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With pineapple and sugar production gone, Hawaii weighs its agricultural future

By Brittany Lyte
With pineapple and sugar production gone, Hawaii weighs its agricultural future
A smokestack towers above the grounds of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar in Puunene, Hawaii, in May. The mill ceased production in December 2016. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bonnie Jo Mount

KAHULUI, Maui - Tens of thousands of abandoned acres of farmland lie fallow on this island, cemeteries of Hawaii's defunct plantation era, which met its end last year when the state's last remaining sugar grower shut down an operation that had run for 146 years.

Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.'s sprawling sugar cane fields used to provide visitors to Maui a rolling green blanket as they arrived at the airport, but they are newly stagnant, joining other growers in a long decline. Facing competition from cheap foreign labor, a shortage of farmworkers and some of the nation's highest land costs, the sugar and pineapple plantations that used to be the state's lifeblood are not redeploying into active agriculture, raising questions about the industry's future here.

"Pineapple is lost, sugar is lost, and we now have one sole industry, which is a very dangerous position to be in," said Maui County Councilman Alika Atay. "We have put all our eggs into one basket, and that is tourism. But not everybody who lives on this island wants to work in the hotel industry, and it's almost impossible to feed a family here working as a farmer. We are now seeing drastic displacement of young people leaving Maui because of a lack of economic opportunity."

The closure of Maui's last sugar producer marked a pivotal moment in Hawaii's agricultural production. Since 1980, Hawaii's total land use for agricultural production has shrunk by about 68 percent, according to data from the University of Hawaii.

Sugar had, at one point, been Hawaii's top crop. Now the corn seed industry is the state's dominant agricultural land user, followed by commercial forestry and macadamia nuts. But none of those products, not even when combined, come anywhere close to filling the economic void created by the loss of sugar and pineapple.

The state's Agriculture Department is working on the issue with a depleted staff - 122 of its 360 positions are vacant, including the entire branch responsible for market analysis and tracking the state's trends in food imports and production. The agency is narrowing its focus to court outside capital for investments in Hawaii food production and is studying the possibility of allowing farmers to inhabit small family homes alongside their crop beds. Tenant farming is now restricted on state agriculture land.

"There are tens of thousands of acres of good ag land, at least, currently sitting fallow in Hawaii, where we have some of the most expensive land in the world," said Department of Agriculture Director Scott Enright. "At the same time, we've got a group of farmers who are aging out of the business. The next generation is coming in and finding if you're going to try and start up a farm when you're a 20-something with no track record, the banks aren't going to lend to you. That's a problem for us."

The sugar industry, which helped usher Hawaii into statehood, steered the state's politics and economy for more than a century. It helped build company towns inhabited by multiethnic field laborers from Asia and Europe.

With statehood came U.S. labor laws, inspiring Hawaii's biggest sugar and pineapple producers to embrace cheaper foreign labor. As monocrop agriculture declined, the state put its economic faith in tourism, which accelerated as jet plane travel became faster and more affordable. Plantation companies either vanished or transitioned into land-development firms.

Some swaths of farmland have been sold off and developed into commercial or residential real estate, inspiring fears that Hawaii's agrarian past could one day be lost to a more citified future.

"We have and we will continue to lose ag land to urban development," Enright said.

HC&S is a division of Alexander & Baldwin, one of Hawaii's largest commercial real estate holders.

The passage of the plantation heyday has been slow but impactful. In 1980, Hawaii hosted 14 sugar and four pineapple plantations that farmed more than 300,000 acres. In 2017, these two crops account for less than 5,000 acres. Once the largest pineapple plantation in the world, the island of Lanai's former crop beds are now parched and deserted.

Hawaii spends as much as $3 billion a year to import 90 percent of its food, and residents routinely pay some of the highest prices in the nation for staples such as eggs and milk. Even the grain that feeds the cows on the islands' two dairy farms is shipped in. Should a natural disaster affect the ability for cargo ships to arrive, the state's 1.4 million residents and nearly 9 million annual visitors could be vulnerable to crippling food shortages.

The shaky state of food security in the world's most isolated group of islands has prompted Hawaii Gov. David Ige, D, to set a deadline of 2030 to double local agriculture production, a goal that some experts decry as unrealistic because Hawaii does not consistently track agricultural data about crop yields.

On an island chain that once was completely self-sufficient - before the arrival of Westerners in the late 1700s, indigenous Hawaiians thrived 2,500 miles from the nearest continent using sustainable farming and fishing methods - many believe a resurgence of agriculture is possible.

"There's no reason why we should go to a grocery store and see a banana from Ecuador or Mexico. We can grow banana here," Atay said. "Why do we go to the store and see mango from Chile, not mango from Maui, when Maui grows some of the sweetest-tasting mango in the world? Because in the last 200 years we never had the land and the water available - until now."

HC&S has so far deployed 4,500 of its 36,000 farmland acres. A new grass-fed cattle operation aims to expand local beef production through a 300-calf management partnership with Maui Cattle Company. More than 95 percent of the beef consumed in Hawaii has been shipped in from the U.S. mainland. On Maui, HC&S hopes to cut that number to as low as 80 percent.

In addition to raising cattle, HC&S has dedicated 1,500 acres to grow sweet potato and crops that help produce energy. Hawaii's eight main islands have the highest electricity prices in the nation, but a 250-acre orchard of pongamia trees, which produce biofuels, could help wean the state off its fossil fuel dependence, experts say.

Another 800 acres are being considered for an agricultural park for small-scale, local farmers.

"We've been talking about diversified agriculture and energy for 10 years, but nobody has found the magic bullet," said Rick Volner, the former HC&S plantation manager who now oversees the company's fledgling diversified agriculture program. "The hope was that we could launch right into it. Instead we're trying to grow different crops to try and see what works."

Elsewhere on the island, the shift away from agriculture is providing some immediate relief. Water diversions from hundreds of streams long fed the island's sugar cane at the expense of the wetland taro crop cultivated by indigenous Hawaiians in rural east Maui. A storm of lawsuits over water rights coupled with the sugar industry's gradual scale-back has led to some restoration of the natural water flow.

With water returned to the remote Wailua Nui Valley, a new program at a nearby public school is reintroducing local families to the culturally important practice of taro farming. Last year, more than 150 people in Maui's Hana community pounded poi, the starchy Hawaiian staple food, for the first time in their lives.

"My grandchildren used to tell me, 'Papa, what happened to the water?' " said sixth-generation taro farmer Edward Wendt. "King Sugar - that's where our water went. Now that it's flowing again, I must show and teach the younger generation as much as I can for as long as I can."

Elsewhere on Maui, the Colorado-based land development firm Bio-Logical Capital manages an oceanfront cattle ranch and diversified organic fruit and vegetable farm on 3,600 acres formerly cultivated for sugar. The company's goal is to invent a sustainable agricultural system that enriches the land, provides healthy, fresh food for the local population and lends itself to be duplicated as a model food-production system in communities across the globe.

"The land in Maui that was in sugar is some of the best ag land in the world," said Bio-Logical CEO Grant McCargo. "But politically, how do you put that land back to good use?"

McCargo noted that the challenge for publicly traded companies is to manage risk with shareholder value.

"This really is a public policy question," he said. "After all, we wouldn't still be farming corn in this country if it weren't for subsidies from the government."

Review: The skeptic's guide to smart home gadgets

By Geoffrey A. Fowler
Review: The skeptic's guide to smart home gadgets
The Ring Video Doorbell 2 gives your front door eyes and ears. MUST CREDIT: Ring

Before you buy any "smart" gadgets, make sure they're not dumb.

This holiday season, a third of Americans plan to buy a smart home device, according to the Consumer Technology Association. And nearly half of Americans use digital voice assistants, according to the Pew Research Center.

But just hooking up the Internet to a door lock, kettle or dog bowl (yes, that's a thing) doesn't make it smart. The trick is figuring out which ones are worth the cost, trouble and inevitable security risks.

I've been in those weeds. After reviewing dozens of smart home products, I've learned to be skeptical of any gadget that feels like a Star Trek prop - and a little paranoid about things that are listening, watching or collecting data. Any gadget you install in your house should work with software from multiple tech giants. And it should be made by a company with years of experience in homes, or at least with top-notch customer support.

The good news is some of these connected gadgets are now actually awesome. I picked five smart home devices that are genuinely useful enough that I've given them as a gift. . . including to myself.

1) Ring Video Doorbell 2, $200

Why it's useful: Who's at your door? The Ring is a doorbell that doubles as a Wi-fi security camera, so you can watch, hear and talk to whoever's there through an app - even if you're not at home. It alerts your phone with a live feed when somebody presses the bell, or any time somebody comes near. No rewiring required. The Ring at my house caught package thieves and vandals, and produced video evidence I gave to the cops.

The downsides: To review, share and store video clips for 60 days requires a $30 per year subscription. If your existing doorbell isn't powered, you'll have to charge the Ring's battery every 6 to 12 months.

Why it's the best: There are lots of video doorbells, but Ring has has solid customer service, delivers on its promises and works with other home devices including Amazon's Echo Show. ("Alexa, show me who's at the front door.") The Ring app also lets you share clips and alerts about criminal activity with neighbors who also own a Ring.

How it handles security: Ring encrypts your video. In 2016, researchers discovered a flaw in the first-generation Ring doorbell that could have let hackers access a home's Wi-fi network. Ring issued a patch, and says it updates doorbell software automatically.

2) Lutron Caseta Light Switches, $80 for starter kit

Why it's useful: Okay, switches aren't exactly an exciting present. But these Lutron Caseta ones only look like regular dimmers - they've actually got superpowers to turn on and off on via app, remote or voice command. That's useful for safety: You can program your porch light to come on after sunset, or set lights to random when you're on vacation. They're also a convenience - like when your bed is just too warm and comfy to leave, so you just say "good night" to Siri and watch the whole house turn off at once. I've programmed mine to wake me by slowly making the room brighter.

The downsides: I needed to hire an electrician to install my Caseta switches, though it's certainly possible to do it yourself. Caseta also requires a hub (included in its starter kit) attached to your home router.

Why it's the best: The Lutron switches require more effort up front than stand-alone connected bulbs like Philips Hue. But Lutron's tech is rock-solid reliable - and allows you to still turn off lights the old-fashioned way, with a light switch. It also plays well Apple HomeKit, Alexa, Nest, IFTTT and more.

How it handles security: If your home's Internet goes out, Caseta switches still work. Lutron does penetration testing for hackers and automatically pushes updates to your hub, but it wouldn't say whether its systems have ever been breached.

3) Eero 2nd generation mesh Wi-fi router, $300 for two-hub pack

Why it's useful: Eero solves the No. 1 home tech problem: Bad Wi-fi. The reason your Netflix stutters is there are corners in your house that one poor, overworked router just can't reach. Eero uses multiple hubs to create a "mesh" that spreads Internet all over. That's a lifesaver in big houses or ones (like mine) with walls filled with metal, plaster and and other materials that act like Kryptonite for radio waves.

The downsides: Eero is pricier than stand-alone routers and also mesh systems like Google Wi-fi and Netgear Orbi. If you want Eero's hubs to work well, you also can't hide them under a stack of old People magazines - they need to be out in the open. (Fortunately, they're pretty.)

Why it's the best: Eero is the simplest home gadget I've ever tested. Other routers may be a little faster or have more features, but Eero is reliable and offers solid customer service. It also now offers a security service, called Eero Plus (for $100 per year), to detect and stop hackers, and help you manage passwords, combat malware and access a VPN when you're on the go.

How it handles security: Eero uses the cloud to give you remote control over your network and to ensure performance, but it doesn't log or store where people go on the Internet. And the cloud lets Eero quickly update your hardware when security problems come to light, like this fall's scary KRACK vulnerability.

4) Ecobee 4 Thermostat, $250

Why it's useful: Baby, it's cold outside. . . and in that room at the back of your house. Thermostats measure the temperature one place (usually the hallway), but who hangs out there? The Ecobee 4 thermostat uses sensors to keep track of which room you're in and what the temperature is there - and then makes adjustments accordingly. It's smart enough to proactively compensate for a cold snap, and it should also be more energy efficient than an old-fashioned thermostat, though your savings may vary.

The downsides: You get one room sensor in the box, but extras cost $80 each. Your installation experience may vary: to make the Ecobee 4 work with my extremely ancient heating system, I had to buy a $15 external AC transformer.

Why it's the best: Google-owned Nest makes the most well-known learning thermostat, but the Ecobee 4 beats it with the room-sensing tech and a few other features. It's got Alexa built into a speaker and microphone on the thermostat, so you have one more spot in the house to chat with your favorite virtual lady-friend. And Ecobee works with lots of different smart home software, including Apple HomeKit, Google Home, and (of course) Amazon Alexa.

How it handles security: The Ecobee 4 works even without an Internet connection. The company does security audits and says its products haven't suffered from any breaches it knows about.

5) Sonos ONE multi-room speaker, $200

Why it's useful: Talking speakers are all the rage, but most priced under $200 don't sound fantastic. The Sonos ONE does, and it has the ability to switch its voice between either Amazon Alexa or Google's Assistant. The Sonos ONE can also join other Sonos wireless speakers that come in many sizes and shapes to fill every room with music. I keep my house on perpetual "party mode."

The downsides: The Sonos ONE costs twice as much the new Amazon Echo and Google Home. Support for Google's Assistant, along with Apple's AirPlay 2, won't come until 2018. And some of its Alexa voice commands are a un-intuitive, but that should hopefully improve over time.

Why it's the best: The ONE is the connected speaker to beat right now because of its neutral status in the talking AI wars, and Sonos' years of experience making great-sounding wireless speakers. But I won't blame you for waiting until professional reviewers get our hands on Apple's much-hyped (and much-delayed) $350 HomePod next year.

How it handles security: Sonos offers frequent free software updates. Like the Amazon Echo, there's a button on top that stops its microphone from listening

Under-fire UN peacekeepers struggle in African nation at war

By Pauline Bax
Under-fire UN peacekeepers struggle in African nation at war
A U.N. soldier stands guard as a mixed UN military convoy of Portuguese special forces and Cameroonian and Mauritanian peacekeepers prepares to patrol the PK5 neighborhood in Bangui, Central African Republic, on Nov. 17, 2017. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Pauline Bax.

Scanning the road from a police armored vehicle, Martine Epopa says she isn't fazed when people make throat-slitting gestures at her United Nations convoy patrolling the capital of the Central African Republic.

Sometimes men jump in the road brandishing machetes, while others just stand and scowl, said Epopa, a 29-year-old Cameroonian police officer and the sole woman in a six-vehicle U.N. patrol that included Portuguese special forces and Mauritanian troops.

"We just wait until they give up and leave," she said, clutching her rifle as her vehicle bounced over potholes. "We're here to make people understand that the U.N. is here to protect them and their country. It can be challenging."

Yet the threat is real. Fourteen peacekeepers have died this year in the Central African Republic, and public hostility is increasing toward what's already one of the U.N.'s most difficult peacekeeping operations. A series of sexual-abuse scandals hasn't helped, nor has the perception that the "blue helmets" favor the minority Muslim population over their Christian countrymen. Hidden from sight behind huge blast walls in central Bangui, the capital, the U.N. headquarters are often a target of violent protests.

In what the U.N. ranks as the world's poorest nation where most state institutions crumbled after a 2013 coup, the peacekeepers face a near impossible task of shielding civilians from armed groups roaming the countryside.

The 13,750-member force, known by its acronym MINUSCA, also does everything from helping ship emergency food supplies across a territory as large as Afghanistan to providing logistical support to aid agencies whose workers themselves are under attack.

The U.N. force has little choice. Fighting rages on in parts of the country and state authority barely extends beyond Bangui. While a few hundred men have been trained for the new army, a U.N. arms embargo means the government can't import weapons.

U.N. peacekeepers face dangers across Africa. This month 15 troops were killed by militiamen in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, believed to be the deadliest assault on U.N. forces in a quarter-century.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister who paid a four-day visit to the country in October, has tried to step up support. About 160 Portuguese commandos have arrived to engage in combat with rebels, and Guterres persuaded the Security Council to expand the mission with 900 military personnel, probably Brazilian.

That makes the U.N. operation in the Central African Republic the only peacekeeping force worldwide that'll be increased rather than reduced as the U.S. has pushed to trim about $600 million from the U.N.'s $7.3 billion peacekeeping budget for the fiscal year ending in June 2018.

Just three years ago, when the U.N. set up a peacekeeping mission to replace an African Union force, expectations were high, with many residents thinking their arrival would be "a silver bullet," according to Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"There are moments when MINUSCA really didn't step up and protect civilians," Mudge said. "I've seen some contingents bravely protect and others lock themselves in their bases at the first sign of trouble."

Most attacks on peacekeepers have been carried out by militias in the southeast who accuse the U.N. of favoring Muslims, tens of thousands of whom were driven from their homes, often in apparent revenge attacks for abuses perpetrated by mainly Muslim rebels who overthrew President Francois Bozize four years ago.

The top three contributing countries to MINUSCA are Pakistan, Bangladesh and Egypt, heightening local perceptions that the U.N. force is mainly Muslim.

"The international community is throwing a lot of money out of the window," said Joseph Bendounga, a well-known radio commentator who heads a small political party. "We have a crisis in a country where the majority of the population is Christian or animist and where the troops who come to secure the country are essentially Muslims. It's just making things worse."

While U.N. officials in New York say the situation in the Central African Republic is close to catastrophic, there's no quick solution in sight for a country that's suffered decades of bad government and armed conflict. About a fifth of the nation's 5.5 million people have fled their homes, half a million of whom are sheltering in neighboring countries.

Brazil, which has just wrapped up operations in Haiti, will decide in the next few months whether to send between 700 and 900 troops to the Central African Republic, Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes said in an interview.

"What we see is a political conflict that is a consequence of the total collapse of the state's authority," Nunes said.

The Portuguese special forces have been very effective and professional, said Human Rights Watch's Mudge. "If the new contingent would do the same, it could make a big difference."


Bloomberg's Samy Adghirni contributed. Reporting for this story was supported by the International Women's Media Foundation, as part of the African Great Lakes Reporting Initiative.

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

Yellen’s legacy

By robert j. samuelson
Yellen’s legacy

WASHINGTON -- One of Washington’s permanent parlor games is how much credit or blame a president deserves for the state of the economy. Inevitably, then, the question being asked now is whether Donald Trump or Barack Obama created today’s strong economy. The correct answer is: neither. To the extent that personal responsibility can be assigned, the worthy recipient is Janet Yellen.

In practice, presidents’ influence over the economy is limited. If it were otherwise, we’d live in an economic paradise. Unemployment would always be low, wages would always rise, and recessions would never occur. No one has that kind of power. Presidents and their agencies can’t govern the business cycle.

The obvious qualification to this reality is the Federal Reserve. By regulating the flow of money and credit, the Fed stimulates or retards the economy, though not always in predictable ways. There are regular collisions between what the Fed can actually achieve and what the public thinks it should achieve. Yellen has led it since 2014 but will leave early next year and be replaced by Fed governor Jerome Powell.

Under Yellen, the economy has made huge progress. Here’s the record since she became Fed head in February 2014: Payroll employment has expanded by nearly 10 million jobs; the unemployment rate has dropped from 6.7 percent to 4.1 percent; average hourly earnings, uncorrected for inflation, rose from $24.32 to $26.55. (Corrected for inflation, the wage gain is about 4 percent -- not great but not stagnation either. The pace, if maintained, would be roughly 10 percent over a decade.)

None of this was preordained. It’s true that Yellen followed the policies of her predecessor, Ben Bernanke, but these policies were not, as Yellen has repeatedly stated, on “automatic pilot.” They required much judgment. The problem faced by Yellen was to maintain a policy of easy money long enough to promote the economy’s recovery but not so long as to feed either inflation or financial speculation.

It will be some years before a final verdict can be rendered on Yellen’s stewardship. Is the stock market overvalued? Did the Fed contribute to that? What happens if stocks crash? Questions linger.

Still, for the moment, most of Yellen’s judgments seem on the mark. Bernanke’s Fed had adopted a policy of ultra-easy money. It had reduced short-term interest rates to near zero and, in an effort to bring down long-term rates, had purchased more than $3 trillion of Treasury and home-mortgage securities. (When the Fed buys securities, their price typically goes up and their interest rate goes down.)

Yellen has slowly been reversing this policy. Since December 2015, the Fed has raised short-term interest rates five times, including an increase last week. The so-called Fed funds rate has risen to a maximum of 1.5 percent. More increases are expected in 2018. Likewise, the Fed is reducing its holdings of Treasury and mortgage securities, putting upward pressure on long-term interest rates.

All this has gone smoothly -- and that’s just the point. It wasn’t inevitable. The mechanics of raising interest rates from their ultra-low position involved new and untested procedures. There were dire predictions that things would go awry. They didn’t.

“The Fed was acutely aware that it had to be perceived as successful ... to have public support,” says economist Ken Matheny of Macroeconomic Advisers.

Given her reputation as a conciliator, Yellen may also have improved the Fed’s public standing. Remember: The chair can’t single-handedly impose policy. The Fed’s key decision-making body, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), has 12 members. Despite a tradition of deference to the chair, “you have to achieve a consensus,” says Matheny. “It’s not a dictatorship.”

Yellen leaves a solid legacy, built on professional competence, integrity and dignity.

Just what prompted President Trump to pass her over in favor of Powell is unclear. It’s not monetary policy, where both adhere to the present Fed consensus.

Trump’s decision flouts an informal custom, since the 1980s, to reappoint the Fed chair to at least a second four-year term. It may be that the president feels more comfortable with Powell. Or he may think (inaccurately?) that, if the economy weakens, he can more easily bend Powell to his will than Yellen.

Whatever the case, the irony is hard to miss. Powell’s performance, at least initially, will be compared to Yellen’s. It is a high hurdle to clear.

(c) 2017, The Washington Post Writers Group

The tax bill is worse than bad. It’s corrupt.

By e.j. dionne jr.
The tax bill is worse than bad. It’s corrupt.

WASHINGTON -- The tax bill the GOP is trying to foist on the country is not only an unfair and deficit-bloating hodgepodge written on the fly. It is also deeply corrupt. Every Republican who votes for this bill will be joining a festival of venality.

Corruption is not a word to be used lightly, so let’s be disciplined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definitions: “dishonest or illegal behavior especially by powerful people” and “inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means.”

We can stipulate that the tax bill is not illegal. But it is a dishonest power and money grab by -- and on behalf of -- the already powerful. As for “inducements,” well, there are those long-term investments of tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions (enabled by the collapse of all the guardrails around political money) from wealthy individuals and regiments of interest groups. They will have a merry holiday season if the bill passes as expected.

This legislation proves that Washington is, indeed, the “swamp” President Trump described during the campaign. But instead of draining it, he and his partisan allies have jumped right in. Actually, they have polluted it further.

A prime example of this subtle corruption is how the “compromise” bill deals with the radical scaling back of the deduction for state and local taxes. Gutting what is known as the SALT tax break sets back the common good because doing so penalizes states that (a) have progressive income taxes, and (b) have somewhat larger governments and thus tend to invest more in education, infrastructure and programs for the needy. While California, New York and New Jersey are hit hard, many other states are hurt, too.

But instead of restoring all or most of the lost deduction, Republicans offered a fig leaf compromise. Originally, the Senate bill reduced the amount that could be deducted to $10,000 and restricted it to property taxes. The new version keeps the cap while allowing the deduction to be used for sales and income taxes as well.

For most taxpayers who use the existing deduction, this doesn’t solve their problem. One estimate from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that 1.89 million Californians would still see their taxes rise under the new provision, only a modest drop from the 2.36 million who would have had a tax increase under the version confined to property taxes. Any California representative who votes for this is voting against the interests of the state.

Ah, but the Republicans (BEG ITAL)did(END ITAL) want to respond to rich New Yorkers and Californians who were howling to their usual GOP benefactors, including Trump, about their lost SALT deductions.

So rather than offer general relief, the Republicans sliced the top income tax rate -- for couples earning $600,000 or more -- from the current 39.6 percent to 37 percent. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, could not really explain why only the best off got real help, arguing lamely that middle-income people got other benefits from the bill.

The shamelessness of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s description of the bill on CNN Sunday as “a very large tax cut for working families” is quite staggering. Consider that this confection of loopholes gives lawyers at big firms many paths to lower taxes, but not much to the people who clean their offices. Soon, all Americans will demand the right to transform themselves into “pass-through” legal entities.

The bill’s champions claim that the big corporate tax cut will lead to massive new investment. But, as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (no enemy of business) pointed out, corporations are already “sitting on a record amount of cash reserves: nearly $2.3 trillion.” Bloomberg added: “It’s pure fantasy to think that the tax bill will lead to significantly higher wages and growth.”

And imagine: The “Make America Great Again” crowd appears to have designed a corporate tax system that creates new incentives to “shift profits and operations overseas,” as former Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling argued in a careful analysis. Trump probably doesn’t even know this.

The key to corruption is operating in the dark. This bill is a mess of opaque provisions that almost no one outside the ranks of tax lobbyists understands -- because many of these giveaways were written or inspired by lobbyists themselves.

Needlessly rushing a massive special-interest tax bill through Congress is the antithesis of good government. This doesn’t seem to matter anymore, even to Republicans who built reputations as champions of moderation, openness and rectitude.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Collateral damage of “credibly accused”

By kathleen parker
Collateral damage of “credibly accused”

WASHINGTON -- As the #MeToo movement gained momentum the past several weeks -- and more than a dozen powerful men accused of sexual misconduct were suspended, fired or banished into the outer darkness, it was reasonable to wonder where it would all end.

On Wednesday afternoon, it ended for Kentucky state Rep. Dan Johnson on a remote bridge, where he shot himself with a .40-caliber handgun. In an apparent suicide note posted (briefly) on Facebook, he wrote: “GOD knows the truth, nothing is the way they make it out to be . . . I cannot handle it any longer. . . BUT HEAVEN IS MY HOME.”

Johnson was referring to accusations published two days earlier by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting that he had fondled a 17-year-old friend of his daughter during a New Year’s Eve sleepover in 2013. According to his accuser, now 21, a drunk Johnson slipped his hand under her top and down her pants as she was sleeping on a couch. She begged him to stop, which, ultimately, he did.

Assuming the woman’s story is true, Johnson’s actions were reprehensible, made more so by the fact that the girl considered him “a second dad.” The betrayal of a trusted adult is a higher order of evil. The circumstances of the alleged event magnify the drama and invite condemnation seasoned with relish. The woman, whose identity is being protected, said the incident occurred at the “Pope’s House,” a fellowship hall next to the Heart of Fire Church where the well-known Republican was the self-anointed “pope” to his congregation.

Even with all of that, however, didn’t Johnson have a right to some sort of dispassionate hearing? It is convenient to think he was too ashamed to withstand what would lie ahead for him. Or, one could believe, as Johnson hoped people would, that things didn’t happen as described. That’s the trouble with weighing allegations of years-old behavior in the court of public opinion. Given that the statute of limitations precludes indictments in many of these recent cases, we’re left to decide for ourselves whether the accusers are telling the truth -- or enough truth to be convincing.

An accusation isn’t a conviction or even an indictment, of course. Yet, the Draconian actions we’ve witnessed as each case comes to light have provided cause for concern even in the most despicable of alleged offenses. We’ve rather quickly moved away from a society that embraces the suspension of judgment pending a fair trial to one in which subjective opinion -- or fear of financial repercussions -- justifies harsh sentencing.

Why have a jury-trial system at all if we’re comfortable passing judgments derived primarily from common sense-based calculus. This we know about common sense: Everyone considers theirs to be of higher quality than mine or yours. During the past couple of months, we’ve all become rather expert in dispensing verdicts, which seem to go something like this:

When several women tell similar stories of sordid encounters with the same individual, then we deem the accusations true. This was the case with Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who admitted to some of the charges. When only one accuser is involved, we tend to give the accused some benefit of the doubt. It’s when only three or four victims come forward with similar tales that we begin to hear terms such as “credible accusations” or “credibly accused.”

“Credible” accusations brought down Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore after The Washington Post conducted an extensive investigation into allegations against him. There’s no proof of anything, of course, but there was enough corroboration from other people interviewed to suggest a strong likelihood that the women were truthful.

Even if one believes all the women who have come forward thus far, there’s room for some self-doubt in our individual rushes to judgment, as well as our participation in social media’s ruthless, often-anonymous dispensations. We’re on new ground these days when everyone occupies a seat of infinite power. Thus, it may be impossible to mitigate the effects of a determined mob, especially given a zeitgeist poised to assume the worst of men and the best of women. This shift in the balance of power may feel justified at some level, but this, too, should give one pause.

Should every man who has ever made an unwelcome advance on a grown woman be ruined? In instances of poor judgement or reckless behavior, is there no punishment short of firing?

It is notable that “shame,” so long out of vogue, is in these most modern of times making a comeback, indeed, with a vengeance. Johnson’s suicide reminds us that the best of causes conducted without the usual rules of law can lead to disastrous, even fatal, consequences.

Kathleen Parker’s email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

This accused federal judge has no business sitting in judgment of others

By ruth marcus
This accused federal judge has no business sitting in judgment of others

WASHINGTON -- Of the deluge of sexual harassment stories gushing forth in recent weeks, one of the most disturbing -- one of the creepiest, really -- has also been one of the least noted: the allegations involving federal appeals court judge Alex Kozinski.

There are, certainly, more egregious fact patterns. But of the powerful and prominent men who have been accused of preying on powerless women, Kozinski occupies a uniquely troubling role: There are few jobs whose occupants are more insulated from scrutiny than that of federal judge.

That insulation is appropriate; indeed, it is constitutionally mandated. Yet as we have seen in case after case, Harvey Weinstein to Charlie Rose to John Conyers, it may be precisely that untrammeled power, the sense of invulnerability from consequences, that enables such abuse. When you’re a star -- or a judge -- they let you do it.

A week ago, The Post reported allegations that included Kozinski calling a clerk into his chambers to show her pornography and ask whether it aroused her; suggesting to a clerk for another 9th Circuit judge that she should work out naked; and making other court staffers uncomfortable with sexual innuendo or outright ogling. Friday evening, the allegations crossed the line into unwanted physical contact, with additional women coming forward, including four -- a law student, a lawyer, a law professor and a former judge -- who described Kozinski touching them without consent.

Bad enough, because Kozinski holds a lifetime appointment to the federal bench, where his duties include hearing appeals involving sexual harassment and sexual assault. Bad enough, because a judge and law clerk enjoy a relationship that is at once uniquely intimate and inherently unequal.

But it would be wrong to understand Kozinski as just one among 179 federal appeals court judges. He is among the most influential and celebrated, an icon among conservatives and -- perhaps another explanation for why the reports about his behavior took so long to surface publicly -- a reliable “feeder judge” for those seeking Supreme Court clerkships.

Kozinski has always been known as a brilliant, transgressive provocateur. His willingness to push the boundaries not only of stodgy judicial writing but also of stodgy judicial behavior was part of his charm, or so it seemed.

After the Los Angeles Times reported in 2008 that Kozinski maintained a publicly accessible website that included pornographic images, a judicial investigation reprimanded him for “poor judgment.”

Kozinski dismissed the allegations, telling the Times, “If this is all they are able to dredge up after 35 years, I am not too worried,” and, in a statement Friday, cited his “unusual sense of humor.”

It remains to be seen whether such insouciance is justified. Writing for Slate, Dahlia Lithwick recounted how, as a young clerk to a different 9th circuit judge in 1996, she called Kozinski’s chambers to firm up drink plans with one of his clerks. Kozinski himself answered the phone. Lithwick recalls: “The judge asked where I was. I said I was in my hotel room. Then he said, ‘What are you wearing?’”

Southern Methodist University law professor Joanna Grossman tweeted that during her 9th Circuit clerkship, in 1994 and 1995, “Kozinski sent a memo to all the judges suggesting that a rule prohibiting female attorneys from wearing push-up bras would be more effective than the newly convened Gender Bias Task Force.”

And, most heartbreaking, former clerk Heidi Bond, one of the women who went on the record with The Post, elaborated on Kozinski in an online essay. She described how Kozinksi, during her clerkship in 2006-2007, referred to her as his “slave” and asserted his complete “control” of her behavior.

How, after an abusive outburst, he would ask, “Heidi, honey.... Do you still love me?” and kiss her cheek, expecting a kiss in return. How he showed her a “knock chart... listing all the girls that he and his friends had banged while they were in college.” How she “felt like a prey animal.”

How the trauma of working for Kozinski almost dissuaded her from moving on to clerk for Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy. How she “could not escape the notion that my career success was built entirely on my silence.”

Even before the latest story broke, one or more Kozinski clerks took the extraordinary step of resigning, and 9th Circuit Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas ordered a judicial misconduct review. Let the process proceed - but if the behavior is anything like what has been alleged, this man has no business sitting in judgment of others.

Ruth Marcus’ email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Democrats have a pattern of bungling immigration issues

By esther j. cepeda
Democrats have a pattern of bungling immigration issues

CHICAGO -- In the past week, journalist inboxes across the country have been flooded with memos, reports and fact sheets screaming for Democrats to move quickly on passing a Dream Act before Congress’ Christmas break. The urgency is to protect the nearly 1,000 “Dreamers” each day who will lose their protection from deportation beginning next March as a result of President Trump repealing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

There have been citations of the many polls showing that great majorities of Americans (86 percent, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll in September) and even majorities of Republicans prefer allowing Dreamers to stay in the U.S.

And there have been emotional pleas for mercy, spotlighting heart-wrenching stories of fractured families. For example, Osman Enriquez, a former DACA recipient, was put in detention and separated from his fiance and infant after a routine traffic stop. Enriquez had missed a deadline to renew his deportation protections after his DACA forms were delayed in a U.S. Postal Service processing center. He was awaiting the new paperwork to reapply, but it didn’t come fast enough -- and he was taken into custody.

Lastly, there have been appeals based on neutral economic facts.

Notably, a commentary published by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) lends its support to the issue: Since the 690,000 DACA enrollees make up only about 1 percent of America’s 74.2 million millennials, they don’t represent a competitive threat to native-born young people as they search for jobs.

Additionally, MPI says that the different skill sets of DACA participants and other millennials reduce the possibility that anyone will take someone else’s job. “DACA participants were less likely than all other millennials, regardless of their race/ethnicity, to work in education, health, and social services. At the same time, black and U.S.-born Hispanic millennials were more likely to work in retail trade than DACA recipients (19 percent versus 14 percent),” the report said.

That’s all fine and good, but the fact that the immigrant advocacy PR effort is ratcheted up to 11 indicates the level of anxiety and fear surrounding Democrats’ ability to actually make something happen in the realm of immigration.

In fact, the most astute observation I’ve seen on the matter came courtesy of Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a restrictionist-leaning think tank that the far left has labeled a “hate group:”

“If the DACA amnesty is so popular, why are the Dems afraid to follow thru on their threats to shut govt over it?” Krikorian tweeted. “Don’t they think the public would support them?”

Ouch! Krikorian’s comment was in response to a Politico story about Democrats backing off from threats to shut down the government.

“Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi ... [have] subtly shifted their rhetoric in recent days and aren’t insisting that deportation relief be paired with a government funding bill this year ... [ensuring that Democrats] won’t get blamed for a possible shutdown and won’t upend Senate talks on a bipartisan deal combining relief for Dreamers with border security,” Politico reported.

Even the editorial board of the left-leaning Sacramento Bee -- the capital paper of the state with the most Hispanics and immigrants -- said that threatening a shutdown in the name of winning relief for Dreamers was a losing strategy.

Even though agreeing that legislation to help Dreamers was a noble act, the board made a fair point: “There’s also the question of whether such a tactic would play into Republicans’ hands. Trump has made no secret of his disdain for government in general, relentlessly downsizing it and refusing to fill many open positions. Who is to say he will even care if government offices remain empty for days on end?”

It seems difficult to imagine Trump not using a massive and painful shutdown to rally his base, and why would the Democrats chance it when they know that Hispanics aren’t going to vote Republican anytime in the near future and are, therefore, captive (if unenthusiastic, at this point) voters?

The bottom line is that immigrant advocacy groups have every reason to believe that suffering is on the way. After all, history has shown, time and again, that Democrats can bungle immigration issues without any real electoral consequences. Why should anyone expect this year to be different?

Esther Cepeda’s email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group


By gene weingarten

WASHINGTON -- To: Administrators, the National Medal of Science

Re: My submission for your consideration

It is rare that this prestigious prize is awarded in the field of sociology. As a forensic sociologist, I am hoping you will review my findings below and act appropriately.

I believe I have identified a new language -- more specifically, a dialect within an existing language, featuring a distinctive syntax. The core language is American English. The dialect exists mostly on Twitter and in text messaging. It is hurried and impromptu, in the modern fashion, but also highly disciplined and rule-obedient. Overwhelmingly, the practitioners of it are millennials, women and smartasses. Astonishingly, when interviewed, most seemed not to know that they have developed this patois or that they are part of a larger movement.

I shall call the language “IROL,” which is not an acronym but an appropriately truncated description of the physical act that is suggested by each communication. (If in your judgment it should henceforth be called “The Weingarten IROL,” I would humbly not object.)

Here is a classic example of the form, as created on Twitter at 11:37 p.m. on Sept. 19 by Sarah Beattie, a comedy writer: “wait if we destroy north korea and there’s a pregnant lady there isn’t that abortion we can’t have that”

Note the following characteristics, which are present in virtually all IROL communications: (1) the appearance of haste but the reality of a carefully delivered message; (2) satire and/or exasperation delivered in a saucy, dismissive manner; (3) a complete lack of punctuation, always featuring at least one run-on sentence, as though the thought was too overwhelming to control, like a sneeze. Periods are verboten. Capitals are permitted for emphasis, but seldom if ever to indicate the start of a sentence. Technically, there are no sentences.

I trace this language to a single source: “kthanksbye” (or its inexplicable phonetic derivative, “kthxbai”), which originated in the 1990s as a way to peremptorily end an online discussion and not allow a response. The form has obviously gotten far more complex.

Consider the following examples:

From young-adult novelist Lynn Weingarten (no relation), on Twitter at 2:21 p.m. on Nov. 15: “The man sitting across from me at my office space is trying to eat yogurt and granola with two coffee stirrers as a spoon and it is really horrible I’m sorry I don’t mean to sound mean but THERE ARE SO MANY SPOONS HERE can I get him one and say PLEASE JUST USE THIS?”

From my colleague Alexandra Petri, a Washington Post humor columnist: “I can tell I’m exhausted because I just told a friend ‘he is very nice’ but what I was talking about was her keyboard also it just took me three tries to spell keyboars”

Asked to explain this phenomenon, Petri texted me back: “it is part of that carefree whimsy we millennials work so hard to project. it might be sprezzatura, which someone on Twitter once accused me of. it means studied carelessness hmm I was going to say it is more free-flowing and unpretentious but the second you use the word ‘unpretentious’ to describe your own behavior it becomes a lie.”

Sarah Beattie emailed: “Well, I just think of it like my mind is vomiting. If it changes the meaning I’ll put punctuation for example I wouldn’t write I love having sex with my friends and dogs. I’d throw a comma in there.”

Noted haha LOL kthxbai

Gene Weingarten can be reached at Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon Eastern at

(c) 2017, The Washington Post Writers Group

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