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By Jim Tankersley

The new brew near you

The new brew near you
Bartender Morgan Persky pours a pint from one of the 23 beers on tap at Sierra Nevada's taproom in Mills River, North Carolina, on the outskirts of Asheville. Must credit: Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post

ASHEVILLE, N.C. - In the beginning, Walt Dickinson was just a rock-climbing-guide turned rainwater-collection-system salesman who couldn't find a decent beer in his home state and decided to start making his own at home.

"It was a wasteland," he says of North Carolina and surrounding states. "There was no good IPA in the Southeast."

The reason the region wasn't producing hoppy, piney, West Coast-style India pale ales, the type that dominate craft sales around the country? Stifling government regulation. Century-old laws made it nearly impossible to start a craft brewery across the South and Mid-Atlantic. And when lawmakers began to repeal those laws, starting with North Carolina in 2005, Dickinson and other enterprising brewers took advantage.

Dickinson and his brother, Luke, rounded up capital - $3 million within six months - from family friends and in late 2012 started Wicked Weed, a purveyor of IPAs, sour ales and other malted varieties that is now the fastest-growing homegrown brewery in Asheville. The Asheville area has at least 23 craft breweries and 90,000 residents, the densest concentration in the United States. North Carolina's microbrew production has increased 600 percent, to 675,000 barrels in 2015, just in four years.

Similar stories are playing out in Virginia and South Carolina - opening a market for local entrepreneurs and, at a much larger scale, big craft players from the Western states where government hurdles were never a problem.

The arrival of California brewery Sierra Nevada, which opened outside Asheville in 2014, and Colorado's New Belgium, which will start offering tours on Monday, opens a final geographic frontier for one of the rare American industries where small business is booming. Their mammoth production facilities cement Asheville's status as a power-player in the craft world - but also give their homegrown brewers some big new neighbors to worry about.

The proliferation of craft brewing on the East Coast is a case study in how government regulation can block entrepreneurship for decades - and leave entire regions playing catch-up when it is finally relaxed.

New business creation is slowing across the country and in most industries, but not in the world of beer. The industry is dominated by a few big players, led by the soon-to-be-merged SAB Miller and Anheuser-Busch InBev. But smaller competitors, peddling wide varieties of stronger and more flavorful beer, are popping up everywhere to steal market share.

There were 2,347 craft breweries in the United States in 2012, according to the Brewers Association, a trade group, and they combined for 12 percent of the country's beer sales in dollar terms. The sales share grew to 21 percent in 2015. By year's end, if trends hold, there will be 5,000 craft breweries nationwide.

Four Western states house more than a quarter of those breweries: California, Washington, Oregon and Colorado, which have long been havens for the hoppy India pale ales that form the liquid foundation of the craft industry. The Midwest and Northeast also boast strong craft scenes.

The Mid-Atlantic is finally on its way. From 2005 to 2012, North Carolina lawmakers steadily repealed laws - Bible Belt leftovers from the end of Prohibition nearly a century earlier - that had stifled brewers from making and selling craft beer.

They lifted restrictions on how much alcohol a beer could include by volume, which had effectively banned many of the most popular craft styles. They began allowing larger craft breweries to sell their products on site, opening the way for small-volume brew houses. And they made it easier for some smaller breweries to distribute beer to stores and bars.

Until the restrictions were lifted, it took enormous quantities of money and patience to start a brewery in the state. Oscar Wong had both, which was why he had no competition when he began selling beer from an Asheville basement two decades ago. He had plenty of critics, though. They wrote the local newspaper regularly, complaining that he was doing the devil's work with his pale ale.

Wong had sold an engineering business in his 40s and was bored in retirement. He hired a brewmaster and was content to build Highland Brewing slowly, from a few converted dairy tanks in 1994 to a leafy campus with its own bottling plant today. He brewed Scottish ale that was low enough in alcohol content to avoid violating state law, and he waited eight years to finally turn a profit.

Sierra Nevada and New Belgium had no such problems in California and Colorado. They grew into two of the largest craft brewers in the nation, expanded their reach to the East Coast and looked for ways to ease their path to customers there.

This summer, New Belgium is ramping up production in its new 500,000-barrel facility that looms like a massive motorcycle (which the building is meant to evoke) parked along the French Broad River at the south end of downtown Asheville.

Its brew tanks are cooking up batches of Fat Tire, New Belgium's signature amber ale, and Ranger, its IPA. Last month, its tasting room was packing in visitors to watch the Tour de France on a projector screen and sip varietals at reclaimed-wood tables fashioned from the remnants of the livestock yard that once occupied part of the 18-acre site. On a recent weekday, landscapers were tilling the grounds and blue masking tape held temporary paper signs on conference rooms.

Sierra Nevada's facility is turning out hundreds of thousands of barrels of ale in a resort-style setting outside of town. It is a working theme park of beer, complete with a full restaurant, outdoor concert amphitheater and a gift shop, in what appears from the outside to be part overstuffed hunting lodge, part steel mill.

Brewing on the East Coast saves money for the Californians and the Coloradans, and it adds freshness to brews they would otherwise be shipping across the country.

"Beer is heavy," said Brendan Beers, New Belgium's business support manager in Asheville. "The closer you can get your production facility to the end customer, the better."

Before construction began, New Belgium officials met with wary local brewers. They assured them that they weren't trying to invade the Asheville craft scene - they were selling to the whole East Coast. Sierra Nevada officials say they told the locals that they would choose a different North Carolina location if there were objections to them moving to the outskirts of Asheville. Then they invited every brewer in town to an all-expenses-paid week of "beer camp" at their Northern California headquarters.

Many local brewers say the arrival of the Western craft giants has attracted more customers to their taprooms. They also say they can't imagine trying to grow large enough, fast enough, to challenge them for East Coast craft supremacy.

"Why would I fight a battle with companies that are so well established with such a good product?" said Walt Dickinson, the Wicked Weed founder. "That's not what we're trying to be."

A week after the Dickinsons announced plans for Wicked Weed, Sierra Nevada said it was coming to town. "I knew it was going to be great for us," Walt Dickinson said, "bringing in more beer tourists."

He was right. Wicked Weed has doubled its production every year and now is up to 22,000 barrels annually. Its main brewery and restaurant is packed in the afternoons and evenings.

None of that would have been possible under North Carolina's old blue laws, Dickinson said. As similar laws fall around the South, in states such as Georgia and Tennessee, breweries like Wicked Weed could see growth opportunities - although the West Coast brewers will probably see more.

Policy changes in Virginia have unleashed a wave of homegrown breweries, but they have also attracted big new facilities from San Diego's Stone Brewing (in Richmond) and Oregon's Deschutes Brewery (in Roanoke).

"It's a first-mover advantage" for the Western brewers, said Bart Watson, the chief economist for the Brewers Association. (Yes, that's a real job.) "The window on being a truly national craft brewery has essentially closed already."

For North Carolina pioneer Wong, who distributes to several states but has no national ambitions, the arrival of the Western giants in his back yard means more traffic to his brewery but also more competition for tap handles and more pressure to drop his six-pack prices.

"I would have preferred that they weren't here," Wong said on a recent morning, lounging in an upstairs bar at his brewery. "But what it has forced us to do is up our game."

His is perhaps the only local brewery now large enough, at 40,000 barrels a year, to worry about going toe-to-toe with the larger Western players.

"We don't have the efficiencies they do," said Leah Wong Ashburn, the founder's daughter, who is now Highland's president. "We've seen 12-pack prices that I've never seen for craft beer."

(Highland Brewing charges $16 for a 12-pack of its Early's Hoppy Wheat beer. A 12-pack of Sierra Nevada sells for as little as $14.99 in grocery stores. And the mass market giant Budweiser might go for $11.50 for a 12-pack.)

Highland, though, is adapting. It recently put in a rooftop bar and is selling, with wide distribution, its first West Coast-style IPA. You can buy it at a gas station/brew emporium near the Asheville Airport.

It is displayed prominently, right next to stacked cases of Sierra Nevada.

By Stefano Pitrelli & James McAuley

Aftershocks shake central Italy as search for earthquake victims continues

Aftershocks shake central Italy as search for earthquake victims continues

AMATRICE, Italy - Strong aftershocks continued to strike central Italy on Friday, as rescue crews began to lose hope of finding additional survivors two days after a deadly earthquake that killed more than 280 people.

In the devastated town of Amatrice, reduced to rubble and ruins by the magnitude-6.2 earthquake, an aftershock of magnitude 4.7 struck Friday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

This came after more than 50 smaller aftershocks rocked Italy's Apennine Mountains region throughout Thursday night. More than 1,000 aftershocks have shaken the area since the earthquake struck early Wednesday.

The overall death toll rose Friday to 281, the Italian Civil Protection Department said.

The tremors damaged two key bridges bearing roads into Amatrice, threatening to cut off the centuries-old hilltop town from much-needed assistance, Mayor Sergio Pirozzi told reporters.

"With the aftershocks yesterday but especially this morning, the situation has worsened considerably," Pirozzi said. "So in terms of the emergency, we have to make sure Amatrice does not become isolated."

He vowed that the town would be rebuilt "here, with the same looks, the same face" - just the way it was designed in the 16th century.

Meanwhile, ambulances were carrying the recovered bodies of quake victims to an airport hangar in the provincial capital Rieti, the Associated Press reported. There, four large refrigerated trucks were being used as a makeshift morgue, where relatives arrived in a steady stream Friday to identify loved ones.

"In this phase, [rescue workers] are looking for corpses," said Egidio Pelagatti, 60, the national operations manager for the public assistance organization known as ANPAS Lazio. Speaking at a small tent encampment for people displaced by the quake, he described the vacant stares of survivors and their fears of having to move away from their ancestral town.

"They all have the same gaze," Pelagatti said. In a town that lost at least 221 of its roughly 2,600 inhabitants, many of them related, the earthquake exacted a disproportionate toll here. "The whole community has been struck," he said.

Now, people are "very scared of being transferred and of no longer being able to come back here," Pelagatti said. "People are afraid of ending up living in a ghetto."

As thousands of surviving residents from the affected towns - notably Amatrice, Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto - stayed in tents and makeshift camps near their ruined homes, the first of many forthcoming funerals took place Friday.

Among those planned was a memorial service in Rome for Marco Santarelli, 28, the son of an Italian state official who was vacationing with friends in his family's Amatrice home.

"I cannot find the words to describe the grief of a father who outlives his own children," his father, Filippo Santarelli, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper. "Perhaps there are no words."

The Italian government declared Saturday a day of national mourning and scheduled a state funeral to be attended by President Sergio Mattarella.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi proclaimed a state of emergency and authorized $56 million for immediate quake relief.

The Civil Protection Department insisted Friday morning that it would not give up its search. "I confirm once again, as we have from the start, that the units that are doing the searches and rescues, including with dogs looking for other people trapped in the rubble, are absolutely fully active," the department's Immacolata Postiglione told reporters.

Approximately 400 victims are being treated in hospitals, and 40 of them are in critical condition, the department said.

At least 238 people have been pulled alive from the rubble.

But, given that two days have passed since the rescue of the last buried person, rescue workers conceded that they are unlikely to find more people alive under the debris.

- - -

McAuley reported from Paris. William Branigin in Washington contributed to this report.

By Amy Joyce

Too much homework? Some parents are just opting out.

Too much homework? Some parents are just opting out.

It was a crystallizing moment for Sara Youngblood-Ochoa. She was sitting with her first-grade son last winter as he struggled to do "extra credit" homework after a long day at school. Getting frustrated, she snapped at him. He cried.

"I looked at him and said, 'Do you want to do this?' He said no, and I said, 'I don't either.' " And that was the end of homework for her 6-year-old.

She knew he was doing fine in school, so they just stopped doing the packets of worksheets that came home every week. "It took a load off our afternoons and made it easier for him to do after-school activities that he wanted to do," said the Chicago-area mother. "If there's something our son is struggling in, we'll absolutely do the work. But after eight hours at a desk, to make him sit down and do more seems silly."

After a summer of camps, freedom and running around outside, the transition back to school can be tough for any child - or parent. Add to that the scads of homework sent back with kids to complete before the next day, and parents can find themselves torn between wanting to encourage children to complete their work and wanting them to get exercise, play, just be a kid. And so for some parents, homework, particularly for kids in the younger grades, has become a big, fat zero. No more worksheets and reading logs. Other parents stop all homework if it takes longer than 10 or 15 minutes, believing the assignments should be a simple review of what was learned in school, not an hours-long process to struggle through. The conversation about banning homework, especially for young children, appears to be growing in popularity, even among teachers themselves. When a second-grade teacher in Texas recently sent a letter home explaining that she no longer would give homework, the letter went viral. Most important to parents, studies show that homework for younger children doesn't actually correlate with improved school performance, and in fact, can hinder learning.

Homework, in other words, is really a sore subject.

When Jeanne Hargett's youngest son started kindergarten in Arlington (va.) Public Schools last year, he was given weekly homework packets. "We just didn't do it," she said. "Honestly, he's an active child. And I really feel like after asking him to sit on his bottom for most of the day, and asking him to come home and do it again, is not fair. I want him to go outside and exercise, look at bunnies and bugs and crawl around in the grass." She said he didn't get "dinged" for not doing the homework, and explained her stance to his teacher, but she is worried about first grade. "I'm hearing they give rewards to the entire class if everyone does their homework. That puts pressure on these 6-year-olds."

That lack of free playtime is what most parents argue is missing when children are forced to come home and review what they did at school by doing worksheets. "It's really important, especially for young kids, to play. Playing is a cornerstone for learning," said Erica Reischer, a clinical psychologist and author of the book "What Great Parents Do." "Playing is learning. That's it. Parents need to protect that space."

But what happens when parents simply stop forcing their kids to do homework? For those interviewed here, they explained their reasoning to teachers and principals and say they were mostly met with support, and their children didn't fall behind. "There's a long tradition of homework, and a lot of passion behind it from parents and teachers," Reischer said. "It's what we do. So it feels a little scary to let that go. . . It shouldn't be a crazy idea that elementary school shouldn't have homework."

Of course, not everyone is ditching homework. For older students in particular, homework often has a purpose, including learning about time management and solidifying complicated lessons. Jonathan Brand, headmaster of Chelsea Academy in Front Royal, Va., said his school has general guidelines about homework amounts, even for older students. "We lower the homework requirement in younger grades," he said. In grades 4 and 5, their youngest, teachers try to give no more than 30 minutes per night. "We're very careful about the kind of homework assignments we give to students. The benefit they receive from homework diminishes significantly in the lower grades."

Parents who are opting out are generally in a place of privilege, says Harris M. Cooper, a Duke University professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience, whose research often focuses on homework. "These are typically parents who have the resources and capacity to substitute their own choices of academic things to do after school." For parents whose first language isn't English, or parents who work long hours, homework can be a good resource and supplement to regular school days.

John Seelke, father to twin second-grade girls, and a former teacher who now works at the University of Maryland's College of Education, said he's torn about the homework issue at home. From a professional perspective, he knows there is sometimes too much emphasis put on homework, noting that research shows a disconnect between the amount of homework students are given and their success at school. "As a parent, though, I sort of like that my kids have something to work on," he said. "In education, there's a swing in the pendulum. First, the students get too much, especially in high school, with three to four hours a night. But then to swing completely in the other direction and say no homework?"

So he and his wife have set it up that the girls' routine includes homework after school. If they have an activity at night, they can complete the work before school in the morning. "I also know that if my kids are struggling with something, we know what resources to go to because of my background," he said. "I don't know that every parent has those resources, especially if they are working two jobs or from another country. In some cases, for them, homework is a steady way of practice."

In general, younger children's homework shouldn't last more than 10 to 20 minutes, Harris said. "Parents should be watching their child, especially for signs of fatigue and frustration." If they feel the homework is too much or inappropriate, "speak with the teacher. Because if enough parents have the same concern, a good educator will modify their practices."

Annie Richman of Shaker Heights, Ohio, put that time limit on her children's homework when they were young. "I think that's enough time to focus" after a long day at school, she said. If her children ran out of time or got frustrated, Richman would write a note to the teacher. A former second-grade teacher herself, she rarely gave homework unless it was something that specifically needed to be done at home.

The policy in her children's upper elementary school was 20 minutes of homework per teacher. But with four teachers, that added up. Plus they were told to read for 30 minutes and practice their instrument for 30 minutes. "So when are they going to eat dinner, have a bath and get to bed?" Richman asked. "It's really important to rake the leaves, take responsibility for setting the table and play with friends."

Cara Paiuk stopped her son's homework last year, when he was in kindergarten at his school in West Hartford, Conn. She told his teacher, who was very receptive and didn't seem bothered. As for this year? She's going to watch what happens. "I think parents are the most challenging part for teachers, more than the kids, and I really try not to be a high-maintenance parent."

That said, she felt last year that her young son should be spending his few hours after school with his younger sisters, instead of doing worksheets. "To see my children . . . playing together in the couple hours after school and before bedtime, that is so important for conflict resolution, learning how to play with different age groups," she said. "To take time away from that to do homework doesn't do it for me."

By Kent Babb & Jorge Castillo

Baseball's minor leaguers pursue their dreams below the poverty line

Baseball's minor leaguers pursue their dreams below the poverty line
Matt Pare' of the single A Augusta GreenJackets ( left) opens a box of eggs in the kitchen as teammate Adam Sonabend eats and apple with peanut butter during breakfast in a an apartment that they share with other teammates in Augusta Ga., on July 15, 2016. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by John McDonnell.

AUGUSTA, Ga. - They trickled into the mid-July night, a rain-shortened loss beginning their Friday night early. A 25-year-old catcher hung back.

Matt Paré chatted with teammates and underwent a long treatment session as other Augusta GreenJackets players exited through a clubhouse door wedged open with a broken bat. He kept himself awake with a marathon shower.

By the time Paré dressed, he had the clubhouse to himself, along with what was left of the GreenJackets' postgame buffet. "What have we got, Sarge?" he called toward clubhouse manager Kristopher Nichols, a former Army drill sergeant who appreciates - and usually rewards - Paré's resourcefulness.

Paré is the oldest player for the San Francisco Giants' Class-A affiliate, and he begins most homestands by waiting out his teammates in order to stockpile free food.

Far away from Major League Baseball's mighty salaries and Hollywood glitz, Paré is among the thousands of minor leaguers who survive on baseball earnings below the federal poverty line. Baseball has in recent years parlayed renewed popularity into record earnings, leveraging apparel and media demands into $9.5 billion in revenue last year; each of its 30 franchises averaged $23 million in profits in 2015, and many of their minor league affiliates saw attendance figures and team values continue a steady climb.

But the overwhelming majority of players in professional baseball's extensive player development system never see a cut of that wealth. More than 80 percent of draft picks will never reach the big leagues, and most live on salaries of less than $10,000 per season; the starting salary for a first-year player, paid only during the regular season, is $1,100.

"You always question yourself: Should I be doing this?" said Pare, who says he's making about $7,500 in salary during this 22-week season - a little more than $340 a week, or about $8.50 an hour.

Paré shares a two-bedroom apartment with three teammates. He has, in four years as a professional ballplayer, accumulated a mountain of credit card debt.

His experience is typical among players on pro baseball's ground floor, highlighting that financial struggle is, as much as promo nights and floodlit nostalgia, a minor league tradition. One that might, according to a lawsuit filed against Major League Baseball two years ago, violate federal and state minimum wage laws.

"The organization traces its roots to the nineteenth century," reads the suit, filed in a California district court and led by 41 former players. "Unfortunately for many of its employees, its wage and labor practices remain stuck there."

MLB has denied that its organizational structure is unlawful and rather provides opportunity to thousands of young athletes who want to make it to the big leagues. Indeed, many players say the sacrifices are worth it.

"In reality I just wanted a chance," said Wilmer Difo, a Dominican-born player who, before being called up by the Washington Nationals last year, spent five seasons in the minor leagues and spent the majority of the 2013 season sleeping on an air mattress in an apartment with five other players. "That's everyone's dream, to get to the major leagues. But it's not always going to be like that. Not everyone. Unfortunately, not everyone, but there are a lot of people that depend on it anyway."

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred indicated to reporters in July that additional regulation could ultimately lead to smaller minor league rosters or fewer teams.

The lawsuit has nonetheless turned a spotlight on a shadowy corner of a game in which players routinely put in 60-hour work weeks and must face continual personal and professional obstacles in the name of chasing a dream.

Athletes from Latin America are particularly at risk. Many come to the United States from impoverished backgrounds with little or no knowledge of English, and lack both the cultural understanding of life in the country and network of family and friends that can help ease the burden. They are guaranteed a salary, health insurance and not much else.

But there are reasons they keep playing: Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw's $33.8 million annual salary is the game's richest, and the average major league player earns $4.4 million per season. When the GreenJackets' season began, their highest salary belonged to Adam Sonabend, an undrafted 24-year-old catcher. His biweekly paycheck, after taxes, is $671.

That's enough for Sonabend to have his own bedroom, which is more than his three roommates can say. GreenJackets pitchers Michael Connolly and Jake McCasland share a room, and Paré sleeps on a mattress on the dining room floor.

Before heading home on this July night, Paré loaded a serving bin with chicken thighs and vegetarian lasagna; Nichols encouraged him to take as much as he wants.

At nearly midnight, Paré finally headed for the clubhouse door, carrying his bounty with both hands.

Barb Rothstein used to stay up late after her husband went to bed, opening beers and listening to the young men's stories.

Barb and Bob invited the first of the players on the Norwich Navigators, at the time a New York Yankees Class-AA affiliate, to live rent-free in their Connecticut basement in 1996. Two years later, after visiting a few Latin Americans prospects' apartment shocking for both its grime and the landlord's price gouging, there were a dozen players and two wives spread through the house on futons, a mattress in their living room, sharing a room with their son.

"I'm not the warm and fuzzy type," Barb would say much later. "But there was something about their living situations that I just couldn't stand."

Some of the tales common on the minor league circuit are amusing: how smaller prospects sometimes climb into the team bus's luggage bin to sleep, the way a good meal on the road is a jug of peanut butter before flies or sweaty fingers contaminate it, that it was a good bet the team's bat boys were paid more per hour than the players.

"I would be very confident to say that anyone working in that stadium was making more than we were, no matter what job they had," said Brett Newsome, a former Nationals farmhand and one of dozens of current and former minor leaguers interviewed for this story. Newsome is among the co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit against MLB.

Players travel with air mattresses, sometimes the only constant in a life of change, and essentials aren't easy to come by. One former first-round draft pick said teammates often asked him to "over-order" baseball equipment from sponsors and distribute the extras within the clubhouse. Luxuries are even rarer: A trick known throughout the minors is to buy a television from Wal-Mart, use its box as a stand and return the TV on the 89th day of a 90-day return policy for a refund.

Other stories are sad. Many of the Dominican players had been discovered in their early teens by buscónes, or searchers, the unlicensed scouts who work on commission and compel young and hopeful athletes to abandon their educations to play baseball full-time. The controversial system, in which players guarantee the buscón up to half of any future signing bonus in exchange for exposure to major league teams, is an inexpensive way for franchises to expand their scouting networks and for poverty-stricken families to go all-in on a high-risk gambit.

If a player does eventually sign, he is sent to some faraway outpost to begin the climb through baseball's ranks. From there they attempt to gain footing in a new culture and are taught to play ball without complaints while nonetheless sending portions of their meager earnings to their families back home.

Difo said he made between $400 and $500 every two weeks - or, he said in Spanish, "only enough to eat" after sending his mother a couple hundred dollars from each paycheck - until his salary multiplied six-fold when he was added in 2014 to the Nationals' 40-man roster. Another former player, the Venezuela-born pitcher Jose Mejias, signed with the Philadelphia Phillies at age 16 and spoke so little English he only felt comfortable communicating with hand gestures. After a few months, teammates started calling him "El Mudo," or The Mute.

John Wesley, a former minor league player and pitching coach, said he used to sneak water to Dominican players because their apartment's tap output was brown and the young men could not spare $1.50 for a bottle. "These poor kids," said Wesley, who coached in the Toronto Blue Jays system. "It's a pyramid scam: Everything goes to the top. Nothing comes down."

The Rothsteins, one of many host families who offer housing to minor leaguers, fit dozens of players in their 2,000-square foot house until a few years ago. Barb said they came to love their guests, and when one player moved up the ladder or gave up the dream, another took his place.

In 2008, after the Giants took over the Norwich team, a tall 24-year-old pitcher named Garrett Broshuis moved in. He was from small-town Missouri and bookish, and like Barb, he too collected stories.

Every once in a while, as he and Barb shared a few of their favorites, he'd wonder aloud if the system would ever change.

Broshuis' office window overlooks downtown St. Louis and the Mississippi River, a wall decorated with reminders of an old life and a new one: his rookie card next to his admittance to the Missouri Bar Association.

"I still love the game," Broshuis said, though a decade after signing a contract to play professional baseball, he was declaring war on it. In February 2014, he filed the lawsuit against MLB, its 30 franchises and former Commissioner Bud Selig. In it, he referred to the league as a "cartel."

A former all-American at Missouri, he had tried, years earlier, to keep quiet and play. When a group of fans in Norwich watched him push-start the broken-down pickup he shared with a teammate, he shook it off as paying his dues. When he invited his then-girlfriend to his meager apartment, finding a room flooded by a neighbor's toilet upstairs, he assured himself brighter days awaited.

He chronicled his experiences in articles for the Sporting News, though he squashed the grittier anecdotes and submitted the entries to the Giants for approval. But as the years passed, the stories ate away at his resolve: the Venezuelan teammate who struggled each month to send $20 back home to his pregnant girlfriend, the young pitchers worrying each month about how they'd pay their student loans.

He was told by team officials that he was lucky to play, that the system had been in place for decades, that if he wanted to make more money, he should get better.

Four days after his final game in 2009, he took the Law School Admission Test and was later accepted into St. Louis University's law school. He spoke with professors about a long-term plan to challenge a system that succeeded in part because the hopeful and desperate athletes continued to accept it for one prevailing reason: They always had.

MLB filed an answer to the suit last year, denying the allegations in Broshuis's complaint. A league spokesman declined an interview request for this story, referring The Washington Post to a June statement comparing players to "artists, musicians and other creative professionals who are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act."

"Like those professionals," the MLB statement went on, "it is simply impractical to treat professional athletes as hourly employees."

Paré was on his 38th consecutive hour awake - games on consecutive nights and in stadiums 426 miles apart, one pitch to the head in the first one, a nine-hour bus ride in which he wasn't allowed to sleep because he was being evaluated for a possible concussion - and now it was approaching midnight.

He put the leftover chicken and lasagna into the fridge, and when he opened the sliding pantry door it fell off the track.

"Believe it or not," he said of the apartment, "the last place was worse."

In this complex west of town, roughly 10 units are filled - packed, in some cases - with GreenJackets players and coaches. In here, the air conditioning rumbles and the front door must be slammed to close; Paré sat on carpet singed in places by a previous tenant, examining the lens on his video camera.

All four players in this second-floor apartment hold second jobs at least part of the year. Connolly works construction during offseasons, McCasland is a substitute teacher and Sonabend spends part of the morning hours organizing online inventory for a pharmaceutical company. Neither pays especially well, but it's enough financial oxygen to keep the dream alive.

Paré makes YouTube videos that poke fun at the plight of a "homeless minor leaguer," a light-hearted look at the lonely hours and inelegant lifestyle the common fan rarely sees. "You can sponsor a player right now," he implores viewers in one video inspired by those old "Save the Children" ads. Paré ends most videos by soliciting donations, and a good month - he collected $83 in July - means he doesn't have to negotiate food prices at Waffle House.

A 26th-round draft pick out of high school by Houston in 2009, Paré elected to play at Boston College rather than accept the Astros' offer, which he said included a $200,000 signing bonus. He tore a meniscus as a sophomore, and scouts never viewed him the same. He wasn't drafted after his junior and senior seasons, but after a tryout in June2013, the Giants offered him a contract - this one offering $1,000 to sign.

He met Sonabend, another undrafted former college catcher, at a voluntary camp last year before spring training. They traded stories and agreed that luck and persistence had led them to the professional ranks. Sonabend reached Class-AA Richmond last season, collecting a salary increase because of service time at a higher level, and this spring they were assigned to Augusta. Sonabend and Paré agreed to room together with Connolly and McCasland, collaborating on ways to cut costs: Paré sleeping in the dining room because the other residents pay for the Internet, Sonabend buying eggs a few times a week in exchange for use of Paré's SUV.

Evenings are spent at the ballpark or at fan events; Paré has perfected the art of asking boosters for donations. This year the roommates have scored eyedrops, a few jugs of coffee, laundry detergent, a sofa and a potholder set.

As Friday turned to Saturday, Paré not yet able to wind down, Connolly and McCasland came in through the front door and one of them wrestled it closed.

"I brought lasagna!" Paré announced, but his roommates had stopped at a restaurant on the way home.

Connolly wished he had known.

"That could've saved me some bucks," the 24-year-old pitcher said.

Paré returned his attention to the camera, a few ideas in mind for new videos, and Connolly approached the pantry. The door again fell off the track, and Connolly slammed it.

"This whole place is a joke," he said, and all Paré could do was laugh.

Paré was living rent-free in a cousin's spare bedroom last fall when the email arrived: "The purpose of this Notice," it read, "is to inform you of the existence of a collective action lawsuit against Major League Baseball."

A group of former minor leaguers had formed a movement against the league, and hundreds more were adding their names.

He thought about it and talked to people he trusted. He read articles about the attorney who had once played for the same organization now leading a charge against MLB. Paré wondered if, like the 1968 uprising that ultimately led to free agency, a victory here would be good for the game.

And in the end, he couldn't be certain it would. He believed the Giants (who through a spokeswoman declined to comment for this article) and MLB had, all told, been good to him. Around 2,300 current and former players would opt-in on the suit, but Paré would not be one of them. He didn't want to take a side.

He reported for spring training last February, reconnecting with Sonabend and Connolly, who also received the email but refused to add their names.

"If I signed it," Connolly said, "it would almost be like me not appreciating the opportunity."

Sonabend saw it similarly.

"I knew what I was getting into," he said, "and I worked for it anyway."

Last month, a California magistrate judge stripped the suit of its conditional class-action status. A setback, Broshuis admitted, but earlier this month the same judge granted a request to reconsider the class certification; a hearing is scheduled for Dec. 2.

For now, Broshuis and the 41 co-plaintiffs wait, and for different reasons so do the young men in the apartment in west Augusta: Paré increasingly realistic about his baseball fate, Sonabend seeing how a former baseball castaway can climb, Connolly defiantly hopeful that the phone will someday ring, a voice on the other end inviting him to a higher level in the game and a better lifestyle.

"It's only going to be a couple years and you filter out," Connolly said, "or you get that paycheck everybody dreams about."

Early on a Saturday afternoon, another game a few hours away, Paré dressed for work. Sonabend joined him in the den, and they collected their bags.

"Is Mike pitching?" Paré asked. "Who's pitching?"

Sonabend shrugged.

"Ready?" he said.

"I'm ready," Paré said, and they walked into the midsummer sun, through a door that didn't want to close.

By Jeanna Smialek

With oil prices in the gutter, Alaskan cities begin to eye tech

With oil prices in the gutter, Alaskan cities begin to eye tech
Sunlight reflects off buildings in downtown Anchorage on Nov. 5, 2014. Alaskan cities advertise lifestyle perks to draw new talent. (MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by David Ryder)

Economic diversification can be difficult for oil-rich U.S. states. That's even more true if you're isolated and partly situated on a frozen tundra.

Welcome to Alaska's reality.

Alaska's gross domestic product has been falling since 2012, and it's been hemorrhaging jobs in mining and logging, the largest single sector of its economy, amid a years-long oil price slump. Today, it has the highest unemployment rate of any state, at 6.7 percent. As its economy struggles, both the state government and regional and city administrators are pushing to create new industries in the land that likes to call itself the "last frontier."

Several show promise - the state development office is looking at shellfish, peony cultivation and craft beer as fertile areas for expansion - and another idea is percolating in the cities: Alaska could become Silicon Valley's understudy. The logic is simple: Tech jobs can be done remotely, and often provide services that don't require close proximity to a customer base.

"Alaska and the tech sector aren't usually found in the same sentence," said Jon Bittner, vice president at the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. and one of the people leading the push to bring entrepreneurs - including tech startups - to his state's snowy shores. "There's no reason it can't be done here."

While the state can pitch its laid-back lifestyle and breathtaking scenery to draw in a creative class, there remains a significant barrier to fostering a vibrant tech community in Alaska. Up until now, it hasn't been done much in the state, so the infrastructure and talent pools come up lacking.

"There is a brain drain," said Carmina Santamaria, the Bolivian chief executive officer of Kwema, a tech startup that she and her co-founders are working on in Anchorage. Their product is an electronic panic button smaller than a quarter that's styled into jewelry, meant to allow college-aged women to alert their friends, campus police and other Kwema-wearers if they're being assaulted.

The team won funding competitions in New York and Anchorage, and chose Alaska both because the state has an extremely high sexual assault rate and because they thought they'd stand out in a smaller market. It's been a struggle to find local electronic engineers and jewelry designers, Santamaria said.

Kwema's experience isn't that surprising, based on a the numbers. Alaska is still far from becoming a leader in the tech space: it actually lost tech jobs in absolute numbers between 2014 and 2015 and ranks 49th in the country for tech employment. Currently, the tech sector only contributes an estimated 2.4 percent to the state's economy annually, based on a report from CompTIA, an information technology trade association.

Even so, the fact that tech companies like Kwema are coming to Anchorage even at their early stages is a step in the right direction for an area that's striving to attract talent.

Kwema was drawn north by Launch: Alaska, a business accelerator that started this year with the help of a Small Business Administration grant. The new program is providing funding to them and four other teams of entrepreneurs, and they're able to operate out of a new co-working space in downtown Anchorage. It and the other Launch: Alaska teams will pitch to potential investors this week, hoping to find additional funding.

"When I did my first start-up, I had to leave the state," said Lance Ahern, managing director for Launch: Alaska. Now, he said, "we've got the ecosystem put together."

While Anchorage is at the center of much of the effort, the startup scene also has potential in other cities as well, Ahern said. Alaska Startup Week, which took place in July, had scheduled events in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Sitka and Juneau.

To be sure, even if tech takes off in Alaska, its reach will probably be limited to the metropolitan areas, since far-flung towns with limited connectivity don't offer great opportunities for app founders and other business creators.

That's one reason why the push is largely local, while the state's focus is elsewhere. Britteny Cioni-Haywood at the Division of Economic Development and her colleagues are working on the Alaska's first comprehensive economic strategy. Maritime support services, peonies, drones and craft beverages are among the emerging industries they're discussing.

The oil slump "does hasten the need" to diversify the economy, she said. "We face a crisis like this, and it kind of has some impetus. We'll be able to actually get this done, constructed, and under implementation."

The fact that prices aren't projected to rise back to anything like their heyday levels could actually help that effort.

"All of the sudden we're faced with this economic inflection point," Bittner said. "What do we need to do to get out of the roller-coaster commodity cycle? We need to start our own businesses."

By Monica Hesse

Barack and Michelle's first date, coming to a theater near you

Barack and Michelle's first date, coming to a theater near you
Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers in

All politicians are actors. They must be, to travel the country telling the same personal anecdotes with the same emotional inflections, all while convincing constituents of their spontaneity and sincerity. When the public wants to know what politicians are really like in private, they either wait for a tell-all by the staff, or they wait for a fictionalized version that feels like it illuminates the truth as well as the facts would.

The new movie "Southside With You," which opens Friday, is a feature film about Barack and Michelle Obama's first date in 1989. It's perhaps best described as a "Before Sunrise" for political wonks: the story spans a single day as the future first couple catch a movie, visit an art museum, and talk about their hopes and dreams while meandering through Chicago. On a more meta level, the movie is about the creation of the Obamas' private-life narrative - a shaping of how the public will understand them in the future and an acknowledgment of how it sees them now.

"Movies that come out after ours are probably going to be conventional biopics," writer/director Richard Tanne said in a recent interview when he and the film's two stars visited D.C. "They'll weave in policy and history. The special thing about being able to focus on this slice of life is that you can bring into it your individual perspective, and whatever your relationship with the Obamas is."

He began working on the script even before Obama had won the 2008 election, after watching how the couple interacted: "The way they'd look at each other, flirt with each other, how authentic and sexy their love seemed to be," he says. "It's rare in regular people, and even rarer in public figures."

The Obamas, in "Southside," are not yet The Obamas; they are idealistic 20-something attorneys Barry (played by Parker Sawyer) and Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter). Barry is charming but cocky: he's lured Michelle to an outing she doesn't realize is a date, even though he knows she avoids romances with co-workers. Michelle is driven and unimpressed, not wanting to get caught up in her colleague's hype, which was even then prodigious. She keeps his ego in check with an occasional raised eyebrow; he brings her to a neighborhood meeting at which he's speaking and shows off with a rousing oratory.

Does this feel like the Obamas? An early prototype of them. Whether you find movie-Barack inspirational or a tad smug will likely reflect how you view the man. The same goes for film-Michelle, who is considerably more severe than the real first lady - and who will come across, to different viewers, as either her future husband's brilliant rock, or as the woman who will one day tell the country to stop eating so many Ding Dongs.

Sawyer, who had been told for years how much he looked like the president, spent hours watching footage of Obama walking, to get the physical embodiment right. "It's sort of perched forward," he describes. "It's a little pigeon-toed, and there's a saunter to it. Denzel Washington has that walk. My father had that walk."

Sumpter, who was also a producer on the film, read Michelle Obama biographies and articles, and worked with a dialect coach on the first lady's subtle Southside accent. "We knew we wanted to embody the essence of who they are," she says.

Of course, the film is also trying to get at who they were, long before they were famous: to square what we know now with what we couldn't see then, as historians transition from talking about Obama's leadership to Obama's legacy.

Narrative accounts of presidents have a way of solidifying or articulating how the public feels about its leaders. "Primary Colors," the book and then the movie, depicted the pretend world of a Bill Clinton-esque presidential campaign. The candidate wasn't named Bill, but the drawling governor with voracious appetites - food, sex - provided a Kabuki-like version that seemed to distill the man to his essence and has followed him to this day.

(In a provocative recent example, the New York Times last month published a short story by the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which catalogued an imagined, fretful day in the life of Melania Trump. Did it remotely reflect the real person? It's not clear. But a fake version seemed like it could explain the emotions of an enigmatic figure.)

"Southside With You" is fortunate to have a lot of source material: Both of the Obamas have talked about their first date on multiple occasions as an important moment in their lives. They did, in fact, go to an exhibit at Chicago's Art Institute, as the movie depicts. And they did go see "Do the Right Thing," where they did run into an older white partner from the law firm where they both worked. They did share a kiss in front of a Baskin-Robbins (a plaque outside the real store commemorates this), and thanks to the leader of the free world once mentioning that his wife "tasted like chocolate," we even know what flavor they ordered.

It's a naturally cinematic evening, and given how many times the Obamas have been asked to share it, they're probably relieved that they did more than, say, split a pitcher of beer and shout awkwardly over loud bar music.

But the dialogue of the evening is, of course, all re-created. And so are a few scenes: Though Michelle did once accompany her new boyfriend to a community-organizing meeting, it wasn't on the first date. The film's most affecting scene is a reimagining: After seeing "Do the Right Thing" - Spike Lee's seminal exploration of race relations - Barack placates the white law partner by offering a comforting explanation for why a store was looted. The white partner leaves, and the Barry turns to a disbelieving Michelle. "I said that to make Avery feel better," he explains. "Mookie threw the trash can because he was (bleeping) angry."

Anyone who has watched Barack Obama try to glide between worlds - referencing his Midwestern relatives when speaking to predominantly white audiences, mentioning his Kenyan roots when talking to black ones - will sense that they're seeing something that feels true, even if it's not.

Here is a future president, young and in love, trying to figure out what mark he'll leave on the world. Here are we, approaching the end of his eight-year run, figuring it out, too.

---

Video: "Southside with You" is about Barack and Michelle Obama's first date. What would the love stories of other presidents and first ladies look like on the big screen? (By Nicki DeMarco / The Washington Post)

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

By michael gerson

Trump’s repellant inner circle

Trump’s repellant inner circle

WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump is undergoing his own “extreme vetting.” And we are learning a great deal about the quality of his public pledges.

In no particular order, Trump has shifted his position on raising the federal minimum wage (against it, for it, get rid of it, leave it to the states, put it at $10 an hour); on fighting Islamic State (bomb the “hell out of them” and take the oil fields, let our regional allies take the lead, declare war and send in troops, let Russia take care of it ); on taxes for the wealthy (increase them, cut them dramatically, make the wealthy pay more, make everyone pay less); on his Muslim ban (exclude all Muslims, keep Muslims out except for members of the military and current residents, it was “just a suggestion,” ban Muslims from countries with a history of terrorism, impose “extreme vetting”); on the national debt (eliminate it in eight years, prioritize massive infrastructure spending, renegotiate debt with creditors, just “print the money”).

Now, concerning his defining promise to round up and deport 11 million undocumented men, women and children, Trump is undergoing a rapid, convulsive transition from Mr. Hyde into Dr. Jekyll. In the movies, this role would require hours in the chair of a highly skilled makeup artist. Trump has Sean Hannity.

For much of Trump’s fan base, these details couldn’t matter less. The Trump revolution is mainly a matter of personnel, not policy. Put the right man in charge who will hire the “best people” and fire all the corrupt, stupid failures. Trump’s primary appeal -- and his main source of self-regard -- is his skill as a negotiator, manager and talent scout.

Here we are also getting a good feel for the candidate. Trump’s campaign has been a roiling, noxious, dysfunctional mess from the start, characterized by public feuds, subject to sudden leadership changes and unable to fulfill key functions (like actually having a campaign apparatus in key states). And Trump’s personnel selections have been both instructive and disastrous.

Consider this list of Trump’s chosen: Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski had a brutal and demeaning style that resulted in a staff revolt, and his manhandling of a female reporter overshadowed the Trump campaign for weeks. Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was paid lucrative consulting fees by foreign interests, and resigned after reports that Ukraine anti-corruption investigators were scrutinizing millions in alleged payments there.

Longtime adviser Roger Stone is a crackpot conspiracy theorist who asserts that Bill and Hillary Clinton are “plausibly responsible” for the deaths of roughly 40 people and that Hillary Clinton should be “executed for murder.” Confidante Roger Ailes recently stepped down from his job at Fox under a cloud of sexual harassment claims. And Steve Bannon, Trump’s new campaign chief executive, is known for his bullying tactics and for running a website (Breitbart News) that flirts with white nationalism.

There are a few exceptions to this pattern -- Kellyanne Conway and Mike Pence come to mind -- but Trump has hired and elevated some of the very worst people in American politics, known for their cruelty, radicalism, prejudice and corruption.

What does all this say about Trump as a prospective president?

First, it means that the ideal of leadership Trump displayed as a reality television star is his actual view of leadership. It is not an act. In Trump’s view, leaders elevate themselves by belittling others. They yell and abuse and bully. And their most important quality is absolute loyalty to the great leader, the star of the show. This is a view of leadership that would make H.R. Haldeman cringe.

Second, Trump has managed to pick a team that directly undermines many of his campaign objectives. Need to appeal to women? Include a man in your inner circle accused by many of misogyny. Need to appeal to minorities? Elevate a figure associated with the racially divisive alt-right. Need to challenge the corrupt status quo in Washington? Hire a consultant for oppressive governments. Trump’s rhetoric is belied by his choice of friends and associates.

Finally, ideology doesn’t seem to be the main criteria in Trump’s selections. The hiring of Bannon does make Trump’s appeal to the alt-right explicit. But Breitbart is mainly known in this election for slavish devotion to the cult of Trump. This attribute may well guide most of Trump’s top-level personnel choices, including for the Supreme Court.

Trump, more than most, needs to surround himself with people who compensate for his alarming weaknesses. Instead, his choices demonstrate and amplify those weaknesses, becoming one more reason to utterly reject his leadership.

Michael Gerson’s email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

(c) 2016, Washington Post Writers Group

By fareed zakaria

The world as revealed by the Olympics

The world as revealed by the Olympics

NEW YORK -- The Olympics are over and the verdict is in -- America won. The United States left Rio with the most gold, silver and bronze medals. The last time a single nation topped all three categories was 40 years ago (except for boycotted games in 1980 and 1984). America’s lead over the second-place finisher was 51 medals, the largest gap in a nonboycotted Olympics since 1932. If “America doesn’t win anymore,” someone forgot to tell its Olympic athletes.

Winning in the Olympics doesn’t translate directly into success in other spheres, but here’s what the Olympics can teach us about the world. (Hat-tip to Greg Myre of NPR for an excellent piece on this.)

Despite all its problems, America still soars above the competition. And yet, looking at the numbers, we can see clearly “the rise of the rest.” America has taken between 10 and 20 percent of all medals for most of the modern Olympics. But over the last 30 years, the number has dipped to the bottom of that range. This mirrors the story of America’s relative economic strength. It remains No. 1, but its share of global GDP has dipped over the last few decades, as emerging nations have seen their slice of the global pie grow.

The single largest piece of this story is, of course, China. Its rise in the Olympics, as in economics, is dazzling. In the 1980s, China started out as a player in the Olympics. By 1992, it ranked fourth with 54 medals. By 2000, the country placed third. Today, it is No. 2.

So what is the key to Olympic success? Many economists and statisticians have tried to construct models that predict the medal tallies. The simplest and most reliable predictors seem to be population size and, even more important, GDP.

But there is the Soviet effect. If a centralized dictatorship focuses obsessively on sports, it can boost its tallies significantly. The Soviet Union often led the world in the Olympics during the Cold War, and East Germany was an Olympic powerhouse -- though athletes from both are now believed to have been systematically and massively doped. China today certainly benefits from a lavishly funded centrally directed focus on winning medals, which is why its lower tally this year will probably cause heads to roll back in Beijing.

The most consistent and astonishing underperformer is India, the world’s second most populous country and its seventh largest economy. India won two medals in Rio, or one for every 650 million people. By comparison, Azerbaijan won 18, one for every 500,000 of its people, doing more than 1,000 times better.

Why? Poverty is the easy explanation. India is still a very poor country per capita. But why does it do so much worse than other impoverished nations? To put it in perspective, India’s per capita GDP now is about what China’s was in 2000. That year, China won 58 medals (with 28 golds), about 30 times as many as India won this summer.

Some Indians chalk it up to their nation’s messy democracy. But developing and democratic countries like Kenya, South Africa and Turkey do much better. It turns out that good public policy is key, says Danyel Reiche, who has written a book to explain the secrets of Olympic success. He asks, for instance, why Kenya is able to win 29 times as many medals as Saudi Arabia, though it is 17 times poorer. His answer is a policy formula that he terms “WISE,” which breaks down into four policies: empower women in order to unlock the potential of half the population; build strong sports institutions in the country; specialize in some sports; and become an early adopter of new techniques and sports. Countries that adopt some of these strategies do well -- New Zealand, Denmark, Croatia and, most remarkably, Jamaica.

India’s underperformance in the Olympics might be one more reflection of an enduring feature of the Indian landscape -- private excellence but public incompetence. Government in India just works very badly. But there is more to it than that. India does not have the same, unified nationalist fervor that China brings to these global competitions. Perhaps that is because of India’s diversity, perhaps for other reasons, but it is difficult to imagine the country uniting as China did for the Beijing Olympics.

And then there is America; decentralized, unplanned, chaotic, with a government everyone loves to hate -- and yet it’s the undisputed champ. Why? Partly it is that American public policy actually works quite well and has encouraged excellence in many sports. Mostly it is a reflection of the American spirit that celebrates individualism, embraces diversity, and relentlessly pushes for excellence. And that spirit is even more important than winning.

Fareed Zakaria’s email address is comments@fareedzakaria.com.

(c) 2016, Washington Post Writers Group

By dana milbank

Donald Trump’s new loose cannon

Donald Trump’s new loose cannon

WASHINGTON -- In choosing Stephen Bannon to be the CEO of his campaign, Donald Trump has accomplished the extraordinary: He has found somebody as outrageous as he is.

Bannon, who had been publisher of the far-right website Breitbart, has called the pope a “commie” and said Catholics are trying to boost Hispanic immigration because their “church is dying.” He called Gabby Giffords, a former congresswoman who was shot in the head, a “human shield,” and the mayor of London a “radical Muslim.” Hillary Clinton, in Bannon’s telling, is a “grifter” who would take the country to the “last days of Sodom.”

The new Trump adviser calls himself a “populist nationalist” -- his hiring has been cheered by white supremacists -- and calls his fellow believers a “small, crazy wing” of the conservative movement. He has referred to the Civil War as the “war of Southern Independence” fought over “economic development.” He found “zero evidence” of racial motives in the Trayvon Martin shooting and warned that “cities could be washed away in an orgy of de-gentrification.”

The Trump campaign’s chief executive believes the Obama administration is “importing more hating Muslims” and asks whether Clinton is “complicit in a fifth column.” He doesn’t think Huma Abedin, a Muslim aide to Clinton, should have a security clearance, and he has alleged that Clinton’s vice presidential nominee, Sen. Tim Kaine, has an “affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood.” He argued that Gretchen Carlson’s sexual harassment case, which forced the ouster of Roger Ailes at Fox News Channel, was a “total dud,” and he alleged the existence of a “militant-feminist legal wrecking crew.”

Fox News, in Bannon’s view, is a “centrist” outlet -- and compared to Breitbart, it most certainly is. The site, which was closer to the mainstream under its late founder, Andrew Breitbart, has run these headlines under Bannon’s leadership:

“Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.”

“Political Correctness Protects Muslim Rape Culture.”

“Suck It Up Buttercups: Dangerous Faggot Tour Returns to Colleges in September.”

“The Solution to Online ‘Harassment’ Is Simple: Women Should Log Off.”

“Two Months Left Until Obama Gives Dictators Control of Internet.”

“There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women in Tech, They Just Suck at Interviews.”

“Trannies Whine About Hilarious Bruce Jenner Billboard.”

“Khizr Khan Believes the Constitution ‘Must Always Be Subordinated to the Sharia.’”

Bannon’s Breitbart said the gay-pride flag is viewed as a “symbol of anti-Christian hate” and said birth control makes a woman into a “slut” and a “hideous monster,” arguing: “Your birth control injection will add on pounds that will prevent the injection you really want -- of man meat.”

Trump echoes conspiracy theories proposed by Breitbart, and Breitbart has relentlessly promoted Trump. In short, Trump found in Bannon a character like himself: a bully who targets racial and religious minorities, immigrants and women. In his writings and broadcast commentary, Bannon, a veteran and former banker, has argued that immigrants -- legal as well as illegal -- are to blame for crime, terrorism and disease. He disparages “anchor babies” and says FBI Director James Comey’s recommendation not to prosecute Clinton is “inextricably linked” to anti-police violence. He speaks of Megyn Kelly’s “blonde ambition” and alleges that the military is trying to “eradicate Christianity.”

Breitbart has a tag for “black crime” and stokes fear of race wars with headlines such as “Race Murder in Virginia,” “Black Suspects Stalk Robbery Victim in Philadelphia,” “Career Criminal Accused of Assaulting Victim, Calling Her ‘White Bitch,’” “Black Rape Gangs Violate Two Detroit Women” and “Black Mob Swarms Georgia Walmart to See ‘How Much Damage’ They Could Do.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center protests that Breitbart “has been openly promoting the core issues of the Alt-Right, introducing these racist ideas to its readership.” Breitbart had a “lengthy defense” of white nationalists that ignored their openly racist views, the SPLC said.

Breitbart likened Pamela Geller’s “Muhammad Cartoon Contest” to the Selma-to-Montgomery march. The outlet has gone after the “big gay hate machine” and suggested that “the next step for marriage equality” is “likely polygamy.”

Breitbart ran a doctored photo showing House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a bikini on all fours with her tongue out. It reported that Planned Parenthood was “comfortably surpassing Hitler” in its “body count.” It said Trump’s bogus claim that thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrated the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had been “100 percent vindicated,” and it alleged a “smoking gun” connecting the 9/11 hijackers to a “Bush family friend.”

There is more, but you don’t need to read it here. Just wait for Trump to say it.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2016, Washington Post Writers Group

By david ignatius

A character test for America

A character test for America

SYDNEY -- To appreciate what’s at stake for the world in this year’s U.S. presidential election, it’s useful to visit a place like Australia that has been one of our most faithful allies -- and that appears to be mortified at what’s happening in American politics.

Australians are polite, in their own rowdy way. And they know they have to live with whoever is elected president. So people here rarely criticize Donald Trump head on.

But polls tell the story: A June survey by the Lowy Institute, a think tank here, found that just 11 percent supported Trump, compared with 77 percent for Hillary Clinton. The percentage supporting Trump’s foreign policy was even smaller. And most amazingly, in a country that has backed every American military action for a century, 59 percent of Australians say their country shouldn’t join in U.S. military action if Trump is elected.

Australians, like most U.S. allies, depend on a strong, confident America to lead a global system that’s stable, and also supple enough to accommodate new players such as China. They fear an America that leaves allies to fend for themselves against Russian or Chinese bullying.

So what do Australians think when they hear Trump say, as he did in an Aug. 8 speech: “Americanism, not globalism, will be our new credo”? they worry that he means just what he says. Trump’s America would be a more selfish nation; it would look out more for itself and less for others. This inward focus may make sense to Americans who are unhappy with globalization, but it’s a scary prospect for an Australia that has to bet its future, quite literally, on America’s staying power in Asia.

“We need confident, competent, outward-looking U.S. leadership. Our region depends on that,” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told me in an interview. While she was careful not to express a political preference, her meaning seemed obvious.

Trump’s fulmination about trade deals is a particularly worrying example of his intention to abandon longstanding American policies. He blasts the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for example, ignoring the fact that the greatest beneficiary of TPP’s demise would be China. Beijing is waiting with its own alternative structure for global trade and economics to replace the U.S.-led system that has prevailed since 1945.

Trump’s supporters may imagine that America will start “winning” again, post-TPP, but I have yet to meet a global business leader who doesn’t think that the demise of the trade deal would be a huge victory for China that would undermine American power in Asia for years. And yes, folks, TPP’s demise would also hurt American workers by reducing U.S. access to the world’s fastest-growing markets.

Clinton’s capitulation to misguided critics of the TPP has been sad to watch. Maybe she really believes that it’s possible to reopen negotiations and get a better deal, but if so, she’s nearly alone. More likely, she’s willing for U.S. economic power and prestige to take a hit, if it will help her get elected. The only adult American in the room on this issue has been President Obama, who is campaigning hard to get TPP passed before he leaves office.

“The TPP is not just an economic necessity, it’s a strategic necessity,” argues Bishop. “If the TPP fails, it will be seen as a failure of U.S. political will. A failure will also leave a vacuum, which will be filled by other countries including China. It’s absolutely vital to have a win on this.”

What will allies do if the U.S. votes to embrace Trump’s version of “Americanism, not globalism”? They will make adjustments; they will hedge their bets; they will hope that the fever breaks in four years; they will try to protect their own interests in a world where American power has become less reliable.

Australia is a good example of a country that stands by its friends, even when they make mistakes. The leadership here stuck with the U.S. through Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some business leaders want cozier relations with China, but the public view is steadfast. “Why would we seek to hasten the drawing-down of an old ally?” asked Michael Fullilove, executive director of the Lowy Institute, in a recent book.

Great powers sometimes crack under strain. Australia watched as the seemingly unshakable power of the British Empire became brittle and weary, and turned inward. Global leadership isn’t a perpetual motion machine. It requires effort and occasional sacrifice. This year is a character test for America, and you need only travel abroad to understand how intently the world is watching.

David Ignatius’ email address is davidignatius@washpost.com.

(c) 2016, Washington Post Writers Group

By charles krauthammer

The bribery standard

The bribery standard

WASHINGTON -- Bernie Sanders never understood the epic quality of the Clinton scandals. In his first debate, he famously dismissed the email issue, it being beneath the dignity of a great revolutionary to deal in things so tawdry and straightforward.

Sanders failed to understand that Clinton scandals are sprawling, multilayered, complex things. They defy time and space. They grow and burrow.

The central problem with Hillary Clinton’s emails was not the classified material. It wasn’t the headline-making charge by the FBI director of her extreme carelessness in handling it.

That’s a serious offense, to be sure, and could very well have been grounds for indictment. And it did damage her politically, exposing her sense of above-the-law entitlement and -- in her dodges and prevarications, her parsing and evasions -- demonstrating her arm’s-length relationship with the truth.

But it was always something of a sideshow. The real question wasn’t classification but: Why did she have a private server in the first place? She obviously lied about the purpose. It wasn’t convenience. It was concealment. What exactly was she hiding?

Was this merely the prudent paranoia of someone who habitually walks the line of legality? After all, if she controls the server, she controls the evidence, and can destroy it -- as she did 30,000 emails -- at will.

But destroy what? Remember: She set up the system before even taking office. It’s clear what she wanted to protect from scrutiny: Clinton Foundation business.

The foundation is a massive family enterprise disguised as a charity, an opaque and elaborate mechanism for sucking money from the rich and the tyrannous to be channeled to Clinton Inc. Its purpose is to maintain the Clintons’ lifestyle (offices, travel, accommodations, etc.), secure profitable connections, produce favorable publicity and reliably employ a vast entourage of retainers, ready to serve today and at the coming Clinton Restoration.

Now we learn how the whole machine operated. Two weeks ago, emails began dribbling out showing foundation officials contacting State Department counterparts to ask favors for foundation “friends.” Say, a meeting with the State Department’s “substance person” on Lebanon for one particularly generous Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire.

Big deal, said the Clinton defenders. Low-level stuff. No involvement of the secretary herself. Until -- drip, drip -- the next batch revealed foundation requests for face time with the secretary herself. Such as one from the crown prince of Bahrain.

To be sure, Bahrain, home of the Fifth Fleet, is an important Persian Gulf ally. Its crown prince shouldn’t have to go through a foundation -- to which his government donated at least $50,000 -- to get to the secretary. The fact that he did is telling.

Now, a further drip: The Associated Press found that over half the private interests who were granted phone or personal contact with Secretary Clinton -- 85 of 154 -- were donors to the foundation. Total contributions? As much as $156 million.

Current Clinton response? There was no quid pro quo.

What a long way we’ve come. This is the very last line of defense. Yes, it’s obvious that access and influence were sold. But no one has demonstrated definitively that the donors received something tangible of value -- a pipeline, a permit, a waiver, a favorable regulatory ruling -- in exchange.

It’s hard to believe the Clinton folks would be stupid enough to commit something so blatant to writing. Nonetheless, there might be an email allusion to some such conversation. With thousands more emails to come, who knows what lies beneath.

On the face of it, it’s rather odd that a visible quid pro quo is the bright line for malfeasance. Anything short of that -- the country is awash with political money that buys access -- is deemed acceptable. As Donald Trump says of his own donation-giving days, “when I need something from them ... I call them, they are there for me.” This is considered routine and unremarkable.

It’s not until a Rolex shows up on your wrist that you get indicted. Or you are found to have dangled a Senate appointment for cash. Then, like Rod Blagojevich, you go to jail. (He got 14 years.)

Yet we are hardly bothered by the routine practice of presidents rewarding big donors with cushy ambassadorships, appointments to portentous boards or invitations to state dinners.

The bright line seems to be outright bribery. Anything short of that is considered -- not just for the Clintons, for everyone -- acceptable corruption.

It’s a sorry standard. And right now it is Hillary Clinton’s saving grace.

Charles Krauthammer’s email address is letters@charleskrauthammer.com.

(c) 2016, The Washington Post Writers Group

By michelle singletary

Welcome to Crazy Credit Town, where you need to know the rules

Welcome to Crazy Credit Town, where you need to know the rules

WASHINGTON -- The systems used to score your credit behavior can be confusing and counterintuitive. Just think about this: To get a good credit score, you have to use debt. But using debt means you lose some of your financial freedom because you owe money.

I call this Crazy Credit Town. Yet this is a place many Americans find themselves.

I asked representatives from the three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian, TransUnion -- and FICO, the company that created the credit-scoring model used by most lenders, to address some common credit misconceptions. I’ll walk you through their responses here and in future columns.

Let’s start with two credit myths about closing an account.

(1) Closing a credit account will negatively impact your credit score. (BEG ITAL)That’s not necessarily true.(END ITAL)

Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian: “When you close a credit card account with a zero balance, you lose the available limit for that account. If you are carrying balances on other cards, that causes your overall balance-to-limit ratio, called your ‘utilization rate,’ to increase. An increase in the utilization rate is a sign of risk, which will cause credit scores to dip a bit initially. However, if everything else is good in your credit history and remains positive, scores typically bounce back up within a few billing cycles because it becomes clear you didn’t suddenly take on a lot of new debt.”

But, Griffin adds: “You probably shouldn’t close the account if you are planning to apply for new credit within the next three to six months, just to be sure things remain stable.”

Heather Battison, vice president at TransUnion:(END ITAL) Since your credit-utilization rate is a major component of your score, consider whether any account you want to close represents a small or large portion of your available credit. “Closing the account could have little to no impact on the score,” says Battison. “But if the account provides a large portion of the available credit, closing it may have a negative impact on the score.”

Can Arkali, principal scientist at FICO: “If an individual has a balance on her or his remaining cards, it is likely that such a balance will now represent a higher percentage of their available credit. This would increase the person’s credit utilization and may result in a lower FICO score. In general, if a person has established a lengthy history of responsible credit management by keeping their credit card balances low and consistently paying all their bills on time, the impact of a card closure can be minimal and short-lived.”

Jason Flemish, vice president of global customer care at Equifax: “Lenders and creditors look at this information on your credit report in order to come to a lending decision -- to see not only credit limits that have been extended in the past, but also how a consumer may have handled a high credit limit.”

(2) You shouldn’t close an older account because you’ll immediately lose your positive credit history. (BEG ITAL)That’s false.(END ITAL)

Arkali, FICO: “As long as the closed account is reported to the credit bureaus by the lender, it will be considered by the FICO score when determining the length of a person’s credit history.”

Griffin, Experian: “A closed account with no negative history remains in the credit report for 10 years from the date it was closed. Closed accounts with late payment history remain seven years from the original delinquency date. Positive information remains longer than negative information, which helps people build a strong credit history and recover more quickly if they’ve had financial challenges.”

Still not sure what to do?

Griffin offered what I thought was a good crib sheet for closing an account:

-- If you have a good credit history and credit rating: Don’t be concerned about closing an account you don’t want. Your score (BEG ITAL)may(END ITAL) dip a bit but it’ll bounce back quick enough.

-- If you’ll be applying for credit in the next three to six months: Don’t close accounts. But be sure to pay them on time. Your score will also benefit from paying balances off every month or at least reducing what you owe.

-- If you have a bad credit history and/or are maxed out: Whether your score drops or not, you may need to get rid of the temptation.

“Don’t let the credit score be the only factor in making the decision to close an account,” Griffin said. “Too often people are paralyzed by a credit score and they make a bad decision for their overall financial credit.”

If you want to stay and play in Crazy Credit Town, it’s important that you know the rules.

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Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

(c) 2016, Washington Post Writers Group

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