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Longtime residents, transplants from spectrum of political opinions clash over sign in Virginia county

By Caroline Kitchener
Longtime residents, transplants from spectrum of political opinions clash over sign in Virginia county
A sign made of hay bales sits in a field outside Washington, Va., on Sept. 13, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Matt McClain

SPERRYVILLE, Va. - It was two weeks before anyone spoke of the hay bales.

This was odd, said Rachel Rowland, of Flint Hill, Va. - because the locals had certainly seen them: The display is 170 feet wide. Wrapped in glinting white plastic, the bales are stacked atop a rolling mountain hillside along Route 211, relaying their message to any nearby resident who drives to the closest grocery store.

"Farmers for Trump 2020," the bales read, hand-painted with red and blue capital letters. "Keep America Great."

There have been political signs on this particular Rappahannock County hillside for years. But they've always been simple, the locals say, thrown together with spray paint and cardboard. This sign, constructed in mid-August, was something different - professional, several people said - and it quickly amassed over 84,000 likes on ForAmerica, a conservative Facebook page with a national reach.

It's "so obnoxiously in your face" that it's become a traffic hazard, said Donna Burge, who lives adjacent to the bales: People are constantly pulling over on the four-lane highway to snap a photo, she says, smiling big with two thumbs up.

Surprised that no one in the community beat her to it, Rowland decided to raise the bale issue herself. She posted a photo to the local Facebook group at 7 p.m. on Aug. 31, blurring out the word "Trump."

"This isn't about the candidate," wrote Rowland, an independent who plans to vote for Democratic nominee Joe Biden. "We have a large, very large, new political campaign sign in our county . . . Are signs this gigantic allowed?"

The short answer is no: Rappahannock allows political signs only up to 50 square feet.

But for most in the Facebook group, that was just a technicality.

The post generated over 100 comments in 24 hours, becoming one of the most active in the group's history. The conversation quickly turned political, and personal, as the majority of commenters came out as staunchly pro-bale. If you don't like the Trump sign, someone wrote, you should "move."

Rappahannock County - known for its sweeping mountain vistas, covering the northern stretch of the Shenandoah - leans conservative, with about 57% of the electorate voting for President Donald Trump in 2016. But many residents say the political makeup seems to be shifting.

Less than 90 minutes from the District of Columbia, the county is attracting more Patagonia-clad urbanites, easy to spot as their Subarus speed off into the mountains. They buy weekend homes, then eventually settle in the area when they retire, or when the novel coronavirus allows them to work remotely. These "transplants" - or "trust fund hippies," depending on whom you're talking to - tend to be wealthier than the typical Rappahannock residents, mostly working-class families who have lived here for generations. The newcomers are almost always more liberal.

Mike Massie, who owns the hay bales, comes from one of Rappahannock's oldest "native families," local parlance for families who have owned farms here for centuries. The Massie family has been here so long that everyone knows the hay-baled hillside as "Massie's Corner." (Massie declined a request for comment.)

There has long been quiet tension between the transplants and the "natives," said Bill Fletcher, Massie's third or fourth cousin - no one can quite say for sure - whose family has owned farmland in Rappahannock since 1735. The transplants suggest changes to improve the area, hoping to increase tourism and boost their new small businesses.

For many who have been here, the objections to the hay bales were the breaking point. They could tolerate the new wine bar - and the "corner store" that now offers seven kinds of kombucha. But they would not allow a farmer to be told what kind of sign he could erect on his land.

Rowland, a chef, moved to Rappahannock in 1978, when she was in elementary school. She was not part of a farming family, but she grew up knowing many. She remembers lively political debates in public spaces in her 20s. When she posted on Facebook, Rowland was not looking for controversy, she said. She just wanted to "start a conversation" with her neighbors about a subject she knew was on everybody's mind. "We should be able to talk to each other," she said. "Why is that so hard?"

- - -

There is something special about Massie's Corner. Driving out from Warrenton, the town with the nearest grocery store, there hints of mountains here and there. But then drivers swing around a bend and everything opens up, said Daphne Hutchinson, former editor of the Rappahannock News, who has lived in the county for 40 years.

"It's when you know you're home," she said.

If landscapes could talk, Rowland said, this one would say, "Welcome to Rappahannock County."

Any sign on this hillside sends a signal about the county's identity, Rowland said - and she does not want visitors to get the wrong idea. She already struggles to dissociate her beloved Rappahannock from unflattering stereotypes. Whenever she tried to coax her ex-boyfriend, a "D.C. liberal," to come out and see her, he'd always ask her to make the trip instead.

"He'd always be like, 'I don't want to go out there. It's all racists, it's all about the Confederacy,' " Rowland said. "I don't want people thinking that of us."

The zoning commission really ought to do something about the sign, Hutchinson said, but it will not.

"It's a Republican sign - and the zoning commissioners are Republicans," said Hutchinson, who identifies as a "flaming left-leaning liberal." (The Rappahannock zoning commission did not respond to a request for comment.)

Others say the sign does accurately represent the county. Rappahannock is a farming community, said Athena Emmans, who has been working as a farmhand since she was laid off from her accounting job in March. She has been butchering cows for farmers during the coronavirus pandemic in exchange for meat to feed her 10 children.

Trump's message of economic protectionism resonates with farmers, Emmans said - especially now, when many local farms are struggling during the coronavirus, unable to sell their meat when processing plants closed this year. If the farmers are choosing Trump as their champion, Emmans said, residents should celebrate the sign.

"It's spitting in the face of the other party," said Emmans, who plans to vote for Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen. "But so what?"

Many newcomers to the county do not have the same appreciation for farming, Emmans said. In Rappahannock, families with farms or small homesteads wait for their food, growing vegetables and raising their own meat. Most former urbanites, on the other hand, are used to going to the grocery store for everything they need, she said.

More so than other rural stretches of Virginia, locals say, Rappahannock has been slow to change. There is still no cellphone service throughout much of the county, and home buyers must purchase at least 25 acres of land if they're buying outside a town, limiting development. Along with "natives," Rowland says, there are "hippie queens," local writers and artists who arrived in the 1960s and '70s. They're also eager to keep things the way they are.

"These people come up from D.C., and they want to take over," said Fletcher. "Well there's an ecological balance in this county, just like there is in nature."

The "been-heres" do want tourism from big cities. Many recognize that Rappahannock cannot thrive without it, said Hutchinson, 75: They just do not want newcomers coming in and telling them how to change their county, or when that change should come.

It's hard to know exactly what proposed changes will be controversial, said Kerry Sutten, a former intelligence official who retired to Rappahannock in 2018, opening a coffee shop that sells $5 turmeric lattes. Sutten identifies himself as "a gay man who sells espresso and expensive wine - exactly the kind of person the locals should hate."

But somehow, he says, they've warmed to him and his store.

Other new additions have not been so well received. Many Rappahannock residents still bristle when someone mentions the bike path, a contentious proposal to build a one-mile bike route in 2018. Battle lines were drawn, neighbor turned against neighbor, Sutten said, as the region debated the impact that such unbridled development would have on the area.

In one particularly memorable letter to the editor, longtime Rappahannock resident Demaris Miller claimed the path would bring "pedophiles and rapists" to the area.

"The idyllic rural county we once lived in is being hijacked," Miller wrote.

The area has changed over the past 20 years, said Lilla Fletcher, Bill's 27-year-old daughter. Fletcher grew up in the area but left for boarding school and college. By the time she came back, she said, the town of Sperryville, population 342, had turned into a "tourist metropolis," with two breweries, a yoga studio and a boutique apothecary, offering herbal skin care products and incense. And while her father might be wary of some of these changes, Lilla is grateful for them.

"Socially, a greater open-mindedness has come to this county," she said.

Whatever changes come to Rappahannock must complement the "heart" of the county, Fletcher said. On the matter of the hay bales, she sides firmly with her father, who says the sign should stay "as long as there is freedom of speech in America."

"It's beautiful," said Lilla, who is a Republican. "And it's on their personal property."

Lilla is hesitant to say too much more about the sign - or about Trump. She considers herself a moderate who appreciates that there are "two sides to every story." But she still treads carefully around political topics.

These days, she says, it's so easy to say something politically incorrect.

- - -

If only there were a place where everyone could come together, says Rowland - where the transplants, the natives, the been-heres and the hippie queens could mingle. Then, maybe, real conversation would be possible.

Rappahannock used to have those places, she said, sighing as she leans back in her chair, wearing an oversize T-shirt that says, "Life is good." Rowland is visiting Hutchinson, the newspaper editor, whom she's known since she was a kid. They split a plate of homemade sausage as they talk about the past.

"Conversation used to happen on the front porches of the country stores," says Hutchinson. "But we haven't had that in a long time. The country stores have all died."

Asked about the Sperryville corner store, Rowland and Hutchinson respond in perfect unison.

"That is not a country store."

"A country store is not going to sell pesto," says Hutchinson, taking a large swig of white wine.

Hutchinson considers herself one of the few "crossovers" in the area, with friends who are transplants and been-heres, liberals and conservatives. For seven years, she's been exercising with the "Water Lilies," a group of women in their 70s and 80s who regularly convene for high-intensity interval training in one member's backyard pool.

There used to be Republicans in the group, but now that she's thinking about it, Hutchinson says, every single one of them has left.

"They stopped coming," she says. "I don't know why."

They sit silently, mulling. Hutchinson has another sip of wine.

In the absence of thoughtful conversation, Rowland says, there are political lawn signs. Everyone in town seems to have one. More than any other election in recent memory, she says, stories of their demise have been circulating. Signs for both Biden and Trump have been stolen or defaced with red graffiti. At least one was run over by a truck.

To Rowland, all the signs seem "passive aggressive," she says - the 170-foot sign, most of all.

There must be a better way to talk to neighbors about politics, she says. For now, there is Facebook.

In the bale comments, Rowland said, some of the personal attacks were hard to take.

"Could you imagine being so worried about what someone does on their property that you come on to Facebook?" commented Emmans, the farm hand and mother of 10. "Next they're going to be concerned about what we do in our bedroom."

Rowland took a deep breath and wrote Emmans a message, thanking her for her point of view.

Then she sent her a friend request.

Emmans accepted.

In Woodstock, peace and love meet location! location! location!

By Karen Heller
In Woodstock, peace and love meet location! location! location!
In Woodstock, the influx of people from nearby New York has completely changed the feel of the town. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Angus Mordant

WOODSTOCK, N.Y. - By the time we got to Woodstock, there was a late-model Porsche on our tail.

It was a bucolic weekday afternoon on a two-lane mountain road. Woodstock is a historic haven for musicians, artists and activists, a place to slow down and revel in nature's glory and head shops crammed with tie-dye toggery, long a favored weekend destination for city folk.

There is little rush to be anywhere. The driver was having none of it, and passed us, clocking 50 in a 30 mph zone. Out here, there is a term for such people: citidiots.

You will know them by their driving. And their urgent need to acquire Catskills real estate during the pandemic, sometimes without visiting in person, often offering all cash and invariably above asking price.

When the coronavirus walloped New York City, some urban residents, cooped up together, denied all the wonders that make a city a city, sought space, fresh air, and fewer people and covid-19 cases. They desired yards. They dreamed of chickens.

They headed for the hills of Ulster County, about 100 miles north, a pandemic take on "Green Acres." Some may have been drawn by the mystique of a place that promotes itself as "the most famous small town in America," though the famed 1969 music festival took place in Bethel, about 66 miles southwest.

"I've never seen so many young families trying to restart all at the same time," says Carol Spirig, a veteran of more than than three decades in local real estate. "Some of them are certain they're not going back." Twenty-five bids on a single property became routine. In this town of about 6,000, the sidewalks are thronged with young couples in pristine sneakers pushing four-figure strollers and lining up at local real estate offices, ogling listings.

During the year's second quarter and New York's deadliest months, the Ulster County seat of Kingston, with a population of about 23,000, experienced the nation's largest increase in housing prices, according to the National Association of Realtors, 18 percent, an average sale price of $276,000.

"Last year, I couldn't give my house away," says contractor Sean McLean. This year, the house launched a bidding war - almost every sale does - selling for 20 percent above listing price, which has become standard in the county.

"Now, I'm rich and unhoused," says McLean, who's slammed with work, like everyone in the building trades. "Remember when you couldn't find toilet paper? Well, that's what real estate is like up here." In nearby Saugerties, a yurt rents for almost $200 a night.

Clip Payne, a member of Parliament-Funkadelic, who normally tours much of the year, had his Woodstock rent almost double with a new landlord who overhauled the property.

"I know money has to make money. But this is a place where I didn't have to worry about money," says Payne, a resident of 25 years. "It was a place you could be secluded. It didn't have that city feel," he says. "Now, it feels like a couple of blocks of Brooklyn." Three of the five women in his coffee klatch sold their homes.

"They were offered too much money not to sell," Payne says.

- - -

During the pandemic, there have been frenzied reports of people - let's be honest, wealthy people - fleeing New York City and how it will never be the same. Actually, the city will be fine.

But what happens on the other side of the equation when, in a matter of months, country towns became inundated with urban denizens moving in? What does it look like when city people, with urban expectations (and driving habits), put down stakes in a largely rural place that has long been affordable to many?

Ulster County officials project a 10 percent increase in full-time residents this year of 17,000 more people.

Timothy Sweeney, president of the Hudson Valley Catskill Region Multiple Listing Service, believes the population will swell by 25 to 30 percent. "It's a frothy, manic market," he says.

"There is a tremendous opportunity, excitement and potential," says Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan, "but also great challenges if we're not thoughtful, and the inequality and inequity continue to grow."

On a recent Wednesday evening, a Black Lives Matter protest took place at Kingston's Academy Green while, a few blocks uptown, patrons dined on $28 lobster rolls at the year-old Hotel Kinsley, where smaller rooms rent for $289 a night.

Residents worry about the remaking of funky Kingston, New York's first capital, where one planned development will include another luxury hotel and 129 "market-rate residential units," market rate an escalating concept when you're dealing with the nation's fastest-rising housing prices and the median household income is less than $50,000.

Barnfox, a glamping take on WeWork that looks nothing like a barn, promotes itself as "a world class collective of creatives, innovators, and industry leaders." Annual resident membership is $2,500. Kombucha is on tap. In February, the first location opened in Hudson, 33 miles to the north in Columbia County. Hudson is anathema to many in Kingston, filled with pricey shops that resemble stage sets, a city vision of upstate.

Barnfox has met with taunting detractors even before its Kingston location has opened. The Instagram account was bombarded with a hailstorm of 1,000 comments that tended toward "Let @barnfoxclub eat cake and read daily how unwelcome they are."

Ryan has declared a rental housing emergency as properties have been sold, converted into long-term Airbnbs and rental rates have surged, limiting choices for working-class residents, many of whom have been adversely affected by the pandemic. Asks Woodstock real estate broker Candida Ellis, "Where are all of the property managers and landscapers and housekeepers and restaurant workers going to live to support the idea that we have these really cute walkable cities?"

Woodstock Town Supervisor Bill McKenna closed two beloved swimming holes because of overcrowding and trash. Used to mailing 60 percent of the town's property tax bills out of town, he's thrilled that more families have relocated full-time as the town's population was listing toward old-enough-to-have-attended-Woodstock in 1969. He's hopeful new residents will become stakeholders in the community's artistic and environmental legacy.

People flocked here after 9/11, too, only to move back later. But that was before Zoom and employees being encouraged to work remotely.

- - -

In April, furniture designer Bill Hilgendorf and art director Maria-Cristina Rueda moved from Brooklyn to Saugerties. They lived in an 800-square-foot apartment, with their two children, ages 9 and 6, which was fine when they could leave for work and school but untenable when they were there together all the time.

"The playgrounds are closed, all the parks are overrun. Living in the city wasn't going to be the same thing. It didn't seem fair to the kids," says Hilgendorf, who enrolled their children in Woodstock Day School. "Escaping the pace of the city is exciting after almost 20 years."

The influx of recovering urban denizens has fueled demands for luxurious comfort.

Want a pool? Try spring 2022. Howard Rifkin's firm installs an in-ground pool every week from April to November. Pool, patio and fencing - everyone wants the works - runs around $65,000. By April, Rifkin had booked all of next year. (Some people want a pond installed, too.)

"Insane," he says, a common refrain these days in the crowded Catskills. "In 44 years, I've never seen anything like it."

Private schools have waiting lists for every grade. Almost half the 170 students at High Meadow School in Stone Ridge, where first grade is $16,470, are new from the city.

"You can tell the city kids," says High Meadow teacher Jamie Burdick. "They're the ones pointing to the frogs, the turkey and deer asking, 'What is that?' "

"People are astonished to see that we have bears," says local author Emily Kimelman. "Yeah, you live in Bearsville."

Don and Susan LaSala own the historical rose-colored house in Saugerties where the Band resided and wrote "Music From Big Pink" (1968) and, along with Bob Dylan - who crashed his Triumph motorcycle in Woodstock two years earlier - created "The Basement Tapes." (The house is available for rent at $550 a night.)

"It's this infiltration of people who don't understand about country life," Susan says, standing in Big Pink's living room. "They don't respect it. They want to have big lawns."

Don says, "It's like what Joni Mitchell sang, 'we've got to get ourselves back to the garden,' " in her song "Woodstock." "They're trying to turn this place into something else. They're going to pave paradise."

The political landscape had already begun to shift. In 2016, the 19th Congressional District voted for Donald Trump, after going for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Two years ago, six Democrats challenged incumbent Republican congressman John Faso. Antonio Delgado, who moved to the district in 2017 after working in the city, beat out Ryan, a fifth-generation Ulster resident.

Amanda and Anthony Stromoski moved to Kingston four years ago (yes, from Brooklyn), and opened Rough Draft Bar & Books a year later in a 246-year-old former schoolhouse. "A very large percentage of people we haven't seen before," Amanda says, sitting by the store's bar.

"It's complicated. We ourselves are part of the gentrification," Anthony says. "We're concerned that a lot of empty storefronts will be occupied by businesses that will be inaccessible to the people who live here."

Places are not static. They change constantly, albeit some more slowly than others. Kingston was long home to a massive IBM campus, which shuttered in the early 1990s, causing the area to shed 8,000 jobs. From the 1920s through the 1960s, the Catskills were known as the Borscht Belt. ("Dirty Dancing" and part of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" are set here.) Today's older Woodstockers were once newcomers themselves.

Yoga instructor and filmmaker Kate Hagerman lives nearby in Bearsville. Her 5-year-old daughter, Nell, swims in a stream on their property while the constant din of construction reverberates through the mountain.

"Woodstock is packed," she says. "I don't think it's going to go back to being a small town."

Hagerman mentions a family who has decided to leave Woodstock, not because of density but to take advantage of the frothy, manic market in Ulster County.

"They're selling high and buying low," Hagerman says. "They told me if the times were not so 'nutso,' they would have never sold."

And, buying low, they're moving back into the city.

Latinos are disproportionately getting sick, dying of coronavirus, exacerbating historic inequalities

By Arelis R. Hernández
Latinos are disproportionately getting sick, dying of coronavirus, exacerbating historic inequalities
Ramona Cortes helps Gil Vasquez in his home in San Antonio on July 30. Vasquez has muscular dystrophy and receives a lot of care from his father, who was hospitalized after becoming sick with the coronavirus. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Sergio Flores for The Washington Post.

Oralia Soto had pain in her lungs, but being the sole caregiver for her 12-year-old diabetic great-granddaughter left no time to see a doctor.

When Soto, 87, finally sought medical care, she was critically ill with the coronavirus and needed to be put on a ventilator. She died days later, one of 15 members of a large Latino family in Texas's Rio Grande Valley who fell ill with or succumbed to the virus.

"It is just too much to handle," said Brenda Benitez, Soto's niece. "I feel numb inside. I just pray."

The novel coronavirus is devastating Latino communities across the country, from California's Imperial Valley to suburban Boston and Puerto Rico. Workers at Midwestern meatpacking plants and on construction sites in Florida are getting sick and dying of a virus that is exacerbating historic inequalities in communities where residents, many of whom are "essential" workers, struggle to access health care. The undocumented are largely invisible.

Latinos, who are not a racial group and come from diverse backgrounds, make up an increasing portion of deaths from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. More than 36,500 Latinos have died of the virus, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed by The Washington Post.

"If you look at all the negative factors, risky jobs or unemployment, unsafe housing, poor air quality and preexisting conditions, it's all people of color," said Carlos Rodriguez-Diaz, an associate professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.

"It's not because we are non-White, it's because of the social conditions that historically placed us at a disadvantage," Rodriguez-Diaz said. "These are not new, but covid is giving us the unfortunate opportunity to highlight these factors."

The disparities are particularly acute in Texas, where people who identify as Hispanic or Latino comprise 40% of the state's population. They are more likely to be hospitalized, face financial ruin or die of the virus than their White neighbors, experts said. The burden on Hispanics is diverse, affecting recent migrants to Houston, natives of San Antonio, indigenous immigrants in Austin, Dallas business owners or those who called the Borderlands their home before it was Texas.

State data presents an incomplete picture of how Latinos in Texas are faring, because not all municipalities report race or ethnicity information. But when Texas reworked its coronavirus data in July, it added 600 additional virus deaths - 47% of which were Latinos.

A close look at the municipalities that report demographic data show Latinos comprise the bulk of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the counties that include Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. On the border, where Latinos are a majority of the population, the number of virus patients overwhelmed hospitals this summer.

These numbers almost certainly do not reveal the true impact.

"There's likely an undercounting of how deeply and severely affected Latinos have been by coronavirus," said Luis Ostrosky, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Physicians, community activists, politicians and researchers say the long-term psychological, economic and physical effects on Latinos are unknown. But what happens to Latinos will impact everyone, in ways both expected and unforeseen.

- - -

Jose Lisandro Orellano came to the United States expecting to struggle. He learned that to prevail, an immigrant needs a positive attitude and sheer will. Orellano never imagined how the coronavirus would test his two decades of built-up resilience.

The 40-year-old caught the virus while working on a garbage truck crew. He doesn't know where or how it found its way into his body, but it made its presence known. Fever, headaches and a strangling cough kept him at home for six weeks trying to cure himself with teas and medicine from his beloved El Salvador.

"My brain was telling me, 'You are going to die,' " said Orellano, who lives in immigrant-heavy Southwest Houston. "But my heart was telling me to keep on fighting."

Orellano had saved money in case he became sick, but he couldn't afford to go to the doctor without insurance. So the teas, of ginger, onion and garlic, became more elaborate. He lost about 30 pounds before his body let him walk up stairs without gasping for air.

Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the country and is one of several states that refused to expand Medicaid, making it difficult for millions of low-income people to access affordable treatment. For many sick with the virus, it's only when the symptoms become unbearable that they yield to an emergency room or clinic.

But by then, the virus has spread. Advocates said the virus is pervasive in apartment complexes where immigrants live in tight quarters, making it impossible to practice social distancing.

Delmis Lopez's teenage daughter was the first in her household to show symptoms. Soon, so did other of the 19 family members who live with her in a three-bedroom Houston apartment. Her children have Medicaid, but Lopez's relatives are asylum seekers who arrived from Honduras last year. They were too afraid to seek medical care.

The family hunkered down. Three weeks later, their strength returned. They were lucky, Lopez, 34, said. So was Gerson Bonilla, though many people he loves were not.

"This is completely out of control," said Bonilla, who along with his brothers runs a business installing and repairing air conditioning in Houston. Each of them recovered from the coronavirus in early July, but they have friends, cousins and nephews who didn't.

"I wonder if the authorities are really doing everything they can to protect us," he said.

Angela Orea, a community organizer with the Metropolitan Organization of Houston, said each day she receives desperate calls from families trying to get tested or find care. Many struggle to find transportation. Some who aren't sick are moving out of their homes or apartments because they lost jobs and can no longer afford rent.

Every day, Amelia Averyt sees coronavirus patients at Legacy Community Health Clinic in Houston who waited too long to seek help after home remedies failed. The results can be particularly tragic for the undocumented, she said. When a family gets sick, she said, members vow to defeat the disease and take care of each other with minimal medical intervention. The repercussions can be devastating.

- - -

Adela Carvajal, 73, and her brother Atanacio Carvajal, 65, never missed a day of work when the temp agency called with construction jobs - considered "essential" during Texas's stay-at-home order this spring. Adela often accompanied her brother to the same work sites. He pounded nails and she cleared debris. After work, they headed to the Austin apartment they shared for 19 years.

Their plan had always been to save enough money to return to Acapulco, Mexico, open a clothing store and live out what remained of their graying lives. But in May, Atanacio started to feel a bruising pain in his back.

Adela tended to her younger brother the way she always had, trying to massage away the pain. But then she started having gastrointestinal issues. Assuming it was a bug, Adela kept working. When the medicine didn't help, she booked a doctor's appointment.

Her brother improved, but she deteriorated. Adela left her bed only to reach the bathroom. Atanacio and a friend took turns checking on her at night. But Atanacio was tired and dozed off the night before his sister was scheduled to see a doctor.

She stopped breathing a few hours later. He called an ambulance, but she was gone.

"I took her face into my hands and she was still warm. So I put my hand on her heart but I could not feel it beating," he said.

"Seeing her leave us that way has been hard to forget," he said.

The family later learned six men who worked with Atanacio Carvajal had tested positive for the coronavirus. The company that hired the siblings did not respond to a request for comment. Atanacio was in quarantine for a month and now lives with a niece.

Laura Perez-Boston of the Workers Defense Project, a Texas advocacy group, said members across the state are falling ill. They receive hard hats, masks and gloves, but laborers share tools and carpool; their shifts aren't staggered, and portable toilets may not be cleaned regularly, she said.

"They feel like their lives aren't valued and they're not being heard," Perez-Boston said.

- - -

When health officials recommended limiting gatherings or interactions to family, they probably weren't counting the same way Latino families do. A matriarch in Laredo celebrated the Fourth of July with her family of 14 children and 65 of grandchildren. She was one of 70 people in Laredo who died of coronavirus during a three-week span this summer, said Ricardo Cigarroa, an internist and cardiologist at Laredo Medical Center. Cigarroa was sickened by the virus but has recovered.

The Latino community's source of strength, the family, has also become its undoing.

"Your highest risk factor is who you live with," Sharon Davis, chief medical officer of Dallas's Los Barrios Unidos Community Clinic.

More than a quarter of Latinos nationwide live in multigenerational households. Texas has the third-highest rate in the nation of such living arrangements.

Jocelyn Hernandez, a nurse at Davis's clinic, lives with 10 family members, including her siblings, parents, an aunt, a cousin and a 6-year-old niece. All followed the decontamination rules Hernandez helped establish. She and her sister were the assigned grocery shoppers of the home.

But they could not control for everything. There are six rooms and three bathrooms in the house but one preferred shower.

Hernandez, 27, starting feeling feverish at work at the same time that her father, who has diabetes and hypertension, was bothered by chest congestion. Her mother felt her allergies flaring up.

Their symptoms weren't severe at first, but everyone got tested.

All but the child were positive.

The family isolated themselves in their rooms, wore masks inside the house and stayed in touch by phone. Hernandez's aunt was admitted to the hospital. One night, Hernandez heard her father coughing. She called him, but he could barely talk and hung up.

Hernandez's parents ended up in neighboring ICU rooms, motivating each other using the phones attached to their beds.

"You need to get better."

"We both have to leave this hospital together."

"Let's do it."

"I'll see you in recovery."

"Were doing this."

Juan and Maria Hernandez left the hospital July 2, hand-in-hand.

As the Hernandezes fought to survive in Dallas, Monica Muñoz's father was saying goodbye in San Antonio. Her grandfather died 24 hours later.

The two heads of proud Mexican American households left behind a devastated family, many of whom live in the same neighborhood - there are so many Muñozes on the block where they live that the street should be named after them.

Ernesto Muñoz moved there first, leaving Mexico 36 years ago with the hope of returning. The 66-year-old worked as a maintenance man in a meat factory past retirement age because he was so grateful to the company that gave him his first opportunity. He was never paid what he deserved - until this year, his daughter said. His hard work, she said, felt validated.

2020 was going to be Ernesto's year. He promised his wife it would be his last working. He finally had the money saved to build a little house in Mexico.

Monica Muñoz lives on the street, in a house sandwiched between her parents and grandparents. At the start of the pandemic, Monica, who works in occupational safety, sat down with her father to go over safety protocols. In mid-June, she noticed her father had come home early. He had not been feeling well.

Ernesto Muñoz didn't want to go to the hospital. Like many Latinos, he feared that once you go in, you don't come out. After a week of being sick, he went. Four days after he was admitted, Muñoz was on a ventilator. He called his children before he was intubated.

"He talked to us like it was a normal day," Monica Muñoz said. It was strange, but she could feel he was trying to say something. She later learned her father told her brother the family was now his responsibility. "That was his way of saying goodbye."

Her grandfather was hospitalized days later. As the oldest, Monica helped handle the piles of paperwork, the nurse phone calls that came in the middle of the night and, ultimately, the funeral arrangements. Her father died July 6. Her grandfather, July 7.

"You know, sometimes it feels like we're just another number, another statistic. I've seen on social media how people say, it's just the 1% of the population that it's affecting," she said. "But it happened to us. Two heads of households. Two fathers."

- - -

Gil Vasquez needed his father to recover from the coronavirus.

Vasquez, 40, who has lived with muscular dystrophy since birth, depends on his father to be his arms and legs. Wherever Vasquez's mind took him, his father, also named Gilberto Vasquez, gladly did the walking for his son. The elder Vasquez carried his son's school books and typed out his papers. The two traveled the country, worked in the same bank and are now preparing for the son's bar exam.

The 73-year-old was so careful not to expose his son to the coronavirus that he limited his ventures outside the home to a radiology center appointment and a visit to the carwash. A scratchy throat devolved into the father losing control of his body. He collapsed at his San Antonio home and was on a ventilator by mid-July.

"This is the longest I've ever been without him," Gil Vasquez said of his father. "You can't help but think what would happen if he didn't make it. It would be very hard for me to adjust and try to live my life. My whole life has been around him."

Vasquez and his mother, who has rheumatoid arthritis, also tested positive for the coronavirus. People always ask him if he is ever angry with God or questions why he was born disabled. Vasquez, who has spent a lifetime subscribing to the "power of positivity" and drawing from his faith, has lots of practice turning the conversation around: Why not me?

But in this moment, the question leaves him breathless. His mind spirals: Had the stay-at-home order not been lifted, his father may not have gone out. Had more people believed the virus was serious, his father may not be fighting for his life. Had people cared more and worn masks, vulnerable Latinos like him and his father may not be suffering. The what-ifs are overwhelming.

"Your human instinct is to question," Vasquez said. "But it feels selfish on my part. There's no rewinding the clock. The question now is what can I do to make it better?"

A former banker, Vasquez said he understands why states including Texas reopened so quickly. But he says he believes the choice was at the expense of the vulnerable.

"It's people of color with no health care, the disabled like me, the elderly," he said. "And does it matter if it's for the greater good of the economy if someone is going to get hurt?"

Vasquez senior was in the hospital for nearly two months before he began to respond to treatment. Rehab therapists told him it would be months before he could go home. But the Army veteran was determined to progress in two weeks. His son needed him.

Vasquez remembers nothing about his time in the hospital but coming home was, emotionally, like returning from fighting in Vietnam.

He still gets winded easily. His lungs and throat are inflamed. But he's back to helping Gil Jr. prepare for the bar next year.

- - -

The Washington Post's Mary Lee Grant and Reis Thebault contributed to this report.

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

Stop telling Black people we could close the wealth gap if we valued education more

By michelle singletary
Stop telling Black people we could close the wealth gap if we valued education more


Advance for release Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, and thereafter

(For Singletary clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


(c) 2020, The Washington Post

EDITOR'S NOTE: In a 10-part series for Sundays titled "Sincerely, Michelle," Michelle Singletary gets personal about misconceptions involving race. This is the second column in the series, but each one stands alone as well.

WASHINGTON -- Dear Reader,

I probably would have never gone to college had I not spent two months of my childhood in a hospital.

While in middle school, I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The pain in my legs became so bad that I couldn't walk. My grandmother, "Big Mama," a nursing assistant who raised me from the time I was 4, couldn't afford to miss work to take me to the daily physical therapy appointments I needed to walk without pain. So I stayed at the hospital. I cried a lot over the isolation from my grandmother and my two brothers and two sisters, whom she also was raising.

The director of the physical therapy department, a Black licensed therapist, saw how lonely I was and adopted me as her goddaughter. After my release from the hospital, she would pick me up from my grandmother's and take me to her single-family home in an upper-middle-income neighborhood in Baltimore for visits. She took me on a vacation to Disney World with her own family. I would have long conversations with this Black professional about what I wanted to do for a career. She modeled for me how her education enabled her to have not just enough - but more than enough.

For the first time, I considered the possibility that I could go to college. Big Mama, who was a savvy money manager, didn't talk about college. She was worried about the cost. Yet she refused to fill out the financial aid form that would have made me eligible for the federal Pell Grant, need-based aid for low-income students. Big Mama was afraid that disclosing her income and assets would somehow lead to her losing her home. It wasn't an unreasonable fear given the history of Blacks having their property destroyed or seized by Whites.

From an outside view, without considering the historical context of racism, some would argue that my grandmother didn't value higher education. They would be wrong, of course. There is a very persistent and deeply prejudiced fallacy that Blacks "should" be doing better economically -- if only they invested in going to college and acquiring qualifications.

Rather than admit overt or subconscious bias, it's easier for some to accept that there's something missing in the innate character and abilities of tens of millions of individual Black people that contribute to their financial failings.

"Let's get past blaming things on race and look at education," one reader wrote, in response to a column about how COVID-19 could increase racial disparities in homeownership rates for people of color. "Rise above blaming others or a system or whatever and take responsibility for our actions and commit to being educated."

After writing that structural racism is helping scammers attract Blacks to fake "sou-sou" pyramid schemes, another reader wrote: "How about pleading with the black community to get involved with their children's education? Blaming others for the failings of a group? Being the perpetual victim? Always looking for, expecting special treatment and depending on others or worse yet, government? This country is filled with immigrant stories of people who come here with nothing and faced discrimination with no special handouts. Yet somehow, these minorities seem to succeed."

I loathe to share these statements, but you need to see what I see. Rather than admit overt or subconscious bias, it's easier for some to accept that there's something missing in the innate character and abilities of tens of millions of individual Black people that contribute to their financial failings.

I've never met a single Black parent who would say to their child, "Honey, don't worry about getting a college education. White folks will take care of you."

A 2015 Pew Research Center survey found that 79% of Black parents with children under 18 say it is either extremely or very important that their children earn a college degree, compared with 67% of White parents.

In my Black community, I've seen parents almost come to blows with school administrators who tell them their child didn't make the cut for select academic programs. I've stood in the cold at 4 a.m. on a March morning with Black low- to middle-income parents trying to register their children in a county-sponsored summer enrichment camp.

"Let's rise above blaming others or a system or whatever."


Clearly, many people in this society have reduced the devastating legacy of slavery to an afterthought.

The "whatever" still plagues Blacks in this country. They aren't clinging to victimhood as an excuse to fail. We have been victimized and continue to be victimized. Whites must not ignore or otherwise minimize the enduring effects of an institution that legally enslaved a group of people for more than two centuries based on the color of their skin. This same institution was supported by laws that prevented Blacks from learning to read and write.

And yes, I went there.

We cannot casually put aside the fact that in this country there was a time not too long ago when to be an educated Black person meant you could be badly beaten or hanged from a tree for acting "too smart for your own good" or "being uppity."

It's also helpful, dear reader, to keep in mind that it wasn't until my lifetime that many colleges and universities opened their doors to Blacks. And even when Blacks were finally allowed in, barriers remained. Eighty-one percent of Blacks with at least some college experience faced discrimination or were treated unfairly because of their race or ethnicity, according to a 2016 Pew survey.

Black people continue to face employment discrimination even after acquiring a college degree,

In a 2017 Harvard Business Review article, researchers examining studies involving more than 54,000 job applications for more than 25,000 positions found White applicants received, on average, 36% more callbacks from employers than Black applicants with equivalent qualifications.

"At the initial point of entry -- hiring decisions -- blacks remain substantially disadvantaged relative to equally qualified whites, and we see little indication of progress over time," the researchers wrote.

And please stop comparing Blacks to other minorities who have largely closed the wealth gap.

In 2016, former Brown University economist Nathaniel Hilger examined the upward mobility of Asian Americans in California. Although Asians experienced long-term, institutional discrimination, by 1960 they had achieved average income levels similar to Whites.

Thus was born the comparison of Blacks to Asians and the incorrect assertion that Asian parents value education more than Black parents.

In fact, replace "Asian" with other immigrant groups and you get a similar narrative. Although many other immigrant groups such as Irish Americans, Italian Americans, and Jewish Americans encountered prejudice, historians overwhelmingly agree that these groups did not experience the same "degree of institutional discrimination" reserved for Blacks, Hilger writes.

"What really changed for Asians after World War II was not that their kids suddenly started getting extraordinary, unusual amounts of education. What really changed was that they got a lot more pay at every level of education," Hilger, who now works in Silicon Valley, said in an interview.

Test scores are often used to conclude Blacks don't value education. It's an unfair comparison, Hilger said.

"Other determinants are much more important drivers of education and test scores than whether families value schooling, especially across groups," he said. "And those determinants are Things like whether your parents have college degrees, whether you're in a neighborhood where it's normal to go to college. And, whether you have a lot of role models in your life who have college degrees and who can show you what it's like to have a life that has a professional career credential to it."

We need to stop pretending sheer willpower is the key to obtaining higher education for Blacks, Hilger added.

"The idea that some racial groups just don't want to be educated, it's so preposterous, it's racist," he said. "History has a long shadow. When bad things happen to groups, it doesn't go away. It gets transmitted across generations. It reverberates."

When I won a competitive college scholarship, the first thing my grandmother said to me was, "You better not mess this up."

So, yes, Blacks do value education and understand the role it plays in economic empowerment.



- - -

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook ( 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.

A dangerous moment for Obamacare

By catherine rampell
A dangerous moment for Obamacare


Advance for release Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, and thereafter

(For Rampell clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Catherine Rampell

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death last week was undoubtedly a loss for those who loved and admired her. It also may have dealt a devastating blow to the entire U.S. health-care system and nearly every American who interacts with it -- young and old, Republican and Democrat, healthy and sick alike.

The week after Election Day, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in a case seeking to strike down the Affordable Care Act. The case, filed by 20 red states and supported by the Trump administration, rests on a convoluted legal argument: When Congress reduced the penalty for not having health insurance to zero dollars, the individual mandate ceased to be an exercise of Congress' taxing power and became unconstitutional.

Congress also designed everything in the law to be inextricably linked, the plaintiffs argue, so if the individual mandate is gone, the rest of the law should fall, too.

Of course, just as it acted to zero out the mandate, Congress had the opportunity to destroy the rest of the law. Instead, lawmakers voted, many times, not to do so. For this and other reasons, even conservative legal scholars who oppose Obamacare have dismissed the case as baloney.

But lower courts agreed with the plaintiffs, and the question has reached the Supreme Court. A range of outcomes is possible, depending on whether President Donald Trump gets another court pick confirmed in time, and whether justices vote as they have in prior challenges to the law.

Obamacare's destruction, in whole or in part, could wreak havoc and financial ruin.

If the ACA is struck down, its protections for people with preexisting conditions would disappear. Insurers wouldn't have to sell plans to everyone, at nondiscriminatory rates; they could exclude coverage for illnesses they determined to be preexisting; and they could reimpose caps on how much they paid out for essential benefits. (That is, insurers could revert to their pre-Obamacare practices.)

In a 2019 analysis, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that 54 million non-elderly adults had preexisting conditions serious enough that they would likely be outright declined health insurance, absent these protections. It's possible the number has risen. Nearly 7 million Americans have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, whose long-term health consequences are still unknown.

Millions more would find insurance unaffordable, even if they still qualified for it. As of February, 9.2 million marketplace enrollees received tax credits to help them buy insurance, and 5.3 million received cost-sharing reductions. Both subsidies exist through Obamacare.

Medicaid coverage would shrivel, too.

As of mid-2019, 12 million low-income people had coverage because Obamacare's Medicaid expansion made them newly eligible. This number, too, has likely risen, given the millions of Americans who lost employer-sponsored insurance in the recession.

These are some of the best-known changes under Obamacare, but many more of the law's protections are on the chopping block: minimum essential coverage for benefits such as prescriptions and substance abuse treatment. The ability for children to stay on their parents' plans through age 26. Required coverage of preventive care with no cost-sharing in private insurance, the Medicaid expansion and Medicare.

Yes, even Medicare enrollees would be affected through many other at-risk ACA provisions, including one that gradually closes the "doughnut hole" for prescription drugs.

In other words, the death of a single jurist may result in tens of millions of Americans losing their health insurance and 18% of the U.S. economy getting thrown into chaos, all in the middle of public health and economic crises. This despite the law's net-positive favorability numbers, after surviving a decade's worth of congressional and legal challenges.

This is not exactly the sign of a robust democracy, as Georgetown professor Donald P. Moynihan has pointed out.

Now, optimists may argue there are off-ramps from this dire scenario.

Republicans claim to have a plan to protect people with preexisting conditions. In fact, Republicans don't have any health-care plan, period.

States could try to reconstruct some of Obamacare's provisions. But they lack money to fund their own Medicaid expansions. And absent billions of federal dollars of subsidies to help healthy people buy insurance, only the sick will do so and markets will death-spiral.

Of course, Congress could pass narrow legislation formally killing the individual mandate or raising its penalty to, say, $1. This would moot the lawsuit. But having spent the past decade attacking it, the GOP doesn't want to be seen as saving Obamacare. And even if Democrats achieve unified control of government next year, a targeted legislative effort to fix Obamacare could well expand (or devolve) into a much broader logjam over the future of the health-care system.

Health coverage has already declined in recent years, thanks to backdoor sabotage of an imperfect but critical law. Front-door sabotage may be imminent, and America isn't prepared.

- - -

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

Latinos could decide this election, so show them some respect

By ruben navarrette jr.
Latinos could decide this election, so show them some respect


Advance for release Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, and thereafter

(For Navarrette clients)


SAN DIEGO -- I've written about the Latino vote for 30 years, and I've been a Latino voter for longer than that.

So lately I've been asked why Joe Biden has such a big (BEG ITAL)problema(END ITAL) with Latino voters, as well as why President Donald Trump is poised to do well with people that he often mistakes for piñatas.

Both trends make sense to me, even as a Latino Never Trumper. In fact -- although many commentators have recently noted that Biden's Latino support is falling, while Trump's stock with Latinos is on an uptick -- I saw this hurricane coming a few months ago. Back in May, I wrote about how many Latinos don't like the former vice president or consider him their (BEG ITAL)amigo(END ITAL).

Latinos are all about relationships. Biden doesn't have one with us, and he never has. Even with his half century in elective office, it's difficult to name a single piece of legislation that Biden has authored that specifically benefited Latinos.

Latinos' apathy toward Biden has been hard to miss -- even before they were largely left off the agenda last month at the virtual Democratic National Convention.

In November 2019, during the primary, Biden was confronted over his record with Latinos at a town hall in South Carolina. Carlos Rojas, a Latino immigrant advocate, grilled Biden about the reprehensible actions of President Barack Obama. Biden served at Obama's side for eight years with nary a peep publicly about Obama's assault on immigrants and refugees - record deportations, separation of families, kids in cages, etc. An impatient Biden snapped at Rojas: "You should vote for Trump!"

As you wish. Now many Latinos appear ready to take Biden's advice and vote for his opponent.

Polls show Trump performing well in Arizona, Texas and Florida - with 50%, 37% and 29% of the Latino vote, respectively.

For a Republican, anything north of 30% of the Latino vote is a decent showing, and getting more than 35% all but ensures that the Democrat doesn't stand a chance of winning.

As the liberal East Coast media -- whose ignorance about all things Latino remains profound -- whistle past the graveyard by claiming that Trump's Latino support is limited to anti-socialist factions, the wound is deeper than that. Biden is bleeding support from the Latino community's quintessential swing voters - Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the Southwest.

It is counterintuitive that a group of voters that supported the Democratic nominee in the last 15 presidential elections dating back to 1960 would desert the current Democratic nominee. Even more so that a healthy slice of these voters would back the most anti-Latino president since, well, the last president.

Then again, much of politics is counterintuitive. Catholic voters back Democratic politicians who support abortion rights and then demagogue Catholic judicial nominees as religious zealots. Meanwhile, Evangelical Christians who preach morality and propriety have no qualms about supporting a Republican president who isn't even remotely acquainted with either concept.

This should have been the Latino election. Latinos are poised to surpass African Americans for the first time and become the largest group of non-white eligible voters in the United States. Both political parties should pay closer attention to the estimated 15 million Latino voters expected to cast ballots on Nov. 3 -- including the sizable number who live in four crucial battleground states (Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and Florida).

Keep a few things in mind:

- There is no Latino bloc, but there is a Latino vote. Just as there is a Jewish vote, or an African American vote, or a working-class White vote. It's not that millions of people get together and decide beforehand who they'll support. But it is fair and helpful to track how certain candidates do with specific groups.

- Republicans do well with Latinos who are conservative - Cubans, Venezuelans and Colombians. Democrats tend to have a lock on the liberals - Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Central Americans. Mexicans and Mexican Americans are up for grabs as registered Democrats who will support moderate Republicans.

- And, while immigrant bashing has been shown to get our dander up, our top issues are jobs, the economy, education and health care. Though it is also fair to describe us as single-issue voters. That issue is respect. Along with family and an incredible work ethic, it's everything to us. Ignore that fact at your peril.

And what about when Latinos have to choose between two candidates -- each of whom has, at different times and in different ways, disrespected them? That prospect is dark and depressing.

Welcome to Election 2020.

- - -

Navarrette's email address is His daily podcast, "Navarrette Nation," is available through every podcast app.

Jamal Khashoggi's legacy of truth

By david ignatius
Jamal Khashoggi's legacy of truth


Advance for release Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, and thereafter

(For Ignatius clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By David Ignatius

WASHINGTON -- The grainy video of Jamal Khashoggi's last moment of freedom remains haunting, nearly two years later: A tall, balding man in a blazer and slacks enters a barricaded villa, passing warily under the fringe of a white awning, through the door to what would be his death.

Oct. 2 will mark the second painful anniversary of Khashoggi's murder. In death, he has achieved a global celebrity he never wanted. His round, genial face is recognized throughout the world as a symbol of the yearning for press freedom -- and the determination to speak and think freely, whatever the threats.

Martyrdom has given Khashoggi a strange power, too, over the man the CIA believes ordered his death, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. MBS, as he's known, regarded The Washington Post contributor as a meddlesome troublemaker -- a voice that had to be silenced. But Khashoggi's defiant voice echoes louder than ever, and it confounds MBS' dealings with Washington and many other Western capitals.

This was a confrontation that Khashoggi dreaded but couldn't escape. His friend Maggie Mitchell Salem remembers their last conversation in late August 2018. Khashoggi was worried that the Saudis would extend their travel ban on his eldest son, Salah, to his younger son, Abdullah, when Abdullah returned to the kingdom to renew an expired passport. They were squeezing him, and he wanted to escape somehow.

"He said he was thinking he should live on a desert island and go off the grid," Salem remembers, but she told him he couldn't hide: "You're in a war. Think of all the people your voice represents." Khashoggi knew it was true, and he kept moving forward. Two months later, he was dead.

Two years after this grisly killing, which ended with a forensic doctor dismembering the victim's body with a bone saw, we can weigh the aspirations Khashoggi had for his country against the reality of life in the kingdom today.

Khashoggi wanted a modern, open, tolerant Saudi Arabia. He initially supported MBS' reforms and social liberalization. But in his last year, he pressed the crown prince: MBS should learn from Detroit about economic development; from South Korea about fighting corruption without the mass arrests; from Britain's Queen Elizabeth II about dealing respectfully with other royals and the public. He even urged MBS to study the movie "Black Panther" and emulate the young king of Wakanda.

Khashoggi was a complicated man. His personal life was sometimes ragged, and his political beliefs were a mix of his yearning for reform, his Islamic faith and his ties to a royal family that had nurtured him. In his time at The Post, he became increasingly passionate about journalism. The last column he wrote, published on Oct. 17, 2018, after his death, was a plea for free expression and independent media in the Arab world.

What has happened in the real Saudi Arabia since his passing? Some of the liberalizing reforms that Khashoggi favored have gone forward under MBS. Women are freer overall: They can drive, travel without a male guardian, play sports more easily and hold prominent public positions such as ambassador. Life in the kingdom is more open, too, on the surface: Young Saudis can attend movies, or concerts, or wrestling matches.

But there's a dark underside to MBS' kingdom -- a fear factor deepened by Khashoggi's death and the imprisonment and torture of many other dissenters. Female activists and other potential critics are held in a network of prisons; children of dissidents are banned from travel; prominent princes are muzzled and jailed.

Saudis tell me they don't take their phones into traditional gatherings known as dewaniyas, so their conversations can't be secretly intercepted. They are buying U.S. SIM cards to evade MBS' surveillance state. "People are scared," one Saudi told me this week. "There's a lot of silent dissent."

MBS' grip on power seems as strong as ever, partly because of the climate of fear. He has crushed opposition within the royal family and intimidated other princes and wealthy Saudis by seizing their assets. One Saudi describes the crown prince as "strong and paranoid," but not "strong and confident."

The crown prince's popularity in Washington, once glittering, has been irrevocably tarnished by the murder. He allied with President Donald Trump (who boasted "I saved his ass" to journalist Bob Woodward). But the Trump connection meant that MBS and Saudi Arabia were taking sides in a bitterly partisan Washington, and that the kingdom lost whatever bipartisan support it once enjoyed.

The saddest legacy of Khashoggi's murder is the lack of accountability for the crime. A secret trial was held last year, and eight defendants were sentenced to prison this month, after earlier death sentences for five of them were reversed by a pardon from Khashoggi's eldest son. U.N. Special Rapporteur Agnès Callamard called the trial "a parody of justice." MBS' close aide Saud al-Qahtani, who analysts believe may have directed the plot on behalf his boss, wasn't even charged.

"He literally got away with murder," one Saudi activist said of the crown prince. "The lesson for him is: Next time, make sure you don't get caught."

Khashoggi believed in the journalists' credo that truth will ultimately triumph over lies and cruelty. He gave his life for that ideal. Two years later, his truth still scorches the kingdom's rulers.

- - -

Contact David Ignatius on Twitter @IgnatiusPost

How Trump could stay in office if he loses

By fareed zakaria
How Trump could stay in office if he loses


Advance for release Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, and thereafter

(For Zakaria clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Fareed Zakaria

By declining to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, President Donald Trump has agitated many who fear he will refuse to leave office even if he loses the November election -- and may even resort to violence. The terrifying reality is that there are also several mechanisms that are legal and constitutional that could enable Trump to stay in office without actually winning the vote.

The system of electing the president is complicated because it was not designed to be directly democratic. The Constitution calls for states to choose the presidential electors, who in turn gather to vote for the president. Over time, states have passed laws that ensured their state's popular vote for the presidency would determine the electors. But those are laws, not a constitutional obligation.

Now, imagine the scenario during election week: Trump is leading on Nov. 3, but Democratic nominee Joe Biden gains ground in the days following. Republicans file objections to tens of thousands of mail-in ballots. Democrats file countersuits. Taking account of the confusion, legislatures decide to choose the electors themselves.

Here's the worry. Of the nine swing states, eight have Republican legislatures. If one or more decide that balloting is chaotic and marred by irregularities, they could send what they regard as the legitimate slate of electors, which would be Republican.

Democrats may object and file lawsuits. In some of those states, Democratic governors or secretaries of state could send their own slates of electors to Washington. That would add to the confusion, but that might well be part of the Republican plan. When Congress convenes on Jan. 6 to tally the electors' votes, there would be challenges to the legitimacy of some electors. Congressional Republicans would agree that disputed states should not be counted. That would ensure that neither candidate would get to 270 electoral votes.

At that point, the Constitution directs that the House of Representatives vote to determine the presidential election. But it does so with each state casting a single vote. If the current numbers hold, there would be 26 state delegations that are Republican and 23 Democratic (with one tied), so the outcome would be to reelect Trump. Trump does not need to do anything other than accept this outcome, which is constitutional. (Hat tip to Tom Rogers and Tim Wirth for their writings on this topic.)

Trump clearly understands this chain of events. He has been casting doubt on mail-in ballots for months, insisting that the results must be the ones that reflect the tally on election night. He said this week that without mail-in ballots, there would be no worries about a transfer of power because there would simply be a continuation of his rule. He has also acknowledged that "at a certain point, it goes to Congress."

For this scenario to play out, state Republican parties have to put their desire to win above concerns that all voices are heard. Unfortunately, recent history suggests that most will readily make this trade.

Many state Republican parties have been actively attempting to suppress votes. Just a few examples: Between 2012 and 2018, Texas shut down 750 polling stations. Of those, 542 were in the 50 counties that had gained the most Black and Latino voters over that period. Between 2012 and 2016, Georgia purged 1.5 million people from its voter rolls, ostensibly to prevent voter fraud -- which several studies have shown is largely nonexistent. In Florida, the Republican governor and legislature have effectively gutted a state initiative that restored voting rights to more than 1 million former felons, disproportionately Black.

American democracy is getting warped because the Republican Party believes its path to power lies not in getting a majority of the votes but through other means. In 2018, thanks to redistricting, Republicans in Wisconsin, having won about 45% of the vote, ended up with almost 65% of the seats in the state assembly. They have become used to this kind of situation on the national stage. Since 1992, the Republican presidential candidate has won the popular vote only once -- in 2004, in the wake of the country's worst terrorist attack and with a wartime "rally around the flag" sentiment. Nevertheless, Republicans have held the White House for almost half of those 28 years.

The United States prides itself as the world's leading democracy. And yet, because of a vague and creaky constitutional process and ferocious partisanship, this November we might put on a display of democratic dysfunction that would rival any banana republic on the planet.

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Fareed Zakaria's email address is

What Breonna Taylor is worth

By eugene robinson
What Breonna Taylor is worth


Advance for release Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, and thereafter

(For Robinson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON -- There was no justice for Breonna Taylor, so there was no peace Wednesday night on the streets of Louisville.

It is no surprise that the Louisville police officers who burst into Taylor's apartment in the middle of the night and shot her dead escaped murder charges.

But the one indictment that was handed down by the grand jury actually makes the outcome feel worse. One officer was charged with "wanton endangerment," a minor felony ranked alongside shoplifting, for stray shots he fired that entered an adjacent apartment but didn't hit anyone. No one was charged with anything, not even a misdemeanor, for firing the bullets that ended Taylor's life. There will be literally zero accountability for Taylor's killing: The other two officers involved weren't even fired.

How can that be? Do we have a justice system that values wallboard over human flesh? Or is this true only when the flesh in question belonged to a 26-year-old Black woman whose death can be written off as collateral damage?

I share the anger of protesters who mobilized across the country in response to the verdict. If the Taylor case can't give the country relief in the form of indictments, trials and convictions, it can at least show us where we can most productively direct that anger: at every step in a criminal justice system that rendered Taylor's life expendable.

Start with the tissue-thin search warrant authorizing the March 13 raid that led to Taylor's death. Police were after a man named Jamarcus Glover, who they believed was operating a small-scale illegal drug business -- at a location nowhere near the tidy, middle-class apartment complex where Taylor lived.

Taylor was a hospital emergency room technician who had had an on-again, off-again romantic relationship with Glover. In January, police had seen Glover enter Taylor's apartment, emerge with a package and drive to "a known drug house." On that basis, a judge approved a "no-knock" warrant to bust into Taylor's place in search of illegal drugs or drug money -- none of which was found there. Glover himself was already in custody at the time of the raid.

Then, consider the preparation for this raid, already taking place on flimsy pretenses and employing a risky tactic. Police knew Taylor's name from the license plate on her car, but knew nothing else about her. They did not know that by March, she had broken it off with Glover and had a new boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. They did not know that Taylor's friends were reportedly happy she seemed to be settling down with a good man. They did not know Walker was living with Taylor at the apartment -- and that he would be there, asleep beside Taylor, when they arrived.

The execution brought another misstep by the police. It turns out that the officers did knock -- they banged on the door -- but Walker said they never identified themselves as police. Journalists interviewed numerous neighbors who also said they did not hear the officers say they were police, though Kentucky's Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron said Wednesday that investigators found one upstairs neighbor who did hear the police identify themselves.

Walker said he and Taylor were frightened by unknown intruders trying to break in. Walker went into the hallway carrying his legal handgun. When the officers breached the door, Walker fired a shot, hitting one of them in the leg. The officers responded by firing more than 20 rounds, six of which struck Taylor. She was given no immediate medical attention.

And fatally, although an ambulance should have been standing by at the scene, according to department rules, none was there. The officer Walker shot received prompt medical treatment but Taylor did not, and Walker and Taylor's family allege that she lived for at least five minutes after she was shot. The irony of an emergency room technician failing to receive the sort of care she provided is almost too painful to bear.

Charges against Walker for shooting the officer were dropped, on the theory that he had the right to defend his home. Under that same theory of self-defense, Cameron said, the officers had the right to shoot back. Case closed.

Why is Breonna Taylor dead? At every step of the way, the legal system treated her as if she didn't matter.

The city of Louisville has agreed to pay Taylor's family a reported $12 million in compensation for her death. The Civil War was supposed to have ended the time in America when Black bodies had only monetary value. At least the price has gone up.

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Eugene Robinson's email address is

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