue that African-Americans -- like any grouping of 40 million people -- are incredibly diverse, economically and culturally. They would be much more diverse politically, too, if Republicans ever bothered to make a serious play for their votes.

Tell the president-elect: There’s more to black America than Ben Carson, Don King, Omarosa and a bunch of huddled masses.

Eugene Robinson’s email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Obama’s (tentative) legacy

By robert j. samuelson
Obama’s (tentative) legacy

WASHINGTON -- It is far too early to render final judgment on the Obama presidency. All the chatter about his “legacy” overlooks two obvious realities. The significance of Obama will depend heavily on events that have not yet happened (for starters, the fate of the Iranian nuclear deal) and comparisons, for better or worse, with his successor. Still, it’s possible to make some tentative observations.

As I’ve written before, the administration’s greatest achievement was, in its first year, stabilizing a collapsing economy and arguably avoiding a second Great Depression. Even now, only eight years after the event, many people forget the crash’s horrific nature. Unemployment was increasing roughly 700,000 to 800,000 a month. No one knew when the downward spiral would stop.

In this turbulence, Obama was a model of calm and confidence. The policies he embraced -- various economic stimulus packages, support for the Federal Reserve, the rescue of the auto industry, the shoring up of the banking system -- were what the economy needed, though they were not perfect in every detail. Although the subsequent recovery was disappointing, it’s not clear that anyone else would have accomplished more.

If Obama had done nothing else, rescuing the economy would ensure a successful presidency. But he did do other things, and we shouldn’t forget the historic significance of having an African-American as the nation’s leader.

Still, his broader record is mixed. I think he will get credit for Obamacare, regardless of how Donald Trump and the Republicans modify it. The argument will be made, accurately I think, that the expansion of insurance coverage to roughly 20 million Americans would never have occurred if Obama hadn’t put it at the top of his agenda.

This does not mean that promoting Obamacare was uniformly wise. It did not solve the problem of high health costs, and it aggravated political polarization. It also seems a product of personal ambition, reflecting Obama’s desire to be remembered as the liberal president who finally achieved universal coverage. In reality, even after the 20 million, there were an estimated 28 million uncovered Americans in 2016, says the National Center for Health Statistics.

Some of Obama’s biggest setbacks were widely shared. One was coming to grips with an aging society. As I’ve repeatedly written, the growing population of older people is distorting government priorities, because Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (which covers nursing home care) increasingly dominate the federal budget, squeezing other programs and enlarging budget deficits.

Obama never dealt aggressively with this problem, because doing so would have offended his liberal political base. His failure made it impossible to secure major concessions from Republicans on raising taxes. Similar failures plagued immigration policy and climate change. Facing political paralysis, Obama resorted to executive orders and regulations. Many will probably be revoked in a Trump administration.

What Obama lacked was the ability to inspire fear as well as respect, and this also helps explain why his foreign policy often fell short -- Syria being the best but not the only example. Few presidents have worshiped their words more than Obama. To take one example: His farewell speech last week ran 50 minutes; the average for seven other post-World War II presidents was 18 minutes, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Not only did he worship his words, but he assigned them more power than they possessed. At times, he seemed to treat the White House as a graduate-school seminar, where he was the smartest guy in the room and, therefore, deserved to prevail. At news conferences, he gave long, convoluted responses full of subtleties that may have impressed political and media elites -- but didn’t do much to shift public opinion.

Our government has turned into a quasi-parliamentary system. Controversial proposals are supported and opposed mainly, or exclusively, by one party or the other. This is a bad development. It strengthens fringes in both parties, who hold veto power. This discourages compromise and encourages stalemate. The legislation it produces is often acceptable to partisans but less so to the wider middle class, undermining public faith in government.

The question historians need to ask is whether Obama contributed to this dysfunctional system or was victimized by it. He was unable to construct a working relationship with congressional Republicans. Was this because, as the White House has contended, Republicans had been unmovable from partisan positions? Or was Obama complicit, because his own partisan constraints left little maneuvering room? Maybe both.

In this era of snap judgments, a true verdict on Obama is years away.

(c) 2017, The Washington Post Writers Group

Trump can’t easily undo progress on climate change

By david ignatius
Trump can’t easily undo progress on climate change

WASHINGTON -- If you’re worried about climate change, it’s scary to think that the incoming Trump administration could reverse gains made in recent years. But a recent conversation with departing Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz convinced me that the progress is probably irreversible.

“There’s no question that we are moving to a lower-carbon economy,” Moniz said in an interview in his office here. “What’s happening is largely a market-driven phenomenon. ... There is no status quo ante.”

Moniz cited a range of economic and technological factors that will sustain the long-term move toward reduced carbon emissions, regardless of the policies adopted by President-elect Donald Trump, who has expressed skepticism about climate science and government efforts to cut emissions.

Clean-energy technologies have become much cheaper and more efficient, Moniz noted, and the global market for them will lure U.S. companies. Utility and manufacturing industry executives, who have to plan investments on 30-year time horizons, aren’t likely to make long-term bets on high-carbon projects.

Moniz is an example of the brainpower and expertise that will walk out the door when the Obama administration leaves office on Friday. He’s a nuclear physicist for MIT who has been involved in government energy projects for two decades. His designated successor, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, has no comparable educational or business background that would equip him for the job.

As Moniz prepared to leave his post, the Energy Department released several studies that underline his argument that climate-change progress is being driven by the market, rather than government. Smart government policies have encouraged and reinforced this evolution, but it now has a life of its own, the studies suggest. Some DOE statistics drive home this point.

The coal industry, which Trump has promised to revive, is experiencing a long-term cyclical decline, as other energy sources become cheaper. The industry shrank about 60 percent between 1985 and 2016, with a loss of over 141,000 jobs. Oil and natural gas experienced a boom over that same period, adding more than 80,000 jobs over the past decade. Domestic oil production nearly doubled from 5 million barrels per day in 2008 to 9.4 million barrels in 2015, thanks largely to shale-oil production.

As natural-gas production rose and prices fell, utilities turned increasingly to this lower-carbon source of energy -- sharply reducing carbon emissions. DOE data show that energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions in the first six months of 2016 were at their lowest level since 1991. The department estimates that 61 percent of the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector from 2006 to 2014 came from switching from coal-fired plants to gas-fired ones.

A prime example of the changing pattern of energy production and employment is West Virginia. Coal production and jobs have fallen sharply in the southern part of the state. But Moniz noted that production and job growth in natural gas has risen significantly in northern West Virginia in recent years.

Coal has a future, Moniz said, but it will be shaped by the ability to capture carbon emissions. Utilities at home and abroad will want “clean coal,” so the advance of carbon-capture technologies will be crucial for the industry’s economic survival, regardless of federal policy.

Moniz argued that continuing declines in the costs of alternative energy sources are making them increasingly competitive. Since 2008, costs have fallen 41 percent for land-based wind power and 64 percent for utility-scale solar power. The cost of efficient LED light bulbs has fallen 94 percent since 2008. The cost of battery storage has declined 70 percent over that period, making electric vehicles more affordable. As of last August, there were 490,000 electric vehicles on the road.

Moniz argues that Trump and his supporters have wrongly argued that energy efficiency is a job killer, when the opposite is true. According to a DOE study released last week, the energy sector as a whole employs about 6.4 million Americans, with 2.2 million of that total employed in design, installation or manufacture of “energy-efficiency products and services,” a sector that added 133,000 jobs in 2016.

The DOE study predicts that energy-related jobs will grow 5 percent in 2017, with the fastest rate of 9 percent coming in the energy-efficiency sector.

What the Trump administration will do in in energy and climate policy is a mystery, as with so many other areas. But my takeaway from Moniz is that in terms of the underlying trends, even a Trump administration wrecking ball at DOE wouldn’t significantly alter the long-term move toward a cleaner and safer planet.

David Ignatius’ email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

The importance of Russian meddling

By ruth marcus
The importance of Russian meddling

WASHINGTON -- The hallmark of a democracy is the peaceful transfer of power following an election. An essential, if painful, corollary of that rule is to accept the outcome of the election even when its conduct may have been marred, even when questions linger about the nature of the victory.

That was the difficult lesson of the 2000 campaign. But for a flawed butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County that diverted confused voters to Pat Buchanan, Al Gore would likely have been declared the winner in Florida and thus the 43rd president.

But there are no do-overs in elections, especially presidential ones. There may be flaws and disputes. But at some point, after the procedures established by the rule of law have run their course, the country needs to accept the result, however difficult it may be.

So for all of John Lewis’ heroic service to his country, the Georgia congressman’s assertion that Donald Trump is not a “legitimate” president was not appropriate or helpful. Indeed, it is not even the right way to think about the question. Trump is a legitimate president because our system demands finality and acceptance even in the presence of uncertainty. Posting an asterisk next to an election result is not healthy for democracy.

Yet there is a difference between debating whether Trump is a legitimate president and continuing to express concerns about the legitimacy of the election. Exactly what factors produced Trump’s victory can never be measured with precision: Hillary Clinton’s flaws or miscalculations? FBI director James Comey’s improper intervention? Russian meddling? Any or all of these could have made the difference. We will never know. We never can know.

Trump, however reluctantly and belatedly, acknowledges the undeniable, the existence of Russian interference. But much as Trump and his team insistently proclaim a nonexistent landslide, they peddle the fiction that the absence of Russian hacking directly into voting machines equates to the absence of worry about the influence of other Russian mischief. The two are not the same.

Russia meddled. Trump himself eagerly seized on the fruits of its hacking. “I love WikiLeaks,” he announced during the campaign. He cannot now be taken seriously in asserting its irrelevance. “Donald Trump won this election fair and square,” vice president-elect Mike Pence kept saying, as he made the rounds of Sunday shows. Yes, Trump won. It was not necessarily fair and square. Trump can blame the victim -- it was the sloppy Democratic National Committee. He can obfuscate -- other countries have hacked into other systems, for other purposes. But nothing can change the reality that a hostile foreign power sought to affect the result of the election that made him president.

Thus California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, former ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, made important and somewhat spine-chilling news when she told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that she believes Russian intervention altered the outcome. Whether Feinstein is correct is less important than the unpleasant fact that she might be.

And that is the flip side of accepting Trump’s legitimacy: to insist on investigation and accountability. Feinstein put it in appropriately apocalyptic terms. “We cannot ignore what has happened. To ignore it is really to commit ourselves to a very bad future,” she said. “This is the future of America. It’s the future of democracy. And if we can’t carry out an election without disinformation being pumped into it by another country, we’ve got a huge destruction of our system going on.”

A searching inquiry into what happened and how to prevent it from recurring is essential. That should not be a matter for partisan debate, as hard as it may be for Trump, especially, to accept. Whether that happens will not determine the legitimacy of Trump’s election. It will shape history’s judgment of his presidency.

Ruth Marcus’ email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Obama, Trump and the power of ‘we’

By e.j. dionne jr.
Obama, Trump and the power of ‘we’

NEW YORK -- Our nation is about to replace a president who loves soaring rhetoric and extended argument with a chief executive who prefers tweets to the big speech.

And there is an irony in this transition. Barack Obama resolutely makes the case for moving forward by referring again and again to the lessons of American history. Donald Trump, by contrast, wants to bring us back to a glorious past -- we need to become great (BEG ITAL)again(END ITAL) -- but rarely cites history at all, preferring anecdotes about his own experiences or knocks on the last eight years.

The presidency itself, of course, often pushes those who hold the office to higher rhetorical ground. Trump seems reluctant to change much of anything about himself, but he might usefully consider what he could learn from Obama.

We ask that question knowing that speechmaking genius is not and has never been essential to a successful presidency. Over the last century, the list of presidents we lift up as especially gifted speakers is short -- Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Obama.

In editing a collection of Obama’s speeches published last week, “We Are the Change We Seek,” we were struck that while he drew on all these presidential forebears in his approach to persuasion, his first political love was Abraham Lincoln. This was a sensible choice for a politician from Illinois who had declared his presidential candidacy in Lincoln’s adopted hometown of Springfield, and whose election as the first African-American president fulfilled the work of the Great Emancipator.

Obama had something else in common with Lincoln: a view that the best way to redeem the promise of justice is to insist that it was right there from the country’s very beginning, inherent in its founding documents. Obama bound himself to our past to change our future.

Yet Obama’s rhetorical approach was distinctly his own -- enlivened by the oratorical style of the civil rights heroes and the theology of civil rights Christianity. Bending history’s arc is arduous and full of disappointments, and that’s where hope is essential. Obama argued that even in dark moments, despair was not an option. Here, Martin Luther King Jr., who shared Lincoln’s view of American history, was the obvious guide.

While always reminding Americans of how far we had to go, particularly on the question of racial equality, Obama persistently urged his own side to count up the victories won, successes earned, possibilities realized through activism and engagement. He told students at Howard University in 2016 that “to deny how far we’ve come would do a disservice to the cause of justice, to the legions of foot-soldiers, to ... your mothers and your dads, and grandparents and great-grandparents, who marched and toiled and suffered and overcame to make this day possible.”

Obama’s conservative detractors regularly accused him of “apologizing” for America. In truth, he never stopped making the case for an America with an exceptional capacity for self-correction. Like his theological hero, Reinhold Niebuhr, Obama understood human frailty -- “original sin” in Niebuhr’s terms -- and also the human capacity for transcendence. He calculated the frailty into all of his endeavors, political and rhetorical. He was, like Niebuhr, resolutely a realist. Yet he kept placing those bets on hope. “Yes we can” was a clever political slogan, but it went to the heart of the case he would make again and again, right down to the final lines of his farewell address last week.

Obama appreciated the call in the Constitution’s Preamble to a “more perfect union,” as Bill Clinton did. In Obama’s world, “perfect” was as often a verb as it was an adjective describing some optimal state. The assumption is always that the United States has not yet reached its goal, but that it gets nearer to it by the decade. We perfect ourselves.

Let’s face it: Trump is unlikely to channel Obama very often. They have sharply divergent views of the trajectory of American history. A large philosophical chasm separates them. They also got to the Oval Office starting from very different places. A community organizer is a long way from a developer and personal brand-builder.

Trump might also argue that he reached this point by turning his back on the standards set by his predecessors. He has almost gleefully flouted the norms and conventions that have long characterized our politics, including the expectation of civility and the goal of unifying rather than dividing. If hope was Obama’s signature, calculated rage has been Trump’s. And it’s worked for him so far.

The extended speech itself is clearly not Trump’s thing. His most important effort in this sphere was his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. It underscored that where Obama heavily favored the word “we,” Trump is rather fond of the word “I.” Thus, the memorable line in Trump’s address: “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” There was also this, in all capital letters in the prepared text: “I AM YOUR VOICE.”

But perhaps Trump and his speechwriters are interested in making a turn, politically and rhetorically, on Jan. 20. If so, they would do well to join Obama in showing a respect for American history and an appreciation for the country’s steady march toward inclusion and justice.

However divided the country became under Obama, he always signaled that he saw himself as the president of all Americans. While Trump nodded to this idea on election night, it has not been his natural calling. The man who loves to talk about himself still needs to discover the power of the first word of our Constitution.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group


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