Get the best stories to your readers as they happen. The Washington Post News Service streams breaking news, enterprise and features with photos, graphics and video directly to you.

Cannabis restaurants are coming to California, with 'budtenders' and 'flower' service

By Maura Judkis
Cannabis restaurants are coming to California, with 'budtenders' and 'flower' service
Chef Andrea Drummer shows the caramel corn, s'mores and ice cream sandwiches she's testing for the new Lowell Farms cannabis cafe. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Oriana Koren for the Washington Post.

WEST HOLLYWOOD - Like any good chef about to open a restaurant, Andrea Drummer wants to get her pairings just right. But her lamb chops with plantain-mango salsa won't be matched with wine or beer.

Instead, a "budtender" - some in the industry call them ganjiers, as in ganja sommeliers - will help guests at the soon-to-open Lowell Farms cannabis cafe pair their farm-to-table meal with the perfect strain of farm-to-table marijuana.

"A kush is a little more pungent, so it pairs better with a stew, or something like a beef or a meat product. A lighter lemon profile goes nicely with a fish," said Drummer. One of her favorite strains, Blue Dream, "pairs well with both savory and sweet. I've done it with ice cream, and with bread puddings, but I've also done it with octopus."

When the rustic, plant-filled 220-seat space opens, it will be the first of its kind in America: a place for locals and tourists to have a high-quality meal and smoke a joint in public. Other restaurants are soon to follow. But if they want weed on the menu, restaurateurs in the famously progressive city - which in 2017 approved an ordinance allowing business licenses for this purpose - will still have to navigate a complicated patchwork of regulations.

"With cannabis, we are building the boat as we're on the water," said Jackie Subeck, who plans to open a cannabis spa, clinic and cafe and serves as the chairwoman of the cannabis legislative subcommittee for the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

States that have legalized recreational cannabis will be watching how the city pulls it off. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, signed a bill in May allowing cannabis lounges. If legalization continues apace, cannabis restaurants might eventually become as normal as wine bars.

"Whatever West Hollywood does now," said Sean Black, co-founder of Lowell Herb Co., the cannabis company opening the cafe, "the rest of the blue states, at least, [do] three years later."

- - -

Proposition 64 legalized cannabis in California, but consuming it in public is still prohibited. When the West Hollywood City Council held a study session on the topic in 2017, it determined that access to places to smoke was a social-equity issue.

"A lot of people in this city are renters, and they may not be able to smoke in their apartments," said John Leonard, the city's community and legislative affairs manager. "They're forced to smoke in public places or smoke in their cars, and they face a greater risk of being arrested for that."

However, that wasn't the only reason the council approved an ordinance allowing public consumption lounges.

People "enjoy the nightlife of West Hollywood. So we thought this was kind of a natural evolution that, you know, you can stay in West Hollywood in a hotel, you can go out to our bars and our restaurants, and now you can go to a cannabis consumption cafe as well," said Leonard.

There are public cannabis consumption areas elsewhere in California and in Colorado, but many are lounges attached to dispensaries or vape clubs reminiscent of a dingy basement. They are pretty different from what West Hollywood had in mind when it opened up applications for 16 on-site consumption licenses (with 24 additional licenses for dispensaries and delivery) in May 2018.

The process drew more than 300 applicants, who were scored on factors such as innovation and social equity. The top eight in each of five categories were allowed to proceed.

Drummer's application, among the highest scorers in the category for consumption lounge (smoking, vaping and edible), outlined a "bright and airy oasis" with tableside "flower" service - cannabis buds hand-rolled into joints. It also called for a menu of infused food, which Drummer has been making for years as a private chef whose clients have included comedian Chelsea Handler. The business has several partners, but its main support comes from Lowell Herb Co., with its rustic branding and celebrity following.

But as soon as the licenses were approved, the compromises began.

The first problem was the discrepancy between city and state licensing. Although the city allows licenses for consumption lounges that aren't attached to dispensaries, "There is no such thing as a cannabis cafe license from the state," which will license the businesses as dispensaries, Black said.

The next problem was the food. Although West Hollywood permits it, California prohibits cannabis businesses from selling anything other than cannabis, with the exception of accessories such as bongs and pipes, and branded merchandise such as T-shirts. The purpose "was to make sure that dispensaries did not become convenience stores and start selling Reese's peanut butter cups and Doritos and Coke," Subeck said.

But folks in the cannabis industry are finding loopholes, which West Hollywood has encouraged. Lowell's strategy is to put two separate businesses under the same roof: a lounge to smoke cannabis and a restaurant. Guests who order food and cannabis will receive separate bills. The plan was approved by the West Hollywood Business License Commission in July.

Another compromise: Drummer originally had planned to serve freshly infused food, with cannabis butters and oils incorporated at various doses. But that will have to wait, because under state law, all cannabis products have to be prepackaged and tested, making it logistically impossible for a restaurant kitchen that wants to serve fresh food. She's now focusing on making uninfused food to pair with cannabis - including a dessert "flight" that features a Fruity Pebbles ice cream sandwich, and a s'more with a housemade marshmallow.

It's trickier for restaurants that planned to infuse food but applied for an edible consumption license. They cannot fall back on making money from joints and vaping, like Lowell, but they, too, have found a creative solution. The team behind the Antidote, which plans to open an upscale cannabis restaurant in the spring, also plans to open a commissary kitchen to produce sauces and dressings infused with THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis. Guests would purchase a sauce, which would be presented alongside the meal in a sealed container, open it themselves and dose appropriately. (The sauce also would have to be purchased from a separate business - which, as at the Lowell cafe, could be under the same roof as the restaurant.)

"Think of, like, butters and oils and broths," said Kirk Cartozian, a Los Angeles-area restaurateur and partner in the Antidote, which might spin off into a separate business. "We have a lab and essentially the potential setup to supply our own, and maybe supply others, with business-to-business" infused ingredients.

- - -

Running a cannabis restaurant is nothing like running a typical restaurant in West Hollywood. Cannabis businesses cannot serve alcohol, so drinks are zero-proof. The state does not permit cannabis businesses to operate after 10 p.m., so Lowell Farms cannabis cafe must have last call for cannabis before then - though it can remain open until 2 a.m. (Leonard said West Hollywood hopes to be granted an exemption.) The businesses cannot be within 600 feet of a day care or a school. Some neighbors, including a synagogue across the street from the Lowell cafe, aren't too happy about sharing a block with a cannabis business.

Because the federal government still considers cannabis a Schedule 1 drug, most banks are unwilling to serve cannabis businesses, which must rely on alternative banks and credit unions or cash transactions. (The California Senate approved legislation in May that creates a pathway for more banks to work with cannabis companies.) When the city collected more than $1 million in license application money, it was primarily in cash.

Leonard said he anticipates that many businesses will pay their taxes in cash, too, which "creates risks for everybody," he said. "We have to have multiple people in the room counting cash. We have to have sheriff's deputies there with the cash being counted. We have to have armored cars coming in, picking it up."

Tables probably won't turn as quickly at cannabis restaurants because guests who are high may be more likely to linger. Lowell's plans for a roof deck were scuttled because cannabis consumption cannot be seen from the street, so smokers must partake in a walled-in garden at street level. And guests who don't finish their cannabis won't be able to take it home.

"They're going to purchase less," said Subeck. "How is a business supposed to survive if they can't sell products?"

It might encourage some people to take a larger dose in the interest of getting their money's worth. The restaurant also has to ensure guests don't over-consume, and that's trickier than a budtender cutting someone off. Cannabis - especially when ingested - affects everyone differently, depending on body mass and tolerance level, so a dose that barely registers for one guest could send another sky-high.

Cannabis cafes are not yet the moneymaker they seem to be. The added expenses - extra staff and 24-hour security, pricey vents to suck up the smoke, lobbying and preparing the license proposal - mean the Lowell cafe will cost approximately $3 million to open.

"The chance of this being a real moneymaking operation is that it is truly the first of its kind and it becomes a tradition throughout America, and 30 years from now, it's a historical landmark and the first place in America cannabis was served," said Black.

City officials hope the gamble eventually pays off. West Hollywood is ready for marijuana tourists and hopes the new businesses - which include a virtual-reality space and an art gallery with a cannabis lounge - attract them in droves. There are already cannabis tour buses, and the city's dispensaries do brisk business. The Standard Hotel has plans to open a high-end shop in its lobby by cannabis company Lord Jones. And in August, the company WeedMaps opened a 30,000-square-foot Museum of Cannabis in Hollywood, with exhibits both educational (the science of terpenes) and Instagrammable (a room that looks like a psychedelic lava lamp).

Leonard estimates that once most of the new businesses are up and running, annual cannabis tax revenue will be between $5 million and $6 million.

"Amsterdam kind of went to step one," with its simple cannabis coffee shops, said Rachel Burkons, who co-owns Altered Plates, a culinary collective and cannabis hospitality company. "I think these are going to be much more robust in terms of their overall concept and execution and are going to really kind of blow that out of the water."

- - -

The first time Drummer smoked marijuana, as a 13-year-old in south Florida, she got into a fight that sent her to court. After reading the anti-drug book "Go Ask Alice," she became a youth counselor who encouraged students to stay away from marijuana. But after a few years, her thinking changed.

"I just thought, I can't do this," she said, "because I don't know if this is wrong anymore."

She abandoned social work, went to Le Cordon Bleu culinary school and later started using cannabis to treat sciatica, caused by long days standing in the kitchen. She founded Elevation VIP, a private cannabis dinner company, and briefly lived in her car while she was getting the business off the ground. It paid off after appearances on the former late night talk show "Chelsea Lately" and the Netflix show "Cooking on High." Drummer said her dream was always to open a cannabis restaurant.

"I've always looked forward to the day that what we do is counted among the critics and among the James Beard [Awards]," Drummer said.

In a way, the new restaurant will allow her to use her social worker skills again. Lowell Farms cannabis cafe aims to hire staff who were previously incarcerated for nonviolent cannabis offenses. Drummer sees it as a way of bolstering African Americans, who have been the most disproportionately penalized for cannabis use but who represent only a small part of the industry.

"Instead of asking for social equity," she said, "I want to be social equity."

As she tested recipes on a recent Monday morning, amid the din of construction, Drummer realized another way the restaurant would be breaking ground: It could potentially forge new territory for food critics, who might need to take a few hits to see how well her pairings work.

Cannabis can make food taste really, really good. So if a critic were to partake, she said with a laugh, "We'll get all the stars."

During Afghan elections, schools double as voting places - and become Taliban targets

By Jon Gerberg and Sharif Hassan
During Afghan elections, schools double as voting places - and become Taliban targets
Noor Mohammad, headmaster of the Ali Nika boys high school in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, stands with his 7-year-old daughter, Bibi Roqia. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jon Gerberg.

SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan - The headmaster knew violence could strike his all-boys high school at any moment. It was why he spent three nights camped out in a first-floor classroom before last fall's parliamentary elections.

But his anticipation didn't dull the surprise of the dinnertime blast from a Taliban bomb.

"It was so strong we thought that the building would collapse," Noor Mohammad recalled. Windows were shattered. Smoke hung in the air. "I was dizzy. It was like falling off a roof."

No one was injured, but it wasn't the first time the Ali Nika school was struck. Nor would it be the last.

Schools in Afghanistan sit at the nexus of education, politics and violence. Their openings are heralded by many as signs of progress in a country stunted by conflict; their students are stewards of Afghanistan's future who might one day lift it out of poverty. But schools here, as in many other countries, also serve as traditional polling places - and so become targets of Taliban violence, especially during election years.

The number of attacks on schools almost doubled in the first three months of this year compared to a year before, according to the United Nations. The spike followed 192 such attacks in 2018, triple the number from 2017. Almost half of the incidents in 2018 were at schools hosting polling places for elections in October.

Now many worry the presidential election slated for late September will bring another surge of violence. The Taliban this month promised to disrupt the elections, warning civilians to stay away from campaign rallies, and has stepped up its attacks on government targets to gain leverage in peace talks with the United States.

"It is unfair, because children have a right to education, and of course they are losing this opportunity," Afghan Education Minister Mirwais Balkhi said in an interview last month. "Schools are for the common good, and no one should harm them - not the government, not the Taliban."

Sometimes schools are directly targeted. Other times, they're collateral damage in attacks on nearby government buildings.

In the weeks following the October attack on the Ali Nika school, small donations from teachers and students helped fix the shattered windows and keep out the cold. Mohammad, the headmaster, said not a single day of classes were missed.

"As Afghans, we are accustomed to such incidents," he said.

The school has faced threats for years. It is also a short drive from the border with Pakistan, and fighting border guards have occasionally sent stray bullets into the school's walls. Its proximity to the police station next door puts it at risk of frequent insurgent bombardments.

"We'd be safer if we were farther away," Mohammad said.

The school's windows are still shattered from a bombing last month on the street outside. No one claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mohammad now stands watch twice a day as his students file home after the final bell. He makes sure that they all turn right, toward the mud-walled huts and dusty auto parts dealers, rather than left, toward the police station.

In June, Balkhi, the education minister, sent a letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, chief executive Abdullah Abdullah and the country's election commission, demanding that no schools be used for polling in the election.

"We have many other options," he said in a recent interview, arguing that mosques and community centers should be used instead.

"Without elections we can survive, but without education we cannot," he said. "If you do not educate the young people of Afghanistan, there will be no democracy, no development, no proper state, no proper government."

He said his letter went unanswered.

The election commission says it has no choice. Schools are often the only public spaces available with a known permanent address and reliable supplies, structures and security, commission officials said, and the use of mosques and private homes in the past has led to corruption and mismanagement. (There are no classes in Afghan schools on election days.)

The commission plans to have 5,388 polling sites around the country this year, "70 to 80 percent of which will be schools," according to Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi, a commission spokesman.

"The lives of the students are valuable to us, but elections are a national process," Ibrahimi said. "We have no other options."

Some critics have called for the Sept. 28 election to be postponed because of the threat of violence, reports of poor preparation, or possible disruption of the peace talks. Ghani and his running mate have insisted that the vote go ahead as planned.

In a statement posted online on Aug. 6, the Taliban denounced the election as an illegitimate "ploy" put on by foreigners and "sham politicians." They warned "fellow compatriots" to "stay away from gatherings and rallies that could become potential targets."

"Our goal is to prevent the fake election process," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said by WhatsApp voice message in response to questions about attacks on schools. "If a school or any other place is used in the election process, it will not be our fault."

Previous Afghan elections have been marred by allegations of irregularities. This year, some Afghan leaders and foreign observers are concerned that a contested election, along with ensuing violence, could complicate negotiations with the Taliban.

The United States and the Taliban have been in talks for months on an initial peace deal that would require the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops in exchange for a cease-fire and the promise of direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, which has refused to negotiate with Afghan leaders.

Experts say the Taliban's stepped-up attacks on schools will bode poorly for Afghanistan's future. School attendance dropped by 50 percent in most provinces during last year's parliamentary elections, said Balkhi, the education minister.

"Students are already under so much stress in Afghanistan," said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Wilson Center, "but if you now have this cascading threat about getting physically harmed when you're at school, I think that will just make the educational system all the more perilous and vulnerable."

More Afghan civilians were killed or injured on election day than on any other day in 2018. Among the many sites hit by the Taliban in the days leading up to the October elections was a primary school in Shah Mahmoud, a modest village outside of Spin Boldak.

The school serves 311 students, ages 7 to 16. Teachers and local elders said the Taliban had put out a warning days earlier that the school would be attacked if it were used as a polling site.

On Oct. 26 - the day before elections in Kandahar - polling booths and ballots were moved into the school. That evening, two blasts tore off the building's roof, shattered desks and reduced books to ashes. None of the election materials were damaged.

Naazdanah, the 11-year-old daughter of a shopkeeper, heard the blasts from her home in a neighboring village. She knew immediately it was an attack on her school, she said.

"They're the Taliban. They don't like education; they're jealous," she said. Nevertheless, she's determined to continue her education.

"I have no fear," she said. "I will always go to school to see my friends, my teachers and to learn."

The Washington Post spoke to the students with the permission of their parents and the village elders. The Post is identifying the children by only their first names out of concern for their safety.

Sixteen-year-old Ismatullah, an aspiring civil engineer who attends the school, was familiar with violence.

His family had fled from nearby Panjwai district after his school was destroyed because the Taliban had been using it as a militant hideout. Still, Ismatullah was dismayed to see the violence follow him.

"School should be a place for education," he said. "It is not a battlefield."

Despite the attack, more than 4,000 voters turned out to cast their ballots at the schoolhouse, the line stretching far down the road, according to Budradin Badrad, the education officer of Spin Boldak.

This year, teachers and village elders say they will continue as planned with elections and with classes.

"We have no other choice," said Shah Mahmoud, a village elder. "Education is our only way to escape."

A glimpse into processing facility at heart of border crisis

By Arelis R. Hernández
A glimpse into processing facility at heart of border crisis
Men sit on a bench with other fathers of young children in the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, on Aug. 12, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Carolyn Van Houten

MCALLEN, Texas - Dozens of dirt-caked shoes popped out from beneath the silver Mylar blankets, where children lie on mats, watching cartoons, and parents cooed infants to sleep. Inside the chain-link pens of U.S. Border Patrol's largest holding facility, nearly 1,300 migrants were waiting Monday to be released, deported or transferred.

Set up in a converted warehouse during the 2014 child migrant crisis, the Central Processing Center was created as an overflow site for families and children. But it recent months it, too, has been stuffed beyond capacity. Derided as "la perrera" - "the dog kennel" - by migrants and border agents alike, it was the focus of public anger when photographs of children behind the chain links circulated last year and brought accusations of "kids in cages."

More waves of shock and anger at scenes of miserable, inhumane border conditions have followed, most recently last month when Vice President Mike Pence visited the McAllen border station nearby and saw nearly 400 men packed in a pestilent garage.

The Department of Homeland Security tightly limits media access and photography inside Border Patrol facilities, citing the privacy rights of migrants in its custody. But the restrictions have made it difficult for the agency to convince the public that the border is in crisis, and the Trump administration has allowed more video cameras and photographers inside its facilities, even though the images of detained children often generate anger and disgust.

The number of people in custody fluctuates daily - and sometimes hourly - at the processing center, as hundreds of thousands of adults and children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala continue arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border despite the scorching summer temperatures. Movement is constant inside the rancid - though much improved - facility, with bus loads of immigrants being moved in and out of the border city.

Arrests along the Southern border have dropped 43 percent since May, when U.S. agents took 144,000 migrants into custody, the busiest month in a dozen years. But border-crossings are still at twice the level they were last year, and the tip of South Texas remains the busiest corridor. Nearly 37,000 people were apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley sector last month, U.S. data shows.

"We want to give folks a sense of what is going on down here," said Border Patrol agent Marcelino "Alex" Medina.

Inside the cavernous pair of warehouses in Southwestern McAllen, migrants are medically screened for common ailments and contagious diseases such as scabies, lice or chickenpox. Those needing medical help beyond basic services are sent to local hospitals, agents said.

Workers have access to face masks and gloves when entering one of two large containment areas, although the center is not immune from contagious diseases; the processing center had an outbreak of an influenza-like illness in late May that led Border Patrol to stop admitting people until the infections died down.

Once medically cleared, migrants are sent into holding pens. The center has seen tens of thousands of children and families since 2014.

Unaccompanied children are separated by gender and kept in distinct pens, where they have access to crackers, juice and chips. A television runs programming for all hours except mealtimes, and they can choose to don provided sweatpants, T-shirts and shoes.

"Children are held on average about 26 hours in custody," said Oscar Escamilla, acting deputy Border Patrol agent-in-charge, who led a brief tour through the center. There were fewer than 100 unaccompanied children in Customs and Border Protection custody at the time of the tour on Monday - far from the peak a few months ago, when children were backed up in the immigration system and were crowded into the agency's facilities, sometimes for weeks.

During the tour, journalists were not permitted to talk to the migrants in custody, and most shied away from the cameras. Many retreated deeper within their pens and turned away.

Parents with children are held in separate enclosures, where dozens of men and women sat on metal benches or laid across gym mats on the concrete floor. Escamilla said migrants receive "shower wipes" or wet wipes when they first arrive, and they are permitted to take a shower within 72 hours.

Tired men bounced little boys on their knees, children munched on apples and others hid beneath blankets in the cell adjacent to a play area with a plastic playpen and a few toys. In one corner sat shelving units filled with clothes, baby formula, colorful toothbrushes and diapers.

Inside each section of cells, a guard monitors camera footage and keeps watch from a small tower elevated about eight feet from the ground. Escamilla said the agency chose chain-link fencing because it allows more visibility for agents and can help cut down on staffing needs.

Migrants can move freely within their respective holding pens, but unaccompanied minors, girls over the age of 10 and small children are assigned separate fenced-in areas. Between each holding area is a sanitation station containing about a dozen portable toilets and sinks that are cleaned twice a day.

There was no escaping the foul stench of days of accumulated dirt, sweat and waste - even with a far smaller number of detainees than when lawmakers visited the center in June and reported rampant overcrowding and horrible conditions.

- - -

Nick Miroff in Washington contributed to this report.

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Uber and Lyft are everything we love about capitalism - and everything we hate

By megan mcardle
Uber and Lyft are everything we love about capitalism - and everything we hate

MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For McArdle clients only)

By MEGAN MCARDLE

Chances are, if you live in a city, Uber and Lyft have changed your life. Even my 74-year-old mother now semi-frequently uses Uber to get around -- this, a woman with whom I once spent 45 minutes on the telephone, trying to coach her through minimizing a window on her desktop.

As advances go, Uber and Lyft aren't quite up there with indoor plumbing and central heating, but they're still definitely an improvement over the prior status quo: more reliable, more available and cheaper than taxi services, especially for remote and low-income areas. And, now, they're offering urban dwellers bikes and electric scooters, as well as cars. Even when they eventually stop burning investor cash to subsidize those services, being able to spontaneously hail a ride from your phone will noticeably improve millions of people's lives.

Uber and Lyft are everything we love about capitalism. And writ large, theirs is the story of the capitalist revolution that has over the past few centuries raised us from short-lived squalor to lives of comparative peace, wealth and leisure. Just 170 years ago, my ancestors fled a famine that denuded Ireland of roughly a quarter of its population. By contrast, their descendants today fret about advancing avoirdupois, a real estate bubble and the high cost of space-age diagnostic scans.

The journey between 19th-century hardship and today's abundance was composed of many steps, most of them guided by the invisible hand of the market. Markets funneled resources to promising ideas, many of them bad, some of them pure genius, and then winnowed out the bad ones. That iterative process of incremental improvement has brought us to the here and now. We can reasonably hope that it will propel our grandchildren further still, to something that would seem to us an unimaginable paradise.

But recently, I've been thinking that though Uber and Lyft are everything we love about capitalism, they are also everything we hate.

Consider the difference between the corporate cultures of these two firms. Uber's early chief executive, Travis Kalanick, was a tech-bro outlaw whose desire to disrupt the taxi industry may have started with the time he was forced to jump out of a cab after a heated altercation with the driver. During the company's turbulent early years, Kalanick staged equally belligerent confrontations with local governments, allegedly tolerated rampant sexual harassment and discrimination within his company, and pitched his services to the affluent as "a convenient, and classy ride."

Lyft was like Uber's kindly hippie cousin. Its founders are explicitly idealistic about Lyft's mission to eliminate the environmental and financial costs of personal car ownership. While Uber initially focused on fancy black cars, Lyft let people drive their modest older-model sedans and initially stuck mustaches on the front of the car to reassure passengers that Lyft was goofily benevolent. They invited passengers to ride up front with the driver, like a friend rather than a customer. They took a conciliatory stance toward regulation.

Uber and Lyft were about as different as two companies in fundamentally the same business could be. But at this point, from the customer perspective, they're barely different. They offer the same services, for roughly the same price, in many of the same markets. Worse, Uber, the aggressively mercenary firm, has a higher market share than the idealists.

This, too, is the invisible hand of the market, driving everyone in the same direction. As markets like to do, because markets tend to reward scale. Scale, in turn, rewards the lowest common denominator that everyone will accept, which means the homogenous and ubiquitous. And because idealistic values are costly, and decidedly not homogenous across large groups of people, they are rarely rewarded the way storybooks tell us they ought to be.

Which may explain why elements of both left and right are nearing open revolt against the whole idea of markets. Market innovation is highest in a tech sector that tends toward scale even more sharply than its industrial forebears: the efficient number of firms providing the services of a Facebook, a Google or an Amazon -- and maybe an Uber or a Lyft -- is probably one. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos also owns The Post.)

The obvious rejoinder to this complaint is that "the market" is simply us, collectively. It is failing to reward certain things because we are failing to reward them, at least in sufficiently large numbers. But then, perhaps that's exactly why they make us so uncomfortable: because markets reflect back to us what we are, instead of what we'd like to be.

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Real change depends on the Senate

By e.j. dionne jr.
Real change depends on the Senate

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

(Advance for Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Dionne clients only)

WRITETHRU: 6th graf, last sentence: "Michael Bennet" sted "Michael Bennett"

By E.J. DIONNE JR.

There are two quite different paths toward change in the 2020 elections. One would involve getting rid of President Trump but leaving Washington gridlocked. The other would see a Democratic president elected with a Democratic Congress. For the first time in a decade, progressives, with some help from moderates, would have a chance to govern and begin to push back against the conservative takeover of the federal judiciary.

It will all come down to the fight to control the Senate.

And the Democrats' chances of winning a majority took a modest step forward last week when former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper ended his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and signaled he was considering taking on Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. While there are already other potentially strong Democrats in that contest, polls show Hickenlooper leading Gardner by double digits.

If Democrats won the White House, they would need a net three-seat gain to control the Senate with the vote of a Democratic vice president. It's difficult to imagine this happening without the defeat of the three most vulnerable Republican incumbents, Gardner and Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Martha McSally, R-Ariz. Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones faces a very tough reelection campaign in a deeply Republican, pro-Trump state. A Jones loss would move the Democrats' victory line to four pickups.

Their chances of getting there depend in part on whether Montana's Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock decides to end his own presidential candidacy to take on Republican Sen. Steve Daines. It's hard to see any other Democrat beating Daines. Bullock -- as he never tires of pointing out -- has shown he can run far ahead of his party's ticket. Bullock has insisted he doesn't want to be a senator, but Democratic Senate strategists, with an accent on hope, sense a softening in Bullock's stance on the Senate.

Hickenlooper's decision to withdraw points to two important dynamics in the Democratic presidential race. The first is that former Vice President Joe Biden is blocking the emergence of any other moderate or center-left candidate. Absent a Biden collapse in the next few months, there will be little room for candidates such as Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota or Michael Bennet of Colorado.

It was striking that a Quinnipiac poll earlier this month found that Biden was winning just 19% of Democrats who said they were "very liberal" and 28% who called themselves "somewhat liberal." But he was taking 43% among those who called themselves moderate or conservative.

This leads to the other dynamic: aggressively taking on the left, as Hickenlooper did, is not, for now at least, a winning strategy for more moderate presidential candidates. This is partly because their real competition comes from Biden, but also because progressive Democrats have shown themselves far more open to moderate candidates in Senate or House races than in the presidential race. Progressives have been willing to make pragmatic judgments about who is best positioned to win a given Senate or House seat but want to make a strong statement in the presidential contest. Thus, in the same Quinnipiac poll, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., led Biden by more than 2-to-1 among very liberal Democrats.

It's notable that in his dignified withdrawal video, Hickenlooper stressed three issues that appeal across the Democrats' moderate/liberal divide and also to swing voters: lowering prescription drug costs, dealing with climate change, and taking action on guns. He sounded like a Senate candidate.

If Senate Democrats are hopeful that Hickenlooper and possibly Bullock could help them take the Senate, they are also looking to what they call "the Heller Effect" to get them the rest of the seats they need. In 2018, Nevada's Republican Sen. Dean Heller lost in part because he was cross-pressured between showing support for Trump to rally his Republican base and demonstrating independence from Trump to attract middle-of-the-road voters.

This political inconstancy didn't work for Heller, and Democrats think that the same neither-one-thing-nor-the-other dynamic could hurt Republican Sens. Thom Tillis in North Carolina and Joni Ernst in Iowa -- as well as Gardner, Collins, and McSally. Tillis was already embarrassed earlier this year when he wrote a Washington Post op-ed piece opposing Trump's emergency declaration to build a border wall and then turned around and voted with Trump on the same issue. His flip-flop left both sides unhappy.

As for Hickenlooper, he often seemed uncomfortable as a presidential candidate but was eloquent whenever he talked about his bipartisan achievements as governor of Colorado. It's an approach that could serve him well as he heads home.

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

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

McConnell realizes with horror that Beto is right: The Senate is not enough

By alexandra petri
McConnell realizes with horror that Beto is right: The Senate is not enough

ALEXANDRA PETRI COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Petri clients only)

By ALEXANDRA PETRI

"Some have suggested I stay in Texas and run for Senate, but that would not be good enough for El Paso, and it would not be good enough for this country," Beto O'Rourke said in a campaign-reinvigorating speech Thursday. "We must take the fight directly to the source -- to the person that has caused this pain and peril: Donald Trump."

Miles across the country, Mitch McConnell dropped a pen he was holding, and the world reeled about him.

"Great heavens," McConnell said, "I have made a great mistake, whose gravity until this very moment I had not realized!" He glanced around his office, the office of a mere lowly Senate majority leader, and rent his garments just slightly, since they were woven tightly enough to make any real rending difficult. "I have wasted my whole life!"

He sighed a great sigh and pushed several bills on gun reform he was personally preventing from coming to a vote this month off the desk in a gesture of pique. "The Senate is not good enough! Oh, what a fool I have been!"

From the cage full of gnawed bones in the corner in which he now lives rather than sitting on the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland whimpered. McConnell whirled on him in a rage. "Merrick, why did you not say something? Why did you let me waste these years taking the fight somewhere that was not directly to the source, when I could have caused so much pain and peril?"

Garland started to say something, but McConnell did not let him finish. In a fit, he trashed a plaque he had made for himself to commemorate confirming President Trump's 107th judicial nominee, a record that will linger for decades after he is gone, and tore up another Senate procedural rule, making the process still more vulnerable to partisan stalling, just for good measure.

"I could have been making a real difference, Merrick!" McConnell shouted. "I could have had an impact! Here I was, like a nincompoop, turning a whole house of the legislature into the Party of No, dedicated to stalling the Obama administration's agenda at every turn, when I could have actually caused pain and peril. What have I been doing all this time?"

He ripped off his flag pin and shredded yet another request to pass a bill to secure future elections or prevent campaigns from accepting foreign assistance, which he had been allowing to fester on his desk. "No, I am running for president, Merrick! I have been powerless and useless long enough!"

He stormed out of the office of the majority leader, which had never before seemed so small and powerless. Why, it barely mattered who occupied it! A final shudder of protest convulsed him as he resigned himself to the disheartening truth: If even someone like Beto O'Rourke would not stoop to free him from his mistake, he would be stuck there forever.

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The Emperor's New Island, a tale of Trump buying Greenland

By alexandra petri
The Emperor's New Island, a tale of Trump buying Greenland

ALEXANDRA PETRI COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Petri clients only)

By ALEXANDRA PETRI

(BEG ITAL)Hans Christian Andersen and Greenland have something in common: They are both Danish national treasures! Amazingly, this story was discovered this week among the unpublished works of the former:(END ITAL)

The Emperor was sad.

(He was not, in fact, an emperor, but his advisers were too craven and self-interested to remind him of this fact except on special occasions, because they knew it would upset him.)

The Emperor had many beautiful things, but they no longer gladdened his heart. He had ordered many fine tanks to accompany him to celebrate the country's birthday, but they had not delighted him. He had a fine long report to read about his innocence, but maybe it was not about his innocence, and he had thrown it into a well.

He had a beautiful economy that was his constant delight to gambol and gamble with, which he had inherited from his predecessor with stern instructions not to break it, and he had tossed it gleefully around, delighting to see how high it bounced, until it had made a crunching sound and fallen down the well where he could not get it back.

He sat sullenly in his palace and stared at his array of locked-up birds and his tiny model wall. Nothing cheered him.

His advisers went to him and tried to cheer him.

"You possess a country rich in wonderful things," his advisers said to him. "Consider the beautiful island of Puerto Rico, which could be even more beautiful if you cared for it at all."

But the Emperor would not consider it.

"Consider the riches of the land, and the many sorts of birds and beasts and winged insects that abound in it," his advisers said.

But the Emperor was sad. "I do not care for the birds and beasts and winged insects," he said. "I wish them all to be destroyed."

His advisers rushed off quickly to see it done.

"Consider the millions of people who would like to come to this beautiful land because it is not like any other place in the world."

But the Emperor was sullen. "I do not care for the people who would like to come to this beautiful land," he said. "I wish them all to be destroyed."

His advisers rushed off quickly to see it done.

"What else do you wish, Emperor?"

The Emperor sighed. "What have you heard about Greenland?" he asked his advisers.

His advisers looked from one to the other. "Tell us," they said.

"We should buy Greenland," the Emperor said. "Harry Truman wanted it, and there are very few things Harry Truman wanted that I do not also want."

"Are you sure you are not thinking of Andrew Jackson?" one of the advisers asked.

"I am always thinking of Andrew Jackson," the Emperor replied.

The advisers glanced from one to the other. They were not exceptionally skilled or wise, and their one task was to keep the Emperor from becoming upset. "If you want it," one said, "I am sure that it can be arranged."

"That is good," said the Emperor. "It is right there. I am certain it must be strategically significant! And it says in the name that it is green. It contains golf courses already and might be induced to contain more. I wish to possess all the finest lands. I will spare no expense until I have Greenland, too."

"All told," the advisers agreed, "it is an excellent plan, although there is one small matter. Denmark owns it."

"That is no great concern," the Emperor said. "I will offer Denmark a great sum of money, and it will part with it. I am sure Denmark cannot want it very much."

"But -- why Greenland?" the advisers asked. "All we know about Greenland is that once a man went there and lied that it was green, and then it became Greenland, even though it was not."

"Precisely," the Emperor said. "I wish to live in such a place, where you can say such a thing and it can be so. Now it is only so when I gaze into my mirror, but if I had the island, I could give it whatever name I wished, and it would be so all the time. If I could only say that a thing was so and it could then be so, then I might know rest. Then I might truly be content."

"But it is a lie!" cried a little boy who was passing by.

The Emperor shrugged. "It has never stopped me before."

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump has a dream team for mismanaging a recession

By catherine rampell
Trump has a dream team for mismanaging a recession

THE MILLENNIAL VIEW

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Rampell clients only)

By CATHERINE RAMPELL

WASHINGTON -- President Trump inherited a good economy, and for roughly two-and-a-half years managed (mostly) not to mess it up. As with his business empire, he also somehow convinced much of the public that this windfall was due to his personal talents rather than luck.

But right now his luck -- and ours -- might be running out.

Bond markets are flashing warning signs. Stock prices are whipsawing. Some troubling economic data are rolling in, both here and abroad. All this suggests that the risk of a U.S. recession is rising.

Trump seems to be worried about getting blamed for what is coming. For months, he has been setting up the Federal Reserve as a scapegoat -- including for market swings caused by his own foolish trade wars. When stocks go up, Trump claims full credit; when they go down, it's the Fed's fault. Personal responsibility and all that.

My view on what he (and the rest of us) should be fixed on is slightly different. If indeed we have a downturn, Trump might or might not be the cause; the exact triggers of recession are often hard to pinpoint. But you know what would unequivocally be his fault, rather than fickle fortune?

A badly (BEG ITAL)mismanaged(END ITAL) recession. Which seems inevitable if, indeed, recession strikes.

If things go south, this administration doesn't have a plan. It never had a plan. And it doesn't have competent personnel in place to come up with a plan.

Trump's economic brain trust consists of a guy who plays an economist on TV, a crank who has been disowned by the (real) economics profession and the producer of "The Lego Batman Movie."

For those unfamiliar with this particular dream team, the first person on that list is National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, an affable former CNBC personality. Kudlow has one skill that actually (BEG ITAL)could(END ITAL) be useful in a crisis: being able to communicate clearly to financial markets. That skill has been rendered moot, however, by Trump's inability to settle on any consistent message worthy of communicating.

Next is senior White House aide and trade adviser Peter Navarro. When profiled in the New Yorker in 2016, Navarro could not name a single other economist who agreed with his views on trade. More recently, he suggested the Wall Street Journal editorial page sounded communist.

That's a first, for sure.

And finally, there's Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Bankrolling "Suicide Squad" and other movies -- whatever their artistic merits -- and earning the coveted title of greatest sycophant in Cabinet history bear little relevance to rescuing the world from economic crisis.

Moreover, Mnuchin's Treasury Department is rife with vacancies. Many senior jobs lack even a nominee. There is likewise no nominee for the Senate-confirmed job of chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. The acting chair is a health expert.

The only competent economic policymakers we have right now are over at the Fed, an institution that Trump is spending all his energy trying to discredit. He has done this by questioning Fed officials' abilities (a theme of his blow-by-blow tweetstorm of Wednesday's market rout, which referred to Trump's own hand-picked Fed chair as "clueless"); and he's done it by compromising the central bank's perceived political independence.

Whenever the Fed has refused to bend to Trump's will, he (alongside other members of his team) has taken to the airwaves to complain, in violation of a multi-decade-long norm for the White House to never comment on monetary policy. This means that even if Fed officials cut interest rates further next month solely because they believe that would be best for the economy -- which in my view, would be the (BEG ITAL)only(END ITAL) reason this group of professionals would ever cut rates -- at least some Fed-watchers will instead interpret the action as a response to the president's bullying.

In other words, regardless of what the Fed does, Trump is eroding its credibility just when we need it most.

Additionally, with interest rates already low and some powers taken away by the Dodd-Frank Act, the Fed also has fewer tools at its disposal than in recessions past. Fiscal policy, too, is somewhat limited. Trump already spent nearly $2 trillion on tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, leaving relatively little powder left in the keg when we'll actually need it.

Trump -- like the rest of us -- had better hope and pray that we don't have a recession anytime soon. Because if we do, it's gonna be (BEG ITAL)bad(END ITAL).

Catherine Rampell's email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Learning from the Great Depression

By robert j. samuelson
Learning from the Great Depression

ROBERT J. SAMUELSON COLUMN

(Advance for Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Samuelson clients only)

By ROBERT J. SAMUELSON

WASHINGTON -- What is striking about the latest bouts of financial turmoil -- the recent wild swings in global stock and bond markets -- is that they provide a sobering reminder of the potential hazards of economic instability. There are parallels between the present tumultuous situation and past episodes of economic disruption, including the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Just for the record: This is (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) a forecast of another Depression, when annual U.S. unemployment peaked at about 25% in 1933. For the moment, we are not anywhere near that level of distress. Still, if a deeper crisis ensues, President Trump's strident economic nationalism will be partially blamed, because he ignored the lessons of history.

The name that comes to mind is Charles Kindleberger, an eminent economic historian of the post-World War II era who taught for years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was a prolific author of books and articles. One of his masterpieces was "The World in Depression, 1929-1939."

The crux of Kindleberger's thesis was that the underlying cause of the Depression was a vacuum of leadership. By this, he meant that Great Britain -- which had provided that leadership in the 19th century -- had been so weakened by World War I that it could no longer perform that function in the 1920s and early 1930s. Meanwhile, the United States -- which would fill that role after World War II -- was not ready to do so.

In this context, the dominant country would keep its markets open to imports, so the trading system would not collapse under the weight of mounting protectionism. Another requirement was that the leading country (the "hegemon") had to have the financial strength so that it could lend to banks and other needy borrowers during a crisis so that the financial system, the repository of much wealth, would not self-destruct.

In the recent foreword of the latest version of Kindleberger's book, economists J. Bradford DeLong and Barry Eichengreen of the University of California, Berkeley put it this way:

"The root of Europe's and the world's problems was the absence of a benevolent hegemon: a dominant economic power able and willing to take the interests of smaller powers and the operation of the larger international system into account by stabilizing the flow of spending through the global [economy] ... by acting as a lender and consumer of last resort."

Kindleberger's own explanation is similar:

"The 1929 depression was so wide, so deep and so long because the international economic system was rendered unstable. ... When every country turned to protect its national private interest, the world's public interest went down the drain, and with it the private interests of all."

Flash forward. Look around. Leadership is conspicuous by its absence. Nations pursue their self-identified private interests. The United States and China -- the world's two largest economies -- are engaged in a bitter trade war that hurts both countries. The British are poised to leave the European Union (Brexit), with what consequences no one knows. At home, the Federal Reserve is under relentless assault by Trump, making its job doubly difficult, even granting that the best monetary policy is a legitimate subject of debate and disagreement.

What about Germany, Europe's traditional powerhouse? In the past year, its industrial production is down about 5%, says economist Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute. If Germany does not change its "rigid policy view on the need to balance their budget under all circumstances, both Germany and Europe should brace themselves for a hard economic landing," he argues.

Economic leadership is a two-step process, each difficult. First, you must conceptualize the nature of the crisis; then you must devise and implement remedies that prevent it from worsening.

In the 2007-09 financial crisis, that is what happened. The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama recognized that the financial system might collapse, as panicked depositors and investors withdrew their funds. The remedy, organized on a global scale, was to pump money into the system until confidence returned.

Trump officials don't seem to think Kindleberger matters. Their pursuit of "greatness" may prove self-destructive. The good news is that the financial system is stronger now, meaning it has more capital to absorb losses, than in 2008. The bad news is that private debt levels in many countries, including the United States and China, are high. If too many borrowers default, losses may still cripple the financial system.

There's the old cliché that those who don't remember history are condemned to repeat it. Let's hope that's not true this time.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

The sharpest pens in the industry serve up points of view to chew on.

Bury your dead-tired strips and grab something fresh, meaningful and hilarious.

Serious therapy and serious fun to give readers a break from breaking news.