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Washington cemetery hosts goat yoga among the headstones

By Orion Donovan-Smith
Washington cemetery hosts goat yoga among the headstones
During a goat yoga session on May 18, 2019 at Congressional Cemetery in Washington, a baby goat joines Beth Horowicz in cat pose. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Orion Donovan-Smith

WASHINGTON - A gentle breeze blew through the Congressional Cemetery in Southeast Washington, a more than two-century-old site whose weathered headstones stand in tribute to some of the District's most notable residents, from John Philip Sousa to Marion Barry. It was a balmy Saturday morning and the atmosphere was solemn - except for the bleating of no fewer than 15 baby goats.

They were there, of course, for yoga.

It was Washington's first foray into goat yoga, an activity that pairs meditative poses with what amounts to an all-ages petting zoo. The concept originated in 2016 in Oregon, at a birthday party. It was never meant to be a thing. But now it's a thing.

For Paul Williams, the director of the Congressional Cemetery, goat yoga was a long time coming. Until recently, District law forbade the activity under a long-standing no-touching-goats policy.

"I tried everything I could for about a year to get goat yoga," Williams said, "and the Health Department just put up every obstacle they possibly could." He recalled meeting with a room full of lawyers who "had the law books all spread out on the table and said, 'This is not happening.'"

The cemetery already hosted classes among the tombstones - "Yoga Mortis," they call it - and found a loophole in D.C. regulations that allowed them to use goats to clear out invasive plants.

But the no-touch policy, based on the Animal Control Act of 1979, meant goat yoga was out of the question.

The city council's Health Committee was already in the process of trimming regulations. The council expedited the issue by tacking a farm animal provision onto a bill that overhauled the District's vital records system. The bill passed in October, allowing goats and sheep into Washington for the purposes of, among other things, "participating in yoga or similar activities."

Williams learned of the change only after the church that owns the cemetery property sought a permit for a live-nativity scene - "a couple sheep, goats, a llama or something" - and was informed of the District's new, pro-goat stance.

Goats are still considered a "prohibited species" and require a special permit and immunizations. They must be inspected by a veterinarian within 30 days of an event, according to Vito DelVento, executive director of the Health Department's Board of Veterinary Medicine. This leaves a narrow window for goat yoga, when baby goats are old enough to be vaccinated but still small enough to comfortably climb atop a yogi.

Saturday evinced the fruit of the goat lobby's labor.

"The karma of fighting for this class for the past two years is that the universe gave us this gorgeous day in this beautiful space," said yoga instructor Kelly Carnes, standing in a clearing where the first 50 goat yoga participants sprawled out on mats. All five opening-weekend sessions sold out, with proceeds going to the nonprofit that runs the cemetery, Williams said.

Carnes led each group through what she said was a gentle sequence of poses inspired by the kids' low center of gravity, not only to avoid injury to either species, "but also to give ample opportunities for the goats to crawl all over us, because that's part of the fun, right?"

"It was a pretty easy sell," said Carnes, who had already led the cemetery's Yoga Mortis sessions. "'Hey, resident yoga teacher, do you want to add baby goats into your practice?' Hell yeah, I do."

After the first session, the participants were similarly enthusiastic.

"I'm so blissed out," said Rachel Holmes of D.C., who brought her mother, Susan Coursey. "I feel like you're a little bit more inward usually with regular yoga, and this sort of opens you up to what's going on in nature around you. Plus they're soft and cuddly."

Coursey, who was visiting from Long Island, N.Y., said she does yoga only occasionally but had no trouble following along. "It made it more of a personal experience for me. More free-form, less regimented, more spontaneous."

Beth Horowicz of Chevy Chase summed up the appeal of the event. "I love cemeteries, I love yoga, I love animals, so I could not miss this," she said.

But one person's bliss is another's bane, and critics say goat yoga is a bridge too far.

"Yoga needs lot of effort," said Viswanatha Gupta, a postdoctoral researcher at SOAS University London's Hatha Yoga Project. "It's not doing some poses and playing with animals. It's divine."

David Gordon White, professor emeritus of religious studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, echoed that sentiment. "Yoga involves concentration, and I find it hard to fathom how you could be concentrated on anything when baby goats are running around."

For Carnes, it's simpler. "If it's a thing that brings people joy, then why not?" she said. "Bring it on. That's yoga."

The goats belong to Mary Bowen, whose daughter also leads goat yoga sessions at their farm in Sunderland, Md. Bowen emphasized the therapeutic value of interacting with the animals.

"For children that have ADHD, or autistic children, it really helps them to connect and be in the present moment," she said, referring to the research of Temple Grandin, an autism advocate and professor of animal science at Colorado State University.

"If you really notice," Bowen said after the cemetery's first session wrapped up, "it's not about the yoga. These people really want the baby goats to hold."

Anita Teel Dahnke, executive director of the American Goat Federation, said her organization has no official stance on the new practice, but she sees both pros and cons.

"If done right," she said, "it's a great way to get people who normally wouldn't be around domesticated livestock to see what they're like."

But there is always some risk of disease transmission between animals and people, Teel Dahnke said, and the steps taken to prevent it may contribute to a larger problem of overuse of antibiotics in livestock leading to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

After the District's inaugural weekend of goat yoga, the event's organizers were effusive.

"Just watching them interact with the babies," Carnes said, "I was like, 'Okay, my heart's filled with joy. I'm done. I can die happy now.'"

Williams said there were immediate calls to schedule another session, but he offered a reminder that he also has a cemetery to run.

"Working on a date," he wrote in an email, "but not sure we'll have the staff to pull off another weekend - lots of funerals coming up."

Brexit targeted foreign workers. Now robots are coming.

By Jess Shankleman
Brexit targeted foreign workers. Now robots are coming.
A man walks past a garage decorated with a Saint George's Cross in Holbeach, England, on May 8, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Darren Staples.

It's 5 p.m. on a wet Wednesday afternoon in the English market town of Spalding and Simon Bradshaw and his partner, Sharna, are taking their daughter to see a new statue commemorating 19th century hiring fairs for farmers and shepherds.

Their visit says less about a keen interest in agrarian history and more about the Britain of today in the most ardently pro-Brexit region. They say the bronze structure is being vandalized by people from Eastern Europe. Sharna, a stay at home carer, complains immigrants made the town dangerous and overcrowded. "They've no respect," she said.

From Donald Trump's America to Italy and Hungary, the vilification of immigrants is hardly new nowadays. But the flipside to the resentment in the U.K. is that for people who saw Brexit as a defensive wall against incomers, the threat isn't human, it's robot.

Bradshaw, 38, works as a forklift driver at a local food distribution company. Manual jobs like his are commonplace in the county of Lincolnshire, many of which were filled by east European migrants in recent years. The irony for those who believed the influx of cheap labor was jeopardizing their livelihoods is that they now face having their jobs automated if Brexit yields some of the economic dividend its supporters say it will while curbing immigration.

Britain currently has the lowest density of robots in manufacturing among the Group of 10 nations, partly because businesses opted to use cheap and expanding migrant labor force in the past decade rather than buy new machinery to boost their efficiency.

Companies initially could use robots to fill labor shortages, but in the longer term the threat is that they end up stealing jobs too.

Indeed, the slow pace of adoption is a long-standing problem for Britain's international competitiveness and productivity. In 2017 Britain had just 85 robots per 10,000 employees, compared to 106 on average across Europe, according to the International Federation of Robotics. About half of Britain's robots are used in car manufacturing. The food industry is only just beginning to use them for cutting, moving and packaging products.

But Britain's low robot density also makes it ripe for investment, with 1.5 million jobs at high risk of having some tasks automated, according to the Office for National Statistics. Regions most at risk of losing jobs to robots are also those that voted for Brexit, based on Bloomberg analysis of ONS data.

The area around Spalding had the greatest concentration of east European migrants in the 2011 census, and was also the biggest vote of anywhere in the U.K. for Brexit.

"The robots won't get sick and the robot doesn't need a visa," said Thijs Geijer, senior economist at bank ING Groep. He has found that Britain has 4% of the robots used in Europe's food and drink industry, with Germany and Italy being the continent's main markets.

Robots most threaten "the three 'Ds'," Business Minister Andrew Stephenson told the U.K. Parliament this month, jobs that are "dangerous, dirty or dull." He said the government is working with individual industries to ensure they use automation in a way that boosts profits and productivity without harming workers. There will be jobs lost to robots, though, he said.

Curbing immigration remains top of the list for many Britons who want to leave the EU. That particularly poses a challenge for food and drink companies, which make up the U.K.'s biggest manufacturing industry. They have relied on EU migrants for almost a third of their combined workforce.

With politicians in Westminster still unable to agree when, how or even if the U.K. should leave the EU, that's becoming harder. Net migration from the EU has fallen to its lowest in a decade.

"Businesses are having to ensure they use their work force effectively and find alternative ways of performing tasks for which they do not have labor," says Mike Wilson, chairman of the British Automation and Robot Association. "Robot automation being an obvious solution."

With Brexiter-in-chief Nigel Farage's new party polling ahead of all rivals before European Parliamentary elections on May 23, Lincolnshire encapsulates the disillusionment with the government 100 miles (160 kilometers) away in London more than most places.

In places like this, workers feel immigration is something that happens to them, rather than something they can be part of, said John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde. "They feel culturally isolated," he said.

About a third of Britain's food touches Lincolnshire in some way, according to the local government. The countryside is an expanse of potato, rapeseed and tulip fields, interspersed with truck stops and food manufacturers like canning factory Princes Ltd. sitting alongside the wide roads.

Spalding was where barcodes were first trialed in a British supermarket in the 1979, but the town certainly doesn't look like it's on the brink of an industrial and political revolution that could alter it for good.

The statue that piqued the interest of Bradshaw and his family stands amid 18th century houses and a pub that boasts that it once hosted the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, interspersed with new stores catering to the town's more recent Polish and Lithuanian arrivals.

Despite high employment, just 17% of people in South Holland, the area around Spalding, have specialist training for technical roles or management, less than half the U.K. average. Gross weekly pay is 12% lower than the British mean.

For the food and drink companies that populate the area, there's a perfect storm of tightening profit margins caused by the growth of discount retailers and now a U.S.-China trade spat that's pushing up the cost of raw materials.

"With no investment and prices always being driven down, there was no room for investment,'' said Chris Brooks, a product development chef at Olympus Automation Ltd., which is working with local companies and the University of Lincoln to test its "robotic chef."

The aim is to replicate the work of humans on an industrial scale and with extreme accuracy, but without needing breaks or making mistakes. "Companies have got to breaking point where it's a case of 'which way do I go? I either go under or I invest'," Brooks said.

Liam Fox, the pro-Brexit minister in charge of overseas trade, has said such technology could drive another revolution in manufacturing, boosting Britain's woeful productivity level, which lags about 20% behind peers in the Group of Seven nations.

Chinese automaker BYD is already selling driverless forklifts to Volkswagen, General Motors and Toyota. But Bradshaw reckons his job as a forklift driver in Spalding is safe because a robot couldn't do the same work. It requires a human to pick and mix the right pallets of products, he said.

"One pallet would be apples and another would be chocolate biscuits and a robot wouldn't be able to tell the difference," said Bradshaw. "You've got to check everything is different and with robots everything is the same."

- - -

Bloomberg's Lucy Meakin contributed.

40 years after they became MTV stars by playing rockabilly, the Stray Cats are ready for a comeback

By Geoff Edgers
40 years after they became MTV stars by playing rockabilly, the Stray Cats are ready for a comeback
The Stray Cats, from left, drummer Slim Jim Phantom, guitarist/vocalist Brian Setzer and bassist Lee Rocker are back with a new album,

Getting back together may sound easy enough, but for decades, the Stray Cats usually sniffed at reunion talk. Or at the idea of talking at all.

In the aftermath of the band's initial split, in 1984, Brian Setzer hung up his Gretsch for a 12-string acoustic and tried to recast himself as a Johnny Cougar-meets-Bruce roots rocker. Drummer Slim Jim Phantom married Swedish actress and former Bond girl Britt Ekland, posed for People magazine and, eventually, delivered a chatty memoir that laid bare the friction between the Cats. Bassist Lee Rocker started a family and released more than a dozen albums of his own.

But now, with each of them pushing 60, the conflicts seemed ancient and downright silly. Their own projects could wait. The Stray Cats, who sold millions of records during Ronald Reagan's first term by playing greased-up rockabilly, were ready for a comeback.

It actually began last year when Phantom, in a phone call with Setzer, mentioned that the trio played their first gig in 1979.

"That's 40 years," Setzer says now. "That got me. I said, 'Shoot, it's time.' "

But he didn't want to just play old songs. Phantom agreed.

The drummer asked for one of those Gene Vincent, swinging things. Setzer delivered a demo for a song called "Three Times a Charm." How about some Eddie Cochran? No problem. Setzer banged out "Rock it Off."

"Once you get two or three, you start rolling," Setzer says.

Which is how the Stray Cats got to Nashville late last year and, over 11 days, recorded a new album titled "40," their first since 1992. Next month, Setzer, Phantom and Rocker will embark on their most ambitious tour in years, starting with dates in Europe before returning to the States in August.

Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt, a longtime fan, saw the band play a show late last year meant to test the waters. He talked to Rocker afterward and couldn't believe the Cats had practiced so little before the gig.

"They really knocked it out," Dirnt says. "I would love to see how great they'll be after they get a couple of shows under their belt."

---

One way to start explaining the Stray Cats is with a photo. It was snapped as they played their hit "(She's) Sexy & 17" at the huge Rockpalast Festival in Germany in 1983. The image, black-and-white and blurry in spots, features Setzer, the singer and leader, swinging his Gretsch, eyes closed, air between his white shoes and the ground below. Rocker isn't wearing a shirt and has his back to the camera, suspended in the air as he balances one boot on a stand-up bass adorned with the word "Dangerous." Phantom is out of the frame but we know what he's up to. He's standing - the drummer always stood - pounding his snare like Joe Frazier on the heavy bag.

The look, the chops, the total package. It's why Rocker, now 58, can reasonably declare, without pause, "We are the best band that has ever played this music."

If you weren't around, it may be hard to understand the rise of the Stray Cats. It's as if they appeared from outer space, or at least a Pomade-speared time machine packed with hot rods, tattoos and Eddie Cochran licks. That a rockabilly trio could top the MTV stable in 1982, the same 1982 stuffed with leg warmers, Members Only jackets and synthesizers, would seem not merely unlikely, but impossible.

"I wasn't prepared," says Jeff Beck, the British guitar hero who first saw the Stray Cats as an unsigned band at a London club in late 1980. "Slim Jim had one snare drum, Lee Rocker on bass and then Brian. I'm not putting down other rockabilly bands, but so many of them sounded great, but the lead guitarist isn't really special. Brian was. Right in the face of silly clothes and one-finger synthesizer, they came and just upset the apple cart."

They came from Massapequa, a small town on Long Island. Lee Rocker was born Leon Drucker, the son of Stanley, the longtime principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic. Years later, Leonard Bernstein would approach Rocker and tell him how much he loved the descending bass line in the Cats' "Runaway Boys."

"Growing up, there was really one rule and very little discipline, but the rule was that you took music lessons," Rocker says. "Whatever you wanted, but you had to take them."

James McDonnell (aka Phantom) lived just down the block, the son of a firefighter. He met Drucker in fourth grade at Fairfield Elementary, and the friends started jamming. The Druckers pulled their cars out of the garage and replaced them with an upright piano and drum set.

McDonnell loved music, whether the Beatles or the Stones. But as he got older, he started noticing the song credits. That Aerosmith adapted '50s rocker Johnny Burnette's "Train Kept a-Rollin' " and that the Beatles played a killer version of Carl Perkins' "Honey, Don't." Humble Pie did Cochran's "C'mon Everybody."

"Lee and I had always played," Phantom says. "We had some older guys that we played with, and we knew all the blues and Jimmy Reed and those kinds of songs. But at the same time, we were trying to find something that was a little bit different."

Enter Brian Setzer. He was two years older and had been taking guitar lessons since he was 8. By his 16th birthday, Setzer already had the look. He could play the guitar better than anybody they knew. He could also write music. And if he wasn't quite the loner reported in some of the early Stray Cats stories, Setzer did want out of Massapequa.

"I knew what I liked and it wasn't anything around me," he says.

Sometime in the mid-'70s, Setzer heard Gene Vincent's "Be-Bop-a-Lula" playing on a jukebox at CBGB, a punk rock club in New York. That got him hooked on the music that had emerged in the 1950s by loosely combining R&B and the raw energy of hillbilly music. He would play local bar gigs with his younger brother, Gary, on drums. One night, they had a fight and Gary stomped out. Setzer noticed Phantom standing there.

"He's leaning on a post with his sticks and a cowboy hat," Setzer says. "Nobody looks like that. He looked like Johnny Cash. I go, 'You play drums?' He had his kit in the trunk of his car."

They were the Tom Cats and then the Stray Cats, and then, in 1980, they decided to go overseas after seeing how the British music magazines pushed rockabilly when American club managers seemed confused by it. They slept on benches in Hyde Park and squatted in crowded flats, but soon created a buzz. Beck, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, the Clash's Joe Strummer and the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde saw them. So did Dave Edmunds, the Welsh guitarist and singer and Rockpile member.

"They were so young, looked so good, and it wasn't just a revival band," Edmunds recalls. "It was new. They made it new again. I couldn't believe what I was seeing."

Record labels began to hover. The Cats picked Edmunds, a rockabilly lover best known for his top-10 cover of "I Hear You Knockin'," to produce them.

On their U.S. debut, 1982's "Built for Speed," the Cats are standing in front of Setzer's '57 Chevy at an auto body shop in Massapequa. Side One kicks off with "Rock This Town," driven by a slap bass line straight out of 1950s Memphis and a video that highlighted their distinctive look. The song would crack the Billboard Top 10. "Stray Cat Strut," also on the record, was an irresistible, slinky jazz ballad that would rise to No. 3 early in 1983 and include a Setzer solo ranked by Guitar Player magazine as one of the top-100 ever. The Stray Cats would open for the Rolling Stones, tour the world and become video stars during the glory days of MTV.

"There was nothing like them," says bassist Johnny Bradley, who today plays in Gary Clark Jr.'s band and remembers seeing the Stray Cats on his TV as a kid in Texas. "And Brian Setzer, he was kind of like a rockabilly prince. No one else played or looked like that dude."

---

As long as its been since the Stray Cats were genuine rock stars, they still act like them, operating with a kind of friendly caginess reserved for celebrities who have learned, too many times, how a dramatic quote can be taken or repurposed out of context.

In person, Setzer is respectful, shy and sometimes evasive. He lives in Minneapolis with his third wife, Julie, and will talk endlessly about the music he loves, take out his Gretsch and even let you hold it. But he's not about to invite you over to meet the dogs. In an interview in a Minneapolis hotel, Setzer didn't want to go into much detail about the dynamic described in Phantom's book, in which the drummer flat out states that Setzer and Rocker didn't get along and described himself as the peacemaker. In the decade after the original break, the Stray Cats would occasionally regroup to make a record, but the tensions remained.

"Put it in this order," Setzer says. "Youth, success, separation, alcohol. All of that. I don't really need to get into it."

Setzer says he hasn't read Phantom's memoir, and these days, the drummer downplays the tension. It's as if his pals were listening when he also wrote, "Now, more than ever, the need to be friends with someone in your band is unnecessary. There has never been a problem on the stage and, at this point, everybody loves it, and we have nothing left to prove."

"I think the bigger picture really has come into focus," says Phantom, who lives about two hours from Rocker in Los Angeles. "If we scrutinize it, the 'why' will become we love this music. We're still the torchbearers for Eddie Cochran."

That comes through on "40," which includes plenty of rockabilly but also a driving handclapper ("Cry Danger"), written with longtime Tom Petty guitarist Mike Campbell, and a Setzer instrumental ("Desperado") that could have been plucked from one of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti Westerns.

Rocker says the reunion got rolling last year when they decided to play four gigs. They had no way of knowing whether the fans would return. Their last hit was six years before Taylor Swift was born. They also didn't know how it would feel to play together again.

In April 2018, the Stray Cats performed at the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend festival. Rocker, who may be the most emotionally restrained of the three, admits that he felt something as he stood in the wings.

"It was just me, Brian and Jim," he says. " 'C'mon Everybody' on the sound system and 20,000 people and the sound of that crowd. That was really something that I won't forget. And I don't even know what it was. But it definitely, it hit me. It was one of those moments that you know you just swallow and you go, 'Wow.' "

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Trump goes on strike

By e.j. dionne jr.
Trump goes on strike

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE.)

(For Dionne clients only)

WRITETHRU: 3rd to last graf, 1st sentence: "D-N.C.," sted "D-N.C,"

By E.J. DIONNE JR.

WASHINGTON -- It's often said that when our founders wrote the Constitution, they had a leader like Donald Trump in mind when they included various safeguards for our liberties and against abuses of presidential power.

I think that gets it wrong. The founders could not have imagined a president like Trump.

They certainly never expected that a president would go on strike.

But that is what Trump did on Wednesday, throwing a tantrum at what was supposed to be a serious meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer about a big infrastructure plan. Trump then barged out and told waiting reporters that unless the House stopped investigating him -- i.e., gave up on its responsibilities to hold him accountable -- Americans would just have to keep driving on crumbling roads, crossing shaky bridges and riding on inadequate public transit systems.

He took umbrage at Pelosi accusing him of a "cover-up" after a morning meeting with her Democratic caucus -- even though the speaker's comment was a logical response to Trump's sweeping efforts to block the House from hearing witnesses and receiving documents that it has a right to request. That Pelosi is encouraging her caucus to hold back on impeachment inquiries was apparently lost on him.

Trump's theatrics only hardened Pelosi's view. After Trump's stagey sulk, she told a gathering organized by the Center for American Progress: "The fact is, in plain sight in the public domain, this president is obstructing justice and he's engaged in a cover-up -- and that could be an impeachable offense." She also told the group that she was praying for him and for our country.

She might usefully add our constitutional system to her prayerful petitioning, because there is one other thing our founders certainly didn't have in mind: that extreme partisanship would so obliterate institutional patriotism that congressional Republicans would put the interests of a power-abusing president over the legitimate rights and prerogatives of the legislative branch of government. Democrats should not have to be fighting Trump's imperiousness on their own.

But that is how it is, which means that a growing number of angry and frustrated House members are arguing that their colleagues should move quickly to impeachment hearings because doing so might strengthen their legal hand in prying out information to which they are entitled.

Again, I doubt that when the founders wrote the impeachment power into the Constitution, they expected it might be the only recourse left against a chief executive who is guided solely by an obsession with self-protection.

For all the talk of Democrats being divided on impeachment, my reporting suggests something different and more complicated. Virtually all members of their caucus are infuriated with Trump's stonewalling and in search of stronger ways to push back against it. Large numbers see many of his actions -- and not just those described in the Mueller report -- as potentially impeachable, but they worry about what signal would be sent if the House impeached and the Senate acquitted.

At the same time, a very sizable group, particularly members from swing districts, wants everyone to know that if impeachment comes, it will be undertaken deliberately and not in haste.

"My responsibility is to deliver the evidence," Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., who won a Republican-held seat in 2018, said in an interview. "I really want to make sure this is done correctly."

Rep. David Price, D-N.C., who has spent three decades in the House, put the ambivalence many of his colleagues plainly. "Most of us think these are impeachable offenses," he told me. "But it will be a failed impeachment in the Senate unless something changes on the Republican side. How much better is a failed impeachment than a relentless, serious set of investigations?" Which, of course, is why Trump is doing all he can to make such inquiries impossible.

For now, a majority of House Democrats seem inclined to support court efforts to uphold the various subpoenas and document requests before moving to impeachment. Giving Trump more time for Rose Garden and Twitter antics could also allow him to make the case for impeachment far better than Democrats ever could on their own.

And in blowing up the talks on infrastructure, Trump has already assuaged one of the worries swing-district Democrats -- that they'd be blamed if Washington doesn't act on big issues. Now, everyone will know that it's Trump who has little interest in governing or compromising. He's the one with the picket sign, grinding government to a halt to keep his secrets.

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Why are wage gains so weak?

By robert j. samuelson
Why are wage gains so weak?

ROBERT J. SAMUELSON COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Samuelson clients only)

By ROBERT J. SAMUELSON

WASHINGTON -- After correcting for inflation, wage gains remain sluggish. In April, average weekly earnings for nonsupervisory workers were up 3% from a year earlier, to $785.55. Meanwhile, prices as measured by the consumer price index were up 2%. Considering that the economy has been expanding for nearly a full decade -- a record if it continues through June -- this is perplexing, even allowing that wages are growing faster at the top than in the middle.

Theories abound to explain wage behavior. Average workers (it's said) still recall the ferocity of the 2007-09 recession and are more reluctant to chase higher wages by leaving their present jobs. For similar reasons, employers resist large wage gains. They want to remain competitive in another recession. Both are willing to trade stronger job security for slightly lower pay.

Other theories blame sluggish wage growth on changes in the labor market. The decline of unions -- a phenomenon that stretches back to the 1960s -- has weakened workers' bargaining power. Globalization has had the same effect, because in many industries production can be moved abroad where wages are lower. China is an obvious example.

Weak productivity gains amplify the effect. In the long run, strong productivity improvements are the source of higher wages and salaries. From 2010 to 2017, annual productivity increases averaged only 0.5%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This compared with a post-World War II average of 2%. Slower productivity advances mean smaller increases in labor compensation for most workers.

We now have a new theory from the McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of the McKinsey consulting company. It's long been known that the labor share of national income (GDP, for gross domestic product) has been shrinking. In 1947, the labor share was 65.4% of GDP; in 2016, it was 56.7% of GDP. These figures combined all forms of labor compensation: wages, salaries, fringe benefits.

Meanwhile, the capital share of income -- income accruing to shareholders, business owners and other investors -- rose roughly from 34.6% to 43.3%. Worryingly, three quarters of this shift has occurred since 2000. Again, these trends had been known. But McKinsey went a step further. It estimated how much the rising share of capital income explained the lackluster increases in median wage increases.

The answer is: about a quarter. That's the impact of the shift from labor to capital income. The rest of the wage slowdown reflects poor productivity growth (general efficiency) and the tendency of high-income wages and salaries to grow faster than middle-income wages. If the distribution between labor and capital income had remained unchanged since 1998, the average American worker would have a whopping $4,000 in extra annual pay, according to McKinsey's calculations.

Although this is an astonishing conclusion, it doesn't automatically explain why it happened or how it might be exploited to raise household incomes. One apparent cause of the capital share's increase is the growth of some well-known companies with phenomenal profits. For example: Facebook reported $22 billion in 2018 after-tax profits; Apple's total was $60 billion. By a variety of other channels, hefty profits have pushed up capital's share of national income. Similar trends are apparent in other countries -- say, Germany and Spain.

It will be tempting to tax some of the surging profits. Whatever this might do, it probably won't result in higher incomes for most middle-class Americans. The key to raising incomes, as always, is to improve productivity, but as McKinsey recognizes, this is easier said than done.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

Slow-walking impeachment may look weak. But restraint is Democrats' greatest strength.

By dana milbank
Slow-walking impeachment may look weak. But restraint is Democrats' greatest strength.

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Milbank clients only)

By DANA MILBANK

There was only one side of the dais at Tuesday's House Judiciary Committee hearing that mentioned impeachment -- and it wasn't the Democratic side.

There was only one side that hollered and sputtered, one side that lobbed insults at the other and impugned colleagues' motives -- and it wasn't the majority.

Indeed, Tuesday's hearing was a study in the asymmetric combat that defines our politics in the Trump era. Some on the left see this asymmetry as a sign of Democratic weakness. I see it as the nation's best hope for recovery.

At Tuesday's session, the committee's chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., spoke in a calm, steady voice about the absence of former White House counsel Donald McGahn, a no-show after President Trump ordered him not to comply with a subpoena. "Mr. McGahn has a legal obligation to be here for this scheduled appearance. If he does not immediately correct his mistake, this committee will have no choice but to enforce the subpoena against him," Nadler intoned.

Nadler mentioned neither impeachment nor contempt, and he managed to keep the Democratic side -- including the gadfly who brought fried chicken to a previous hearing as a prop -- quiet.

Then came Nadler's Republican counterpart, Rep. Douglas Collins of Georgia, who practically yelled out his statement and fired off taunts so quickly that those of us in the room struggled to understand him, and the transcript designated several sections as unintelligible. The words that did come through were mostly caustic and personal. Nadler "rushed to maximize headlines," was "politically expedient," issued an "illegal subpoena," "orchestrated" a "spectacle" and a "drama," and is "more interested in the fight than fact-finding." Collins further accused Nadler and the Democrats of "harangues," "innuendo" and warned of "running roughshod over the Constitution."

"The theater is open," Collins said of the sedate proceedings. Because Democrats can't find anything to "hang their I-word, impeachment, on. ... We're here again, with the circus in full force."

Though accusing Democrats of theatrics by having the empty-seat hearing, Republicans attempted to continue bickering by voting against adjournment. "This is disgraceful!" cried out Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio.

Watching this disparity in demeanor, I tried to imagine how things might look if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, and, two years later:

-- Five of her campaign advisers had been convicted of crimes -- one of them implicating her -- and a sixth indicted.

-- A prosecutor documented numerous instances in which Clinton had interfered with investigators.

-- Clinton refused to let aides cooperate with subpoenas and dismissed an unfavorable court ruling as "crazy" and partisan.

-- She directed the Justice Department to investigate the front-runner for the Republicans' 2020 nomination.

-- She directed the White House counsel to lie about her deceit, then ordered him not to testify.

Can anybody imagine, in those circumstances, a Republican speaker of the House and the Republican presidential front-runner (the one Clinton ordered investigated) steadfastly resisting calls for impeachment?

There is long-standing tension among Democratic lawmakers and 2020 presidential candidates about whether to answer Trump's aggression and insults in kind (Republican lawmakers long ago internalized his style) or whether to be the grown-ups in the room. On the campaign trail, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Kamala Harris (Calif.) have called for impeachment, and a growing number of Democrats in Congress, from fiery Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) to Rep. David Cicilline (R.I.), a member of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (Calif.) leadership team, have joined the cause. Liberal activists rage against Pelosi "meeting fire with fecklessness," as New York magazine's Eric Levitz put it.

But the mass of voters side with restraint, and even anti-establishment Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has said impeachment "works to Trump's advantage." Certainly, Trump has earned impeachment; Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., has said as much. But with no chance of removing Trump, Democrats can instead show the country that our problem isn't polarization; it's that one side has gone bonkers, and the other side is trying to restore adult supervision.

Americans, even reluctant Trump supporters, hunger to end the madness. This is likely why former vice president Joe Biden holds a commanding lead, even though he's out of sync with the party base ideologically and demographically. And generally, the 2020 Democrats seem to grasp the country's need for normal. I had feared that, after Trump, Democrats would conclude there's no penalty for lying. Instead, "anecdotally, I think they are trying harder to be more factually accurate," The Washington Post's Fact Checker, Glenn Kessler, tells me.

This is an encouraging sign, as is party leadership's efforts to resist an impeachment stampede. Impeachment may be inevitable if Trump continues to stiff-arm all inquiries. But Democrats are right not to emulate Trump's insults, falsehoods and extreme partisanship as they go about their legitimate inquiries.

Maybe such restraint will be proved wrong in 2020, and voters will reward the insult hurlers. But if Americans don't desire a return to stability, honesty and decency, our democracy is already lost.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Here's why you shouldn't expect impeachment anytime soon

By megan mcardle
Here's why you shouldn't expect impeachment anytime soon

MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For McArdle clients only)

By MEGAN MCARDLE

Sometimes it's necessary to point out the obvious, so here goes: President Trump isn't going to be impeached and removed from office unless the Republican Party decides it wants him gone.

You may believe him to have already committed the "high crimes and misdemeanors" that merit such drastic action; you may even be right. But "high crimes and misdemeanors" is ill-defined. In the end, it amounts to "anything Congress thinks merits removal from office."

With the Senate controlled by Republicans -- and the Democratic House majority dependent on right-leaning swing districts -- that means nothing can really happen unless the Republican Party decides to go along.

But which party? There is the party of the GOP political professionals, the dreaded "establishment," happy to daydream about the soothing possibilities of a President Pence. The only thing stopping them from making that dream come true is their fear of the other Republican Party, the GOP's electoral base.

A substantial part of that base voted for Trump as a rebuke to the very people who hate him so much. Another sizeable faction doesn't particularly care for Trump but likes to see him appointing conservative judges and being more assertive with China. A third faction is made up of staunch party loyalists who think they should stand by their team. As long as those three factions line up against impeachment -- and right now, they overwhelmingly do -- Trump will stay firmly seated in the Oval Office.

So the question for impeachophiles is "how many of those voters can be moved?" The die-hard Trump supporters probably can't be, but the other groups are potentially at least persuadable. That brings us to the question of how to persuade them. And to Justin Amash, the Michigan representative who just broke ranks with his party by calling for Trump's impeachment.

A sophisticated theory of how the Democrats might succeed in impeaching Trump goes something like this: Aggressively investigate the president, keeping news of his Russian perfidy in the headlines day after day. As his support erodes, welcome Republican defectors who start to signal that, yes, it's OK for a party loyalist to support impeachment. Recruit more and more Republican mavericks to Team Impeachment until the Republicans who never liked Trump much in the first place decide that he's destined to lose in 2020 and tarnishing the party in the meantime. When you have a critical mass of defectors in the House, pull the trigger and impeach, trusting the Republican senators to go along out of concern for their party's reputation and for their own electoral prospects.

In that scenario, a defector such as Amash is essential: A single defection assures impeachment-curious Republicans of company on the other side of the aisle. Once one brave soul breaks ranks, the defections start to snowball into an avalanche as opinions shift among the Republican voters who still shape their political positions around signals from their party's leaders.

That scenario is also why you shouldn't expect impeachment anytime soon.

To state another obvious proposition, avalanches don't occur in deserts. The impeachment snowball can only form in the right environment, and today, that environment doesn't exist. Even most Democrats want more investigation before launching impeachment proceedings, and 82% of Republicans oppose even that.

And while Democrats may dream that aggressive congressional investigations can prepare the ground for Watergate II, they're likely to be disappointed. Watergate occurred in a country with much lower partisan polarization than modern-day America, so voters were easier to move. Moreover, the way the scandal unfolded was uncannily ideal for Richard Nixon's political opponents. The revelations started small and gradually got bigger and bigger, with each revelation worse than the last, so that party stalwarts were gradually led to the realization that their president had committed a crime. And even so, Nixon almost survived; even after the last, worst revelations, 43% of Americans opposed impeachment.

Trump's transgressions, by contrast, were almost immediately overhyped as hard evidence of an active conspiracy with a foreign power. Now that's been downgraded to possible obstruction of justice, and public attention is bound to wander. Nor will it be easy to remove the president on a purely procedural charge without proving an underlying crime. Just ask the Republicans who futilely impeached Bill Clinton.

Moreover, as 2020 creeps closer, the argument strengthens for just letting voters sort things out. Republican politicians would certainly regard that course as the least likely to prompt a primary challenge. And to state the obvious one more time, that's the course they're going to take.

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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Video: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke about presidential impeachment on May 16.(The Washington Post)

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Video: After the White House blocked numerous congressional subpoena requests over the past month, lawmakers have begun calling for impeachment proceedings against President Trump.((Blair Guild, JM Rieger/The Washington Post)/The Washington Post)

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With Huawei, Trump confronts China's tech threat head on

By david ignatius
With Huawei, Trump confronts China's tech threat head on

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, May 22, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, May 21, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

By DAVID IGNATIUS

WASHINGTON -- Huawei's name is often translated in English as "Chinese excellence." The Trump administration last week embarked on a campaign to rebrand the tech giant, in effect, as a "Chinese threat" and check its expansion in the West.

The Huawei assault may be the Trump administration's most important long-term strategic decision, because it confronts China's technological challenge to America head on. The goal is to prevent Huawei from dominating 5G wireless communications, the next phase of the digital revolution, by blocking use of its technology by America and its partners.

President Trump's action was the digital version of a combat-mobilization order. Because of Huawei's alleged threat to U.S. national security, he put it on the so-called "entity list," which forbids U.S. firms from selling technology to it without special permission. The impact was clear Monday when Google announced that it would stop selling updates of its Android operating system for Huawei phones.

The wiring of the global economy is entangled, so the Commerce Department granted a 90-day delay, probably to allow Google to send security patches and other urgent fixes. Commerce, meanwhile, has 150 days to draft rules that would block U.S. companies from buying Huawei equipment, though legal experts predicted that Huawei might successfully challenge that ban in U.S. courts.

It's a measure of Trump's erratic deal-making style that the first question for many observers was whether the president was serious about banning Huawei, or whether he was simply applying more pressure to get his stalled trade deal. Trump backed off last year from a similar squeeze against ZTE, another big Chinese telecom company, after a personal plea from President Xi Jinping.

Trump-watchers doubt he's bluffing this time. He recently told close advisers, "We have to win the 5G fight, period," according to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who attended the session. "I don't think we have any choice," Gingrich told me, because the alternative to checking Huawei is Chinese dominance of digital infrastructure.

"Huawei is the poster child of China Inc.," argued Christopher Johnson, a former top CIA analyst who's now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "If this campaign is successful, we've demonstrated that Xi's whole narrative that China has created an alternative to the West is false."

The danger, Johnson cautioned in an interview, is that if Trump forces European allies to choose between America and China, "You may not like their response."

Working with allies, never Trump's strong suit, will be crucial here. Right now, there's no good alternative to Huawei's 5G technology. Somehow, the U.S. needs to encourage catch-up work by South Korea's Samsung, Finland's Nokia and Sweden's Ericsson. Bizarrely, the administration didn't pre-brief allies on its Huawei plan.

U.S. intelligence agencies will applaud Trump's action. For a decade, they've warned that Huawei was creating a global platform for Chinese spying. "These measures were taken in the nick of time, before 5G from Huawei became engrained in our technological society," argued one former senior CIA operations officer.

But Americans, and Chinese too, should think carefully about what's ahead. Analysts this past week have talked of a technological "decoupling" and a "digital Iron Curtain" descending on the global economy. That sounds like a description of a world in which everyone would be worse off -- a mobilization for a conflict like World War I, which historians now judge was unwise and unnecessary.

"We are stuck in a reactive game of tit for tat," warns a senior executive of a giant U.S. technology company. He says America must think carefully about "what hybrid international order we are seeking, recognizing that it has to be one where we coexist with China as a major power." This executive's concern, shared by others, is that Trump is making decisions with big long-term consequences for short-term political reasons.

"This is the kind of blunt and risky instrument one might employ as the last step on the escalatory ladder," said former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns in an interview. "I worry that we've leaped over other, more targeted tools that could have addressed or mitigated specific concerns with less collateral damage."

As so often with Trump, the real question is what end-state he seeks with his campaign of maximum pressure. What does success look like? Is it the destruction of Huawei as a 5G competitor or simply a reduction of its market reach? Does Trump want technology coexistence or a restoration of American dominance?

Trump is about building walls. But he should be especially careful about this digital barrier, behind which the U.S. might stand while the rest of the world races forward.

Follow David Ignatius on Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Crazy in Colorado?

By kathleen parker
Crazy in Colorado?

KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, May 22, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, May 21, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Parker clients only)

By KATHLEEN PARKER

WASHINGTON -- Driving along Colorado's scenic byways, one might be distracted these days by a series of billboards promoting safe abortions or, depending upon one's route, alternatives to abortion, as well as assorted child-rearing recommendations.

They make one wistful for the old crazy preacher shouting the Gospel from an overturned fruit crate.

If abortion was once a relatively quiet matter involving women and their doctors, it is no more. Thanks to extreme anti-abortion legislation in several states, notably Alabama, as well as laws elsewhere relaxing standards for late-term terminations, the American landscape may soon resemble a political campaign of dueling candidates.

Family vacations, meanwhile, may impose uncomfortable conversations with the kids. "Mom, what's an abortion?" I remember once trying to answer this question for a young child. He burst into tears before I could find better words to make this thing not a nightmare. Children have a way of informing adults, don't they?

Fun times ahead, summer campers!

One billboard causing controversy near the Utah border reads: "Welcome to Colorado, where you can get a safe, legal abortion." I guess if you're a woman who is conflicted over her pregnancy and you drive past the sign, you might find some relief in the message. But for most other people -- that is, me -- it would surely be an unwelcome intrusion upon their meditations. Nothing like a gargantuan abortion reminder to ruin a Rocky Mountain high.

Not to make light of a serious issue that we've been debating for 40 years, but our interstate highway system risks becoming a sticky-note space ride through someone else's business, as 50 states adopt 50 different abortion policies. Already, the Guttmacher Institute calls the nation a "lattice work of abortion law." Earlier this month, Alabama passed legislation banning abortion in all cases, unless a woman's life is threatened (with no exceptions for rape or incest). Several other states recently have passed so-called "heartbeat" bills prohibiting abortion after six weeks, when something like a heartbeat is detected.

Even six weeks is repugnant to those who want to protect human life from conception. While these apparently unconstitutional laws are challenged in courts, possibly all the way to the Supreme Court, states will be exercising their rights by signaling to the rest of the nation their various definitions of "life."

The group behind the Colorado billboard -- Keep Abortion Safe -- is unabashed in its purposes. Co-founder Fawn Bolak says the group hopes that the sign will bring women from neighboring states to Colorado for their reproductive needs.

The goal: "to be a bold message to our neighbors coming in. That they are now entering a state that respects and allows them to make their own reproductive health care decisions," Bolak told Denver's CBS affiliate. "We also have instances of folks traveling from all over the country to come to Colorado for the access we have."

Even recognizing pro-choice advocates' desire to amplify their message of safe and available abortions, the billboard smacks of commercialism where none should exist. Advertising abortion as a commodity further dehumanizes the unborn and diminishes the moral impact of what is proposed. Will discounts next be offered in exchange for referrals?

Billboards in states where "heartbeat" legislation has passed or is percolating surely would have a distinctly different look. Georgia has more than 9,800 billboards (second most behind Florida), while Louisiana boasts 7,000. Clearly, there's plenty of room for everybody to express themselves, though one reflects longingly on Lady Bird Johnson's mission of beautifying America by eliminating billboards.

Pro-life billboards often feature babies with a message about gestational benchmarks. In one, produced by the group Prolife Across America, a baby exclaims: "What? I could feel pain before I was born?"

Whatever transpires in courtrooms, the stage has been set for states to define themselves according to legislators' interpretations and perhaps build marketing strategies around them. If many people (my hand is raised) have been offended by huge posters displaying partially aborted fetuses, a common occurrence at political conventions and statehouse rallies, just imagine what could be down the line.

States regulate the content of billboards, so perhaps we're in luck, but free speech challenges wouldn't be surprising as the two sides escalate their war of words and images. Meanwhile, road travelers are involuntary witnesses to a debate that many would prefer not to have. To a nation defined by individual autonomy, the only thing worse than the personal tragedy of abortion is the audacity of the self-ordained to govern when and under what circumstances women have children.

Billboard that.

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

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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