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Thanksgiving stuffing (or dressing) is the dish that best reflects America's diversity

By Tim Carman
Thanksgiving stuffing (or dressing) is the dish that best reflects America's diversity
Charleston Rice Dressing. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post.

Despite its reputation, Thanksgiving dinner is not a one-size-fits-all meal, a table set in brown from coast to coast. America is too vast, too inventive and too flush with immigrants from around the globe to subscribe to a single, unified vision of the holiday feast.

The evidence is right on your table: You could argue that no other Thanksgiving staple better reflects the nation's diversity than the side dish known as stuffing. Variations abound, and they venture well beyond the choice of breads - white, corn or Pepperidge Farm - and even beyond such decisions as whether to add oysters or giblets. Americans can't even agree on a name or preparation: Some call it stuffing and bake it inside the turkey (except when they don't). Others call it dressing and bake it in a casserole (except when they don't).

Then there are those who call it filling, as in "potato filling," a Thanksgiving requirement for just about everyone in Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Sally Churgai grew up on a small farm in Howard County, Maryland, but when she married Jim Churgai in 1972, she was introduced to potato filling via her husband's maternal family. They're Pennsylvania Dutch, the often-misleading term for the German immigrants who started arriving in the state in the late 18th century, their diet rich in potatoes. Pennsylvania Dutch stuffing naturally includes spuds, often mixed with bread, butter, celery and eggs for a hearty, if plain, side.

"I thought it was a little bland," Churgai remembers about her first taste. But over time, and with a little help from added seasonings and herbs, potato filling became a staple of Churgai's own Thanksgiving feast, even after she and her husband ended their marriage of more than 20 years.

"Without it, there was no Thanksgiving," Churgai says from her home in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. "It's as important as the turkey."

Few stuffings/dressings are as identifiable with a region and culture as potato filling is with the Pennsylvania Dutch. But regional stuffings do exist, even if family migrations, food media and other factors have conspired to erase the boundaries that once limited these dishes to certain geographic areas. In New England, cooks rely on Bell's Seasoning to flavor their stuffing. In Minnesota, they prepare a stuffing with wild rice, the aquatic grass that grows abundantly in the state. And in New Mexico, they make a corn bread stuffing with Hatch chiles.

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that cooks in these regions sometimes make these stuffings. It's almost impossible to generalize about stuffing anymore.

In October, I polled friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter to find the answers to two basic questions: Where did you grow up, and what kind of stuffing was on your Thanksgiving table? More than 150 people responded - hardly the sample size pollsters want when surveying the United States, but the results, plotted on Google Maps, revealed a few regional and cultural trends.

Some were obvious: Cajun-style dressings in Louisiana and Texas, and Italian-style stuffings in New York and New Jersey, where one Newark family has enjoyed a Thanksgiving stuffing made with corn bread, hot and sweet Italian sausages and Parmesan. But there were also vestiges of once-proud Thanksgiving traditions, like the chestnut stuffings that used to grace holiday tables across the eastern states before a fungus nearly wiped out the American chestnut tree in the early 20th century. You can still find families from Connecticut to North Carolina clinging to their chestnut stuffing, thanks to farmers growing trees now resistant to the chestnut blight that was accidentally introduced from Japan.

"I do distinctly remember my grandfather getting aggravated at trying to handle the hot chestnuts," recalled Francine Cohen in a Facebook remembrance of the stuffings of her Mid-Atlantic youth. "We fondly referred to the whole process of making stuffing as the 'annual yelling at the chestnuts.' "

But other stuffings and dressings have migrated far from the regions associated with them. Corn-bread-based stuffings are no longer limited to the South, where the preferred term is "dressing," a fact substantiated by Google Correlate, which shows that far more Southern states use the search term "Thanksgiving dressing recipe." People told me that their families made corn bread stuffing in Missouri, Washington state and Pennsylvania.

Likewise, oyster stuffing can be found in homes far from such major bodies of water as the Gulf of Mexico or the Chesapeake Bay. You'll find it in Michigan and Indiana, states not known for their bivalve aquaculture. Oyster stuffing in the Midwest may be just another sign of America's prowess at moving highly perishable, and potentially dangerous, products across great distances. But there's something else at play here, too.

Michael Stern, one-half of the Roadfood duo that has roamed the United States for decades in search of local specialties, equates the collapsing boundaries around the regional stuffings with the blurred lines in American barbecue. The wealth of regional recipes at our fingertips - on personal blogs, online magazines, Pinterest, YouTube videos, etc. - has made Americans "more aware and interested in what people are cooking in other parts of the country," he says.

At the same time, Stern doesn't view this streak of Thanksgiving experimentalism as the death of regional stuffings. He says it's more of an expansion.

"There might be an alternative [stuffing] for the more adventurous, but God forbid if you serve only the alternative," Stern says. "It's important for people to recognize their traditions. People don't want to throw away what they've always done in the past."

Perhaps more than any other dish, stuffing underscores Thanksgiving's complicated relationship with tradition. As children, we were often told that the holiday's central feast - a bronzed turkey with all the trimmings - could trace its origins back to 1621, when colonists and Wampanoag people first gathered around the table. Only later did we learn that the autumnal meal was largely cobbled together and promoted by other folks, including a 19th-century writer and editor who pushed to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Bread stuffing probably never appeared at the "first Thanksgiving," though cooks at the time probably stuffed fowl with nuts, oats, onions and herbs. More than 200 years later, in 1829, New England author and abolitionist Lydia Maria Child published "The Frugal Housewife," one of the first American cookbooks to target households without servants. In her section on turkey, Child suggested a stuffing of either pounded crackers or crumbled bread, with salt pork and sage (or sweet marjoram), perhaps bound with an egg to make the dish easier to cut.

"But [it] is not worth while when eggs are dear," Child noted.

Child's approach, emphasizing practicality and flexibility, has basically served as a template for all stuffings since. Stuffings based on local ingredients. Stuffings based on ingredients familiar to immigrants looking to assimilate into American culture. (Think Laotian sticky rice stuffing with chestnuts or Greek gemista stuffing with rice and giblets.)

"I talked to some Asian-American friends and asked them what they cooked for Thanksgiving stuffing," says author Diane Morgan, who has written several holiday cookbooks, including "The New Thanksgiving Table." "They were mostly doing some variation of rice with Chinese sausage. So it wasn't straying too far from their foods and incorporating them into a Thanksgiving meal."

Corporate America would eventually worm its way into the Thanksgiving dinner, offering the ease of convenience, that mid-20th-century buzzword that would give rise to stuffing products such as Pepperidge Farm and Stove Top, among others. Numerous people in my survey said that they grew up on stuffing made with Pepperidge Farm mixes.

Each stuffing is American in its own, sometimes complicated, way. But could there be a stuffing more American than the one White Castle unleashed on the country in 1991, purportedly a creation of a company employee who adapted her grandmother's recipe? It's a stuffing built with hamburgers, from a fast-food chain that debuted in the American heartland.

Many years ago, Therese Lewis, a culinary manager for Dierbergs Markets in the St. Louis area, served the White Castle dressing to her family on a dare. Personally, Lewis has a soft spot for White Castle. She grew up with its juicy sliders, steam-grilled over chopped onions. But she wasn't sure how those fast-food flavors would translate to the Thanksgiving table. So she didn't tell her kids what was in the stuffing.

"They loved it!" Lewis recalls. So much that she now must serve the White Castle side dish every year, her own Midwestern spin on the ever-evolving Thanksgiving stuffing.

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Charleston Rice Dressing

6 to 8 servings

Large silver rice spoons are a regular implement in South Carolina, used to spoon this dressing out of fowl, particularly turkey.

MAKE AHEAD: The dressing can be refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.

Adapted from "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking," by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart (Gibbs Smith, 2012).

Ingredients

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

8 ounces chicken livers (may substitute giblets and liver from 1 turkey), cleaned

Kosher salt

1 medium onion, chopped (1 cup)

2 or 3 large ribs celery (1 cup)

2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced

6 cups steamed white rice

1 cup no-salt-added turkey stock or low-sodium chicken broth, or more as needed

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup packed chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme and sage

Steps

Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat. Stir in the giblets and liver and season with a hefty pinch of salt; cook for about 15 minutes, until golden brown, stirring a few times. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a plate.

Add the onion and celery to the pan; cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic (to taste) and cook for 1 minute, or until just fragrant.

Meanwhile, coarsely chop the chicken livers.

Stir the rice into the pan, adding stock or broth, as needed, to create a moist mixture, then add meat, pecans and herbs, stirring to incorporate.

Serve warm, as is, or cool completely for use as a stuffing or dressing.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 8): 350 calories, 10 g protein, 38 g carbohydrates, 18 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 130 mg cholesterol, 80 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugar

- - -

Grandma Jerry's Stuffing

12 to 16 servings

This is a generous, eggless rendition that earns its New Jersey chops by using two kinds of Italian sausage and topping of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The family recipe comes by way of descendant David Smelson and is named for Grandma Jerry, whose name was Violet. She was a Polish-Catholic immigrant who married a Jewish-Eastern European immigrant named James Smelson. They both grew up in Newark.

MAKE AHEAD: The stuffing mixture, minus its broth, can be assembled and refrigerated a day in advance. The baked stuffing can be reheated, covered, in a 300-degree oven until warmed through.

Adapted from food blogger David Smelson.

Ingredients

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter

2 large yellow onions, cut into small dice (about 3 cups)

1 clove garlic, minced

2 ribs celery, thinly sliced

1 pound sweet Italian bulk sausage

1 pound hot Italian bulk sausage

10 large basil leaves, rolled and cut into thin ribbons (3 tablespoons chiffonade; may substitute 1 tablespoon dried basil)

10 to 12 fresh sage leaves, rolled and cut into thin ribbons (3 tablespoons chiffonade; may substitute 1 tablespoon dried sage)

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (may substitute 1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves)

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

28 ounces (2 bags) dried corn bread stuffing cubes, preferably unseasoned

2 cups homemade chicken broth or no-salt-added dark/rich chicken broth, or more as needed

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Steps

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease 2 or 3 large baking dishes or casseroles.

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the onions, garlic and celery. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, adding another 2 to 4 tablespoons of butter, as needed, until the onions and celery have become translucent. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl.

Add the two kinds of sausage in pinches to the pan; cook 12 to 15 minutes, until it loses its raw look, breaking it up into smaller pieces as it cooks. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to the mixing bowl. Discard the rendered fat in the pan.

Add the herbs, lemon zest and corn bread cubes to the bowl, stirring to incorporate. Gradually pour in the stock or broth, stirring to distribute it evenly.

Divide the stuffing mixture among the casserole or baking dishes; you should have enough to also put some inside a turkey, if desired.

Melt the remaining butter, then use it all to drizzle over the stuffing. Scatter the cheese on top. Cover with aluminum foil and bake (middle rack) for 30 minutes, then uncover and check for dryness; add more stock or broth if the stuffing seems dry, then cover and bake a bit longer. If it seems too wet, leave it uncovered and bake for another 15 minutes.

Serve warm.

Nutrition | Per serving: 410 calories, 12 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 25 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 970 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

- - -

Nana's Andouille and Corn Bread Dressing

8 to 10 servings

Reader Kate Harrington of San Antonio says this side has been on the table at Thanksgiving and Christmas in her family for at least three generations.

MAKE AHEAD: The giblets can be cooked, cooled and refrigerated a day or two in advance. The dressing can be assembled, without the broth, and refrigerated a day in advance.

From a recipe by her grandmother Norma Harrington, who lived in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Ingredients

4 cups water, or more as needed

1 packet turkey giblets (from a whole turkey); can substitute 6 ounces cleaned chicken livers

Two 8.5-ounce packages Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix

2 large eggs

2/3 cup whole or low-fat milk

1/4 cup sugar

Canola oil, as needed

8 ounces cooked/cured (pork) andouille sausage, chopped

1 large white onion, diced

1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and diced

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/4 packed cup chopped parsley

Leaves from 1 sprig fresh rosemary or thyme

2 teaspoons Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning or other Cajun seasoning blend

Steps

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the giblets; once the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to medium/medium-low (so it is barely bubbling) and cook for 1 hour, adding water as needed. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the giblets to a plate to cool, and reserve the cooking liquid.

Cut the cooled giblets into small pieces.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or casserole with tall sides. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Whisk together the Jiffy mixes, eggs, milk and sugar in a mixing bowl, to form a lumpy batter. Pour into the baking dish; bake (middle rack) for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool.

Meanwhile, use enough canola oil to coat the bottom and sides of a large cast-iron skillet, then place over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the andouille sausage; cook, stirring often, until it has all browned nicely. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium; stir in the onion, green bell pepper and celery so that they're evenly coated. Cook until the onions are translucent but have not picked up any color, adding oil as needed to prevent sticking. Remove from the heat.

Crumble the cooled corn bread into a large mixing bowl, then stir in the chopped giblets, sausage, onion mixture, parsley and rosemary or thyme; toss well, then add the Cajun seasoning blend and stir to incorporate.

Press the dressing mixture into the baking dish so that it is firmly packed, then pour the giblet cooking liquid evenly over the top. You may not use all the liquid; but it should be at the point where it is no longer being absorbed. Bake (middle rack) for 30 to 40 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and still moist inside. Cool slightly before serving.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 10): 320 calories, 11 g protein, 43 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 110 mg cholesterol, 880 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 16 g sugar

- - -

Pennsylvania Dutch-Style Potato Filling

10 servings

A staple of Pennsylvania Dutch country, potato filling is a side dish built with butter - and more butter. Consider yourself warned. The dish is also something of a carb hog, injecting the autumnal flavors of traditional Thanksgiving stuffing into mashed potatoes. As such, you likely won't need another potato dish on the holiday table, unless it's the sweet variety.

MAKE AHEAD: The filling can be assembled and refrigerated a day in advance.

Adapted from recipes by Sally Churgai of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and Bonnie Boyer from CookingChannel.com.

Ingredients

20 tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter

4 ribs celery (trimmed), diced

1 medium onion, diced

5 slices white bread, cut into 1/2-inch squares (crusts on)

3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

1/4 cup regular or low-fat milk

1 large egg

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Steps

Melt 12 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in the celery and onion; cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned at the edges.

Add the bread pieces; cook for about 10 minutes, stirring gently, until they absorb the butter in the pan and their crusts have slightly crisped. Be careful not to burn the onion, which will be somewhat caramelized and turn a deeper shade of brown. Let cool.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease a 3-quart baking dish or casserole.

Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water by an inch or two. Add 1/2 teaspoon of the salt to the water; bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium; cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until tender, then drain and return them to the pot. Mash them gently, then immediately fold in the milk, egg, the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter and a teaspoon of salt, stirring until the butter has melted.

Add the bread mixture to the pot, along with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and stir until incorporated. Spoon the mixture into the baking dish or casserole; bake (middle rack) for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the edges start to brown and pull away from the sides of the dish.

Serve hot.

Nutrition | Per serving: 380 calories, 5 g protein, 37 g carbohydrates, 24 g fat, 15 g saturated fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 360 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

- - -

West Coast Oyster Dressing

12 to 16 servings

This recipe typically uses Olympia oysters from the southern Puget Sound, which are said to have a sweet, metallic, celery-salt flavor. If they aren't available, ask your fishmonger for an oyster with a similar flavor profile.

MAKE AHEAD: The sourdough bread cubes can be dried in the oven several days in advance and stored in an airtight container. The dressing's vegetables can be cooked and refrigerated a day in advance. The dressing is best served the same day it's made.

Adapted from a recipe by Santa Barbara, California, resident Carol Dickey.

Ingredients

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish

2 medium onions, coarsely chopped

3 ribs celery, cut into small dice

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed, as needed

1 cup homemade or low-sodium chicken broth or turkey stock, plus more as needed

1-pound loaf sourdough bread, cut into cubes and dried in the oven (see NOTE)

1 tablespoon poultry seasoning blend

2 cups shucked small West Coast oysters, coarsely chopped, plus their liquor (see headnote)

Steps

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use some butter to generously grease a large baking dish or casserole.

Melt the 8 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onions and celery. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, combine the mushrooms and broth in a separate saute pan over medium heat. Cook 10 minutes until tender and most of the liquids in the pan have evaporated.

Place the dried sourdough bread cubes in a large mixing bowl. Add the onion mixture, the mushrooms, the poultry seasoning blend; toss to incorporate, then add the oysters and their liquor and toss so that the dressing is evenly moistened. Add more broth, as needed. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Pack the dressing into the baking dish or casserole. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake (middle rack) for about 45 minutes, then uncover and bake for about 15 minutes, or until nicely browned on top.

Serve warm.

NOTE: Spread the bread cubes on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 10 minutes until they are crisped but not browned. Cool completely.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 16): 160 calories, 7 g protein, 18 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 210 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar

- - -

White Castle Dressing

8 to 12 servings

Using the square sliders created by this Midwestern chain restaurant makes sense as the base of a quick Thanksgiving side: They bring the onion, meat and bread to this basic recipe, which is said to have been created by a White Castle employee who "enhanced her grandmother's family stuffing recipe with a sack of those hamburgers."

These days, you don't need to find one of the company's restaurants to acquire the hamburgers; they are sold in the frozen section of supermarkets and some drug stores.

MAKE AHEAD: The dressing can be assembled and refrigerated (unbaked) a day in advance.

From a recipe provided by Marianne Moore, chef and creative culinary director of Dierbergs School of Cooking in Chesterfield, Missouri, based on the 1991 White Castle stuffing recipe.

Ingredients

12 White Castle Hamburgers (not cheeseburgers; see headnote)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 ribs celery stalks, chopped (about 1 cup)

6 fresh sage leaves, minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth or turkey stock

Steps

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease a 3-quart casserole.

Remove pickles from the burgers, as needed, then cut the burgers into chunks and place in a mixing bowl.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the garlic and cook for about 20 seconds, until fragrant, then stir in the celery and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Remove from the heat, and add the sage, thyme and pepper, stirring to incorporate.

Transfer to the mixing bowl, add 1/2 cup of the broth or stock and stir until evenly moistened; add some or all the remaining broth or stock, as needed. Taste and adjust the pepper, as needed.

Bake (middle rack) for 30 to 40 minutes, until crisped on top. Serve warm.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 12): 160 calories, 7 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 190 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar

These are the melting glaciers that might someday drown your city, according to NASA

By Chris Mooney
These are the melting glaciers that might someday drown your city, according to NASA
This NASA Earth Observatory image obtained July 27, 2012, shows a massive ice island as it broke free of the Petermann Glacier in northwestern Greenland. MUST CREDIT: Handout photo by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon/NASA Earth Observatory

New York City has plenty to worry about from sea level rise. But according to a new study by NASA researchers, it should worry specifically about two major glacier systems in Greenland's northeast and northwest - but not so much about other parts of the vast northern ice sheet.

The research draws on a curious and counterintuitive insight that sea level researchers have emphasized in recent years: As ocean levels rise around the globe, they will not do so evenly. Rather, because of the enormous scale of the ice masses that are melting and feeding the oceans, there will be gravitational effects and even subtle effects on the crust and rotation of the Earth. This, in turn, will leave behind a particular "fingerprint" of sea level rise, depending on when and precisely which parts of Greenland or Antarctica collapse.

Now, Eric Larour, Erik Ivins and Surendra Adhikari of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have teased out one fascinating implication of this finding: Different cities should fear the collapse of different large glaciers.

"It tells you what is the rate of increase of sea level in that city with respect to the rate of change of ice masses everywhere in the world," Larour said of the new tool his team created.

The research was published in Science Advances, accompanied by an online feature that allows you to choose from among 293 coastal cities and see how certain ice masses could affect them if the ice enters the ocean. The scientists also released a video that captures some of how it works.

The upshot is that New York needs to worry about certain parts of Greenland collapsing, but not so much others. Sydney, however, needs to worry about the loss of particular sectors of Antarctica - the ones farther away from it - and not so much about the ones nearer. And so on.

This is the case because sea level actually decreases near a large ice body that loses mass, because that mass no longer exerts the same gravitational pull on the ocean, which accordingly shifts farther away. This means that from a sea level rise perspective, one of the safest things is to live close to a large ice mass that is melting.

"If you are close enough, then the effect of ice loss will be a sea level drop, not sea level rise," said Adhikari. The effect is immediate across the globe.

Indeed, the research shows that for cities like Oslo and Reykjavik, which are close to Greenland, a collapse of many of the ice sheet's key sectors would lower, not raise, the local sea level. (These places have more to fear from ice loss in Antarctica, even though it is much farther away.)

The risk is mainly from the northern parts of Greenland and especially from the ice sheet's northeast, according to research.

This is revealing because while Greenland has hundreds of glaciers, three in particular are known to pose the greatest sea level risk because of their size and, if they collapse, how they could allow the ocean to reach deep into the remaining ice sheet, continually driving more ice loss. The three most threatening by far are Jakobshavn glacier on Greenland's central western coast, Petermann glacier in its far northwest and Zachariae glacier in the far northeast. Zachariae is partof a massive feature known as the Northeast Greenland Ice Stream, which reaches all the way to the center of the ice sheet and through which fully 12 percent of Greenland's total ice flows.

The new research shows that Petermann, and especially the northeast ice stream, are a far bigger threat to New York than Jakobshavn is.

In a high-end global warming scenario run out for 200 years, the study reported, Petermann glacier would cause 3.23 inches of globally averaged sea level rise, the northeast ice stream would cause 4.17 inches, and Jakobshavn would cause 1.73 inches. Of this total, New York would see two inches of rise from Petermann, 2.83 inches from the Northeast ice stream and just 0.6 inches from Jakobshavn.

This all really matters because in the real world, glaciers are melting at very different rates. Jakobshavn is the biggest ice loser from Greenland and is beating a very rapid retreat at the moment. Zachariae is starting to lose ice and looking increasingly worrisome, but still nothing like Jakobshavn. Petermann is holding up the best, for now, though it has lost large parts of the floating ice shelf that stabilizes it and holds it in place.

You will note that in no case does New York get the full effect of ice loss from any of these parts of Greenland - it's still far too close to the ice sheet. But Miami gets 95 percent of the globe's total sea level rise from the northeast ice stream, while distant Rio de Janeiro gets 124 percent, or over five inches in the scenario above.

The same goes for Antarctica - its melting, too, will have differential effects around the world. And that matters even more because the ice masses that could be lost are considerably larger than in Greenland. Antarctica, like Greenland, is melting at different rates. Substantialice loss is already happening in west Antarctica and in the Antarctic peninsula. Meanwhile, although scientists are watching the far larger eastern Antarctica carefully, so far it's not contributing nearly as much to sea level rise.

Farther away - like, say, New York - Antarctic loss is a big deal. Research has shown that if west Antarctica collapses, the U.S. East Coast would see morethan the average global sea level rise.

The current research does not take into account all aspects of sea level rise. Shifting ocean currents can redistribute the mass of the oceans and change sea level, for instance, and as global warming progresses, it causes seawater to expand, and thus a steady rise in seas.

Overall, though, the new study underscores a common theme of recent climate developments: We are now altering the Earth on such a massive scale that it puts us at the mercy of fundamental laws of physics as they mete out the consequences.

She led Trump to Christ: The rise of the televangelist who advises the White House

By Julia Duin
She led Trump to Christ: The rise of the televangelist who advises the White House
Paula White gives a sermon before the congregation at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md. Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal lawyer, told me by email:

It was an early afternoon in late July, and Paula White was holding court before an audience of about 25 Southern Baptist ministers in an ornate diplomatic reception room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The televangelist was recounting one of her favorite stories - about when Donald Trump reached out to her in 2011 for guidance on a possible White House run. "Would you bring some people around me to pray?" she said he asked her. "I really want to hear from God."

White recalled that she and another pastor gathered about 30 ministers from different evangelical Christian traditions at Trump Tower in Manhattan. After the prayer session, when Trump asked her what she thought, she responded: "I don't feel it's the right timing."

He listened, she continued, and the two talked and prayed about the matter over the next four years. When White again gathered religious leaders at Trump Tower in September 2015, she backed the decision he'd already made to run. Videos on YouTube of that event show her standing on his right, head down, laying hands on him as she prayed.

So here she was in the summer of 2017 at the head of a long table in the Executive Office Building, a huge French-Empire structure just steps from the White House, addressing a group of religious leaders who had been invited to Washington by the president's evangelical advisory council. With her blond hair, scarlet Oscar de la Renta sheath dress and matching patent leather stilettos, she was a bright bird among the forest of dark-suited clergymen - and, she made it clear, the one with the access to Trump. "The president says hello," she told them. "I was with him first thing this morning."

Because of White, evangelicals have "an unprecedented opportunity to have our voice and say heard" in the Oval Office, Tim Clinton, president of the American Association of Christian Counselors, informed the assembled pastors. "God has placed Paula in a unique place for such a time as this."

Not all Christians, including evangelicals, are fans of the wealthy, thrice-married White, who has long been associated with the prosperity gospel, a set of beliefs that says God will reward faith, and very generous giving, with financial blessings. Detractors point to a congressional investigation of her former church's finances and accusations that she has taken advantage of her mostly African American parishioners through her fundraising. Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore has called her a "charlatan," conservative Christian writer Erick Erickson has said she's a "Trinity-denying heretic," and Christian rapper Shai Linne named her a "false teacher" in one of his songs.

But since the election, White's star has soared. She offered a prayer at Trump's inauguration (becoming the first clergywoman in history in such a role). She sat by the president at a private dinner for evangelical leaders on the eve of the National Day of Prayer. She has hovered close by during prayer sessions in the Oval Office. She was present when Trump met with advisers to discuss the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, she told me, she has turned many of her duties as a pastor of a large church in Apopka, Florida, over to associates as she jets to the White House an average of once a week. (The Trump White House does not release visitor logs, so it's difficult to confirm how often White is there.)

---

White has no title and no official position at the White House but plays several roles. After helping to put together an evangelical council for Trump during the campaign, she is now, she explains to me, the convener and de facto head of a group of about 35 evangelical pastors, activists and heads of Christian organizations who advise Trump. (The White House would not release a list of members, but other names associated with this group include Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Billy Graham's son Franklin Graham, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., conservative political activist Ralph Reed and Dallas-based pastor Robert Jeffress.) She also acts as pastor to the president. And in the words of Johnnie Moore, the evangelical advisory council's unofficial spokesman and White's publicist, she serves as "part life coach, part pastor" for White House staff.

It isn't easy to discern how much influence White has with the president. Michael D'Antonio, author of the 2015 biography "The Truth About Trump," says he had never heard of White before the election. "White is deemed by many to be a deceptive poseur, who is long on self-promotion and short on substance," he said in an email. (White, in response, said she has never encountered D'Antonio. "And clearly," she emailed me, "he hasn't a clue about what he's talking about.")

Others say White has played a significant role in Trump's life. Last June, Dobson identified her as someone who had known Trump for years and "personally led him to Christ." Michael Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer, told me by email: "She's very influential. She has been close to Trump and the family for many years." Trump's son Eric sent me this statement: "Paula is a terrific woman and a wonderful friend to our entire family. We are very grateful for her support and guidance. Faith is so important and Pastor White continues to be an inspiration to all those who know her."

White seldom grants interviews, but she recently spoke to me on several occasions and allowed me to shadow her during a visit to Washington - a visit that included meetings with fellow evangelists and White House staffers, a prayer gathering and a Journey concert. (Her husband, Jonathan Cain, is the band's keyboardist. Since her 2014 marriage, she has segued into calling herself Paula White-Cain on social media but hangs on to Paula White as her brand for professional reasons.) We also met two months later in Nashville, Tennessee, where she spoke to journalists at a Religion News Association conference.

Some details of the friendship between Trump and White have to be taken as a matter of faith, because the White House turned down my request to interview the president. But when I emailed the claims White made in this article about Trump, an official responded that while the assertions hadn't been fact-checked, "None of the below jumps out as being inaccurate." When asked for a comment on White, Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, responded: "Reverend Paula White has been a friend and faith leader to the President for many years. Her support is a tremendous asset for which the President is grateful."

Trump is not an active member of any church, has publicly said he doesn't need to ask God for forgiveness, and infamously bragged about sexually assaulting women. But bring up those issues with White, and she responds with the story of Jesus speaking with an adulterous Samaritan woman at a well. "He didn't lord it over her but sat with her," she says. "He gets down in the dirty places of life. Does that make Jesus complicit with an adulteress? No. Because you stand with people doesn't mean you're complicit with them." Later she tells me, "I don't give up on people. I don't have a dimmer switch. It's who I am. Until I am kicked out, I will be with you. I don't abandon people. I just don't."

---

How did a onetime "messed-up Mississippi girl" become a spiritual counselor to the president? White often points to her tumultuous childhood as a source of her grit. Now 51, she was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, to Donald and Janelle Furr. Her father committed suicide when she was 5, and her mother scraped together a living for Paula and her half brother Mark until she remarried.

White's mother - now 76 and named Janelle Loar - says her daughter was energetic and outgoing from the beginning. "She was born breech and she hasn't slowed down since," Loar told me. "She interacted with everyone she came across. She was a sweet kid, a very good student." Another element of White's personality showed up in childhood as well: "She was very tenacious in whatever she decided to do. In gymnastics, there was a certain flip she couldn't do, but she wouldn't give up. She never gives up."

White says she was molested from age 6 to 13 by a string of caregivers, relatives and neighbors, which contributed to her becoming a promiscuous and bulimic teenager. Her mother says she was unaware of the abuse at the time. "I only found out when she opened up and wrote about it," Loar says. "It shocked me, and it was a horrifying thing to hear."

After her mother remarried, the family moved to Maryland, where Paula graduated from Seneca Valley High School in Germantown, Maryland, in 1984. She became a born-again Christian that same year. After getting pregnant the following February, White married the father, a local musician named Dean Knight, and their son was born in November 1985.

"She was very attractive, which was the first thing that caught my eye," recalls Knight, 52, who owns a janitorial service near Frederick, Maryland, and is the lead vocalist in a family country-rock band called the Knight Brothers. "Her hair color was different - she was a brunette - but she was always beautiful. And she was a little wild. We were a little crazy in our youth."

White attended a Bible school at the Pentecostal-oriented National Church of God in Fort Washington, Maryland. Though she did not graduate, she was nevertheless ordained as a nondenominational minister by the church's leader, the late Rev. T.L. Lowery. While doing inner-city ministry and working with D.C. homeless advocate Mitch Snyder, she became interested in serving those communities. She met a lot of black preachers, and, according to her son, Bradley Knight, she began to pick up their vocabulary and cadence. "The black community told her, 'You're a white girl who preaches black,' " he says.

Meanwhile, in 1987, Dean Knight recalls, "I was in a head-on collision. It ripped me apart and it really put a damper on a lot of things. It was after that that things started falling apart" in their marriage.

Paula was attending Damascus Church of God in Maryland - part of the same denomination as the National Church of God - where she met Randy White, the associate pastor, who was married with three children. The two divorced their spouses in 1989 and married each other a year later, leaving the Washington area for his new job as a youth minister in Tampa.

The Whites established their own congregation in 1991, which would later become Without Walls International Church. Over the next decade, Paula blossomed as a pastor. T.D. Jakes, a televangelist and megachurch pastor in Dallas, became a mentor, giving White name recognition among his huge, largely black fan base. And the Whites began broadcasting their message on a regional Christian television network that reached listeners across Florida - including a restless business tycoon at Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach.

---

White thinks it was late 2001 or early 2002 when Donald Trump called. "You're fantastic; you've got the 'it' factor," she says he told her.

"Well, that's God's presence," she responded. He repeated almost verbatim some of her sermons back to her, then confided that he often watched not only Billy Graham, but evangelists like Jimmy Swaggart and songwriter Bill Gaither on Christian TV.

This guy is hungry for God, she thought. As they talked further, she learned that he had attended church as a youth and been confirmed in the Presbyterian Church - so he had some of the basics of the faith. He seemed curious about how her pragmatic, businesslike take on religion could relate to his life. "I was talking about vision being a spiritual and mental picture of your future that is forceful enough to mold your present," she says.

Meanwhile, she had ambitions of her own. "I felt the Lord said to me to go on [national] TV," she says. In late 2001, she signed a $1.5 million contract with Black Entertainment Television for a show called "Paula White Today." She was a hit, tackling tough issues, such as family problems, money and loneliness, Oprah-style. "She was honest about her shortcomings," wrote Phillip Luke Sinitiere, whose 2009 book, "Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace," has a chapter on White. "Her message infused an emphasis on God's transforming power with the raw and honest faith of postmodern confessional culture."

White says it was around this point that she began to preach prosperity theology. Years later, she would disavow some aspects of that belief system and acknowledge "God's presence and blessing in suffering as much as in times of prosperity." But at the time, she reasoned that the prosperity gospel's emphasis on giving was the only way an evangelist could get on television and stay there. "Ministry takes money, and you have to raise the funds," she says.

She also diversified, getting into life coaching and motivational speaking along with women's wellness retreats, ministry to icons such as pop star Michael Jackson and baseball great Darryl Strawberry, and a spate of self-help books ("He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: What Every Woman Needs to Know About Unconditional Love but Is Afraid to Feel"; "Daily Treasures: Words of Wisdom for the Power-Filled Life")."The theme of my life is overcoming," she says. "It is my personal mantra and what I help other people do."

Her message attracted millions of watchers. "You know you're on to something new and significant when the most popular woman preacher on the Black Entertainment Network is a white woman," Ebony magazine reported in 2004, quoting one of her admirers. Her church, Without Walls, zoomed past 20,000 in attendance and attracted a mix of black, Asian and Latino attendees rarely seen in a congregation headed by a white couple.

"Paula White is an incredible trailblazer," says Clemson University political science professor Laura Olson. "Like it or not, she is extraordinary for what she has accomplished. She's willing to be feminine, to be the wife, to take direction from her husband in certain areas, but then she's leading a congregation - and not just a congregation of white people but of African Americans. How many white women do that?"

---

White's success drew Trump to her as well. "Are you ever up in New York?" he asked her during one of their subsequent calls. "Well, I am sometimes," she responded, thinking of a Bible study she was leading for the New York Yankees at the time. "The Apprentice," a reality show produced by and starring Trump, had started in early 2004, and she says he wanted her to be on the set, especially during the first season, for informal Bible studies or prayer for whoever wanted it.

A quick survey of more than a dozen "Apprentice" alumni didn't unearth anyone who recalled her presence during the seasons they were with the show. But White says she remembers specific people who asked for her books and prayers. "I went to different episodes, different tapings, and I was at the finales for one or two of the shows," she says. "There were people I began to meet with, and there was a lot of prayer for a lot of people."

Including Trump. During one of their early New York encounters, "I walked in and said, 'I don't want your money, I don't want your fame, I want your soul,' " she remembers. "He just looked at me." The two clicked, and somewhere along the line, White apparently got her wish, though she is reluctant to offer further details. "Yes, there was an absolute moment that he received Jesus as Lord and Savior," she says. "I have led many high-profile people to the Lord."

White was a rarity in Trump's life: someone who was almost as famous and well-off as he was, who didn't need his influence or power. She invited him to appear on her show in 2006. And she bought a $3.5 million condo in Trump Tower - with money from her businesses, she says, not the church.

But her marriage and her empire were crumbling. By 2003, the Whites had begun marital counseling; their marriage was further strained by the terminal illness of one of Randy's daughters and Paula's son's involvement with drugs. The Whites announced the end of their marriage in August 2007. The divorce was complicated by their extensive financial assets - a church that was bringing in $40 million a year, plus proceeds from the couple's many business ventures. Meanwhile, the Whites' lavish lifestyles, which included a private jet and a $2.6 million, 8,072-square-foot home, had drawn the attention of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a member of the Senate Finance Committee. In November 2007, the committee announced that Without Walls and Paula White Ministries would be investigated for misuse of donations, along with five other prosperity-gospel organizations.

In 2010, the Grassley committee closed down the investigation without penalizing anyone, though it released documents that remain online. The 13-page report about the Whites, which includes a number of allegations about their apparent appropriation of church and ministry finances for personal use, said theirs was one of four ministries that did not fully cooperate with investigators. One of the problems investigators ran into, the report says, was that Without Walls had required all employees to sign lifelong confidentiality agreements. White insists her ministry cooperated until it was told private donor information would be published. However, Jill Gerber, Grassley's communications manager, says the committee neither requested nor reviewed such information. "I think that was a canard on the Whites' part to avoid being responsive," Gerber says. After the divorce, Randy White stayed at Without Walls, though Paula filled in as pastor while he was out of the ministry and in rehab from 2009 to 2012. The church filed for bankruptcy in 2014.

White explains how she hung on throughout the divorce and investigation: "I built up spiritual stamina, even though so much in my life was dying," she says. And the Trump family was there to help. "When she went through hard times, the first people to call her were Mr. and Mrs. Trump," says Jay Strack, a Southern Baptist evangelist who became friends with White last year. "She knows the real Donald Trump, obviously."

---

Bradley Knight, almost 32, is White's only biological child and an associate pastor at New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Florida, the church his mother took over in 2012 after its founder, the Rev. Zachery Tims, died of a drug overdose. He can quote feminist theory, has a tattoo on his back from his anarchist days (it reads "Neither master nor slave") and is working on a second bachelor's degree at the University of Central Florida, where he is studying philosophy and women's studies. Even though he enjoys conservative thinkers, he's a registered Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton in the last election. (White's mother also doesn't share her politics. "We don't always agree," Loar says. "I am a Democrat, she's a Republican, but we love each other.") An atheist for much of his young adult life, he was a theater major walking through the University of Tampa cafeteria in August 2007 when he saw news of his mother's divorce on CNN. "I always feel bad for kids of high-profile people," he says now. "There's so much that people don't know. I felt it was wrong to take something sacred and make it everyone's public business."

Another crisis exploded when White and evangelist Benny Hinn were photographed holding hands on a street in Rome in July 2010. The National Enquirer ran a double-page spread of the two of them, along with a photo of a hotel room in which they allegedly stayed. Both Hinn and White said they were just friends (although Hinn later admitted it was "inappropriate" to be spending time with a woman he was not married to). White says she disputed the piece with the Enquirer and reached a confidential settlement. (A lawyer for the Enquirer says he knew of no such arrangement.)

"When the National Enquirer did that piece," says Moore, White's publicist, "Trump asked why she didn't call him because he has a relationship with them. With the apartment [she bought in Trump Tower], he was willing to give her a discount. From the beginning of their friendship, she decided that she would never ask him for a favor, and she hasn't. That has contributed to the trust between them."

It was about this time that White was on a flight to San Antonio that was also carrying the band Journey. "Paula walks on board with all sorts of stuff in her arms, and she dropped a big giant book in the aisle," says Cain, 67. "I noticed she had expensive high heels on. I asked her, 'What do you do for a living?' She looked at me and said, 'I am a public speaker.' 'What sort?' I asked. 'I'm a pastor,' she said. 'No, you're not,' I said." Cain, who says he was a "displaced Catholic" at the time, says White prayed over him. "I see a book coming out of you and a studio," she said. "I see God calling you back."

Despite the 16-year age difference, the pair began to date. They were married during a December 2014 trip to Ghana, in a quiet ceremony officiated by one of White's Pentecostal mentors. This was followed by a public wedding at an Orlando hotel in April 2015. It was a third marriage for both. Trump did not attend but sent a $1,000 contribution to White's New Destiny Christian Center as a wedding gift.

---

Both the role of White and the role of the evangelical advisory council in the Trump administration are opaque, to say the least. The White House Office of Public Liaison (OPL), which is charged with outreach to interest groups, did not respond to my requests for details about how often White is there, who is on the council or whom she meets with. Moore told me that there is no official list of council members and that, while OPL issues invitations to religious leaders who visit, White and other members of the council supply the names.

The administration's lack of specifics about the council has drawn criticism. "With this council, it is murky as to who is on it and what role they have," says Robert Jones, author and CEO of the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute. "It looks more like another campaign arm than a representative group."

White says her position is that of a "faith adviser" and head of a council with an inner core of about three dozen evangelical leaders who communicate by conference call and occasional visits to Washington. About 10 to 15 leaders who are very engaged receive daily communications from OPL about matters important to Trump, such as religious liberty or criminal justice reform. The entire council rarely meets as a group, but 10 or so members will gather at times at the White House, depending on the issue the administration is seeking feedback about. White adds, however, that many other religious leaders have visited the White House for "listening sessions" and have input with the administration, including Indian American leaders who celebrated the Hindu holiday of Diwali last month with the president.

When White arrives at the White House, she says she typically heads for OPL, where she receives a schedule of events that require a faith presence. She puts together guest lists, shuttles between the offices of Vice President Mike Pence (though she has a much more distant relationship with Pence than with Trump), Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, and Trump's daughter Ivanka - and connects them with the Christian movers and shakers she knows from three decades of ministry. These include many of the Pentecostal televangelists - with vast followings - whom she met through Christian TV.

---

"I'm a bridge builder, and I can get information to different places," she says. "I make sure there are people of faith at the Mexican heritage event with the first lady and president. I bring private faith-based organizations together with the government," such as churches helping with relief supplies for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. In addition, White says, "I put people in front of" the president. "He's a good listener, and that's important. He is a fierce leader. He's not a quitter. He digests information and makes informed decisions and has the courage and strength to make good leadership decisions."

The day after she met with the Southern Baptist ministers in Washington, she met with a group of evangelical prayer ministry leaders, including Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of evangelist Billy Graham. Many members of this group wish to see federal and appeals courts filled with sympathetic judges, and White had notes in her purse of 130 such vacancies around the country. Trump "has been quite diligent to fulfill his promises to have originalist, constitutionalist judges," she told me. "The president knows the judiciary is important to his strongest base."

She and the visitors are often joined by legal and public policy specialists, she says. "We get huge access to government officials," she explained after the meeting with Southern Baptist leaders. "Today we dealt with immigration. We bring solutions and come up with strategies." She cited the nomination of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to be the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom - a State Department position - as one of the areas where evangelicals have made their influence felt. "That appointment got pushed up because [council members and others] brought it up at one of those sessions," she noted.

White also says the council stepped in on the issue of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and persuaded the president to delay its end for six months. "We came in [to the Oval Office] and shared our heart, and he wanted to know the faith leaders' feelings on DACA," she says. "There were real questions asked, like did we know people who were 'dreamers.' We were honest and transparent with him. ... Are we in there and being heard? Yes." When I ask White about the priorities of the advisory council, she responds: "What matters to the evangelical community is Supreme Court justices, economy, religious liberty, Israel, lower courts, human trafficking and abortion."

Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and a frequent writer and commenter on religion and the presidency, says evangelicals have "achieved a number of victories - some small, some quite significant." He cites Trump's executive orders to block foreign aid groups from mentioning abortion and to ease restrictions on religious organizations endorsing or opposing political candidates; the Justice Department's new guidance on protecting religious liberty (which states "no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with federal law"); the rollback of requirements that employers provide coverage for contraception; and some Cabinet appointments. "It's important," Rozell says, "to those folks to have a seat at the table and it be meaningful in some way and it not be just a show."

Other faith traditions, it appears, don't have the same kind of access as evangelicals in Trump's White House. Before the election, former campaign officials say, Trump had three religious advisory boards: evangelical, Catholic and one for minority faiths. Only the evangelical one has survived into the administration, though Moore says he has observed mainline Protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders in meetings at the White House.

Jones recounts that George W. Bush created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to help faith-based groups of all kinds compete for federal funds for nonsectarian charitable or social work, such as services for the hungry and homeless. The Obama administration kept the same structure in place, but renamed it the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The evangelical advisory council's unofficial status allows it to be less transparent than those previous faith-based efforts. According to Melissa Rogers, the lawyer who headed up the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships during Obama's second term, the faith-based advisory boards under Obama and Bush were subject to the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act. That act, notes the website of the U.S. General Services Administration, was designed to "ensure that advice by the various advisory committees formed over the years is objective and accessible to the public."

"The problem with the Trump administration is that there's this evangelical group that has access and is being consulted, but there's no comparable entity for other Christians and other faiths," says Rogers. "There are no visitor logs being released, no transparency about their activities and nothing to answer to the public for. Our Constitution says our government can't prefer some faiths over others, so anything that seems to be a preference raises some red flags."

White says the administration has a new office in the works that will be known as a "faith initiative," and will involve more religions and act like an official government body. Nothing had been announced at press time.

---

After her White House meetings in July, White went to relax in a beige-walled suite - complete with a flower arrangement of white orchids - on the eighth floor of the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Dressed in an electric blue L'Agence suit and black patent leather Christian Louboutin stilettos, she snuggled on a couch with Cain, who takes credit for her stylish, colorful clothes. "I told her, 'You have to look like a rock-star wife,' " he says.

The two accompany each other everywhere, including the band's eastern Asia tour this past February, plus four months of domestic shows this year. "Paula comes on the road with me," Cain says. "She doesn't want separation. Separation will kill a marriage." In this case, White was able to schedule her Washington meetings around a Journey concert at the MGM National Harbor on the banks of the Potomac. (The timing resulted in a kerfuffle when three of the band members got a White House tour and a photo op with Trump. After guitarist Neal Schon, who was not invited, learned of the excursion, he blasted Cain on Twitter for allowing politics to infiltrate the group and suggested Cain had "changed radically" since his marriage to White. When I asked Cain for a response, he smiled and said, "It's a free country.")

Before the concert that evening, White greeted an endless stream of guests and friends during a preperformance gathering where Cain was raising money for High Hopes, a Nashville-based charitable organization for children with special needs. Heading backstage to wait for the concert (when the band was playing she would head into the audience to take pictures), she turned to her iPhone, which she's on constantly. Although other pastors fill in for her while she's on the road, White says she tries to keep in touch. "Anytime something happens to one of my members, a death or tragedy, I call and pray over them," she says. "What's five minutes of my time to pray over people?"

Knight often fills in for his mom but says her political involvements have created some havoc at New Destiny. "Her relationship with the black community got really frayed because of President Trump," he says. "She got messages from black leaders, saying, 'You betrayed us.' " New Destiny lost 200 to 300 people because of Trump, he says, adding that giving dropped $10,000 a week. As White has become more visible, she has also been panned for her use of black idiomatic speech, and was mocked for doing so by Seth Meyers on his NBC late-night show in August.

Despite her detractors, however, White remains very much a presence in African American churches. The day after the Journey concert, she was a guest speaker at a women's conference at the majority-black Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland, pastored by Bishop Harry Jackson, a fellow member of Trump's evangelical advisory council. She seemed very much at home as she told them, "Little did I know 16 years ago when I met Mr. Trump that he'd be president. God whispered in my heart, 'Show him who I am.' I wanted to pray and show him the Word of God. Little did I know I'd earn that place of trust where 16 years later I can bring in great men like your pastor, great women" to Trump. She received sustained applause.

---

White is frequently castigated in the media for not condemning many of Trump's actions, but her son believes critics are looking at it the wrong way. "It's not about him being a good man," Knight says; it's about her trying to steer Trump in the right direction. "People think she feels he is a model Christian. She believes that he is fulfilling an assignment from God that is important to the church and important to America."

White insists that lecturing Trump is not her job. "I don't preach to anyone on behavior modification," she says. "There are things I can speak, but that's not anyone's business what I say. Why would I as a pastor expose that relationship? Everyone needs a safe place in life, and pastors can be people's safe place. That's why I have this relationship, because I don't talk about it."

She says she spends an hour a day in prayer and Bible study to maintain the necessary spiritual resources. She tries to fast one day a week and does a longer fast once a month. "If I am not fresh with God, I might as well hang it up. You can't be a spiritual adviser and not pray," she says. She also explains that she pays her own way. "I've never received a dime from anything," she says of her work on the evangelical advisory council and trips to Washington. "I don't get paid at all. I feel it's part of my purpose. If God has given me this opportunity, it'd be irresponsible not to fulfill it. But I don't get a discount or special privileges."

"She leads [Trump's] heart to the Lord, and that's all Trump wants," Cain says. "He actually recognizes her anointing and checks in with her. Every time she's in Washington, he has to see her." He recalls that when White was asked to pray for Trump during the Republican National Convention, "she was on her knees by the bed for hours. She prayed for him to have the strength and clarity to speak to the American public. I saw later how a calm came over him. He receives it like a child. He channels her."

The opportunity isn't without its drawbacks. "She gets attacked every single day on social media, email, phone calls," Moore says. "This has cost her. And it's never enough. She has nothing to gain from this. But she feels a call and responsibility to minister to this family."

When I ask White about these hidden costs, she sounds philosophical. "You can't influence anything for the kingdom of God without tremendous resistance," she says. "I never sought this out. I'm the girl next door who loved God, who is amazed by this every day."

---

Duin is a writer based near Seattle. Her latest book is "In the House of the Serpent Handler: A Story of Faith and Fleeting Fame in the Age of Social Media."

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Trump trade: A dead end?

By robert j. samuelson
Trump trade: A dead end?

WASHINGTON -- Most Americans likely think that our trade policies have been largely the same since the Republic’s earliest days. The assumptions are that we’re free traders now and always have been; also, that we’ve long been a manufacturing power, boosting exports. If we sometimes lose in global competition, the main cause is that other countries don’t play fair.

The truth is more complicated, as economist Douglas Irwin of Dartmouth College shows in his monumental study of U.S. trade policy since the Revolution, “Clashing over Commerce.” Just published, it is an essential companion to the debate over President Trump’s trade agenda.

Irwin quickly dispels the notion that manufacturing has traditionally characterized U.S. exports. To the contrary, the United States initially resembled what would today be called a “developing country.” He writes:

“Prior to the Civil War, food and raw materials (wheat and cotton) comprised about two-thirds of exports, and manufactured goods (clothing and metal goods) comprised about two-thirds of imports.” Only toward the end of the 1800s did the United States emerge as a true industrial powerhouse.

Similarly, tariffs -- taxes on imports -- were high in the 19th century by modern standards, routinely varying from 30 percent to 50 percent; the steepest average tariff was 62 percent in 1830. In those days, they served as the government’s main source of revenue. Later in the century, they were defended as protecting American firms and workers against foreign competition.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, has cited this history as justifying more protectionism to promote American industry. Irwin and many economists disagree.

A number of factors favored U.S. manufacturing, they say: the growing size of the U.S. market; relatively stable government; the ability of U.S. firms to buy or steal new technologies from foreigners -- and their own capacity to innovate. The eminent trade economist Frank Taussig (1859-1940) called this “the ingenuity and inventiveness” of American workers. Tariffs were cut before the Civil War; if protectionism was so critical to U.S. industry, manufacturing’s expansion would have stalled. It didn’t.

The death of high tariffs occurred during the Great Depression and World War II. The infamous Smoot-Hawley tariff, enacted in 1930, raised rates on 890 products. This was widely seen as aggravating the Depression. After the war, U.S. industry dominated the world economy and there was little fear of imports.

Meanwhile, Europe and Japan were largely destroyed, and in Western Europe, there was a real possibility of communist takeovers of government. Trade liberalization helped Europe and Japan restart their economies by exporting. This enabled them to earn scarce dollars to buy food, fuel and machinery, mostly from the United States.

What made America great in the 1950s and 1960s were the strength of its economy and the recognition that freer trade was a powerful political force promoting prosperity and cementing Western alliances.

It is this system that Trump is repudiating on the grounds that it has backfired on American workers and firms. “We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore,” he said in his trade speech last week. Poor trade agreements and abuses by our trading partners have caused U.S. trade deficits, the president said.

To be sure, the United States should be more aggressive in pursuing trade complaints against countries that steal intellectual property (patents) or engage in dumping and illegal subsidization of exports.

Still, these are not the major sources of our trade deficits. That distinction belongs to the dollar’s status as the major global currency, used to conduct trade and cross-border investment.

This drives the dollar’s value higher, making U.S. exports more expensive and U.S. imports cheaper. Given the nature of the resulting trade deficits -- and as is obvious from the economy’s present state -- the United States can achieve “full employment” and run trade deficits simultaneously.

Having misdiagnosed the problem, Trump has embraced protectionist solutions. He withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement with 11 other countries, thereby antagonizing these nations and weakening American influence over the region’s trading practices. China is the obvious alternative.

Now Trump is offending Canada and Mexico by demanding major changes in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). If the talks fail, who knows how the more than $1 trillion in trade among the three countries will fare?

Naturally, Trump appears late in Irwin’s story. A harsh judgment is possible: Trump trade leads to a dead end. But Irwin is more judicious, writing: “Whether the Trump administration marks a turning point in U.S. trade policy, or just one with strong posturing on trade issues, remains to be seen. ... [At the least, Trump] portended a loss of U.S. international economic leadership.” Time will tell.

(c) 2017, The Washington Post Writers Group

Forget alternative facts. We’re now in an alternate reality.

By dana milbank
Forget alternative facts. We’re now in an alternate reality.

WASHINGTON -- In the beginning, there were alternative facts. Now we are being governed in an alternate reality.

Heading toward approval of their tax bill this week, House Republicans had a teensy problem: Their vaunted tax “cut” actually was a tax hike for millions of Americans. It lowered taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars on the wealthiest, but it raised the lowest tax rate and, official congressional arbiters determined, raised taxes on a good chunk of the middle class as well.

Awkward! Particularly because a long-standing House rule, put in place by Republicans after Newt Gingrich’s 1994 takeover, requires that any “income tax rate increase may not be considered as passed ... unless so determined by a vote of not less than three-fifths of the members voting.”

So Republicans did the honorable thing: They snuck in a provision that allowed them, with a simple majority vote, to declare that the three-fifths requirement “shall not apply.” Problem solved.

This is but one example of an unnerving trend in the Trump era: Ignore the rules and disqualify the referees who were put in place to enforce standards of integrity.

Just two months ago, President Trump promised that “the rich will not be gaining at all” under the tax bill, and “it’ll be the largest tax decrease in the history of our country for the middle class.”

It is exactly the opposite. The bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) found that the rich would get a handsome tax break under the House bill, but those earning $20,000 to $40,000 and $200,000 to $500,0000 would get an increase. On Thursday, the JCT, the official congressional arbiter of tax legislation, determined that the Senate version of the bill would give large tax cuts to millionaires but raise taxes on families earning between $10,000 and $75,000.

And so Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, author of the Senate tax bill, attempted to discredit the bicameral, bipartisan JCT. “Anyone who says we’re hiking taxes on low-income families is misstating the facts,” he said.

And Hatch is the vice chairman of the JCT! The chairman is also Republican, as are a majority of the members.

Leaving aside Hatch’s particular dispute (about whether to count a loss of Obamacare subsidies as a tax increase for those who opt out), there is no denying the larger point in the JCT’s calculation: Whether you technically classify certain things as taxes or not, this “tax cut” would have the effect of making the rich richer and a large swath of the middle class poorer. Instead of acknowledging that, Republicans are attempting to disqualify the umpire they put in place.

Something similar is happening now with the nominations of judges. In all administrations since Dwight Eisenhower’s (except George W. Bush’s) the American Bar Association (ABA) has been vetting prospective judicial nominees’ legal qualifications before they are nominated. Now the Trump administration is ignoring the ABA pre-screening, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is no longer waiting to have their professional qualifications vetted before confirmation hearings. The New York Times reports that the White House is “weighing” telling future nominees not to cooperate with ABA evaluators. And this week, the White House issued a news release highlighting an editorial saying “the Senate continues to give the lawyers’ guild too much sway.”

When the Trump administration and congressional allies aren’t attacking the JCT and the ABA, they’re attacking the CBO -- the Congressional Budget Office, the bipartisan arbiter of how much legislation costs, now led by a Republican appointee. When White House budget director Mick Mulvaney earlier this year didn’t like the CBO’s “score” of health-care legislation, he asked: “Has the day of the CBO come and gone?”

Now, some Republicans are attempting to do the same to the special counsel. After Robert S. Mueller III’s recent indictments of Trump campaign advisers, three House members introduced a resolution calling for Mueller’s resignation.

And of course, there is Roy Moore, who has responded to voluminous accusations of impropriety with children by attempting to discredit the press -- dovetailing with Trump’s “fake-news” attacks.

Should Moore make it to the Senate, we can expect worse. He openly defied the U.S. Supreme Court when he was a state judge, and he has made clear he believes the Constitution is subordinate to his interpretation of God’s law.

As Trump and his allies lay waste to their own rules, the media, the CBO, the ABA, the JTC and the courts, let’s ask ourselves: After they’ve disqualified all arbiters of truth, what will we have left?

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

A groper’s gallery of the grotesque

By kathleen parker
A groper’s gallery of the grotesque

WASHINGTON -- It seems more than coincidence that the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency coincides with a trend that was heretofore unrecognized -- groping.

Gropers abound, it seems. From Harvey Weinstein to Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore to Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken -- and dozens in between -- it would seem women are swimming in groper-infested waters.

One can hardly turn on the news without landing on a panel discussion of groping and punishment. How long before groper-fatigue sets in? The challenge for everyone, but especially the media, is to not overwhelm ourselves with trivial pursuits and blind leads. Groping is wrong and bad and awful, but it doesn’t rise to the level of rape as we commonly understand it. And while a forced kiss is disgusting (and you want to brush your teeth forever), it wouldn’t seem to be a life-altering event. If it is, we’re talking about more than groping.

I’m not excusing anyone’s behavior. I find the whole bunch of accused men, including the president of the United States, revolting and pathetic. May every groper find a larger man’s hand down his britches and see how he likes it. Crude -- my apologies. But this is what it’s come to.

While the debate about these offenses is, one hopes, constructive, there’s a tendency to put all these monkeys in the same barrel. There are notable differences of degree among them and we should always give consideration to context and other possible extenuating circumstances lest we become blind to fairness and enamored of “justice,” with or without due process.

Do I believe every accuser who has come forward? I’m inclined to. In fact, without good reason otherwise, I’m inclined to first believe the woman in any case. This isn’t because I happen to be a woman but because men historically have been unfairly believed over women. Assuming no relevant pathologies, why not believe the woman?

In Moore’s case, of course, there is credibility in numbers. Several women unknown to each other reported similar experiences. But are these alleged offenses from so long ago sufficient to end his Senate campaign and his political career? The fact that Moore totes the “Ten Commandments” around like an ash sack of piety makes the allegations all the more repulsive -- America hates the hypocrite more than the criminal -- and makes people more inclined to send him packing.

But is it really fair to judge him based on unprovable recollections by women who were teens at the time? Is it not possible that Moore has repented or that, as he claims, these things never happened? Might four decades have changed him? Or don’t we care? We have to ask.

Franken is helped only insofar as he wasn’t yet a Minnesota senator when his guerrilla groping took place. The fact that he expressed remorse and didn’t deny his acts is hardly courageous given that we’ve all seen a photograph of him as he’s about to grab a woman’s breasts while she was sleeping. He and the woman, Leeann Tweeden, whom he reduced to an inhuman object for his audience’s amusement, were on a USO tour at the time.

In the picture, Franken, erstwhile comedian and, apparently, lifelong buffoon, is looking over his shoulder at the camera grinning like a baboon. It was a stupid, thoughtless and demeaning performance. Context for Franken may simply have been his outdated sense of humor. What’s funny for one generation isn’t remotely humorous to the next.

How does one punish a Franken? Democrats may be willing to sacrifice him since Minnesota’s Democratic governor would appoint another Democrat to replace him. If so, they gain the high road over Republicans, who are stuck not only with Moore but with the leader of their party.

Trump, whom more than a dozen women have accused, is the gorilla in the ointment.

We know that he’s an admitted forced-kisser and a groper, thanks to the “Access Hollywood” tape. It’s easy to think he’s guilty as charged based on his generally dismissive behavior toward women and his alarming impulsivity.

What will happen to Trump is probably nothing. He, like Moore, stands only accused. We may not be at a point where recompense is possible for past aggressions, but there can be little doubt that groping, the trend that suddenly defined 2017, is on its way out.

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

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Are we now at risk of overreacting to sexual harassment?

By ruth marcus
Are we now at risk of overreacting to sexual harassment?

WASHINGTON -- The national debate over sexual harassment and sexual assault has reached an important and precarious moment as it shifts from what behavior is acceptable to what punishment is warranted. Having underreacted for too long, are we now at risk of overreacting?

The welcome news is that society seems to have reached closure -- if not universal enlightenment, then broad consensus -- on some of the most outmoded and tiresome aspects of the discussion. Behavior that was excused or diminished is now deemed unacceptable. Once-widespread skepticism about accusers’ credibility -- (BEG ITAL)Did she invite this? Why did she wait so long to complain?(END ITAL) -- has yielded, mostly, to a more sophisticated understanding of the pressures on women to remain silent.

I witnessed, up close, the earlier chapters of this revolution -- Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas in 1991, Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton in 1998. This time feels different. Consider how quickly Senate Republicans switched from if-then to “I believe the women” in the case of Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore. Contrast that with the refusal to credit Hill’s allegations against Thomas. Different political imperatives, but also different times.

Sure, the current furor will recede; when it does, problems will persist. For women, going public with complaints will never be easy. And if law firm associates or Wall Street bankers now feel more empowered to speak up about harassment, what of waitresses or factory workers? Still, we are at a new moment in which the risks -- for abusers in preying on women, and for employers in tacitly tolerating such conduct -- have become greater than ever before.

That change is as big as it is belated. My 20-something daughters, if they ever find themselves in this uncomfortable spot, will face a less daunting calculus in speaking up than I did at their age. On this subject, the country may not be woke, but it is awakening.

Yet a perplexing aspect of the current debate involves the question of what should happen to those guilty of misbehavior and the tendency, common to revolutions, to overcorrect for past sins. If society once ignored sexual harassment -- and we certainly did -- one risk, now evident with the case of Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, is overcompensating for earlier apathy. The two dangers are not equivalent -- ignoring sexual abuse and assault is far worse than punishing its perpetrators too severely.

Even so, not all crimes deserve the death penalty. Not all bad behavior warrants expulsion, firing or resignation. The clamor for Franken’s head is, at best, premature -- sentence first, trial (or Senate Ethics Committee investigation) later. At worst, it is alarmingly extreme, absent evidence of a pattern or misbehavior in the Senate.

Let us stipulate: Al Franken behaved like a big, not-so-fat idiot. His behavior was appalling. Under the guise of rehearsing for a skit, he allegedly kissed fellow USO performer Leeann Tweeden against her will, sticking his tongue in her mouth. He posed for a decidedly not funny photograph in which he appears to grope Tweeden’s breasts while she is asleep. Not OK. But also not Roy Moore, Democratic version -- or even Bill Clinton, 2017 edition. On the spectrum from predatory to boorish, Moore and Clinton are on one end, Franken closer to the other.

Such context matters in the sentencing phase. This wasn’t a workplace, exactly, and Franken, while the tour headliner, wasn’t Tweeden’s boss. The atmosphere was sexualized; as Tweeden noted, “Like many USO shows before and since, the skits were full of sexual innuendo geared toward a young, male audience.” Comedy doesn’t justify assault or, as Louis C.K. taught, public masturbation, but it invites a more transgressive atmosphere than, say, the U.S. Senate.

So what should happen to Franken et al? The notion of the cleansing purge has its satisfactions, and for Democrats in Franken’s case, the added appeal of excising a political liability. No one wants to keep seeing that picture.

Yet I recoil at the employment equivalent of a mass death sentence for all sexual harassers. For some offenders -- Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Roy Moore -- I have no sympathy. Their alleged conduct is close to, if not across, the line of criminality.

Others pose a harder case. Must they remain forever pariahs? Is rehabilitation possible? The focus is, and should be, on victims. But as employers engage in an overdue reckoning on how to rid workplaces of intolerable conduct, they -- we -- are going to have to wrestle as well with how to treat the victimizers.

Ruth Marcus’ email address is ruthmarcus@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

John Hodgman’s new memoir is a delightful escapade in ‘white-privilege mortality comedy’

By esther j. cepeda
John Hodgman’s new memoir is a delightful escapade in ‘white-privilege mortality comedy’

CHICAGO -- There’s a moment in John Hodgman’s new book, “Vacationland,” when we find the author and comedian at his cabin in the great disappearing emptiness that is the woods of Maine, impaled on a hook on a barn door.

For anyone who’s ever sustained a serious injury -- when you realize that you’re going to need immediate medical attention -- there’s one thing you understand about such an instance: It’s dead serious.

And yet, in the hands of our charming narrator, you can’t help but smile and shake your head when the trip to the nearest emergency room -- a half-hour ride through dark, snowy roads -- is just a stop on a supermarket run to pick up gin and milk.

Priorities, right?

Such are the pleasures of reading “Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches,” a book which, as the title suggests, is a collection of true stories that Hodgman calls “white-privilege mortality comedy.” Fans might prefer to call it a peek under the robes of the man we know best as Judge John Hodgman, from both his podcast and his column in The New York Times Magazine.

Hodgman’s latest book is notable not just because it’s a memoir centered around the angst of a middle-aged white man confronting his own eventual death. It’s also in contrast to his three books of fake facts -- the endlessly delightful “The Areas of My Expertise,” which features 700 made-up hobo names, “More Information Than You Require” and “That Is All” -- because this one is funny (BEG ITAL)and(END ITAL) completely true.

“As a member of the super-smart-afraid-of-conflict-narcissist club that is only-childhood, and being from Massachusetts, I grew up with a puritanical shame and sense that I shouldn’t be talking about myself,” Hodgman told me recently, as he wrapped up his book tour with a visit to Chicago and then Austin, Texas. “So the book began as a one-man comedy show in a basement in Brooklyn where I felt it would be acceptable to tell personal and vulnerable stories about myself and my family, because once told to just the audience in the room, they’d be gone. But I grew to like the show so much that I felt it would be a meaningful thing to capture and share with people in a more permanent way.”

What “Vacationland” shares with his first three books is that, just as he wrote those for a potentially tiny audience of geeky people who just really enjoy gags about hooks for hands and hobo culture (guilty as charged), Hodgman said that this memoir was “a book that I couldn’t not write.”

“You really overestimate me if you think I had a grand plan or any ambition of redefining the memoir genre,” Hodgman said. “I only wanted to continue to tell stories, and I knew fake facts was not authentic anymore. Over the course of my career I had worn a lot of costumes as ‘John Hodgman,’ as the lunatic ‘resident expert’ and ‘deranged millionaire’ on ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,’ and, suddenly, I didn’t want to wear any more costumes or hide behind elaborately formatted charts and graphs.”

Readers get the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth -- and are better for it.

You think it’d be cool to own a vacation home? Well, there’s no garbage collection in rural western Massachusetts, and going to the nearest dump is, shall we say, fraught on a variety of physical, psychic and emotional levels.

The joys of frolicking in the waters of the local swimming hole are tinged with menace, as is the act of attempting to use a bathroom in a Maine candy store (believe me, after reading this book you will never want to visit the state of Maine, which is just as well, since Hodgman is pretty explicit about not wanting to see you there).

But for all the crabby-old-man vibe Hodgman tries to project, “Vacationland” is sweet, introspective, and a little sad in the way that any book about the loss of youth and the march toward certain death inevitably is.

Mostly, however, it’s hilarious. Without a doubt, it’s a remarkable read in print but a not-to-be-missed listen as an audiobook, which is read by the author in his inimitable self-deprecating yet superior voice (that’s an only child for you -- take it from someone who knows).

Hodgman told me, “’Vacationland’ makes a wonderful gift for your weird, middle-aged dad.” But I can assure you that weird middle-aged moms will love it, too.

Esther Cepeda’s email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Will consumer watchdog become a lapdog for the financial industry?

By michelle singletary
Will consumer watchdog become a lapdog for the financial industry?

WASHINGTON -- The federal agency charged with safeguarding consumers is in jeopardy.

Richard Cordray, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, announced last week that he’s leaving by the end of the month. Cordray’s departure gives President Trump an opportunity to appoint a new leader, and I’m concerned that this will derail the watchdog agency’s consumer-first mission.

The CFPB was created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to protect consumers against predatory financial practices. It has done its job by creating or toughening rules to make sure people understand the financial products they are being sold. The agency has also created a complaint database that is an advocate for consumers looking for justice, and it’s been unapologetic about its aggressiveness in going after companies and industries with deceptive practices. Think of the CFPB as a Doberman pinscher guarding your financial interest.

If I were a betting woman, I would wager a great deal of money on President Trump filling the vacancy with someone friendly to the financial industry. Trump’s nominee would probably be more like a purse puppy. Think Teacup Chihuahua.

In Cordray’s parting statement, he wrote that the agency has recovered $12 billion for nearly 30 million consumers.

But the GOP hasn’t liked all this devotion to consumers. Just recently, Republicans overturned a CFPB rule that would have banned future mandatory arbitration clauses from financial contracts. These clauses prevent consumers from joining together in class-action lawsuits. Although the payout to individual consumers is often low, the legal actions often force companies to stop bad behavior.

Critics carp that there has been too much oversight under Cordray. The latest to cry foul are payday lenders.

How dare the CFPB rein in their highly expensive loans to poor people, the lenders complain. These companies argue that they are only helping people on the margins.

But I see the devastating results of such small-dollar loans, which often turn into a debt trap. The CFPB recently issued final rules on payday loans. At its core, the rules simply require lenders to determine upfront whether people can afford a loan and still meet basic living expenses and major financial obligations. Yet the CFPB has been vilified by payday-loan proponents for even this commonsense directive.

Even if you weren’t fully aware of what the CFPB is or does, there are many people fighting for your rights who are. And they, too, are alarmed about the future of the agency. Here are some reactions to Cordray’s stepping down.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.: “From the day that the agency opened its doors, the CFPB has been targeted by Republicans and their Wall Street bank allies. They attacked the agency at every turn, and tried to stop it from helping consumers. … his is a big test for Donald Trump. He said on the campaign trail that he would stand up to Wall Street and defend forgotten Americans. … If the president appoints another industry hack or bought-and-paid-for politician to lead the agency, it is just the latest sign that he wants to run this government to help his rich buddies.”

The National Consumer Law Center: “The president must appoint a new director who is committed to the mission of consumer protection. … Much work has been accomplished, but much more needs to be done, as evidenced by the scandals of financial giants Wells Fargo for its fake accounts and Equifax and complaints that continue to stream in about debt-collection abuses, overdraft fees, and predatory loans.”

Pamela Banks, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, which is the policy division of Consumer Reports: “Consumers need a tough watchdog in Washington to protect them from abusive practices that jeopardize their financial security. We can’t afford to take the financial cop off the beat and leave families vulnerable to costly scams and rip-offs.”

Mike Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible Lending: “The [CFPB] has fought against discriminatory practices in the financial marketplace, including bringing actions to enforce fair-lending laws that protect consumers of color from being charged more for a mortgage, auto loan or credit card.”

Mark Hamrick, Bankrate.com senior economic analyst: “For President Trump, it will be yet another opportunity to put his stamp on a nominee who is friendlier to business and more inclined to deregulate. For consumers, the risk is that they will have fewer advocates working for them in the federal government.”

These are the people you should listen to, because they’ve got your back. So now let your voices be heard, because we need a leader of the CFPB who will continue to be a watchdog for consumer interests and not a lapdog for the financial industry.

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

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

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