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In Caracas of all places, a construction boom suddenly emerges

By Noris Soto
In Caracas of all places, a construction boom suddenly emerges
People walk in the main avenue of Las Mercedes in Caracas Venezuela, on June 15 2018. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Manaure Quintero.

You can still find a place to enjoy a nice steak dinner in Las Mercedes, the Caracas district once known for discos and beer-by-the-bucket pubs. Mostly, though, it's shuttered stores and graffiti-swamped apartment blocks punctuated by busted street lights. And the strangest thing: scaffolding.

On brand-spanking new construction, no less. This seems wildly out of place in the economic basket-case capital of world. But there it is on Paris Street. And over on Jalisco. And on block after block. Las Mercedes, it turns out, is where some of Venezuela's richest citizens, prohibited from moving cash out of the country, are parking it.

The mogul Oswaldo Cisneros and the hotelier Salomon Muci are among those investing in the mixed-use buildings there, with names like Luxor and Tower 302 that will boast "exclusive local shops" and marble finishes, as promotional materials tout. A few other neighborhoods are witnessing mini-construction booms, too, but Las Mercedes may be the busiest with, according to the mayor's office, an astounding 73 projects underway.

The obvious question is, who in crumbling Caracas will rent the slick retail and office spaces and buy the fancy condos? The answer might be, at least in the short term, who cares?

"With the cash and currency-exchange controls in place, investors are wisely deciding to invest in brick," said Alfred Scheer, head of the real-estate developer Vantage Latin America. Someday it might even pay off. "We trust that a political change will come sooner or later and we want to be prepared."

The May 20 election, boycotted by the opposition and denounced by the U.S., the EU and others as unfair, maintained the precarious status quo. It kept Nicolas Maduro in the presidency of a country overwhelmed by rampant crime, crippling shortages of basic goods, widespread hunger and inflation that is running over 20,000 percent.

Bank accounts pay laughable interest or none at all. For those few with spare bolivars, there aren't many options to watching its value evaporate. The currency controls first established in 2003 by the regime of the late Hugo Chavez are quite strict. And the black market isn't that big, so it's tricky to sneak money out.

Many affluent Venezuelans, of course, had protected a good deal of their wealth by shifting it abroad before the government cracked down. But they still have business interests in the country -- Cisneros controls the wireless operator Digitel, for example, and Muci is a director of and owns shares in the Intercontinental Tamanaco Caracas -- and continue to accumulate cash they have to deal with.

So the construction crews are at work in Las Mercedes, and in Chacao and in Valle Arriba in Baruta, where most embassies have their diplomatic offices and residences. The 40-floor Provincial Tower on Francisco de Miranda Avenue is being expanded to add another building. Residences Casa 27 in Campo Alegre is billed as a palatial complex that will have extraordinary views of the golf courses of the Caracas Country Club and the Avila.

On a hill overlooking the city, dozens of units are already for sale in the unfinished Panorama Mirador de Los Campitos Residence; a four-bedroom, four-bath is asking 1.1 trillion bolivars. That's 411 times what an ordinary Venezuelan, if he or she actually has a job, earns in a month.

All the high-end building has some Caraquenos scratching their heads. "This doesn't make sense to me," said Freddy Calderon, who works in a Las Mercedes parking lot. "With the economy at its worst stage, and with all the problems we Venezuelans are facing right now -- it doesn't make sense."

For Caracas boosters, though, it's exciting, a sign that, as Aquiles Martini Pietri put it, the country isn't going to just "sink into a deep hole." He's an official at Fedecamaras, a chamber of commerce, and sees the positive spin.

"There are people who have enough cash flow that allows them to continue investing. There are people who still believe in and are betting on Venezuela."

Gold Street: where South Africa's mining history goes to die

By Ana Monteiro and Felix Njini
Gold Street: where South Africa's mining history goes to die
Paseka Selemela, a former worker at the Savuka mine, guides cars into parking spaces in an area just off Gold Street in Carletonville, South Africa, on May 25, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Guillem Sartorio.

The death rattle of the industry that once symbolized South Africa can be heard in the town of Carletonville-on Gold Street.

That's where Paseka Selemela has been guarding cars since 2010, when the scaffolding business he worked for closed. Prior to that, he was an assistant at a now-shuttered mine owned by AngloGold Ashanti. Nor has he found work in other gold mines around the town, home to the world's deepest shafts. Many of his friends and family members also have joined the legions of the retrenched, including 8,500 people in the area last year alone.

"These people can't find jobs, just like me," Selemela, 34, said under the winter sun, wearing a torn, dirty Chelsea soccer club shirt and jeans that hung loosely on his thin frame. "They try at the retailers, but there is nothing available there. They are employing fewer people because people are buying less. There's no money."

Additional cuts are to come across mines and towns in South Africa, once the world's biggest producer of gold. A volatile currency, uncertainty about regulations and demand, labor union tensions, harder-to-access ore, high operating costs and falling prices mean about half of gold and platinum operations are loss-making.

More than 6 million people are unemployed and looking for work, taking the jobless rate to about 28 percent, a 15-year high. This excludes 2.5 million discouraged job seekers.

It's a gargantuan task for newly elected President Cyril Ramaphosa, who came to office in February promising to revive the sluggish economy and clamp down on corruption. He's spearheading a drive to attract $100 billion in new investments that could absorb unemployed youth as well as former mine and factory workers and to provide opportunities for young citizens.

He has his work cut out for him: The economy shrank the most in nine years in the first quarter, led by declines in agriculture, mining and manufacturing, Statistics South Africa said June 5. Gold production fell for the seventh straight month in April, the agency said on June 14.

After gold was discovered near what was to become the economic hub of Johannesburg in 1886, the country became the biggest producer. The metal spawned some of the world's largest mining companies, such as Anglo American. It transformed South Africa from a farming economy into the continent's most industrialized. It provided opportunities for unskilled black males, who were restricted from many jobs because of their race under white-minority-rule, known as apartheid.

In 1980, mining vied with manufacturing as the largest contributor to gross domestic product, with each at about 21 percent. Today, mines account for 7 percent of the economy. In 1987, the sector employed 763,000 people; that's down more than 40 percent to 447,000 now. The government, retailers and banks are now the country's biggest employers.

"A lot of the future of the industry is going to be based on constraining costs and a need to improve safety, but most particularly a focus on innovation and technology," said Roger Baxter, chief executive officer of the Minerals Council of South Africa, which represents most producers. "It will continue to shrink until those initiatives start bearing good fruits."

The newer platinum industry has its own problems. Producers are closing shafts and cutting thousands of jobs because a stronger rand and stagnating prices are squeezing profit margins. At the same time, reduced demand for diesel engines and the rise of electric cars threatens to erode the need for the metal, which is used in converters that control emissions in diesel-fueled vehicles. About 41 percent of platinum used last year was for this purpose, according to research from Johnson Matthey, one of its top refiners.

"The industry is in crisis," said Chris Griffith, CEO of Anglo American Platinum, the world's largest producer. "It's a chicken-and-egg situation. You need to invest yourself out of this situation by investing in growing demand."

South Africa continues to be an important gold-mining jurisdiction worth investing in, said Bernard Swanepoel, a former CEO of Harmony Gold Mining Co. and board member of Impala Platinum Holdings, the world's second-biggest producer.

"I really think it's the last chapter, but the last chapter could be a good chapter," he said. "Thirty more years of gold mining in South Africa could be a good chapter."

And the country's huge mineral endowment means chrome, iron ore and manganese-of which the nation has the world's biggest known reserves-are becoming more important for exports, said Ross Harvey, a mining analyst at the South African Institute of International Affairs.

"Minerals such as iron ore have good prospects," he said. "It's an irreplaceable product for the steel industry. But as mines bring in new technology, that will continue to drive down jobs absorption."

Draft rules published June 15 by Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe could hurt new operations. The Mining Charter says nearby communities and employees' groups should get a 5 percent interest in either the asset or the company that owns it. The Minerals Commission and its members are opposed.

Mark Bohlund, an Africa economist at Bloomberg Economics, said the government should be doing more for an industry that's still among the country's top export-revenue earners.

"The government could offer more tax incentives for the mining sector but the scope for this will be constrained by the need to reduce the budget deficit and stabilize public debt," he said. "Beyond that, the government needs to improve its relationship with key mining-sector unions and persuade them to moderate their wage demands."

South Africa has had success expanding its automotive industry, which now accounts for about 7 percent of GDP. Toyota, Ford and BMW all assemble vehicles locally. That can be put down to a state-incentive program that expires at the end of 2020, which both the carmakers and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies are eager to extend for another 15 years.

The state wants automakers to double the size of their combined workforce to about 225,000 to help to tackle the jobless rate, but the companies are reluctant to commit to specific targets. They view those as unrealistic given the global industry's shift toward robotics and automation, said National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa Director Nico Vermeulen.

For Caldwell Nzimeni and his friends in Carletonville, working in a vehicle-assembly plant isn't an option unless they migrate far from home and manage to acquire manufacturing skills they don't have.

Nzimeni, 29, worked at Mponeng, the world's deepest gold operation, for four years as an engineering assistant. He left in 2015 to complete his engineering studies but has been unsuccessfully applying for mine work for 18 months.

To make ends meet, he rents out shacks made from corrugated iron in the backyard of his home for 200 rand ($14) monthly and does plumbing and home-improvement jobs whenever he can find them. With the downturn in the town's economy, his tenants are struggling to make their payments.

"I had hoped to return in a higher position with my qualification, but it hasn't happened," said Nzimeni, wearing blue work overalls and an old national soccer-team shirt sprayed with cement and grout after returning from an odd job installing a bathroom. "There are no jobs. Since the mines have closed, businesses are falling apart."

Google is training machines to predict when a patient will die

By Mark Bergen
Google is training machines to predict when a patient will die
A member of the medical team prepares equipment during an operation inside theater at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham in Birmingham, England, on Feb. 20, 2017. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Matthew Lloyd.

A woman with late-stage breast cancer came to a city hospital, fluids already flooding her lungs. She saw two doctors and got a radiology scan. The hospital's computers read her vital signs and estimated a 9.3 percent chance she would die during her stay.

Then came Google's turn. An new type of algorithm created by the company read up on the woman -- 175,639 data points -- and rendered its assessment of her death risk: 19.9 percent. She passed away in a matter of days.

The harrowing account of the unidentified woman's death was published by Google in May in research highlighting the health-care potential of neural networks, a form of artificial intelligence software that's particularly good at using data to automatically learn and improve. Google had created a tool that could forecast a host of patient outcomes, including how long people may stay in hospitals, their odds of re-admission and chances they will soon die.

What impressed medical experts most was Google's ability to sift through data previously out of reach: notes buried in PDFs or scribbled on old charts. The neural net gobbled up all this unruly information then spat out predictions. And it did it far faster and more accurately than existing techniques. Google's system even showed which records led it to conclusions.

Hospitals, doctors and other health-care providers have been trying for years to better use stockpiles of electronic health records and other patient data. More information shared and highlighted at the right time could save lives -- and at the very least help medical workers spend less time on paperwork and more time on patient care. But current methods of mining health data are costly, cumbersome and time consuming.

As much as 80 percent of the time spent on today's predictive models goes to the "scut work" of making the data presentable, said Nigam Shah, an associate professor at Stanford University, who co-authored Google's research paper, published in the journal Nature. Google's approach avoids this. "You can throw in the kitchen sink and not have to worry about it," Shah said.

Google's next step is moving this predictive system into clinics, AI chief Jeff Dean told Bloomberg News in May. Dean's health research unit -- sometimes referred to as Medical Brain -- is working on a slew of AI tools that can predict symptoms and disease with a level of accuracy that is being met with hope as well as alarm.

Inside the company, there's a lot of excitement about the initiative. "They've finally found a new application for AI that has commercial promise," one Googler says. Since Alphabet Inc.'s Google declared itself an "AI-first" company in 2016, much of its work in this area has gone to improve existing internet services. The advances coming from the Medical Brain team give Google the chance to break into a brand new market -- something co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have tried over and over again.

Software in health care is largely coded by hand these days. In contrast, Google's approach, where machines learn to parse data on their own, "can just leapfrog everything else," said Vik Bajaj, a former executive at Verily, an Alphabet health-care arm, and managing director of investment firm Foresite Capital. "They understand what problems are worth solving," he said. "They've now done enough small experiments to know exactly what the fruitful directions are."

Dean envisions the AI system steering doctors toward certain medications and diagnoses. Another Google researcher said existing models miss obvious medical events, including whether a patient had prior surgery. The person described existing hand-coded models as "an obvious, gigantic roadblock" in health care. The person asked not to be identified discussing work in progress.

For all the optimism over Google's potential, harnessing AI to improve health-care outcomes remains a huge challenge. Other companies, notably IBM's Watson unit, have tried to apply AI to medicine but have had limited success saving money and integrating the technology into reimbursement systems.

Google has long sought access to digital medical records, also with mixed results. For its recent research, the internet giant cut deals with the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Chicago for 46 billion pieces of anonymous patient data. Google's AI system created predictive models for each hospital, not one that parses data across the two, a harder problem. A solution for all hospitals would be even more challenging. Google is working to secure new partners for access to more records.

A deeper dive into health would only add to the vast amounts of information Google already has on us. "Companies like Google and other tech giants are going to have a unique, almost monopolistic, ability to capitalize on all the data we generate," said Andrew Burt, chief privacy officer for data company Immuta. He and pediatric oncologist Samuel Volchenboum wrote a recent column arguing governments should prevent this data from becoming "the province of only a few companies," like in online advertising where Google reigns.

Google is treading carefully when it comes to patient information, particularly as public scrutiny over data-collection rises. Last year, British regulators slapped DeepMind, another Alphabet AI lab, for testing an app that analyzed public medical records without telling patients that their information would be used like this. With the latest study, Google and its hospital partners insist their data is anonymous, secure and used with patient permission. Volchenboum said the company may have a more difficult time maintaining that data rigor if it expands to smaller hospitals and health-care networks.

Still, Volchenboum believes these algorithms could save lives and money. He hopes health records will be mixed with a sea of other stats. Eventually, AI models could include information on local weather and traffic -- other factors that influence patient outcomes. "It's almost like the hospital is an organism," he said.

Few companies are better poised to analyze this organism than Google. The company and its Alphabet cousin, Verily, are developing devices to track far more biological signals. Even if consumers don't take up wearable health trackers en masse, Google has plenty of other data wells to tap. It knows the weather and traffic. Google's Android phones track things like how people walk, valuable information for measuring mental decline and some other ailments. All that could be thrown into the medical algorithmic soup.

Medical records are just part of Google's AI health-care plans. Its Medical Brain has unfurled AI systems for radiology, ophthalmology and cardiology. They're flirting with dermatology, too. Staff created an app for spotting malignant skin lesions; a product manager walks around the office with 15 fake tattoos on her arms to test it.

Dean, the AI boss, stresses this experimentation relies on serious medical counsel, not just curious software coders. Google is starting a new trial in India that uses its AI software to screen images of eyes for early signs of a condition called diabetic retinopathy. Before releasing it, Google had three retinal specialists furiously debate the early research results, Dean said.

Over time, Google could license these systems to clinics, or sell them through the company's cloud-computing division as a sort of diagnostics-as-a-service. Microsoft, a top cloud rival, is also working on predictive AI services. To commercialize an offering, Google would first need to get its hands on more records, which tend to vary widely across health providers. Google could buy them, but that may not sit as well with regulators or consumers. The deals with UCSF and the University of Chicago aren't commercial.

For now, the company says it's too early to settle on a business model. At Google's annual developer conference in May, Lily Peng, a member of Medical Brain, walked through the team's research outmatching humans in spotting heart disease risk. "Again," she said. "I want to emphasize that this is really early on."

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

Siege of port of Hodeida sparks hope for deal in Yemen

By david ignatius
Siege of port of Hodeida sparks hope for deal in Yemen



(For Ignatius clients only)

WRITETHRU- In 3rd graf, 2nd sentence, changes to "intervened" (sted "invaded")


WASHINGTON -- The brutal war in Yemen may be moving toward a tipping point following a controversial siege of the port of Hodeida by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

A U.N. mediator and a top Emirati diplomat both expressed hope Thursday for a negotiated deal with Houthi rebels that could relieve pressure on the city. But they disagreed about details, and humanitarian groups warned that the assault is choking relief supplies for Yemen's tormented civilian population.

Yemen is caught in a proxy war between the Saudi-UAE coalition, which backs the Yemeni government, and Iran, which supports the Houthis. The Saudis and Emiratis intervened in 2015 after the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa. But the war bogged down, with heavy civilian casualties. The Houthis alienated many Yemenis last year by killing their ally, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, after he switched sides and backed the Saudis.

Martin Griffiths, the U.N. special envoy for Yemen, said in a statement Thursday that he was "confident that we can reach an agreement to avert any escalation of violence in Hodeida." News reports said the Houthis might be willing to turn management of the port over to the U.N., easing the transport of food and other supplies.

Anwar Gargash, the UAE's minister of state for foreign affairs, also expressed hope for a deal in a telephone interview Thursday night. But he said the plan the Houthis seem ready to accept -- for U.N. oversight of the port -- isn't sufficient, and that the UAE and its allies want complete withdrawal of Houthi fighters from the city.

"We feel that if the Houthis are out of Hodeida, they will be much more realistic," Gargash said. "The smart thing is to push hard on the perimeter, not enter the city, and say to the U.N., 'Go back and get a better deal.'"

Past mediation efforts have foundered on just such disagreements about terms. A truce that seemed near in Sanaa many months ago, for example, was scuttled by Saudi and UAE demands that the Houthis surrender their heavy weapons, which they refused to do. In Hodeida, the Houthis don't have much heavy weaponry, Gargash said.

The Hodeida battle has been one of the most important of the three-year war. UAE commanders moved this month to assault the port city, hoping to tip the balance of the protracted conflict. Last week, the UAE-led forces seized control of the airport just outside the city center, and then called on the Houthis to withdraw.

"We don't want to move further than the airport," Gargash said. While he wouldn't rule out an assault on the city center, he said: "It shouldn't be fighting in the streets or homes. We don't want that."

The Hodeida offensive has been condemned by humanitarian groups that said the attack would further impede relief efforts. The port is the main transit point for NGOs bringing food and other assistance into the battered nation of Yemen. Amnesty International warned in a new report this week that the siege had meant a "stranglehold" of the city.

"We feel that taking Hodeida will shorten the war," Gargash said, in explaining the rationale for the offensive. "We've broken the stalemate," by taking the airport, he argued. If the U.N. can reach a deal for evacuation of fighters from the city, he maintained, "it will lay the groundwork for a broader political solution" in other parts of Yemen.

Saudi officials, similarly, believe that their position has grown stronger in Yemen. Like the UAE officials, they keep insisting that if they maintain the squeeze, the Houthis will crack.

Perhaps Hodeida will produce the elusive negotiated deal. Meanwhile, the war grinds on and civilian suffering continues.

David Ignatius can be reached via Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Message on first lady's jacket should be motto of Trump campaign

By dana milbank
Message on first lady's jacket should be motto of Trump campaign



(For Milbank clients only)


WASHINGTON -- In the 1992 campaign, President George H.W. Bush created an unofficial and much-mocked motto for his administration during a town hall meeting in New Hampshire. "Message: I care," he announced, as if reading aloud the stage directions.

Melania Trump did much the same last week when she went to Texas to see some of the migrant kids who were taken from their parents under her husband's policy. The now-famous wording on her jacket made her a human billboard for what should be the unofficial motto of the Trump administration:

"I really don't care, do u?"

The administration's cruelty is particularly prominent lately because of photos of the anguish of the migrant children -- and Trump's accompanying allegation of "phony stories of sadness" and his warning that immigrants, like insects, would "infest" the country. But the current episode, though highly visible, is hardly one of a kind. By now, the administration has amassed an extensive catalogue of cruelty.

On Thursday, Trump doomed the latest attempt to protect from deportation the "dreamers," those 700,000 people who have known no home but America since they were brought here as children. He tweeted that he didn't see the "purpose" of the House passing an immigration bill -- and, sure enough, the House called off the vote. It was his own executive action that exposed the dreamers to deportation in the first place.

(BEG ITAL)I really don't care, do u?(END ITAL)

On Wednesday night, Trump renewed his assault on Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as he dies from brain cancer. Trump again blamed McCain for the failed repeal of Obamacare.

The administration earlier this month decided not to defend the law against a court challenge that if successful would end protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. Trump has also ended subsidies to help insurance companies cover low-income people, and acknowledged the Obamacare repeal he championed was "mean." He gave a green light to work requirements for Medicaid that could deny health insurance even to many poor Americans who work.

(BEG ITAL)I really don't care, do u?(END ITAL)

The Trump administration this month said that domestic violence and gang violence would no longer be grounds for seeking asylum in the United States.

Trump previously reduced the number of refugees from 110,000 to 45,000 per year -- the lowest in almost 40 years; and even fewer are actually being admitted, forcing tens of thousands to remain in refugee camps and return to face persecution or violence in the countries they fled. This is after Trump's travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries, which resulted in families separated and students and doctors denied entry.

(BEG ITAL)I really don't care, do u?(END ITAL)

Lawmakers complained this last week to Trump's commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, that the administration's haphazard implementation of trade barriers is causing havoc for farmers, small businesses and manufacturers. Ross responded by calling such notions "exaggerated" and "not our fault."

A week earlier, as The Washington Post's Jeff Stein and Andrew van Dam wrote, Trump's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that wagesafter inflation have fallen over the past year for production and nonsupervisory workers -- 80 percent of all privately employed workers. That means economic "gains are going almost exclusively to people already at the top of the economic ladder." And the tax cuts further widen the gap between the rich and everybody else.

(BEG ITAL)I really don't care, do u?(END ITAL)

Trump's budget proposal this year, sensibly ignored by Congress, would have cut Medicaid by $306 billion over 10 years, food stamps by $214 billion, nutritional help for mothers and children, and heating assistance for the poor, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The Trump administration is also reducing enforcement of fair-housing laws. And Trump said Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was not a "real catastrophe" and said Puerto Ricans "want everything to be done for them." It now appears thousands died.

(BEG ITAL)I really don't care, do u?(END ITAL)

Trump said there were "very fine people" among the neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville last summer. He declared a ban on transgender people in the military and later imposed a partial ban. His administration ordered prosecutors to seek maximum penalties for even nonviolent drug crimes.

(BEG ITAL)I really don't care, do u?(END ITAL)

Now come reports that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller -- architects and leading defenders of Trump's child-separation policy -- were heckled in separate incidents in recent days while dining at Mexican restaurants. Another report this last week highlighted the discovery that Miller's great-grandfather had his naturalization petition denied because of "ignorance."

I don't like incivility, or cheap shots. But you know what else? I really don't care, do u?

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

The crying-child Rorschach

By kathleen parker
The crying-child Rorschach


(Advance for Sunday, June 24, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, June 23, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Parker clients only)


WASHINGTON -- Is there a psychiatrist in the house?

Like so many Americans, this columnist longs for the voice of another, the great and good Charles Krauthammer, who died last week, leaving us mortals to plod through the darkness without the light of his reasoned guidance.

A revered Washington Post colleague, Krauthammer was a psychiatrist as well as a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, a rare embodiment of exquisite logic and philosophical insight, as well as a wordsmith of enviable skill. Although I penned my tribute to the man while he was still living, he inevitably came to mind as I perused the morning mail and wondered about the extreme disconnect between how people have viewed the border crisis these past few weeks.

Though he never played the psychiatrist card, Krauthammer surely must have taken into account the psychological dimensions and ramifications of a given issue. It would be nearly remiss not to, given today's ever-more partisan and tribal ways.

To wit: The crying child.

Most have seen the photo of a 2-year-old child sobbing as her mother is being patted down by a Border Patrol agent. This image, which would touch anyone's heart, became an instant viral "infestation," to borrow the president's term for the migrant flow, and it quickly shifted the border debate from one of urgency to near hysteria. Let's just say coifs are aflame.

For Democrats, the quintessential photo provided the ultimate bunker buster for the mid-term battles ahead. For Republicans, it was merely further evidence of the Fake News empire striking, yet again. The profanely unwise Ann Coulter even suggested that such children were actors trained by liberals.

Next came Time magazine's newest cover, a powerful illustration showing the tiny tot standing alone before a looming President Trump, with the caption: "Welcome to America." During the small window between the photo's global debut and the Time cover, fresh information surfaced clarifying that the child, though clearly upset, was not ultimately separated from her mother, as many would have inferred. You could practically hear the "Yahoos!" from the Oval Office to the Fox News headquarters.

For the rest of the world, the image remains iconic and understood as what was intended, presumably by the photographer, and surely by Time -- a human symbol of a terrible policy gone awry. The fact that this little girl wasn't taken away from her mother -- hallelujah -- doesn't erase all the others who have been separated, nor does it alter the reality of suffering imposed on so many migrant families.

It does remind us, in the case of the photograph, that captions should be as complete as possible. Pictures are more powerful than a thousand words, to be sure, but journalism standards require as much accompanying information as we can get. In the viral social media world, this doesn't always happen.

As for Time, an illustration, like a cartoon, isn't meant to be taken literally. It is, after all, a figurative representation. Whatever the fallout, the photo served a noble purpose in helping organize people's outrage, no doubt leading Trump to issue an executive order Wednesday to end the separation abuse. Unfortunately, the image of this poor, innocent child will be used by both sides to advance political purposes.

Meanwhile, 2,300 children already have been separated and housed, who-knows-where? In at least some cases, officialdom hasn't a clue. This should be appalling to anyone with a heartbeat, but guess what? It isn't.

The disconnect mentioned earlier is confirmed both by my mailbag and by recent polling that shows up to 58 percent of Republicans supported the separation policy, while two-thirds of Americans overall did not. This data is reflected in letters from which two clear perspectives emerge: One, the crying child is an obvious metaphor for a terrible policy; two, this particular child was not separated from her mother and, therefore, everything else reported from the border can be dismissed as liberal/Marxist propaganda.

As a charitable concession commensurate with the moment, let's assume that anyone can entertain the following two thoughts at once: It is possible to both honor the law and other people's basic human rights.

Yes, of course, the migrating parents are responsible for bringing their young children to the border without documentation, but theirs is a sin born mostly of desperation; ours is a sin of volition, lacking even ordinary logic or a philosophy of compassion, both of which are today in scarcer supply with the departure of one Dr. Krauthammer.

(BEG ITAL)Oh, dear Charles, to read your mind.(END ITAL)

Kathleen Parker's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Your only Halley's

By charles krauthammer
Your only Halley's



(For Krauthammer clients only)


EDITORS -- The following Charles Krauthammer column was originally published on Dec. 13, 1985. It's the first of two pieces from his archives that we are resending, at no charge for publication. Krauthammer died Thursday, June 21, at age 68. Find additional memorial content at

A Lutheran minister once called comets the "thick smoke of human sins," a hypothesis that finds little support nowadays among scientists. They prefer to see comets as big dirty snowballs trailing tails of gas and enthralled by gravitation. And coming not from God but from the equally ineffable Oort cloud, a gigantic shell far beyond the solar system where aspiring comets spend eons of quiet desperation until disturbed by some celestial accident and called to race toward the sun and make men weep.

Except that men don't weep anymore. Halley's Comet may have brought victory to the Normans in 1066, heralded the descent of Turkish armies on Belgrade in 1456, and, in 1910, killed Mark Twain and then Edward VII. This time around all is forgiven. After all, it knows not what it does. And we know what it is: a forlorn mass of rock and ice, a few miles across, caught in endless revolution around our sun. Now an object, not an omen, it is the source not of panic but of curiosity. Five earthly spacecraft have been sent to greet it and snap its picture.

Science has thoroughly desacralized the universe. It is in the language. When in the last election Walter Mondale warned against militarizing "the heavens," the usage seemed quaint. After Neil Armstrong and George Lucas, what's up there now is simply "space." The heavens were a place for angels, gods and portentous messengers. Space is home to extraterrestrials, the Force and now snowballs cruising through emptiness.

Don't get me wrong. I am not pining for the days of the witch doctor. Things are much better now. There are costs to demystifying the universe and turning it over to science -- the ubiquity of Carl Sagan is among the heavier ones -- but the gain is great.

Halley's, like the rest of space, is friendly now, tamed. This will probably be the first time in history that Halley's will bring wonder unalloyed with fear. Halley's has turned into a celebration, a scientific romance.

The romance is in the return. Halley's comes back, always exactly on time. After its current pass, it will travel 3 billion miles away from Earth and then turn to revisit your children. It is the grandest reminder that an individual can behold of the constancy of nature. This, because of its cycle: it returns about every 75 years, once in a lifetime.

The sun rises regularly, too, but so often that we can't help being dulled to the wonder of its rhythm. And what rhythms, beyond that of the familiar year, really touch us? Sun spots come every 11 years, and what layman cares? Economists are forever coming up with "long waves" (50 years) and other putative business cycles. Even Freud's theory of neurosis was built on the notion of a distant return, the return of the child to the mind of the man. Such cycles can most charitably be called speculative.

Others are merely too long. The ice age will be back too. Fit that in your calendar. Halley's alone is made to human scale. Its span is precisely a lifetime. Birth and death are perhaps the only events that match Halley's periodicity. And neither is nearly as reliable. Birth and death come with regular irregularity (to borrow a term from cardiology). Halley's you can count on.

We know, for example, absolutely nothing about what the world will be like in 2061. Except one thing. In that unimaginable year, a year whose very number has an otherworldly look, Halley's will light up the sky.

One price of demystifying the universe is that science, unlike religion, asks only how, not why. As to the purpose of things, science is silent. But if science cannot talk about meaning, it can talk about harmony. And Halley's is at once a symbol and a proof of a deep harmony of the spheres.

The great author of that harmony was Newton. And one of the earliest empirical demonstrations of his gravitational theories was provided by his friend, Edmond Halley. Twenty-three years after the great comet of 1682, Halley deciphered its logic. He predicted its return in 1758. Halley died 17 years before he could be proved right. The return of the comet was a sensation. It made Halley immortal. True to its nature, science wed the comet forever to the man who did not discover it, but was the first to understand it.

This time around, there will be no sensation. Halley's will give one of the worst shows ever. This may be its dimmest apparition in more than 2,000 years. What we will celebrate, then, is not the spectacle, but the idea.

Halley's is a monument to science, a spokesman for its new celestial harmonies -- and an intimation of mortality. It is at once recurring and, for us individually, singular. This will be my only Halley's and, if you're old enough to read this without moving your lips, your last one too, I'm afraid.

Halley's speaks to me especially acutely. As it turns around the sun, the midpoint on its journey, I will be marking the midpoint in mine, or so say the Metropolitan Life tables. Our perihelions match. Mark Twain was rather pleased with the fact that he came in with Halley's and would go out with it. Ashes to ashes, Oort to Oort. Hail Halley's.

Charles Krauthammer's email address is

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

The central axiom of partisan politics

By charles krauthammer
The central axiom of partisan politics



(For Krauthammer clients only)


EDITORS -- The following Charles Krauthammer column was originally published on July 26, 2002. It's the second of two pieces from his archives that we are resending, at no charge for publication. Krauthammer died Thursday, June 21, at age 68. Find additional memorial content at

To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.

For the first side of this equation, I need no sources. As a conservative, I can confidently attest that whatever else my colleagues might disagree about -- Bosnia, John McCain, precisely how many orphans we're prepared to throw into the snow so the rich can have their tax cuts -- we all agree that liberals are stupid.

We mean this, of course, in the nicest way. Liberals tend to be nice, and they believe -- here is where they go stupid -- that most everybody else is nice too. Deep down, that is. Sure, you've got your multiple felon and your occasional war criminal, but they're undoubtedly depraved 'cause they're deprived. If only we could get social conditions right -- eliminate poverty, teach anger management, restore the ozone, arrest John Ashcroft -- everyone would be holding hands smiley-faced, rocking back and forth to "We Shall Overcome."

Liberals believe that human nature is fundamentally good. The fact that this is contradicted by, oh, 4,000 years of human history simply tells them how urgent is the need for their next seven-point program for the social reform of everything.

Liberals suffer incurably from naivete, the stupidity of the good heart. Who else but that oracle of American liberalism, The New York Times, could run the puzzled headline: "Crime Keeps On Falling, but Prisons Keep On Filling." But? How about this wild theory: If you lock up the criminals, crime declines.

Accordingly, the conservative attitude toward liberals is one of compassionate condescension. Liberals are not quite as reciprocally charitable. It is natural. They think conservatives are mean. How can conservatives believe in the things they do -- self-reliance, self-discipline, competition, military power -- without being soulless? How to understand the conservative desire to actually abolish welfare, if it is not to punish the poor? The argument that it would increase self-reliance and thus ultimately reduce poverty is dismissed as meanness rationalized -- or as Rep. Major Owens, D-N.Y., put it more colorfully in a recent House debate on welfare reform, "a cold-blooded grab for another pound of flesh from the demonized welfare mothers."

Liberals, who have no head (see above), believe that conservatives have no heart. When Republicans unexpectedly took control of the House of Representatives in 1994, conventional wisdom immediately attributed this disturbance in the balance of the cosmos to the vote of the "angry white male" (an invention unsupported by the three polls that actually asked about anger and found three-quarters of white males not angry.)

The "angry white male" was thus a legend, but a necessary one. It was unimaginable that conservatives could be given power by any sentiment less base than anger, the selfish fury of the former top dog -- the white male -- forced to accommodate the aspirations of women, minorities and sundry upstarts.

The legend lives. Years ago it was Newt Gingrich as the Grinch who stole Christmas. Today, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman declares the Bush administration the moral equivalent of Jean-Marie Le Pen, France's far right, xenophobic, anti-Semitic heir to European fascism. Both apparently represent the "angry right." But in America, writes Krugman, it is worse: "Here the angry people are already running the country."

This article of liberal faith -- that conservatism is not just wrong but angry, mean and, well, bad -- produces one paradox after another. Thus the online magazine Slate devoted an article to attempting to explain the "two faces" of Paul Gigot, editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal. The puzzle is how a conservative could have such a "winning cocktail-party personality and talk-show cordiality." Gigot, it turns out, is "Janus-faced": regular guy -- "plays basketball with working reporters" -- yet conservative! "By day he wrote acid editorials ... by night he polished his civilized banter [on TV]."

A classic of the genre -- liberal amazement when it finds conservatism coexisting with human decency in whatever form -- is the New York Times news story speaking with unintended candor about bioethicist Leon Kass: "Critics of Dr. Kass' views call him a neoconservative thinker. ... But critics and admirers alike describe him as thoughtful and dignified."

But? Neoconservative but thoughtful and dignified. A sighting: rare, oxymoronic, newsworthy.

The venerable David Halberstam, writing in praise of the recently departed Ted Williams, offered yet another sighting: "He was politically conservative but in his core the most democratic of men." Amazing.

The most troubling paradox of all, of course, is George W. Bush. Compassionate, yet conservative? Reporters were fooled during the campaign. "Because Bush seemed personally pleasant," explained Slate, "[they] assumed his politics lay near the political center."

What else could one assume? Pleasant and conservative? Ah, yes, Grampa told of seeing one such in the Everglades. But that was 1926.

Charles Krauthammer's email address is

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

If Melania really doesn't care, then who does?

By ruth marcus
If Melania really doesn't care, then who does?


(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE. (This replaces the column that would usually be for release Sunday, June 24.))

(For Marcus clients only)


"I Really Don't Care. Do U?" So First Lady Melania Trump advertised, in large letters on the back of a jacket made superfluous by the muggy summer weather, as she traveled to and from visiting migrant children at a Texas shelter.

It was impossible to divine with certainty what Trump was trying to communicate, except to know that the huffy official response -- "There was no hidden message," her communications director insisted -- was obviously untrue, unless in the sense that the message was not hidden at all, but emblazoned on the back of the jacket.

When you leave the house, you may grab whatever ratty sweatshirt is at hand. Not Melania Trump, former fashion model. The last news-making jacket that she wore was a $51,000 floral applique number from Dolce & Gabbana. Did the first lady have this one, off the rack from Zara for $39, stashed in her closet, awaiting the perfect moment?

In any event, the #ItsJustAJacket claim, and the accompanying lecture to the media to "spend their time & energy on her actions & efforts to help kids -- rather than speculate & focus on her wardrobe -- was, as things tend to be in Trumpworld, quickly contradicted by the president, who advised that the nonexistent message was actually a middle finger to "the Fake News Media." The first lady, he said, "has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!"

Yeah, right. It was a message to the traveling press -- just one that required two tries and presidential interpretation to deliver.

But the more interesting, and more answerable question, may be why Melania Trump's self-proclaimed insouciance felt so unnerving. I think it has to do with our national craving for a sense that someone, anyone, in this depraved administration retains some moral compass and basic human decency. If not Melania, then who? If not now, when?

Donald Trump is unsuited for many aspects of the presidency, none so much as the president's role as healer-in-chief. We are suffering from the national trauma of hearing the cries of children separated from their parents, possibly permanently. But this president cannot alleviate that trauma; he is the one who chose to inflict it.

Consider the reputational and political damage that accrued to George W. Bush with his incompetent and seemingly unfeeling -- recall the famous airplane flyby -- response to Hurricane Katrina. But Katrina was an act of God. The crying children are an act of Trump.

And so this administration must outsource its compassion. To some extent, this is convenient for the president, too. Trump does tough, and leaves the soft stuff to the women around him. Hence his eagerness to announce, as he backtracked from his lock-'em-up approach, that Melania Trump -- "My wife feels very strongly about it" -- and his daughter Ivanka had implored him to do so.

"The dilemma is that if you're weak ... if you're really, really pathetically weak, the country is going to be overrun with millions of people," Trump said Wednesday. "And if you're strong, then you don't have any heart. ... Perhaps I would rather be strong, but that's a tough dilemma."

He would rather be strong -- the Trump presidency in a nutshell.

Which leaves us with Melania Trump. Is it possible that she meant to say that she didn't give a hoot about the children? But she didn't seem like someone who was being dispatched to Texas under duress -- more like someone who was signaling, as best she could, that she did not back this immoral program.

Convict Melania Trump of selfish complicity, maybe -- certainly of a relentless failure of self-awareness with her #bebest insistence that she cares about combating cyber-bullying. Say that she issued a pre-reversal statement notable for its mealy mouthed evenhandedness.

Still, that was more than Certain Others could choke out (Ivanka Trump, that means you, as my colleague Karen Tumulty noted.) And a sitting First Lady was never going to go full Laura Bush, comparing her husband's policies with the internment of Japanese-Americans.

Perhaps this is too kind to Melania Trump, and it is more accurate to understand her as calculating collaborator than prisoner in a gilt-encrusted cage. Yet one of the astonishing aspects of the family separation debacle has been that no administration official -- not a single one -- had enough of a moral compass to quit in protest.

And so we are reduced to grasping at the crumbs of compassion tossed by Melania Trump. If she really doesn't care, no one in this benighted administration does. Which may well be true but does not make it any less tragic.

Ruth Marcus' email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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