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The risks and rewards of the covid career makeover

By Jennifer Miller
The risks and rewards of the covid career makeover
Madelle Kangha, left, and mentor Ann Lim. Kangha, who was furloughed from her paralegal job, launched a beauty product business and met Lim through Score, a nonprofit resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Andre Chung

Last March, as her final semester at Georgetown Law School was winding down, Madelle Kangha was feeling optimistic about the future. The 30-year-old would continue working as a senior paralegal to cover costs while she studied for the bar exam. Then, once credentialed, she'd find a higher-paying legal job - one that would provide for her 15-month-old daughter and chip away at her massive student debt.

Then the pandemic arrived, and like so many people she knew, Kangha was furloughed. "It happened to attorneys and family members who worked in IT," she says. "It was a wake-up call: A lot of jobs aren't as secure as you think they are. I've been nursing this dream of entrepreneurship for a long time. Covid gave me the perfect combination of necessity and push to take the next step."

Kangha, who lives in Manassas, Va., wanted to start a beauty product company for women of color. She called Score, a nonprofit resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, and began reading about business plans and watching the organization's marketing webinars. She also applied for a mentor, a Score volunteer who could lead Kangha through her launch. Suddenly, she was back in the role she thought she'd left behind: the student.

Since early April, Kangha has signed on to regular Google Meets or phone calls with Ann Lim, a Loudoun County, Va.-based consultant with an extensive background in international business. Lim, 50, has given her protege a virtual crash course in entrepreneurship, complete with assigned readings and worksheets before every session. And yet the process is nothing like traditional business school or even a community college entrepreneurship course. It has been exclusively practical, exploring how Kangha can clarify her company's value proposition and source beauty suppliers.

It has also been fast. "Ann asked me, 'Do you have a business plan?' but I wanted to get started," Kangha says. In just a few weeks, with the plan still unwritten, Kangha had spent $3,000 in savings plus a $500 gift from her family on inventory and marketing. "Your timeline is very aggressive," Lim told her during one of the online sessions that I attended with the women. She sounded a little concerned, but part of her job, she understood, was to prioritize her student's sense of urgency. "We should do a to-do list so we can achieve that timeline," Lim added.

Some of Kangha's friends and family were more skeptical. "They ask, you're going to take the bar and not work as a lawyer?" But relying on Lim allowed her to dismiss those concerns. "Ann said, 'This is such a great market; you're right on trend.' It was such an encouraging and inspiring moment for me," Kangha says. "To know I'm not crazy."

Historically, recessions have forced laid-off workers to reinvent themselves, often sending them back to school. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, two- and four-year colleges saw a significant uptick in enrollments within six to 12 months after the 2001 recession, and again after the 2008 crash. This time, the educational landscape looks different. Now colleges in all sectors have watched undergraduate enrollments drop, according to the Clearinghouse. At the same time, enrollment at shorter-term graduate programs offering certificates and master's degrees have increased, especially at for-profit institutions. These include coding boot camps, massive open online courses (MOOCs), small-business mentorship programs and online learning communities.

Score says that in 2019, 91 percent of clients who came to the organization for help starting or expanding their business were still operating a year later. Whether that record will persist during a pandemic and recession is unclear, but Bridget Weston, Score's CEO, says would-be entrepreneurs have little to lose: "Despite our complete transparency about it being completely free, some people just don't believe that at first."

Between April and July, demand for Score classes and mentors more than doubled. Typically, 20 to 30 students would show up to local workshops; now the average remote workshop has 80 students. Pre-pandemic the organization's national webinars averaged 800 people a session; now it's 1,300. Coursera, one of the world's largest MOOCs, saw a 400 percent increase in registered learners between the spring and summer of 2019 and the same period this year. Engagement on LinkedIn Learning, an online educational platform affiliated with the career networking site, tripled between July 2019 and July 2020. Traffic for Course Report, a coding boot camp directory and review site, has skyrocketed since March.

In recent months, pandemic-fueled anxiety has pushed laid-off workers into an educational sprint. Like fast food and fast fashion before it, there is now fast education, modes of virtual learning and upskilling that allow - and even encourage - students to absorb as much information as they can as quickly as possible, often with the promise of a new career. But are these educational platforms overpromising? Even MOOCs hosted by top universities have low completion rates. Some allow students to buy badges or certificates, which may look good on a résumé but have little to do with actual learning. And students who eventually decide they'd like to earn a more traditional degree find that traditional schools often won't take online credits.

Beth Stein, who co-led a congressional investigation into for-profit colleges after the Great Recession and now works at the Institute for College Access & Success, says the MOOC and boot camp industry was too often a "black hole." "There's no quality assurance, no one checking that faculty knows what they're doing or that students are having a good experience," she says. "And because they're not taking Title IV loans, they don't have protections inherent in the federal aid system."

And yet learners like Kangha aren't concerned about a lack of oversight or quality control. Kangha isn't paying Score or her mentor; in fact, many of these courses are free or have expanded their free trials and scholarship offerings since the nation went into lockdown. But even when there's money on the line these pandemic learners are primarily concerned with taking action. Yes, they say, maybe there are no quick fixes. But what other option is there? "Having a daughter and getting furloughed: This is really real," Kangha says. "I need to make sure I create a stable situation for her."

Beyond the challenge, covid-19 has also presented an opportunity like no other. "My clients are now thinking everything is vulnerable: this job, the work I do, my income," says Deana Jean, a New York-based business and leadership coach who helps entrepreneurs start and expand their businesses. Perhaps ironically, this realization has sparked inspiration. "I've seen (covid-19) really ignite in people the desire to figure out what they're passionate about and what they're good at," she says. "The barriers that people have presumed to entrepreneurship" - or any kind of reinvention - "have been broken down."

- - -

When Madelle Kangha lost her job, she turned to e-commerce because it seemed pandemic-proof. Many other laid-off workers, especially those in the service industry, have made a similar calculation. They're now pursuing engineering because it can be done remotely, ensures a stable income (unlike working for tips) and seems designed for the 21st-century economy. Boot camp enrollments increased from roughly 15,500 in 2018 to 23,000 in 2019, according to Course Report. The company says enrollments appear on track to go up by roughly 40 percent this year.

Before the pandemic, Sara Salazar, a server at an upscale Miami restaurant, had considered learning to code, but she couldn't justify quitting her job to do so. Most boot camps are short, an average of 15 weeks, but they are intensive and strongly discourage students from also trying to hold a job. When covid-19 shut down her restaurant, Salazar, 30, didn't wait. "My job was taken away in an instant," she says, which forced her into an identity crisis: "Who am I if I'm not working?" In July, she enrolled at Wyncode, a local for-profit boot camp, to learn what's known as "full stack" Web development.

Boot camps have their share of skeptics. "It is definitely doing something quickly, and people have been extremely critical, especially those who have been through four- to six-year-long computer science programs," says Liz Eggleston, the co-founder of Course Report. "But tech is like any other industry: There are different levels of jobs and different needs in the job market."

Eggleston says that boot camp coders are likely to find jobs as junior engineers: helping clients learn to use a technical platform or "taking tickets," addressing customer concerns with software. They won't be performing the coding equivalent of brain surgery or landing lucrative jobs at Google or Facebook. Course Report surveys have shown that about 83 percent of boot camp graduates are hired for a job using their boot camp skills at a starting salary of almost $67,000 - an average salary increase of $22,000. At least until now, the majority of boot camp students have had a college degree, which could help explain the high hiring rate and significant salary bump. This current boot camp cohort may represent a somewhat different demographic, given the high numbers of laid-off service workers and, according to Course Report, a greater availability of scholarships.

Juha Mikkola, Wyncode's co-founder, says the program tries to keep students' expectations realistic: "The main message to our grads is that outside of the big tech companies, there are hundreds of thousands of growing tech companies out there," including those people don't automatically associate with tech. For instance, two dozen Wyncode graduates have been employed with Restaurant Brands International, which owns Burger King, and Watsco, a large air-conditioning distributor. Mikkola adds that in recent years, the large tech companies have been more open to considering programmers without college degrees. But often, such individuals have worked their way up. "The most important thing is to get your foot in the door somewhere where you can learn and build your skills," he says.

Of course, with an unemployment rate of nearly 8 percent in September, it's unclear what the current hiring landscape will be for anyone. (Wyncode maintains that a two-month hiring slowdown at the start of the pandemic has mostly reversed itself.)

The average boot camp costs close to $14,000, and Salazar wasn't certain how she would cover tuition. She says the school encouraged her to get preapproved for a loan. "Looking back now, with my financial situation, it definitely would have been hard to make loan payments," she says. She also considered an income-share agreement, which allows students to repay the tuition, sometimes with interest, only after they've landed a job at a certain salary. "I always advise students: Read the fine print there," says Eggleston, because the terms and conditions can be highly nuanced. In the end, Salazar lucked out. She received a scholarship for low-income and unemployed students that was covered by Wyncode and CareerSource South Florida, a workforce development organization.

After graduating from the course, Salazar was hired to be a Wyncode instructor. But even if she hadn't landed a job so fast, she'd taken no financial risk. Other students have struggled. Kris Bartow, a server in Philadelphia, enrolled in a boot camp called Tech Elevator before the pandemic. A partial scholarship would cover the second half of the course, and Bartow planned to keep working to cover the first half. Then the pandemic hit, and he lost his job. He would have made it through - with the promise of a better-paying job after graduation - but the material was more difficult than he'd anticipated. "We were halfway through the program, and I was still unable to do Day One stuff by myself," he says. (In an emailed statement, Anthony Hughes, co-founder and CEO of Tech Elevator, said its students are heavily vetted before being accepted into the program and given personal support throughout the boot camp to keep them on track. Based on September reporting, he said, the school has a 95 percent graduation rate.)

Bartow agonized over what to do. "I've never been one to leave something because it was too hard," he says. And he'd already invested so much time and money. "I feel like I put all my eggs into one basket with Tech Elevator," he says of the money he'd invested and his dream of a new career. "It not working out has left me kind of in limbo." And yet he had a fallback: This summer, his restaurant reopened for carryout and outdoor dining. He returned, finding new stability in the old.

- - -

Many students say they never would have made these career leaps - or even tried to - had the pandemic not forced them to. "I would have just been working my job without questioning it," says Melissa Ho, who enrolled at Prime Digital Academy in Minneapolis after losing her job as an office administrator. She received scholarships from Prime and Minneapolis-St. Paul TechHire, a workforce development organization. "After covid, after everything, I can't keep floating on by."

Sydney Stern Miller, a North Carolina-based sales associate for a co-working company, wanted to enter marketing, but the 32-year-old couldn't justify starting over in a junior position, at entry-level pay. When she was laid off in early April, she realized her moment had arrived. Like Salazar, she felt her identity was on the line. "I love my daughter, but I was scared I'd be forced to be a stay-at-home mom," she says. "It was a vulnerable place to be."

She signed up for three Coursera MOOCs: viral marketing hosted by the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, brand management hosted by the University of London and London Business School, and an introduction to HTML5 hosted by the University of Michigan. The courses were short, between three and five weeks, and were mainly composed of recorded webinars. They were free but came with a paid certificate option; students who completed weekly assignments that were graded by other learners could buy a digital badge to display on their LinkedIn profile. Initially, Miller was reluctant to pay. "I really didn't know the quality of the education I would be receiving," she says. "I had heard some negative things about other providers, so I was a little wary."

These criticisms included courses of poor quality with high price tags and teachers who were obviously treating their online courses as an afterthought. After about two weeks, Miller concluded her classes had value. She paid $49 for the viral marketing course and $99 for brand management. She decided not to pay for the HTML5 course; it was much more difficult than the others and was taking her longer to complete. Miller acknowledged that the certificates were largely symbolic, and described the viral marketing course in particular as "pretty fluffy." But the pedigree was worth 49 bucks.

Her undergraduate degree was from the University of Pittsburgh, "but I had a strong wish, hope, dream to go to Wharton," she says. She was so excited to have received a Wharton badge that she wrote a LinkedIn post about it. The enthusiastic response gave her a newfound confidence, and she started networking actively on the site, connecting with companies and executives she was previously apprehensive to approach. That helped her secure an internship with a health-tech nonprofit, which in turn led to a full-time job as a marketing lead for Tech Talent South.

She loves her new job, but the learning curve has been steep - significantly harder than the Coursera courses. Recently, her husband found her still working at 11 p.m. He was concerned, but Miller shrugged it off. "I'm a newbie because I reinvented myself," she says. "I can't jump into the work and know it inherently." The real learning, she says, comes from doing. But she believes the courses set her on the right path: "They helped me realize that the majority of jobs can be learned."

- - -

In late June, Madelle Kangha launched a line of natural and organic oils though her business, Elledam Beauty. With Ann Lim's help, she had narrowed her inventory. She also took her mentor's advice to showcase herself and her personal story on social media: as an immigrant, a woman of color, a mom. Initially, she'd been focusing her marketing efforts on Instagram, but Lim had helped her see that YouTube would add that personal touch. The goal, Lim had explained, was to make each purchase meaningful for the consumer. "You want them to understand where this all started," Lim says.

By the middle of August, however, Elledam Beauty had few sales. Thirty-thousand people had visited the site, but they weren't buying. Often, they would abandon their carts at checkout. Kangha marshaled her resources. She went back to Lim for advice, took a webinar hosted by the e-commerce fulfillment website ShipBob and hired a marketing and social media manager, even though it meant dipping into a second set of savings. Based on their feedback, she realized she'd been moving too fast. The site was slow, the interface needed a punch-up and she had more audience development to do. "When you're so passionate, you're looking from your eyes," Kangha says. "But what does the buyer actually want? This has been a month of learning and implementing, and I can see the changes."

By this point, she'd spent just over $7,000 on marketing, sourcing and inventory, twice as much as she'd initially set aside. It was now clear that she needed a steady paycheck, so she started looking for work. When a couple of leads didn't pan out, she decided to start a second business in IT consulting. Once she secured a few clients, she'd have to work on Elledam at night after her daughter went to bed. It wasn't ideal, but neither was losing her job because of a global pandemic. "I believe the business will pick up," she says. "It's just a matter of time."

Ukraine seeks U.N. cultural status for beloved borscht. A culinary spat with Russia could be brewing.

By David L. Stern and Robyn Dixon
Ukraine seeks U.N. cultural status for beloved borscht. A culinary spat with Russia could be brewing.
A plate of borscht freshly cooked by Oksana Chadaieva as seen Oct. 15 in her kitchen in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Chadaieva loves to cook borscht using the recipe of her mother and grandmother. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Oksana Parafeniuk for The Washington Post.

KYIV, Ukraine - The chef said he didn't intend to start an Eastern European culinary clash.

But that's what happened after 33-year-old Ievgen Klopotenko fired the equivalent of a gastronomic cannon shot: starting an effort to have borscht recognized as part of Ukraine's cultural heritage by the United Nations' cultural agency.

To the uninitiated, borscht is a humble, reddish beet soup, often served with a generous dollop of sour cream on top. But in its simplicity is a cultural significance that transcends borders.

A pot of borscht, simmering away on the stove during the long winter months, is a mainstay across many parts of Eastern Europe, and a cornerstone of the region's concept of home and hearth.

Many countries claim the dish as central to their culinary tradition. However, what has previously been a debate on low boil now threatens to bubble over.

The disagreement over who is steward of borscht heritage has primarily been between Kyiv and Moscow - amplified since 2014 by Ukraine's battle against Kremlin-supported militants in its East, a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people over six years.

Klopotenko said that his actions were inspired by the commonly held impression outside of Ukraine that borscht is a Russian dish. A tweet from the Russian Foreign Ministry last year called the soup one of the country's "most famous and beloved dishes."

"Russia, as usual, is changing the facts. They want to make borscht their own. But it's not true," Klopotenko said on the terrace of his Kyiv restaurant, which specializes in modern-day versions of traditional, and sometimes long-forgotten, Ukrainian dishes.

But he doesn't fear any Russian repercussions for his UNESCO campaign. "They're already at war with us," he said. "What's the worst they can do?"

His campaign to place Ukrainian borscht on UNESCO's world heritage list began earlier this year, seeking to join a list that includes multinational traditions such as the Mediterranean Diet and niche regional dishes such as Malawi's nsima, a thick porridge of maize flour.

The first step was to have it recognized by Ukraine's Culture Ministry as a part of the country's "intangible cultural inheritance."

He gathered a team of a dozen experts, culinary historians and ethnographers, who collected recipes from 26 Ukrainian regions, including Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

The materials that they assembled included photos and documentary evidence that the recipes had been passed down among at least three generations in one family.

And although the base ingredients remain the same, each version of borscht reflected the regions' various gastronomic cultures - and each family's own twist on the dish.

"Borscht has five basic ingredients: potatoes, cabbage, onion, carrots and beets," said Maryna Sobotiuk, Klopotenko's second-in-command in the project.

"But then people make their own additions," she continued. "Some add mushrooms, or dried vegetables, apples, pears, meat, and in one region they add wild boar's blood, which makes the borscht very dark."

Klopotenko contends that borscht originated in what is now Ukrainian territory. Originally, it was a borscht-like soup, but without the beets. Later, beets were introduced to the area, and in the early 18th century, the first borscht recipes were written down.

Earlier this month, Klopotenko and his team presented the Ukrainian Culture Ministry's expert commission with their results, which included five liters of the soup. To no one's surprise, the commission approved borscht's inclusion in the ministry's own cultural heritage list.

"The Culture Ministry's list up to now has consisted of items that are particular to a particular region," Sobotiuk said. "This is the first time that there's an element that unites the whole country."

The Ukrainian government plans to submit materials to UNESCO next year. What comes next is anyone's guess.

UNESCO officials in Paris said that Ukraine has another submission - for a Crimean Tatar ornament - to the world heritage list waiting for a decision, and the documents for borscht must wait until this process is finished. The review usually takes around two years, UNESCO officials said.

Although Ukraine hopes to lay its claim to borscht as quickly as possible, UNESCO officials say that the door is still open to other countries mounting their own applications in the future. The organization lists for example different versions of the Middle Eastern flatbread known in parts of the world as lavash.

A dispute over who really owns the bragging rights to borscht threatens to draw in not just Ukraine and Russia, but also Poland and other countries in the region.

But it's not the first culinary spat.

There was a "hummus war" between Lebanon and Israel earlier this decade, which culminated in the two countries vying against each other to create the largest "dish of hummus" for inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records. (Lebanon won.)

Marianna Dushar, a Ukrainian doctoral student in social anthropology who is co-writing a book on borscht, said that it should not come as a surprise that food becomes a focus of our cultural aspirations, and sometimes a placeholder for other tensions between countries.

"Food, like language, is the first and last cultural bastion," she said by telephone from the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. "We grow up with it, and we associate ourselves with it. Countries communicate with other countries through food."

On the Russian side, a few voices are calling for compromise.

Boris Akimov, restaurateur and a pioneer of Russia's farm-to-table movement, said borscht did not really belong to anyone.

"We cannot say it's Ukrainian or Russian," Akimov said. "Borscht is very popular now and it was very popular 200 years ago in Ukraine and Russia. I hope that borscht can be a thing that unites these countries but does not divide."

Some prominent Russian culinary figures are even ready to concede on one front: that Ukrainians make the best borscht.

Viktor Belyaev worked 30 years in the kitchens of the Kremlin cooking for Soviet leaders and is now president of the Russian Culinary Association. He does not care to debate the origins of the dish, but he immediately grows wistful thinking of a bowl of Ukrainian borscht topped with a generous blob of minced salo (cured pork fat) and garlic.

"I'm dreaming of such borscht," he said. "I can't wait to eat it. It is so delicious, especially if you have had a few drinks beforehand."

"The most important thing is that we eat together and taste our dishes," he adds. "You know when people sit at the dining tables the cannons are silent."

But for Ukrainians like Oksana Chadaieva, the option of sharing borscht's patrimony is not on the table.

"I completely support Klopotenko's initiative," she said. "Borscht 100% has nothing to do with Russia."

In her cozy kitchen in the capital, Kyiv, Chadaieva prepares a pot of her version of borscht for lunch for her husband, Serhii, and 14-year-old son, Orest.

As she chops the ingredients, she reveals her secret component, passed down from her grandmother: marinated and salted tomatoes, which she converts to a paste and cooks in a pan with other vegetables.

When the soup is ready to serve, its aroma permeates the apartment like a delicious wave.

For Chadaieva, borscht and home are synonymous.

"The women of my family always believed that if there's no borscht in the home, then there's nothing to eat - there has to be borscht."

- - -

Dixon reported from Moscow.

The pandemic nearly broke this Kenyan mom of five. Then she found 'Blessing.'

By Max Bearak and Rael Ombuor
The pandemic nearly broke this Kenyan mom of five. Then she found 'Blessing.'
Hyrine Mita, who struggled during the pandemic to keep a job, put food on the table and keep her family from unraveling, dresses baby Blessing after giving her a bath at her home in Nairobi, Kenya. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Sarah Waiswa

NAIROBI, Kenya - It was a cold night with blustering winds, and the two women were taking a risky shortcut along a railway line, past a festering garbage dump, far from the relative safety of the slum's busy main road. They kept their heads down as their hearts raced. A stray dog insistently barked.

All reason would have advised against stopping, but something about the way the dog barked made Hyrine Mita think twice and walk toward it. She is a woman of passionate Christian faith, and she would later say that God had intervened.

The dog, it turns out, was barking at a newborn girl, abandoned amid discarded milk packets, tattered hair extensions and decaying food waste. Her shivering body was wrapped in a dirty, wet towel. Her stomach was still covered in blood; her umbilical cord had been haphazardly cut.

Hyrine's friend urged her to leave the baby there, worried that she would die in Hyrine's hands and they would be accused of killing her. You have five children already, the friend reminded her, and you can barely feed them.

We met Hyrine as part of our reporting for a project earlier this year in which Washington Post correspondents followed six families around the world as they navigated the pandemic's battering waves of economic collapse. We chronicled how Hyrine, 33, struggled to keep a job, put food on the table and keep her tightknit family from unraveling.

But we were not surprised when she called to invite us to meet her family's newest addition: Blessing.

"I could have chosen to walk away," she said two weeks later in her characteristically upbeat tone, cradling Blessing in her arms. "I could have chosen to be afraid. I am a widower, trying to survive. There were questions that ran through my head, but look - look at all my kids. It is possible. We keep going."

Times are still tough for Hyrine and her kids. Donations that followed our reporting allowed her to pay off most of her debts and get back on the antiretroviral treatment for her HIV, but even temporary jobs are hard to come by with so many businesses shuttered.

The world's working poor have borne the brunt of pandemic-induced job losses and have suffered disproportionately with the fallout in terms of hunger and health complications - but also the trauma that deepening poverty inflicts on family bonds.

Nearly 90 percent of Kenyans live on less than $5 a day, and Kenyan mothers on average have four children. For some young women, as wrenching as leaving a baby to die might have been, the cost of raising a newborn would just be too high, especially now, with hunger already stalking their own homes.

In Kenya, community health organizations in working-class slums say that teenage pregnancies are soaring during the pandemic as schools have been shut down. These pregnancies are happening as families have fewer and fewer resources to support additional members. Abortions are illegal in Kenya, except when a mother's life is in danger.

"Abandonment happens when there is conflict within families, and that is certainly increasing," said Evelyn Bowa, who runs a foundation in Nairobi's Kibera slum that works with girls and young women ages 10 to 25. "Young mothers face enormous stigma. An unplanned baby can mean an early marriage, or dropping out of school, or being kicked out of home."

Whether this was the case for the mother of the baby Hyrine now hopes to raise is unknown. After Hyrine took Blessing into her arms for the first time, she brought her to a clinic, and then to neighborhood authorities, who opened a file with the police. An investigation is ongoing, but Hyrine has been given legal custody of the baby for now.

According to the top neighborhood authority, Joseph Songa, Hyrine will only be allowed to keep the baby if the real mother is not found. In that case, she would have to formally adopt Blessing through a process in which she might be deemed ineligible because of her poverty.

Kenya's ministry of labor and social protection, as well as an office for children's services underneath it, did not respond to multiple requests for clarification of the process or comment on the number of infant abandonments since the pandemic began.

Bowa said Blessing would probably be put in a children's home if the birth mother was not identified and Hyrine was found unfit.

Two of Hyrine's children lived for periods of time in a home when harder times hit the family in the past.

"I have seen how the homes are. This baby is too small," she said. "She needs full-time care. There is no way I would want her to stay in a children's home."

Neighbors, church mates and others have pitched in to help Hyrine raise the baby in the meantime. Even the police officer who initially registered the abandonment case, Esther Kagera, donated some clothes, a blanket and a portable crib. It was only her second week on the job since being transferred to Kibera.

"I could see Hyrine is a caring mother because I am one, too," she said.

Hyrine's mothering prowess is evident in her tiny home. Her other five children spoil Blessing with kisses and pinches.

Blessing does her part to keep the peace, too. She rarely cries and sleeps for long stretches. The loud noises of the slum do not seem to bother her. She is capable of uncomplaining cooperation at mealtime and bath time.

Another day was beginning in Kibera, another shot at survival. After a bath in water warmed by an electric kettle, and thorough rubbing with coconut oil by the woman who hopes to be her mother, Blessing was dressed in a cozy onesie and a little cap embroidered with the words "Love Baby."

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

The case against Trump, in 600 ALL-CAPS WORDS AND 35 EXCLAMATION POINTS!

By dana milbank
The case against Trump, in 600 ALL-CAPS WORDS AND 35 EXCLAMATION POINTS!

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

Advance for release Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, and thereafter

(For Milbank clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Dana Milbank

WASHINGTON -- When President Donald Trump was in the hospital battling COVID-19 two weeks ago, he devoted one morning to making the case for his reelection in a series of 15 all-caps tweets, such as:

LAW & ORDER. VOTE!

BIGGEST TAX CUT EVER, AND ANOTHER ONE COMING. VOTE!

FIGHT THE CORRUPT FAKE NEWS MEDIA. VOTE!

SPACE FORCE. VOTE!

It was mostly nonsense, of course, but it had an appealing, playground-style brevity -- a feverish, steroid-fueled closing argument of sorts for Trump.

Now, less than two weeks from Election Day, Americans are voting in almost every state. At least 33 million have already cast their ballots. What better time to borrow Trump's literary device and deploy it against him? Here goes:

LETTING 220,000 AMERICANS DIE FROM COVID-19 -- WORST IN WORLD. VOTE!

LOSING 3.9 MILLION JOBS IN FOUR YEARS -- WORST IN RECORDED HISTORY. VOTE!

KNOWING PANDEMIC WAS "DEADLY STUFF" ON FEB. 7 BUT OPTING TO "PLAY IT DOWN" AND MISLEAD AMERICANS. VOTE!

PROPOSING BLEACH AS A COVID CURE, MOCKING MASK-WEARING, HOSTING WHITE HOUSE SUPERSPREADER EVENT AND SUGGESTING ANTHONY FAUCI IS AN "IDIOT." VOTE!

ADDING $7 TRILLION TO FEDERAL DEBT, MAKING IT LARGER THAN U.S. ECONOMY FOR FIRST TIME IN 70 YEARS. VOTE!

BALLOONING CURRENT BUDGET DEFICIT TO ALL-TIME RECORD $3.1 TRILLION. VOTE!

ENDING HEALTH COVERAGE FOR MILLIONS AND SUING TO ELIMINATE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT, INCLUDING PREEXISTING-CONDITION PROTECTIONS. VOTE!

VIOLENTLY DISPERSING PEACEFUL CIVIL RIGHTS PROTESTERS OUTSIDE WHITE HOUSE FOR A BIBLE-WIELDING PHOTO OP. VOTE!

PROPOSING TO POSTPONE THE ELECTION, TRYING TO DISCREDIT MAIL-IN VOTING AS FRAUDULENT AND REFUSING TO COMMIT TO PEACEFUL TRANSFER OF POWER. VOTE!

DEFENDING DEADLY VIOLENCE BY WHITE-SUPREMACIST SUPPORTERS AND WINKING AT MILITIA PLOT TO KIDNAP MICHIGAN GOVERNOR. VOTE!

SEEING "VERY FINE PEOPLE" AMONG VIOLENT NEO-NAZIS IN CHARLOTTESVILLE. VOTE!

VALIDATING A CONSPIRACY THEORY ABOUT PEDOPHILE RING CONTROLLING U.S. GOVERNMENT. VOTE!

CALLING SWATHS OF AFRICA AND CARIBBEAN "SHITHOLE COUNTRIES" AND TRYING TO BAN ENTRY FROM MUSLIM-MAJORITY NATIONS. VOTE!

TAKING MIGRANT CHILDREN FROM PARENTS AND LOCKING THEM IN CAGES. VOTE!

FALLING "IN LOVE" WITH NORTH KOREAN DICTATOR KIM JONG UN. VOTE!

SIDING WITH VLADIMIR PUTIN OVER U.S. INTELLIGENCE ON ELECTION INTERFERENCE. VOTE!

GETTING IMPEACHED FOR WITHHOLDING MILITARY AID FROM A VULNERABLE ALLY TO EXTORT CAMPAIGN HELP. VOTE!

EXCUSING SAUDI PRINCE'S DISMEMBERMENT OF U.S.-BASED JOURNALIST AND ADOPTING JOSEPH STALIN'S "ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE" PHRASE FOR AMERICAN MEDIA. VOTE!

APPEASING THE TALIBAN AND ABANDONING KURDISH ALLIES IN SYRIA. VOTE!

PRAISING "VERY GOOD FRIEND" XI JINPING FOR HANDLING OF CORONAVIRUS AND TRANSPARENCY. VOTE!

SHOVING A PRIME MINISTER AND PUBLICLY DISPARAGING LEADERS OF FRANCE, GERMANY, BRITAIN AND EVEN DENMARK BECAUSE GREENLAND WASN'T FOR SALE. VOTE!

BELITTLING "LOSERS" AND "SUCKERS" WHO DIED FOR OUR COUNTRY, POSTHUMOUSLY INSULTING JOHN MCCAIN, SKIPPING MEMORIALS FOR THE FALLEN AND DERIDING TOP GENERALS AS WAR PROFITEERS. VOTE!

ADMITTING TO PAYING OFF A PORN ACTRESS FOR SILENCE ABOUT AN ALLEGED AFFAIR, OFFERING KIND WORDS FOR CHARGED CHILD-SEX TRAFFICKER, AND TALKING ABOUT WOMEN AS "BLEEDING," "DOG" AND "MONSTER." VOTE!

ENRICHING HIMSELF AND HIS FAMILY BY FORCING TAXPAYERS AND TRYING TO FORCE FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS TO SPEND MILLIONS AT HIS PROPERTIES. VOTE!

PAYING ONLY $750 IN FEDERAL INCOME TAXES IN 2016 AND IN 2017 AND PERSONALLY OWING $400 MILLION TO UNKNOWN CREDITORS. VOTE!

HAVING HIS FORMER CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN, PERSONAL LAWYER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER, CHIEF STRATEGIST AND AT LEAST SIX OTHER CLOSE AIDES ARRESTED OR CONVICTED. VOTE!

USING THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT AND PRESIDENTIAL POWERS TO COMMUTE AND REDUCE SENTENCES OR DROP CHARGES AGAINST FRIENDS AND TO HARASS CRITICS. VOTE!

BEING PROTECTED BY POLITICAL APPOINTEES AFTER SPECIAL COUNSEL FINDS EVIDENCE OF OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE. VOTE!

USING THE PRESIDENCY TO MAKE MORE THAN 20,000 FALSE OR DUBIOUS STATEMENTS, TO INSULT PEOPLE BY THE HUNDREDS AND TO TRASH INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION ON CLIMATE, TRADE, HEALTH AND SECURITY. VOTE!

INDUCING THE LONGEST GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN IN HISTORY, THEN DECLARING FAKE EMERGENCY TO SPEND MONEY WITHOUT CONGRESSIONAL APPROVAL. VOTE!

SUFFERING TURNOVER OF 90% AMONG CABINET AND TOP WHITE HOUSE STAFF, AND NOW ON FOURTH CHIEF OF STAFF, FOURTH PRESS SECRETARY, SIXTH COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR AND FOURTH NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER. VOTE!

FIGHTING IN COURTS TO DISCOURAGE MINORITIES FROM VOTING AND PARTICIPATING IN THE CENSUS AND DESECRATING RUTH BADER GINSBURG'S DEATH BY ATTACKING HER GRANDDAUGHTER AND RUSHING A REPLACEMENT BEFORE FUNERAL. VOTE!

MAKING THE WORDS "MOTHERF-----," "BULL----," "ASS.," "SON OF A BITCH," "HAMBERDER," "SMOCKING GUN" AND "COVFEFE" PART OF NATIONAL DISCOURSE. VOTE!

SABOTAGING THE POSTAL SERVICE FOR ELECTORAL GAIN, ROUTINELY ACCUSING OPPONENTS OF TREASON AND USING A SHARPIE TO REDRAW A HURRICANE FORECAST MAP. VOTE!

THINKING FREDERICK DOUGLASS ALIVE, FINLAND PART OF RUSSIA, BRITAIN NOT YET A NUCLEAR POWER, WINDMILLS CAUSE CANCER AND "RAKING" PREVENTS FOREST FIRES. VOTE!

There's more -- much more. But to list all the damage would take more than a column. It would take four years, and who would want to relive that?

Had enough? VOTE!

- - -

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

What's needed for a first step to peace in Nagorno-Karabakh

By david ignatius
What's needed for a first step to peace in Nagorno-Karabakh

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

Advance for release Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, and thereafter

(For Ignatius clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By David Ignatius

WASHINGTON -- During a visit four years ago to the disputed area of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian population that dominates the enclave seemed as solid and immovable as the rocky hills that surround the region. "We are our mountains," proclaimed a massive stone statue on the road to the capital's airport.

The Armenians made that confident claim before drone warfare arrived in the rugged terrain of Karabakh. Azerbaijan's use of Turkish- and Israeli-made drones has altered the balance of this conflict, putting the tough, battle-hardened Armenians on the defensive. Nearly 800 Armenians have died since the war began Sept. 27, according to official reports; the Azerbaijani side hasn't announced casualties, but they're also believed to be heavy.

The Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict may seem a distant, ancient feud. But because drones have proved so potent there, the war is a visceral demonstration of how modern weapons technology can suddenly unlock what had seemed to be "frozen conflicts" and create tempting, dangerous opportunities to shatter the status quo.

Here's a simple suggestion for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is scheduled to meet Friday with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan: The path to real negotiations and stability in Karabakh could begin with a no-fly zone over the enclave, enforced by the United States, Russia and France, the three co-chairs of the "Minsk Group" that had been fruitlessly attempting to settle the Karabakh issue since 1992.

Pompeo has a big challenge. Russia and France brokered two cease-fires earlier this month, and both failed. What's needed is a plan that inserts the three big powers more directly in the Karabakh mess and provides a platform for addressing the underlying issues of sovereignty and refugees. The United States also wants to check Turkey, Azerbaijan's ally, which Pompeo criticized in an interview this week for "coming in to lend their firepower to what is already a powder keg of a situation."

Both sides now seem more open for negotiation than before, according to a Politico report. Elin Suleymanov, the Azerbaijani ambassador to Washington, said, "We want a substantive conversation." His Armenian counterpart, Varuzhan Nersesyan, said, "We see no alternative to the peaceful resolution of this conflict based on mutual compromises."

Earlier in the war, Azerbaijan might have resisted any truce that removed its best weapon, the drone, from the battlespace, even if temporarily. But momentum seemed to tip slightly Tuesday, when an advancing Azerbaijani force in southwest Karabakh was cut off by Armenian forces, leaving the forward troops surrounded and under heavy attack, according to an Armenian source. That might give Yerevan a little more leverage against Baku.

The Armenians of Karabakh are tenacious fighters. Their superiority in artillery and tank warfare that wrested the enclave from nominal Azerbaijani control in 1994 has continued in the fighting that has recurred intermittently ever since.

Today's drones have exploded this conventional military paradigm. Using sophisticated Turkish and Israeli unmanned air vehicles, the Azerbaijanis pinpointed Armenian air-defense systems in the early days of the war, and followed up by attacking heavy artillery pieces, armored vehicles and troop formations. As the United States discovered in its war against the Islamic State, aggressive use of UAV weapons can deliver relentless punishment.

Armenia lacked enough modern weapons to combat the Azerbaijani drone fleet or to launch a strong one of its own. Armenia's defenses against drones may improve if it could acquire enough new systems of its own, said one Armenian source. That might allow Armenia to continue a bloody war of attrition, but it's a survival strategy, at best.

Armenian's vulnerability in this war vexes a nation still haunted by the Ottoman genocide that killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in 1915. To Armenians, this fight against a Turkish-backed adversary feels like an existential struggle, not a regional power play.

Now that the utility of drones has been demonstrated so powerfully, other regional actors might consider reigniting their own frozen conflicts. Serbs and Kosovars still nurse bitter grudges from war in the 1990s. Separatists in eastern Ukraine have been fighting a stalemate with Kyiv since 2014. And what about the Turks? Having seen how effective their drones are in battle, will they now turn them against Syrian Kurds who once fought under a canopy of American drones?

Pick your conflict and you can imagine a deadly application of drone warfare. The big powers need some rules for this new game, and Pompeo should start with a no-fly zone for Karabakh.

- - -

Contact David Ignatius on Twitter @IgnatiusPost

Packing the court would destroy it

By kathleen parker
Packing the court would destroy it

KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

Advance for release Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, and thereafter

(For Parker clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Kathleen Parker

WASHINGTON -- Court-packing is suddenly all the rage these days, what with nothing else zooming around in the zeitgeist.

But, first, a glossary of terms. Court-packing does not mean that Republicans are getting to pick too many Supreme Court justices. What court-packing means, at least as Democrats are discussing it in legal circles, is expanding the number of justices by some arbitrary number in order to depoliticize the court and make its composition more balanced. Theoretically.

What it really means is that Democrats want to pack the court in the expectation that a liberal-dominated Supreme Court will operate as all liberal-dominated courts have - as a super-legislator fulfilling liberal policy dreams that can't get passed democratically. This was the same reason Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to pack the court in the 1930s: The Supreme Court was blocking some elements of the New Deal, and he wanted to add more justices in hope of securing approval. It's worth remembering that this failed plan was the worst stain on his presidency -- until his internment of Japanese Americans in the wake of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

Democrats are still aggrieved that Merrick Garland, nominated by President Barack Obama in 2016, didn't receive so much as a hearing by the Republican-controlled Senate. This, too, is understandable, if not as relevant as one might think.

My own view at the time was that Garland, who wasn't a hardcore lefty and had some appeal to centrist Republicans, should have at least been shown the courtesy of a hearing. But there's no constitutional requirement that any president's nominee be considered -- and hearings, courtesy or otherwise, are not required. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was well within his powers to ensure that the Garland pick went nowhere.

Wait, wait, I know. Yes, of course, it's hypocritical for Republicans to argue (BEG ITAL)then(END ITAL) that the next president should choose Justice Antonin Scalia's replacement and to (BEG ITAL)now(END ITAL) argue the impending election doesn't matter. It is an old-fashioned power grab, no different than Democrats would surely orchestrate were circumstances reversed. So it goes in the land of the free and the home of majority rule.

But here's the distinction with an important difference: What matters more than good intentions, more than politics, more than any president, is public perception of the stability of the court and its positioning above politics. This is why the justices wear black robes; it isn't supposed to matter who they are. They're all alike in their remove from the fray. A rush by one party would further undermine what is already in danger of looking like just another branch of government riven by politics. Adding members to the high bench would create an even more politicized judiciary and further diminish public trust in our institutions.

Both parties bear responsibility for this trend. Its roots lie with the Democrats' rejection in 1987 of Robert Bork to the high court in a viciously partisan melee. Ever since, not even grudging respect has softened the contempt and disdain each party directs toward the other's nominee, though mostly we're talking about Republican nominees. The conservative-leaning majority, assuming Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation, has left Democrats plotting ways to disrupt the carefully minded distance between the judiciary and the other two branches of government.

Joe Biden understands all of this and has consistently spoken out against packing the court, calling it in 1983 a "bonehead idea" and warning last year that doing so would destroy "any credibility the court has at all." But recently he has begun showing signs of coyness as pressures come to bear from liberal commentators and at least 17 progressive groups pushing for it.

The question now is whether Biden will stick to his view if he wins or give into the gravitational pull of a younger generation of Democrats who want a liberal court, by hook, crook or wrecking ball. That tug will be greater if the Democrats win the White House and the Senate. During recent public appearances, Biden has refused to say where he stands, observing correctly that no matter what he says, his answer would become the focus of the campaign's final days.

The best argument against adding more justices is: Where does it stop? If Democrats add three more justices, then Republicans will add three - or however many - and so on. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who said last year everything is on the table, once told a joke about a future grandchild asking him, "Granddad, why do we have 151 people on the Supreme Court?"

It's a funny line, but the more serious consequences of messing with the land's highest court aren't amusing in the least.

- - -

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

Closing the Trump parenthesis

By george f. will
Closing the Trump parenthesis

GEORGE F. WILL COLUMN

Advance for release Thursday, Oct. 21, 2020, and thereafter

(For Will clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By George F. Will

WASHINGTON -- As the Donald Trump parenthesis in the Republic's history closes, he is opening the sluices on his reservoir of invectives and self-pity. A practitioner of crybaby conservatism -- no one, he thinks, has suffered so much since Job lost his camels and acquired boils -- and ever a weakling, Trump will end his presidency as he began it: whining.

His first day cloaked in presidential dignity he spent disputing photographic proof that his inauguration crowd was substantially smaller than his immediate predecessor's. Trump's day of complaining continued at the CIA headquarters, at the wall commemorating those who died serving the agency. His presidency that began with a wallow in self-pity probably will end in ignominy when he slinks away pouting, trailing clouds of recriminations, without a trace of John McCain's graciousness on election night 2008:

"Sen. Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country. I applaud him for it, and offer my sincere sympathy that his beloved grandmother did not live to see this day -- though our faith assures us she is at rest in the presence of her Creator and so very proud of the good man she helped raise. ... And my heart is filled with nothing but gratitude ... to the American people for giving me a fair hearing before deciding that Sen. Obama and my old friend, Sen. Joe Biden, should have the honor of leading us for the next four years."

Just 12 years separate the nation from this tradition of political competition bounded by banisters of good manners. Subsequently, the Republican Party has eagerly surrendered its self-respect. And having hitched its wagon to a plummeting cinder, the party is about to have a rendezvous with a surly electorate wielding a truncheon. The party picked a bad year to invite a mugging, a year ending in zero: Approximately 80% of state legislative seats will be filled this year, and next year the occupants, many of them Democrats wafted into office by a wave election, will redraw congressional districts based on the 2020 census.

After Democrats controlled the House for 40 years (1954-1994), control of it changed under four presidents (Bill Clinton in 1994, George W. Bush in 2006, Barack Obama in 2010, Trump in 2018). Trump's legacy might include a decade of Democratic control of the House.

Political prophecy is an optional folly, but occasionally, as now, it might be useful by encouraging eligible voters to take the trouble to participate in a historic correction. It is not yet probable, but is not highly improbable, that Joe Biden can become the first candidate in 32 years to capture more than 400 electoral votes (George H.W. Bush, 426 in 1988). He can do this by carrying some Trump 2016 states where Biden is either leading or within the margin of polling error -- Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Ohio and Texas.

Texas is the most important red state: Without its electoral votes (38 today; probably 41 in 2024), the Republican path to 270 is dauntingly narrow. Trump's 52% in Texas in 2016 was the lowest Republican total in 24 years (when Bob Dole split the anti-Clinton vote with Ross Perot). With seven of the nation's 15 fastest-growing cities (El Paso is almost the size of Boston; San Antonio is twice the size of Seattle), Texas illustrates the Republican Party's understandable antipathy toward that which it exists to persuade: the electorate. Texas' Republican governor, with the elastic scruples of his party, has ordered (this is being litigated) that each of the state's 254 counties shall have only one drop-off site for absentee ballots -- one for Loving County (population 169), one for Harris County (Houston, population 4.7 million, 70% nonwhite), one for Brewster County, whose size (6,192.3 square miles) could hold Connecticut with room remaining for more than half of Rhode Island.

The GOP's desire -- demonstrated in myriad measures in many states -- for low voter turnout is prudent: As the nation becomes more urban, suburban, diverse and secular, the Republican Party becomes more fixated on rural and small-town white voters. Thirty-six percent of Americans lived in rural areas in 1950; in 1990, 25% did; today, 17.5% do. Now the rural population, 60 million, is about what it was in 1945. Since then, the urban population has almost tripled.

Analyst Charlie Cook asks: "In 2016, 87 percent of Trump's vote came from whites. For congressional Republicans in the 2018 midterms, it was 86 percent. Is this sustainable?" You have to admire Republicans' jaunty, if suicidal, wager that it is.

- - -

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

Latinos get the dirtiest job of all: picking the next president

By ruben navarrette jr.
Latinos get the dirtiest job of all: picking the next president

RUBEN NAVARRETTE COLUMN

Advance for release Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, and thereafter

(For Navarrette clients)

By RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.

(c) 2020, The Washington Post Writers Group

SAN DIEGO - Whenever America has a distasteful task that needs completing, it gives the job to Latinos. Whether it's tarring roofs in summer, or washing windows on skyscrapers, or picking meat from crab shells, Latinos do the country's dirty work without complaint.

Now that the United States faces another presidential election of lesser evils - a choice between the uninspiring and the unhinged - it is appropriate that America's largest minority decide the outcome.

In fact, some White Democrats demand that a Latino columnist play the Pied Piper. One reader wrote me: "President Trump cares nothing for people of color. Please open your eyes and see what Trump is doing. For the love of America and democracy, turn out the vote to stop this fascism."

But counting on Latinos to save the day is also a bit awkward. Decimated by COVID-19, left out of the national race dialogue, and treated as an afterthought at the national conventions of both political parties, the year 2020 has already been pretty awful for my tribe.

Now we're expected to decide a presidential election that we were largely excluded from. Imagine the humiliation of playing the understudy in this whole production, when we expected the lead.

This was supposed to be The Latino Election. Even more so than 2016, which was supposed to be The Latino Election - but never was.

First, there are the numbers. This year, for the first time, Latinos represent the largest group of eligible non-white voters. As many as 15 million Latinos are expected to cast ballots. Just as importantly, nearly two-thirds of Latinos are Mexican or Mexican American, and they're notorious swing voters who register as Democrats but are independent-minded enough to vote for Republicans that are to their liking.

Then, there is geography. The crucial battleground states that allegedly pick presidents aren't limited to Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. They also include Florida, Arizona and Nevada, which are home to many Latino voters. Other too-close-to-call states include Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina, where much of the population growth over the last 20 years has been due to Latinos.

Finally, there's Donald Trump. No matter who the Democrats nominated, this election was always going to be a referendum on him. So who better to decide the fate of the Demagogue-in-Chief than his favorite Boogeyman. Trump wouldn't be president if he hadn't convinced enough Americans in 2016 that Latinos were scary and dangerous, and that he alone could protect White Americans from the Brown menace.

For all these reasons, Latinos were supposed to get top billing. Yet that never happened. Immigration is off the agenda, since neither Trump nor former Vice President Joe Biden seems eager to discuss it.

For his part, Biden never launched a ground game with Latinos. He was too busy trying to make peace with African Americans, many of whom were leery of a tough-on-crime politician who built a career protecting White folks from Black folks and wrote the law that fueled mass incarceration.

The best Biden had to offer Latinos was to greet a gathering a few weeks ago by holding up a phone and playing Justin Bieber singing the Spanish-language love song "(BEG ITAL)Despacito.(END ITAL)

Now, in the waning days of the election, Democrats are offering a fresh brand of cheese. Biden's campaign has a new voter mobilization effort aimed at a group that hasn't shown much love to him: Latino men. The initiative, headlined by Latino comedians who support Biden, is called "(BEG ITAL)Los Luchadores(END ITAL)" (The Fighters).

Wow. Stereotype much? I can't wait for the press release from the official spokesperson: Speedy Gonzalez.

Not that you're going to find any more respect - or any respect, for that matter - from the Trump campaign. That sorry bunch apparently missed the memo about how fear-mongering over immigration fell flat for the GOP in the 2018 midterms. Team Trump is still running 1990s-style campaign ads showing grainy footage of Mexican immigrants scaling the border wall while the narrator ominously warns that Democrats are going to "give health benefits to illegal immigrants."

Here's a reality check: The Mexicans in the commercial aren't after freebies. The only reason they're in such a hurry to get over the wall is so they can apply for jobs that Americans won't do, offered to them by U.S. employers - including many who support Trump.

For Latinos, some presidential elections - the ones where politicians schmooze for our votes - are like a warm bath. This one makes you want to take a shower.

- - -

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

Trump needs to stop talking about Hunter Biden, and start winning over reluctant voters

By marc a. thiessen
Trump needs to stop talking about Hunter Biden, and start winning over reluctant voters

MARC THIESSEN COLUMN

Advance for release Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, and thereafter

(For Thiessen clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Marc A. Thiessen

WASHINGTON -- Conservatives are rightly outraged by Twitter's efforts to suppress the New York Post story about Hunter Biden's emails, and the mainstream media's failure to take the story seriously. Republicans in Congress are right to investigate. And the Republican National Committee is right to file a complaint against Twitter with the Federal Election Commission for censoring the story.

But here is what President Donald Trump needs to understand: This election is not going to turn on Hunter Biden.

While the story might energize the president's base, it won't help him win over voters who are not already supporting his reelection. Americans already know that Hunter Biden was flying around the world cashing in on his father's name and public office, and that Joe Biden allowed him to do so. How they feel about that is already baked into their votes. Right now, in the midst of a pandemic-induced recession, they care more about their own families than Joe Biden's family.

Unfortunately, the president is talking nonstop about the Biden family, calling it a "criminal enterprise." That is not the closing argument Trump needs to make before Election Day. His closing argument should be: I will restore the strong economy you loved before the pandemic hit, and Biden will ruin it with massive tax increases and socialist spending.

Trump should be using his last debate, and his final days on the campaign trail, to win over reluctant voters who approve of his policies but not of him. Gallup reports that 56% of Americans say they are better off now than they were four years ago -- a stunning number considering we are in the middle of a pandemic and an economic crisis. Not only that, but a 49% plurality of Americans agree with Trump over Biden on the issues. And yet, in the RealClearPolitics polling average, less than 43% say they are voting to give him a second term. Why? Because while they like Trump's economic stewardship, they don't like the chaos of the past four years -- and so they are reluctant to give him four more.

Trump's job is to change their minds. If he can moderate his behavior for just two weeks, that is an achievable goal. The polls in swing states are tightening. Some reluctant Trump voters are slowly, grudgingly coming home. He needs to encourage them, not drive them away. Biden is wooing those voters by stealing Trump's economic nationalist message in an effort to convince voters that they can have the Trump economy without Trump. The president needs to counter that argument by painting a picture of what America will look like if he wins the election -- and what a disaster it will be if Biden does.

Railing about Hunter Biden does nothing to advance that message. Neither does telling a reporter that Biden "is a criminal . . . and you know who's a criminal here? You're a criminal for not reporting it." Quite the opposite: It helps Biden by showcasing everything these voters dislike about the president. If that is Trump's tone and message during Thursday's debate, it will be a disaster.

The best evidence that Trump's strategy of focusing on Hunter Biden is backfiring? On Monday, Joe Biden called a lid on his campaign until Thursday's debate. That's right: With just two weeks to go before Election Day, Biden is leaving the campaign trail for almost four days -- ceding the stage to Trump. He clearly believes the president will use that stage to Biden's advantage.

Instead, Trump should use it to address reluctant voters' concerns. During his 2004 reelection, President George W. Bush delivered a message targeted at reluctant Bush voters. "In the last four years, you and I have come to know each other. Even when we don't agree, at least you know what I believe and where I stand," he said. "You may have noticed I have a few flaws, too. ... Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger, which in Texas is called 'walking.' Now and then I come across as a little too blunt -- and for that we can all thank the white-haired lady sitting right up there," pointing to Barbara Bush.

The message was: I know I rub some of you the wrong way. I get it. But here is why you should vote for me anyway. That self-awareness gave reluctant Bush voters permission to vote for him, despite his perceived flaws. Trump has not sent a similar message to his reluctant voters. It's not too late to do so. But he needs to stop wasting his closing argument talking about Biden's family and focus on these voters' families.

- - -

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

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