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O Canada, we missed you

By Andrea Sachs
O Canada, we missed you
Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Andrea Sachs

At the Montreal airport, I was snapping photos inside a Tim Hortons when a woman at a nearby table interrupted my reunion with Canada's beloved coffee chain. "You must be a tourist," she stated, as I positioned my cup against the backdrop of croissants and bagels.

Normally, I would have protested that label. But after waiting more than a year and a half to enter the country, I wore the tourist badge proudly. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then our tickers are thumping hard for the Great White North.

When the borders reopened to Americans on Aug. 9, I wasn't in the right head space for a novel or daring adventure. With the pandemic still raging, I craved the comfortingly familiar, the places and things that are quintessential Canada. Imagine playing a game of free association with the word "Canada." The answers became my return trip north.

Canadian classics exist in all 10 provinces and three territories. However, due to time constraints and coronavirus restrictions, I settled on six provinces, inching westward from Prince Edward Island to British Columbia. To enter the country and avoid having to quarantine, I had to show a negative molecular test result (rapid antigen is not accepted) and proof of full vaccination, plus submit my health and itinerary details through the ArriveCan app. I was tested at PEI's Charlottetown Airport, which swabs all arriving passengers, regardless of the hour. I did not have to show my vax card to fly domestically, though the government recently announced that, starting Oct. 30, all air and rail travelers must be fully vaccinated. The rule will apply to cruisers once sailings resume next year.

All in all, I traveled more than 2,700 miles over 10 days, filling my (symbolic) Herschel backpack with treasured souvenirs and refreshed memories.

- Prince Edward Island

At Green Gables Heritage Place, the trees weren't talking in their sleep, as they did when Anne Shirley first laid eyes on her new home. But although the flora was silent, the fauna was chatty. "This was the parlor Anne and Diana weren't allowed in," a visitor exclaimed. "Do you remember the mouse in the custard?" she asked her companion, glancing at the table set for afternoon tea.

Fans of "Anne of Green Gables" will be flooded with reminiscences as they wander the 19th-century farmstead that inspired L.M. Montgomery to create one of the world's most famous literary characters and redheads. "There is fact and fiction in this house," a Parks Canada guide told me.

The period-furnished home once owned by cousins of Montgomery's grandfather seamlessly blends the real and the imaginary. A new visitors center tracks Montgomery's childhood in PEI and her ascendant writing career, which ended in Ontario. The author ensured her return to the island by choosing a burial site in Cavendish (fictional Avonlea). The scenery has changed since her death in 1942. Standing beside her grave, I used my Anne-size imagination to look past the Tim Hortons drive-through to the natural beauty beyond.

Though Anne was partial to plum pudding, most islanders - and visitors - prefer to fill their bellies with Malpeque oysters, which appear on raw-bar menus around the world. Captain Perry Gotell spent 30 years as a lobster fisherman but now takes guests out on the water to pluck oysters from the Brudenell River. "I'm not selling oysters; I'm selling the experience," said the owner of Tranquility Cove Adventures. Gotell leads several aquatic tours, including his newest and coldest, Ice Fishing for Oysters. When the river freezes over, he will cut a hole in the ice with a chain saw, but on this warm fall day, the path down was unobstructed. I dropped the tongs to the sandy bottom, clamped them shut and pulled up a platter's worth of mollusks.

The excursion includes all-you-can-catch-and-consume, but the oysters lucked out with me, because I don't eat seafood. As an alternative activity, Gotell showed me how to extend their lives by removing predatory starfish, brushing off barnacles and breaking up the clusters. "Twist the wrist," he advised, as I stabbed at the shells. I liberated most of the oysters, but a few fell victim to my poor knife skills. Ever the gracious host, Gotell slurped away my mistakes.

- Quebec

Louis de Buade de Frontenac led his merry band of followers into the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, both man and his namesake hotel looking fit for their advanced ages. The Quebec City property, which claims to be the world's most-photographed hotel, opened in 1893; the governor of New France was nearly 200 years older, though the tour guide playing the politician was significantly younger. In the lobby, he pointed out his family's crest and the handmade wallpaper, among other plummy flourishes. "The marble comes from Burgundy, like Versailles, the castle of my boss, Louis XIV," he said.

The hotel was about to close off rooms for a conference, so the guv hustled us through the Champlain Restaurant, which overlooks the St. Lawrence River, and the Salon Rose, where the leaders of Britain, Canada and the United States convened in 1943 to secretly discuss a World War II strategy. "They planned D-Day in this hotel," faux-Frontenac said. We passed through a hall of photographs documenting the momentous event and paused at the top of a staircase. In 1933, a honeymooning couple each made a wish while descending it. They never shared their wish until it came true 60 years later, when they returned to their shack d'amour.

My wish was more gastronomic than romantic: I wanted poutine, the lumpy mound of fries, cheese curds and gravy that originated in the French Canadian province. I decided to try Poutineville, a Montreal-based chain that is the Chipotle of poutine. I could have ordered one of their concoctions, such as the Hangover, or built my own with such toppings as brie, guacamole or corn dog. I chose a plant-based version of the classic and swore I would take only a few bites for research purposes. All that remained of my study: a swirl of gravy and a few strands of cheese.

Unlike poutine, a pan-Canadian comfort food, maple syrup sees more of the world: Quebec produces about three-quarters of its global supply. "It's really part of our culture and is a living folklore," said Rose Boissonneault, director of the Érablière le Chemin du Roy, a sugar shack outside Quebec City.

Maple syrup season usually starts in March and runs until "the snow pile is gone," she said. However, many facilities remain open year-round, offering tours and serving the traditional feast of maple-glazed ham and sausages, pea soup, baked beans, meat pies and omelets, with pancakes for dessert. At Chemin du Roy, I sat in a sugar maple grove and learned about the sweat and speed required to make the syrup. Boissonneault employs the old-fashioned method of collecting sap: spigots, buckets and snowshoes. To prevent the liquid from fermenting into alcohol, the workers must quickly filter and boil the sap - a round-the-clock affair fueled by a hearty meal, booze, singing and dancing.

The boiling temperature determines the final product. Boissonneault handed me a heaping spoonful of cool and creamy maple butter (226 degrees). I next sampled maple toffee (234 degrees) that I spun onto a wooden stick atop a bed of "snow" - the taste of winter and spring rolled in one bite.

- Ontario

"Did you get wet?" a father of two dry children asked me as I disembarked the Niagara Falls boat. I nodded my head yes, releasing droplets of waterfall into the air.

For the 20-minute ride with Niagara City Cruises, the Canadian version of the New York-based Maid of the Mist sightseeing vessel, I donned the hot-pink poncho, removed my sunglasses and prepared for the dousing. The captain steered the boat to the American Falls without hitting the rocks, then drove by Bridal Veil Falls. At Canada's Horseshoe Falls, the largest of the trio, the vessel idled in thick clouds of mist that enveloped the vessel and obscured the waterfall. Spitballs of water hit my face. On the return to shore, I watched the waterfall regain its majestic splendor through a curtain of wet lashes.

A few miles away, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the vines were heavy with grapes. The harvest typically starts in the fall, but the bunches destined to become ice wine must hang on for a little longer. "The grapes are left on the vine into winter, so they can build up sugar," said our guide at Peller Estates Winery & Restaurant. "They must be picked at minus-8 degrees Celsius (about 18 degrees Fahrenheit). It usually happens at night, from 1 or 2 a.m. to sunrise."

Though ice wine originated in Germany hundreds of years ago, the Niagara region has dominated the ice wine industry since the 1970s. Southern Ontario's wineries make 95 percent of the global supply, which is no small feat: It takes 40 bunches of grapes to create a demi-bottle of ice wine, about 10 times more than a full-size bottle of red or white. On the tour, we tasted four wines, saving the sweetest for last. After a glass of the vidal, I stumbled around the gift shop, tipsy on sugar.

Wayne Gretzky dabbles in viticulture - he has an eponymous Niagara winery that makes ice wine - but his glory really belongs in the ice hockey rink. The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto dedicates an entire wall to the Great One, including a mold of his bare feet. The temple to the national winter sport also highlights major moments in hockey history, such as the "Golden Goal" from the 2010 Winter Olympics, and honors its superstars, several of whom also appear in the nearby Canada's Walk of Fame. The Entertainment District attraction heralds Canadians who have excelled in such categories as music (Neil Young, Joni Mitchell), film and television (Catherine O'Hara, Alex Trebek), literature (Margaret Atwood) and innovation (Alexander Graham Bell). I was on the hunt for Celine Dion, whom I found beside Bobby Orr, an odd couple - except in Canada.

- Manitoba

At Qaumajuq, a new museum in Winnipeg, I got a jump on the world's largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art from the sidewalk: Two outdoor sculptures, including one of tumbling polar bear cubs, grace the entrance. In the lobby, I increased my count exponentially at the Visible Vault, a three-story glass tower that contains nearly 5,000 stone carvings by 31 communities. A video component allows guests to virtually pull the objects off the shelves for a closer look.

Qaumajuq, which means, "It is bright, it is lit," in Inuktitut, is connected to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, which also displays works by Inuit and other Indigenous cultures. "Inua," the cultural center's debut exhibit, features pieces by more than 90 Inuit artists who defy stereotypes. "Carving is how we think of Inuit art, but a lot of these artists use traditional and nontraditional mediums," said Riva Symko, the gallery's head of collections and exhibitions and curator of Canadian art. "We are allowing the communities to speak for themselves and let them be represented as they wish." The personal expressions vary wildly, including a sealskin spacesuit, a stop-motion animation of a whale hunt and a reproduction of the artist's grandmother's living room, titled "Ajjigiingiluktaaqtugut," or "We Are All Different."

The museum has taken over the window displays of the Hudson's Bay flagship store, which closed last November after nearly 95 years. "The Bay," as the retailer is affectionately called, set up shop in the mid-1600s as a trading post for fur trappers. Today, it caters to customers who prefer fleece and puffer jackets over beaver fur and bear pelts. The city still supports two other Bays, both of which contain altars to the striped design popularized during Queen Anne's reign. The multicolored bars appear on every imaginable household item, including Le Creuset casserole dishes, mugs, socks, pens, soaps, dog leashes, face masks, ear warmers and HBC Stripes Barbie, who resembles a label-obsessed fashionista with her Hudson's Bay coat, fanny pack and oar.

- Alberta and British Columbia

The easiest and most lawful way to meet a Mountie in full regalia is to attend the Musical Ride, a touring performance held May through October. However, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police canceled all appearances this year due to safety concerns. As an alternative, I considered dropping by the RCMP station in Banff, Alberta, but the officers there drive patrol cars, not horses, and don't dress like British toy soldiers. "They don't wear the red uniforms," said Patrick Twomey, the Banff-based guide and owner of 2me Tours. "They found that they were a giveaway in sting operations." I finally tracked down Mounties at the North-West Mounted Police Barracks in Canmore. Granted, the officers were long gone - the last constable to occupy the log structure was in 1929 - but their spirit and wardrobe live on.

The NWMP, the regional antecedent of the federal RCMP, were in charge of maintaining law and order in the developing west. They cracked down on the illegal liquor trade and wrangled drunk coal miners, for instance, and also ensured that residents were wearing masks during the 1918 flu pandemic. "They were the frontier police," said Sarah Knowles, the Canmore Museum's visitor and membership services officer.

Inside the historical site, I could trace the evolution of their work attire, from the impractical white pith helmet to the rugged-chic brown felt hat. One exhibit case displayed the shaggy bison-hide jacket that recruits received in their welcome kits. The coat bore a striking resemblance to Sasquatch, another Canadian legend I wished to - but also didn't - encounter.

At Banff National Park, I asked around about where I could find moose. The answer was Newfoundland. My prospects for spotting a beaver, the national animal and Parks Canada mascot, were much higher. The mammals are mostly nocturnal, so I set out at dusk, making one pit stop to rent bear spray at an outdoor gear shop. The Fenland Trail hugged a tranquil creek before spitting me out on a road below the Trans-Canada Highway. I stopped at the first of the three Vermilion Lakes and scanned the surface for ripples. Duck, duck ... furry brown head. I headed back to town smug in my discovery until doubt set in. Was that beaver really a muskrat? Without seeing the tail or teeth, I couldn't be sure. For my second attempt, I rented a kayak at the Banff Canoe Club and paddled by beaver lodges on the Bow River, hoping one of the residents was an early riser. Unfortunately, they all slept in.

A staff member suggested I sit at a clearing by the water and wait for the beaver to pop out. I was headed in that direction when I bumped into a pack of stoned kids talking excitedly about an elk bull fight. I asked them where this battle scene had unfolded, and they pointed at the nearby riverbank, where one of the elk was peacefully grazing. "They're hungry and tired now," one guy reassured me. "You don't have to worry." Because I wasn't sure how long the detente would last, I aborted my beaver quest. But I can say with certainty that I saw an elk.

The Rocky Mountaineer goes where few passenger trains dare: through the mighty Canadian Rockies. The two-day journey travels between Banff and Vancouver, B.C., (or the reverse), with a hotel stay in Kamloops in British Columbia. (The recent discovery of more than 200 Indigenous children in unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops has led to a nationwide moment of reflection, reckoning and reconciliation.) The luxury train has more glass than metal, all the better to lean into the scenery. From my seat, I could see leaping salmon and swooping bald eagles, gold panners and double rainbows, and Doris, who greets every Mountaineer from her porch in the town of Canoe. "Our favorite waver," one of the three hosts in our car remarked as we passed her yellow house.

The train took nearly 12 hours to reach Kamloops. We chugged up and over the Continental Divide - "You are officially one hour younger," a staffer announced - and jogged alongside rivers that cut electric-blue streaks through the chiseled landscape. The following day, we set off in a semiarid desert and solemnly gazed at trees charred by wildfires. "It's been a tough year for everyone," an attendant said.

We had to remain in our assigned car for the entire time, though we could stand in the gangway connection to photograph the scenery and feel the sun's rays or raindrops on our cheeks. The staff pointed out notable sights and kept our calorie count up with two daily meals (Fraser Valley scramble for breakfast; Alberta beef short ribs or Pacific salmon fillet for lunch), snacks (cheese plate) and drinks (British Columbian beer, cider and wines). When we were near the Vancouver terminus, they cranked up the music, and we all rose from our seats to dance to "(I've Had) The Time of My Life."

I didn't need to go to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island to sink my teeth into a Nanaimo bar. Vancouver's Granville Island Public Market sells the tri-layered sweet, as well as wild smoked salmon sealed for long-distance travel. From the market, I ferried over to Morton Park, where I claimed a bench overlooking the English Bay and watched a pair of Canada geese pecking at the grass. Soon we would all have to fly south, but none of us seemed to be in any rush to recross the border.

To stop a scrapyard, some protesters in a Latino community risked everything

By Darryl Fears and Robin Amer
To stop a scrapyard, some protesters in a Latino community risked everything
Peggy Salazar, a longtime resident of Chicago's Southeast Side, has for decades fought pollution and environmental problems in her community. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Jamie Kelter Davis

CHICAGO - Twenty days into her hunger strike, Yesenia Chavez took a long look in the mirror.

Her skin was pale. Her brown eyes seemed blank. Her weight had dropped by 17 pounds and she thought she could see her bones. "I looked pretty sick," she said.

Chavez and other activists were trying to stop a large metal scrapyard with a poor environmental record from starting up in their Mexican American community on Chicago's Southeast Side. They feared noxious gases and toxic fiberglass fluff from the car-crushing facility would increase Hegewisch's already significant air pollution.

What made the situation especially audacious, in their view, was that the business had relocated from a wealthy White community on the North Side, where residents pushed for years to get rid of it. The scrapyard's departure from Lincoln Park is paving the way for a $6 billion development of new shops, restaurants, office buildings, luxury condominiums, playgrounds and scenic views of the Chicago River.

"It's about the fact that you can take something from a community where it's not wanted, for all the reasons it's not wanted there, and build [it] here," said Peggy Salazar, who has lived in Hegewisch for nearly four decades. "We don't have a voice about that, but they do. That's why it's insulting . . . and that's why we're opposed to it."

Black, Latino and American Indian communities across the country continue to feel targeted and expected to carry a heavier burden no matter the consequences. In North Charleston, S.C., hundreds of people in a mostly Black community could lose their homes if a freeway interchange is expanded. In Dallas, a mountain of toxic waste rose illegally on the edge of a Black neighborhood and took extraordinary pressure to get removed.

Then there's Chicago, which has one of the biggest disparities in neighborhood life expectancy in the United States.

"The city of Chicago has long used the Southeast Side and other lower-income communities of color . . . as dumping grounds for heavy and dirty industries," said Nancy Loeb, director of Northwestern University's Environmental Advocacy Center. Locals even have a label for their situation: "Receiving zones for industries no longer welcome in wealthier, whiter areas."

- - -

But the fight in Hegewisch has played out differently than most previous battles. Though Reserve Management Group is ready to switch on its new $80 million Southside Recycling facility - built within a few hundred feet of a high school, elementary school and sprawling playground - residents' opposition has helped to delay its final permits.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, D, who must decide whether to approve or refuse those permits, is caught in a maelstrom of politics, lawsuits and federal investigations. The Department of Housing and Urban Development launched a civil rights probe last fall into the city's preliminary approval of construction permits for the scrapyard, and this spring the Environmental Protection Agency asked local officials to do a comprehensive study of its "aggregate potential health effects." Both are still pending.

For many in the community, the relocated operation became their figurative line in the sand. It brought together older activists like Salazar and younger ones like Chavez, who were willing to risk their health for the cause. Their hungry strike drew global media attention and a visit from EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

Chavez joined the strike in part for personal reasons. She thought of her maternal grandfather, who encountered pollution on the Southeast Side when he immigrated from Mexico, and her mother, who was raised around it.

As a girl, she marveled at how the North Side, with its running trails along the Chicago River and views of the city skyline from Lake Michigan's shoreline, contrasted with Southeast's polluted Calumet River. An area known as the Calumet Industrial Corridor includes at least 80 heavy manufacturing sites - chemical factories, plastics manufacturers, paint companies, landfills, recycling and waste management plants, railways.

Protesters engaged with passion and zeal. Even when a medical team advised hunger strikers to quit as their action entered a fifth week, Chavez voted to press on.

"I was at peace," the 27-year-old pre-med student said, "with potentially dying for this."

- - -

There's a place on the Southeast Side's shore where Olga Bautista can almost forget about the factories.

She hopped in her SUV on a warm day and drove east on South Avenue O to Calumet Park, an expansive recreation area along Lake Michigan. The wind played in her hair as she stood near the water's edge. But even this oasis is no longer untouched. A grainy black substance darkened the waves licking the shore. It left thin rows of residue on the wet sand.

Bautista studied the substance, then looked toward the mills, warehouses and smokestacks in the distance. A worried look flashed across her face. Her young daughter was in the water taking a swimming lesson.

For more than a century, this section of the city was home to the powerful but dirty steel mills that helped build America. As U.S. Steel and other industry titans faded away in the early 1990s, residents hoped the pollution they had endured would also fade. Yet officials simply allowed in more industry, even as scientific evidence of the negative health effects became clear.

Two years ago, a New York University study showed the long-term repercussions. The analysis examined air quality, exposure to toxic pollution and access to healthy food by census tracts, as well as race, income and unemployment. Researchers found a 30-year gap in life expectancy between two neighborhoods on Chicago's North and South sides - the largest disparity of the country's 500 biggest cities.

When Salazar moved to Southeast in 1983, into a little house with a manicured yard, she knew bulk open-air storage facilities were only a few blocks away. "I didn't think they would impact me."

She was wrong.

Over time, she realized the wind was lifting hazardous material off giant piles at warehouses and sprinkling it on her neighborhood like powdered sugar on a cake. One day, a neighbor marveled at the dark, rich dirt that clung to a rag whenever she dusted.

"It's not dirt," Salazar said. "It's fugitive dust that's getting into your house."

As her concerns about pollution grew, Salazar joined what became the Southeast Environmental Task Force and entered its war against city planning and zoning officials. She fought a proposed coal gasification plant, landfills expansions and more petroleum coke facilities.

"I had hoped to bring about some transitioning into a greener kind of community, but it's a big lift," Salazar, 68, said recently. After serving as the task force's executive director for about a decade, she stepped down in July. "I thought once the steel mills closed we could make it cleaner, and it didn't happen. All they did was bring us dirty industry to replace that one."

Bautista, 42, will lead the charge moving forward.

She dreams of bringing green manufacturers into Hegewisch, as happened seven miles away in the Pullman community, where the Method soap company is going strong with wind turbines, solar panels and a 75,000-foot green roof with pesticide-free vegetable garden. The city, she believes, must finally honor its past promises to clean up Southeast.

"My fight is not with General Iron," said Bautista, who worked with other activists and lawyers at the Natural Resources Defense Council to file the complaint that triggered HUD's investigation. "My fight is with the city of Chicago. They've said a lot of wonderful, beautiful things about what they prioritize, and I want to see that."

- - -

How did a scrapyard with a problematic environmental record - constant noise violations, multiple fires, even explosions - get the permits allowing it to shift to another part of Chicago?

General Iron Industries operated nearly a century in Lincoln Park, taking the rebar, typewriters, washing machines, cars, scooters and other scrap metal that junkmen had collected from alleys or demolition companies. It transformed that into raw, usable steel.

But the more affluent its surroundings became, the more the scrapyard stood out. By 2017, its owners were under siege.

Steve Joseph watched its last days. Joseph, chief executive of Reserve Management Group, aspired to expand his company's recycling compound near Hegewisch and coveted General Iron.

Given its troubles, Joseph said in an interview, he figured the owners might sell at a lower price. As RMG bartered for the scrapyard, it also negotiated with then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel to close the Lincoln Park operation and build a new one to the south.

"They didn't tell us to put it here," Joseph said, "but we asked them, 'If we put it here, will you work with us?' and the answer was yes."

The two companies publicly unveiled their new partnership in July 2018 and simultaneously announced that the "recycling center" would be relocated. The new facility, they noted, would "revitalize the Calumet Region with jobs and business opportunities while improving the environmental health and safety of the region and showcasing sustainable development."

Hegewisch erupted. People demanded that their representative on the city council, Alderwoman Susan Garza, D, stop the move.

Even Lincoln Park residents who pushed for General Iron's exit were flabbergasted.

"Our motto was comply or goodbye," said Lara Compton, one of the leaders of the North Side environmental group Clean the North Branch. "We felt strongly . . . that if General Iron couldn't comply on the North Side, then it wouldn't be able to comply anywhere in the city."

For more than two years, the RMG/General Iron venture seemed on track, despite Emanuel's announcement in September 2018 that he would not seek reelection. The permit process continued amid protests, and in early 2019, the new venture won local approval to use equipment for a new shredder on the South Side.

Lightfoot became Chicago's first female African American mayor that spring. Several months after she took office - after campaigning as an environment-friendly candidate - the city entered into an agreement with RMG that cleared the way for the shredder's relocation.

As of last fall, her administration was still supporting RMG. A city lawyer even chided protesters as needlessly reactionary, saying their concerns were unwarranted because the new facility was technologically advanced and safer than the old one.

Yet the circumstances under which the city granted the permits under both Emanuel and Lightfoot were so questionable that HUD launched a probe focused on possible violations of the federal Fair Housing Act. This January, the federal EPA began an investigation of the state environmental agency's separate approval of a construction permit.

The $80 million structure continues to sit idle. Lightfoot declined to be interviewed for this article but said in a statement that her administration is committed to spurring both economic growth and improving air quality.

After the EPA administrator's visit in May - when Regan asked Lightfoot to delay her final review, citing the "environmental justice implications" - RMG filed two lawsuits in federal and state courts for $100 million in damages.

A federal judge threw out the case. A state judge allowed the company to continue seeking monetary damages with its claim that the city's action posed "an existential threat to RMG's existence, and its employees," not just in Chicago but nationwide.

"We never would have closed this purchase and never done this deal and never spent a dime on it if we didn't have that agreement with the city that took sometime over a year to negotiate," Joseph said. He believes the EPA also hurt his business when it requested the environmental analysis.

"It's a wish of the Biden administration to change environmental policy, and I'm all for that," he said. "But he can't change the rules of the game after the game has been played."

- - -

For the hunger strikers, it was no game.

Óscar Sanchez, who directs youth and restorative justice programs for a local nonprofit, was livid over the scrap shredder's arrival in his community. Biology teacher Chuck Stark was angry because it sat across the street from his students at George Washington High School.

Both Sanchez, 24, and Stark, 37, were among the first volunteers when discussions about a hunger strike began. Sanchez stepped forward in memory of his grandfather, who suffered from a respiratory illness that contributed to his death from covid last year, and for a brother who has asthma.

His agony started within days, he recalled. He had migraines and lagging energy. He was so hungry that at times "it felt like my stomach was trying to eat itself."

After about two weeks, he wasn't just losing weight. He was losing short-term memory. When a wheel on his car went bad, he asked his father to help repair it. The next day, he asked again. "My dad's like, 'We fixed the car yesterday,' " Sanchez said. "That's when I started crying."

Chavez became part of the strike a week after it began. By her third week, she was drained and depressed and periodically felt faint. Still, she vowed not to quit.

"Should I have to face the same pollution that my mom and my grandfather had to deal with in the '70s?" Chavez asked. "Will my kids have to face that same pollution?"

The group put out a call to all of the Southeast to join the fast. Democratic Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 38, who represents a district there, signed on. He later explained that he had wanted to bring attention to the lasting effects on health "when industry gets dumped in our communities." He described the 10 days he went without food as "difficult and excruciating."

The effort lasted about a month, finally ending in March when that medical team convinced participants that they were putting themselves in danger. They fell short of their prime objective: a meeting with Lightfoot. "We literally thought we would die before the mayor would do anything," Chavez said.

They now must wait for the completion of the city's environmental study and then Lightfoot's decision. Sanchez is sure other companies in Chicago also are waiting, "to see what they can and can't get away with."

If the scrapyard facility gets final approval, it would be a gut punch for the community. But people are prepared to hit back, he explained.

"We're going to fight," he said. "We have nothing else to lose."

The movie business may be struggling, but you wouldn't know it at these thriving independent theaters

By Ann Hornaday
The movie business may be struggling, but you wouldn't know it at these thriving independent theaters
Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Mass., has announced plans for a 14,000-square-foot expansion, including two new screens and a community education and engagement center, the result of a $12.5 million capital campaign. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Adam Glanzman

DES MOINES, Iowa - Tears were shed three years ago when the Varsity Theatre, a beloved one-screen movie venue bordering the Drake University campus here, closed its doors. The building had served as an automotive sales and service shop and Coca-Cola bottling plant before being converted into a theater in 1938. On Dec. 30, 2018, after being owned and operated by the same family for more than 60 years, it would conclude its long run with a screening of - what else? - "Cinema Paradiso."

But where Des Moines film fans saw the end of an era, Ben Godar saw the future. As co-founder and director of Des Moines Film, a nonprofit film society, Godar considered the Varsity a perfect location for the kind of movie venue that is proving increasingly popular throughout the country: a two- or three-screen art house, often nonprofit, with a bar and cafe attached, designed to provide local audiences with independent, foreign-language, documentary and Oscar-bound movies that are too small for the multiplex.

A few months after the Varsity shut its doors, Des Moines Film bought the theater, and Godar immediately applied for historical preservation tax credits, which would provide the ballast of the $3 million he intended to raise to offset the purchase, and renovate and upgrade the theater. With the tax credits secured, he prepared to launch a major capital campaign in February 2020.

"And then covid hit," he said.

Godar was surprisingly upbeat as he showed a recent visitor plans for a second screening room, an elevator, bigger bathrooms and a hip gathering place for filmgoers. "It hasn't been nearly as disastrous as I thought it was going to be in the early days," he said of the past 18 months. "In a way, if this had to hit, it hit at an OK time for us, in that we're still relatively small, I'm our only staff person, and we hadn't staffed up to operate the theater yet."

Instead of a capital campaign he intended to announce in 2020, Godar launched a virtual cinema, giving Des Moines viewers a taste of programming to come. He spent most of the year applying for government and foundation grants, and working with architects on the new design. Once Godar got the capital campaign underway earlier this year, the results were encouraging: "Our initial goal was to raise $25,000 in the first five days," he said, "and we raised over $100,000." More than 1,000 donors stepped up, many with modest contributions that proved to Godar that the Varsity had a viable constituency. "I'd rather have it go that way and know that we have an audience than to have some high net-worth individual or large foundation write us an enormous check," he said.

Opening a new movie theater in 2021 might seem counterintuitive. The exhibition business has taken a historic hit over the past year and a half, with theaters going out of business, chains declaring bankruptcy and big multiplexes desperately looking for financial runway to recover from billions in losses. Box office revenue hovers around 70 percent compared with 2019. Attendance - already on a downward slope before the coronavirus pandemic - has done a similar nose dive. The rise of streaming has taken on exponential force, with studios either releasing their films in theaters and on streaming simultaneously or forgoing brick-and-mortar theaters entirely.

And yet, for a certain sector of the exhibition business, things look, if not blazingly bright, at least cautiously bullish. While not immune to the forces that have affected the greater industry, independent theaters and art houses have managed to weather the challenges of the past year and half, some with startling success. Dozens of small theaters around the country are embarking on expansions, renovations or brand-new openings during the covid era.

In Millerton, N.Y., new owners David Maltby and Chelsea Altman have overhauled the Moviehouse, a three-screen theater serving audiences from Dutchess County to the Berkshires. They renovated the building's first floor and added a bar, installed an elevator and refurbished the smallest auditorium to create a speakeasy-like "screening lounge."

In Billings, Mont., the Art House microcinema has installed new sound, projection and seats, and will soon add two screens and a restaurant. Its sister theater, the 720-seat Babcock, is so big that it reopened just a few months into the pandemic with socially distanced screenings of such classics as "Jurassic Park," "The Goonies" and the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

In Iowa City, the nonprofit FilmScene had opened a new three-screen venue just six months before the pandemic hit; in 2021, they renovated and reopened their original two-screen location and established an outdoor screening venue in an adjacent public park.

In Washington, D.C.,the Austin-based chain Alamo Drafthouse Cinema - which filed for bankruptcy in March, before being sold - has announced plans to open two new theaters.

And in Brookline, Mass., the Coolidge Corner Theatre has announced plans for a 14,000-square-foot expansion, including two new screens and a community education and engagement center, the result of a $12.5 million capital campaign.

The public-facing component of that campaign was set to launch in early 2020, recalls Coolidge Executive Director and CEO Katherine Tallman, "and then covid said, 'Sit down.' " Like Godar, Tallman made an immediate pivot, launching a virtual platform, applying for permits for the expansion, weighing in on blueprints and applying for federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans to keep her administrative staff. And then, she says, donations began to roll in.

"Our donations more than doubled when we were closed," Tallman says. "We raised over $600,000 from an annual appeal, compared to $180,000 the year before. Almost 50 percent of that was from new donors." One was a foundation that sent a $50,000 check "with a message to the effect of, 'You're going to need this,' " Tallman recalls. "We had another that was a yellow piece of paper with a $5 bill stuck on it saying, 'This is all I could afford, I hope it helps.' "

Mark O'Meara, who runs the Cinema Arts and University Mall Theatres in Fairfax, Va., didn't have the benefit of a huge capital campaign during the pandemic; as a for-profit theater, he needed to seek out different advantages. "Thank God I had two landlords who were very, very, very understanding," he says. "They're my heroes. I did pay them a little. I never paid all of (the rent), but I paid them something." When he was forced to go dark in early 2020, he says, he decided to offer curbside popcorn to his regulars to snack on while they streamed at home. And he applied for PPP and disaster loans.

"It reminded me of when we were first married," he says. "We'd sit at the kitchen table and take each bill and say, 'We can do this; we can't do that.' All winter, we were picking each bill as we could pay it."

Independent theaters and art houses have never been considered massive moneymakers compared to corporate multiplexes. But they have proved to be uniquely positioned to survive the pandemic. Many of them are nonprofits, meaning they could not only take advantage of government programs like the PPP loans and the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, but they could fundraise from foundations and individuals. In many communities, they serve not just as filmgoing destinations, but as venues for other art forms and vital social hubs.

Although the exhibitors' trade group the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) has traditionally been associated with big chains like AMC, Regal and Cinemark, the organization quickly came to the aid of small and midsize venues applying for government grants like SVOG. "The reason for that is the impact of those theaters," explains NATO chairman Rolando Rodriguez, chairman, president and CEO of Marcus Theatres. "We as an industry don't survive by just the top five or six companies. We support Main Street America, and Main Street America can be in Des Moines, Iowa, or Billings, Montana. Everyone is important to our long-term success."

Ironically, what might have once been a disadvantage for small theaters turned out to be an advantage during covid: Whereas multiplexes traditionally rely on studio ad campaigns that cost tens of millions of dollars, smaller theaters do the marketing themselves, reaching their customers through email lists, newsletters, social media and face-to-face contact.

In other words, smaller theaters had developed an authentic relationship with their audiences, with the result that, when they were forced to shut down in 2020, most of them were able to communicate directly with their patrons and immediately engage them with virtual cinemas, special online programs, podcasts and appeals for donations. When they began to reopen over the summer, they were able to provide the kind of personal assurances and safety measures people needed to feel safe.

The AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Centre reopened in Silver Spring. Md., in late May, after receiving state, local and federal grants and some individual donations. The theater found success over the summer with such new releases as "Summer of Soul," "Roadrunner" and "In the Heights." But it has done even better with its repertory program, according to programming director Todd Hitchcock. Rereleases of the 1969 erotic thriller "La Piscine" and Fellini's "8 1/2," as well as more modern classics like "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Jaws" and "The Empire Strikes Back" have been the theater's most popular films, he says, reinforcing its mission as a well-curated repertory house. More recently, the theater was well-attended for the return of its annual Latin American Film Festival and Noir City DC series; Hitchcock is optimistic that the Silent Cinema Showcase, which will run from Oct. 29 through Nov. 23, will do just as well.

"I had a regular patron tell me last summer that he watched more than 100 films last year (on our virtual platform)," Hitchcock says. "Now that he's been back, he said, 'I've seen 10 since you've reopened.' That's what he's here for. He's here to see movies on the big screen." Noting that many films on the Silver's schedule are ones people can see at home via streaming, Hitchcock sees their success as a confirmation of the theater's core mission. "This is a big part of what we do, and it's not anything different than what we've been doing for decades," he says. "Ultimately, we're in the get-out-of-the-house-and-come-to-the-theater-for-a-night-out-and-see-a-film-the-right-way business."

At a time when most theaters are only realizing 50 percent of their typical revenue, the onset of the delta variant introduced yet another hurdle: Although most theater chains have not instituted vaccination mandates, many art houses have, including the AFI Silver and the Avalon, in northwest D.C. Avalon programming director Andrew Mencher admits he received some negative feedback after introducing the mandate, but the overwhelming feeling was one of support, he says. "We got some nasty phone calls, but what you learn being in this business, or any service business, is that the people who are angry are the ones who are most vocal."

Then there are the movies themselves: There's been a dearth of midrange, sophisticated movies that draw traditional "smarthouse" audiences and in a worrying trend, films that once would have played art houses have been going straight to streaming, or opening wide for a few weeks before going to video-on-demand. The result is that the core of the traditional art house business model - specialty films that open small, earn gradual word-of-mouth and play for weeks on end - has been in flux.

Moviehouse co-owner Altman notes that the new James Bond movie "No Time to Die" was a big success for the theater, especially with small groups that booked private screenings in the new lounge. The film's opening weekend in early October "was also one of the best we've had since reopening for general admissions, which goes to prove that film content is critical," Maltby adds. "We need to see more bigger-name movies come out that are only available theatrically." Two films he was "cautiously optimistic" about are the Oct. 22 debut of Wes Anderson's "The French Dispatch" and the Nov. 2 release of Chloe Zhao's "Eternals."

Mencher says that "No Time to Die" was similarly successful for the Avalon, but he's "still waiting to see some health in the art market. ... whether 'The French Dispatch' will kick it up a notch, or 'Belfast' or 'Spencer' or 'Julia,' we just don't know. I think a surer bet for a theater like ours right now is probably to tow closer to the commercial line. 'King Richard' and 'West Side Story' are the kinds of movies we'll be looking for right now."

Even with strong awards-season titles on the horizon, Mencher remains cautious. "Will the delta variant push more breakthrough infections?" he asks. "Will we have another variant? The industry seems to be fundamentally changed as well, with streaming becoming such a huge part of how movies are going to be initially played (and) the windows we used to enjoy (not) coming back. What is the appetite of moviegoers going to be with all these different challenges? It seems like it's a long way to something that resembles the normal business."

Still, there are those who cling to the fact that a long way doesn't mean never. Back in Des Moines, a group gathered for a fundraiser at the Varsity, where Godar led tours and where film society members shared stories of the theater in its heyday. (The theater is just over two-thirds of the way to its $3 million goal; Godar anticipates reopening in the spring of 2022.)

Polk County Supervisor Matt McCoy - who had helped secure public funding - recalled a childhood matinee of the "Sound of Music" when he learned that "if you put a melting Hershey bar on the floor, it would get hard again." (Yes, it was wrapped.) Capital campaign co-chair Loretta Sieman remembered getting her first kiss - from her now-husband - in the aisle. "Someone asked me what movie it was. Who cares? It was my first kiss!"

"There are so memories in this building," says Des Moines Film board secretary Debra Kurtz. "The great movies I saw, the great conversations I had afterward, the popcorn. This is about bringing back that sense of community, sitting in a theater with a roomful of strangers and having that silver beam come on the screen. It's magical."

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

Joe Manchin is wrong about spending on climate change. It would be good for his state.

By david ignatius
Joe Manchin is wrong about spending on climate change. It would be good for his state.


Advance for release Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, and thereafter

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By David Ignatius

WASHINGTON -- As Congress haggles over a multitrillion-dollar budget deal, Sen. Joe Manchin III, D.-W.Va., wants to cut a program to fight climate change. He's making a mistake, not just for the planet but also for workers in West Virginia.

Like every piece of this huge spending package, details about the climate change provisions are up for negotiation. Fine, that's how legislation works. But to drop climate change provisions altogether would be nuts. Other parts of the infrastructure and social spending deal are important; climate change is existential.

Manchin dislikes a provision called the Clean Energy Performance Program (CEPP), which would provide $150 billion to reward utilities for moving quickly to renewable energy, such as wind and solar. He'd rather spend some of that money for what's known as "firm power," which means low-carbon fuels that can backstop the renewable sources.

Manchin has a point, actually. Utilities aren't sure they can make the transition as quickly as the CEPP plan envisions. They need some reliable low-carbon alternative fuels to make sure the power grid doesn't crash if the wind doesn't blow, the sun doesn't shine, weather disasters occur -- and batteries can't fill the gap. But the answer isn't to kill the clean energy program -- it's to adapt it so that utilities can meet achievable goals.

As moderate and progressive Democrats look for a compromise, they should study proposals from a group called the Labor Energy Partnership. It's sponsored by the AFL-CIO and the Energy Futures Initiative, created by former energy secretary Ernest Moniz. Its reports highlight two oft-overlooked points in the climate debate: Low-carbon fuels of some sort will be needed for years to supplement renewables, and a viable "net-zero" strategy requires removing carbon from the air and oceans -- a huge challenge and one that will employ many workers.

The beginning of wisdom is to understand, as the AFL-CIO does, that the transition to a net-zero clean energy economy will be a job creator. American workers will build and install wind turbines, solar panels and other renewable technologies. American workers will build vast fleets of electric vehicles; they'll work in a modernized fuels industry to supply the firm power that can sustain the grid.

And perhaps most important, American workers will be part of a huge new project to capture carbon in the air and sea, transport it to storage locations and bury it there. Moniz argues that this process of putting captured carbon safely back in the ground will be as intensive as the fossil fuel industry's centuries of extraction from wells and mines.

As world leaders prepare for the Glasgow climate change summit, starting Oct. 31, the urgency of their mission is obvious in extreme weather events around the world. According to data gathered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States in 2020 suffered 22 weather and climate disasters that cost $1 billion or more, compared with an average of about seven events annually from 1980 to 2020.

Moniz has made two contrarian arguments in testimony this year to Congress. First, to the consternation of some wind and solar advocates, he contends that reliable power will be needed for periods when the wind doesn't blow or the sun doesn't shine. California data analyzed by his group showed that in 2017, California had 90 days with little or no wind, sometimes 10 days in a row. Even with recent technology advances, batteries won't solve such problems of "intermittency," Moniz says.

"You'll need fuels" to provide reliability, Moniz told me in a recent interview. That could be some form of clean hydrogen, from water or perhaps natural gas. The increase in erratic weather events, like the freeze last winter that crashed the Texas grid, make these backup fuels even more important. Europe's energy crunch this fall, dubbed "the first big energy scare of the green era" by the Economist, makes the same point.

Carbon capture and storage might the most important and least understood item on the Glasgow agenda. A 2020 report from the International Energy Agency stressed that carbon removal will play "a key role" in transition to net-zero. The technology for direct air capture, through filters that chemically bind with carbon dioxide, is still evolving. But at least 15 such plants are now operating in Europe and North America.

The scale of the decarbonization effort is immense. The Labor Energy Partnership argued in a June paper that gigatons of carbon must be captured, transported and stored. How much is that? Scientists estimate that one gigaton is equivalent to 10,000 fully loaded aircraft carriers. The paper didn't estimate how people would be employed in capture and storage, but it predicted that other decarbonization efforts will employ at least 1.5 million.

"Save the planet" should be a powerful enough argument to fund climate change proposals in the budget deal. But if that doesn't work for you, how about: Jobs, jobs, jobs?

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Contact David Ignatius on Twitter @IgnatiusPost

We're headed for a global energy crisis. What we need is a transition strategy.

By fareed zakaria
We're headed for a global energy crisis. What we need is a transition strategy.


Advance for release Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, and thereafter

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By Fareed Zakaria

Are we returning to the 1970s, as several commentators have recently claimed? There are surprising similarities.

The humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan echoes the U.S. defeat in Vietnam. Prices are rising even as economic growth is stalling. Back then, the rising economic power challenging American superiority was Japan; now it's China.

On closer examination, most of these analogies turn out to be superficial. But there is one where the parallels are striking, and that should worry the Biden administration greatly. We are headed for a global energy crisis.

Gasoline prices in the United States are up more than 50 percent in the past year. Natural gas prices in Europe have risen a staggering amount, nearly 500 percent, over the same period. In Asia, Bloomberg News reports that power companies are buying liquefied natural gas at record prices to try to lock in supply. In Europe, a mass producer of fertilizer was already forced to temporarily shut down two U.K. plants due to high energy costs, and there are fears that other industries will follow. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has put out a report warning Americans that they are likely to pay significantly more to stay warm this winter, especially if temperatures drop substantially."

Why is this happening? The simplest explanation is that the demand for energy is currently exceeding supply, which makes prices rise. The reasons for this mismatch are many -- including extreme and unpredictable weather, as well as bad government decisions about storage, reserves and transmission lines -- but there is one common cause. Much of the world has stopped investing in fossil fuels (for good reasons), which has led to less supply of them. But we do not have sufficient green energy to replace fossil fuels today. We will, but not today.

The numbers make this plain. In 2019, over 80 percent of global energy consumption was provided by the three main fossil fuels: oil, coal and natural gas. Wind was just over 2 percent of power consumption, and solar just over 1 percent. It would require a 2,500 percent increase in production and deployment to have wind and solar fully replace fossil fuels, which is not going to happen in the next few years. What we need is a transition strategy. Without it, every time there is a shock to the system -- bad weather, poor storage -- we will face an energy crisis.

Modern societies cannot run without steady access to energy, so when these shocks are felt, governments do whatever it takes to keep the electricity flowing. Look at Germany, which has over decades built an extraordinary supply of renewables, but in the first half of 2021, 56 percent of its electricity came from the very sources it is trying to eliminate (like coal, gas and nuclear). Coal alone rose from 21 percent to 27 percent of German electricity production.

The contradictions of Western energy strategy are becoming almost absurd. Confronted with high gasoline prices, the Biden administration is pleading with OPEC to increase production. In other words, the United States is discouraging its own oil and gas producers from increasing production while urging Arab countries to "drill, baby, drill." Europeans are hoping Russian President Vladimir Putin will pump more natural gas to their countries even while they discourage gas production at home.

A serious energy strategy would recognize that the most important task is to reduce carbon emissions fast. In the short term, the simplest way to do this is to move from coal to natural gas, which cuts carbon emissions almost by half. In fact, most of the reduction in the United States' carbon dioxide emissions between 2005 and 2019 was because of the switch from coal to gas, with coal being the biggest producer of carbon dioxide emissions of the three main fossil fuels.

But there is even lower-hanging fruit. The journal Environmental Research Letters did a study of more than 29,000 fossil-fuel power plants worldwide and found that just 5 percent of them were responsible for 73 percent of global emissions from electricity. We could easily pay to convert those roughly 1,400 plants and reap a huge windfall in the reduction of carbon emissions. And the International Energy Agency estimates that over 70 percent of the methane leakage from oil and gas production can be stopped by using existing technologies.

The goal -- in not just the long term, but medium term -- must be to power the world with renewables. There is a lot of good news on this front. Solar and wind costs have come down dramatically and are competitive with fossil fuels. They are now easier to deploy than ever before. Storage, once the great problem with these intermittent sources, is being solved as batteries become more powerful and other storage solutions are gaining ground. We still need much larger investments in research and development in this area but we are making real progress.

In the meantime, we still need to cut emissions today while keeping energy flowing. If not, we will face more energy shocks, which could easily develop into a backlash against green policies. And then the Democrat in the White House, Joe Biden, will begin to look a lot like his predecessor from the 1970s Jimmy Carter.

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Fareed Zakaria's email address is

The GOP rebrands itself as the party of tax cheats

By catherine rampell
The GOP rebrands itself as the party of tax cheats


Advance for release Friday, Oct. 22, 2021,and thereafter

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By Catherine Rampell

Once upon a time, Republicans portrayed themselves as the party of small government and family values. Recently, though, GOP leaders have been cobbling together a new coalition, welcoming insurrectionists, white-nationalist tiki-torchers and people who think Bill Gates is trying to microchip them.

The latest recruit to the Big Tent? Tax cheats.

Here's the backstory. Each year, about $600 billion in taxes legally owed are not paid. For scale, that's roughly equal to all federal income taxes paid by the lowest-earning 90 percent of taxpayers, according to Treasury Department data.

These unpaid taxes -- often called the "tax gap" -- are predominantly owed by wealthy individuals. The richest 1 percent alone duck an estimated $163 billion in income taxes each year.

To be clear, rank-and-file wage-earners are not necessarily more honest or patriotic. It's just much harder for them to shortchange Uncle Sam.

Workplace grunts have taxes automatically withheld from their paychecks. And, critically, most labor-related income -- as well as income from dividends, interest and other sources -- gets reported to the Internal Revenue Service through W-2s, 1099s and other common tax documents.

So it's difficult to sneak unpaid liabilities past the IRS.

There are some types of income, however, for which little or no third-party reporting exists. These income categories -- including partnership, proprietorship and rental income -- accrue disproportionately to high earners. The government has much less ability to tell when these filers are misreporting; as a result, they can more easily get away with cheating.

And some of them do.

This is evident from IRS data on "voluntary compliance," or how accurately people report their income and tax liabilities without the government having to come after them. When it comes to ordinary wage and salary income, taxpayers are remarkably forthcoming, with noncompliance averaging only 1 percent; for those more "opaque" income sources, noncompliance is an estimated 55 percent.

Tax cheating is not a victimless crime. When (disproportionately high-income) people don't pay their bills, everyone else must pay more to fill the shortfall.

One solution is to have the IRS conduct more audits. Audit rates for big corporations and high-income individuals should be higher, given that tax enforcement has plummeted as the IRS has been starved of resources.

But indiscriminately increasing audit rates alone is unlikely to solve the problem, and might irritate a lot of honest taxpayers in the process.

Not all high-income people (or people with rental or partnership or other "opaque" income) are cheating, of course. A more effective response would involve more of that third-party reporting so the IRS has greater visibility into who's likely fudging their numbers. Then the agency could better target its audit decisions.

More reporting would also deter would-be tax cheats from fudging in the first place, because they'd know they're more likely to get caught.

This solution is exactly what Democrats have proposed as part of their big budget bill.

Financial institutions already report certain information to the IRS about their clients' accounts, such as interest income accrued over the year. Under Democrats' latest proposal, banks would -- once a year -- also report the sums of all deposits and withdrawals for certain accounts. Not every transaction; just the year-end totals. Only accounts with flows of more than $10,000 not tied to wage income or exempted benefits would be affected -- the idea being that the IRS already knows about the wage income anyway.

The reporting proposal is estimated to bring in $200 billion to $250 billion in revenue over the next decade, according to Treasury.

This is revenue that would be collected without having to raise a single tax rate, which you'd think Republicans would applaud. Instead, the GOP, backed by the bank lobby, has fought every version of the reporting policy tooth and nail.

Just as they did with Obamacare "death panels," Republicans have megaphoned misinformation. They allege that Democrats would create a Marxist "surveillance program designed to target low- and middle-income earners" (false) in which the government would "monitor every single transaction you make" (false) with "no limits" (definitely false).

"Democrats want to track every penny you earn so they can then tax you and your family at the maximum possible amount," fearmongered House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). This is an interesting euphemism for "rich people are going to pay the minimum amount of taxes the law already requires."

The GOP seeks to exploit the confusion of honest, rank-and-file taxpayers. Their income is already quite well reported to the IRS: Three billion 1099 forms alone will be issued this year, and Americans haven't considered this a "dragnet" or "infringement on personal privacy." But suddenly it is -- when similar reporting is proposed to ensure high-income people's tax compliance, too.

Republicans also presumably have another shameful aim: communicating to tax cheats that, now and in the future, the GOP has their backs.

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

Don't let Trump's 'privilege' claim thwart the Jan. 6 investigation

By george f. will
Don't let Trump's 'privilege' claim thwart the Jan. 6 investigation


Advance for release Sunday, Oct. 22, 2021, and thereafter

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By George F. Will

WASHINGTON -- For four years, Donald Trump's interpretation of his powers made up in pithiness what it lacked in nuance: "I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president." Now, having refined his jurisprudential thinking, he proposes an expansive wrinkle on his already capacious conception of presidential prerogatives: He should have the power, unconditionally and forever, to invoke executive privilege regarding communications -- documents and conversations -- he had with others while in office, regardless of who seeks access to them, or the reasons for so seeking. His motive in resisting inquiries from the House select committee investigating events that culminated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is, he says, a selfless one: "defense of the Office of the Presidency."

The power of executive privilege is not mentioned in the Constitution. Although the first president sometimes withheld information from Congress, a "privilege" to do so was first named and forthrightly asserted (by another general turned president) in mid-20th century. And although the Supreme Court has acknowledged its existence, its nature and scope have not yet been satisfactorily articulated by the few judicial examinations of particular presidents' denials of information to Congress.

There is a common-sensical consensus that presidents while in office need some secrecy to encourage candid advice. And sitting presidents, probably with their post-presidencies in mind, have supported some predecessors' claims of executive privilege.

Stanford law professor Michael W. McConnell, in "The President Who Would Not Be King: Executive Power Under the Constitution," writes that James Madison considered what presidential privileges were proper because he worried that the executive branch might "be at the mercy of the legislative." This is hardly germane today, with a frequently supine Congress eagerly shedding discretion to the executive.

McConnell says that because the Constitution gave Congress no enumerated power to compel testimony, Madison's remarks about explicit presidential privileges were set aside. McConnell notes that early executive-legislative skirmishes over information were couched in language about congressional "requests" for information that implicitly acknowledged presidential authority, not subpoenas that derogated it.

University of Virginia law professor Saikrishna Bangalore Prakash argues (in "Imperial from the Beginning: The Constitution of the Original Executive") that although there is no (BEG ITAL)constitutional (END ITAL)privilege of presidential privacy, neither is there a (BEG ITAL)constitutional(END ITAL) authority for Congress to demand information. In his "The Living Presidency: An Originalist Argument Against Its Ever-Expanding Powers," Prakash says one purpose for the increasing frequency of executive refusals to comply with congressional demands for information and testimony is "stymieing congressional investigations of the executive": President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who invented the phrase "executive privilege," did so to thwart Sen. Joseph McCarthy's reckless rummaging in Eisenhower's administration, including the Army.

Courts have been judiciously reluctant to referee tussles between the political -- the legislative and executive -- branches. And there are different considerations when the issue is compromising presidential privacy by subpoenas from courts in criminal proceedings, and by subpoenas from congressional committees performing oversight with possible legislative outcomes.

But that judicial reluctance, reflecting a Madisonian assumption, is outdated. Madison assumed that a powerful human constant, ambition, would result in creative tension -- and, ideally, equilibrium -- between the political branches: "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place." (Federalist 51) Madison's assumption has been largely nullified by party loyalties: Most members of Congress subordinate their institution's interests and prerogatives to those of a president from their party.

Given today's political tribalism, were both houses of Congress controlled by the previous president's party, there would be no Jan. 6 investigation. And there will barely be an investigation if the judiciary allows Congress to be neutered by an ex-president's successful assertion of a presidential "privilege" so sweeping that it even shields Stephen Bannon. His seven months on the president's staff ended almost 41 months before the events of Jan. 6, in the run-up to which he seems to have been involved.

If there is to be a timely and thorough investigation of the Jan. 6 assault on Congress' constitutional function of certifying electoral votes, and of Trump's role before and during this, congressional committees should have what private parties have -- standing to seek judicial enforcement of compliance with subpoenas. If we are to "recage the executive lion" (Prakash's phrase), and encourage Congress to recover its dignity and enable it to perform its oversight duties, the judiciary must temper its reluctance to intervene.

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George Will's email address is

Biden wants you to believe shortages and inflation are another 'extraordinary success'

By marc a. thiessen
Biden wants you to believe shortages and inflation are another 'extraordinary success'


Advance for release Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, and thereafter

(For Thiessen clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

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By Marc A. Thiessen

WASHINGTON -- Remember when President Joe Biden declared his Afghanistan withdrawal an "extraordinary success"? Well, now the Biden administration is trying to convince Americans that the supply chain crisis and inflation we are experiencing is an extraordinary success as well.

"Demand is off the charts," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg declared this weekend. "And if you think about those images of ships . . . waiting at anchor on the West Coast . . . every one of those ships is full of record amounts of goods that Americans are buying, because demand is up, because income is up, because the president has successfully guided this economy out of the teeth of a terrifying recession."

Got that? You should be grateful to the president when store shelves are bare. You should be grateful to be paying $1 a gallon more at the pump, and 30 percent more on average for your home heating bills this winter (with some households' bills spiking nearly 50 percent). And your kids should definitely be grateful on Christmas morning when they don't get the G.I. Joe with the Kung Fu grip because it's still sitting on a cargo ship parked off the California coast. It's all a sign that the Biden administration's brilliant economic policies are working.

In fact, the opposite is true. The Biden administration's policies are exacerbating the inflation and extreme labor shortages we are experiencing. There are 10.4 million unfilled jobs in the United States, and the number of unemployed workers for every open job is also at a record low.

Why are we experiencing such a massive worker shortage? Simple. Workers can afford to be on the sidelines. That's because during the pandemic the federal government handed out trillions of dollars to help people get through the lockdowns. But when the lockdowns ended, the government spending didn't. Biden's first act as president was to pass an additional $1.9 trillion pandemic relief - sending millions of Americans stimulus checks, the largest child tax credit payments ever and extending absurdly generous unemployment supplements that paid most Americans more to stay home than to work.

With all that free money from Washington, personal savings rates soared. The Wall Street Journal reports that in August American households were sitting on $1.7 trillion in savings. That means millions of Americans are flush with cash to spend, but also less eager to return to work. Some are not returning at all, as retirements have more than doubled from pre-pandemic rates. As a result, the demand side of the economy is overheating, while the supply side can't keep up because of a lack of workers -- which means shortages and higher prices.

Knowing this, the smart move would be to stop shoveling government money into the economy and let the supply side catch up to demand. Instead, the Biden administration is trying to pass a multitrillion dollar social spending bill that will further fuel demand and discourage people from working. "Right now, we need less demand and more supply," says Michael R. Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. "And what the Democrats want to do is have more demand and less supply."

Worse still, in the midst of a historic labor shortage, the Biden administration is pushing vaccine mandates that force many employers to fire unvaccinated Americans who are willing to work -- even if they have natural immunity from previous infection. This will push more Americans out of the labor force, at a time when employers can't find workers to replace them.

Biden's war on fossil fuels is also exacerbating the supply chain crisis. Not only is the transportation industry facing a shortage of long-haul truckers, the cost of transportation is skyrocketing. Crude oil prices have doubled since Biden's election to $84 per barrel, and are expected to continue rising through the end of the year. When you announce your intention to tax and regulate the fossil fuel industry out of existence, the result is supply shortages, higher prices and transportation delays.

And finally there is Biden's infrastructure fiasco. Buttigieg says that "the supply chain disruptions we're experiencing reflect demand roaring back far faster than decades-old infrastructure can handle." If that is the case, then why did Biden encourage progressives in the House to take his $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill hostage until there is a deal on a separate multitrillion dollar reconciliation bill? The president is delaying infrastructure investments to pass policies that will make the labor shortage worse.

If this is what "extraordinary success" looks like, I'd hate to see failure.

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Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

Criticism of Democrats' negotiations misses a bigger issue: Republicans' absence from governing

By eugene robinson
Criticism of Democrats' negotiations misses a bigger issue: Republicans' absence from governing


Advance for release Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, and thereafter

(For Robinson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON -- Nobody said life was fair, but this is ridiculous: Democrats are getting pilloried for struggling to do big and important things, while Republicans are being given a free pass for behaving like a horde of vandals.

This isn't the way our government is supposed to work. Yes, the Democratic Party controls the White House and has the slimmest of majorities in the Senate and the House. But that doesn't absolve Republicans from the duty to try to do what's best for the country. It doesn't give any of our elected representatives the right to simply ignore the work they were elected to do -- and the GOP should be called out for putting political gamesmanship ahead of the nation's well-being.

Wednesday's vote by GOP senators to block debate -- not passage, mind you, but mere debate -- of watered-down legislation to guarantee basic voting rights is just the latest example. Securing universal access to the ballot box used to be a bipartisan cause. In blocking the bill, Republicans are "hurting their own constituents," as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) noted Thursday. But apparently that doesn't matter.

I get it. The voter-suppression laws passed by GOP-controlled state legislatures across the country are crafted to give an advantage to Republican candidates. The proposed Freedom to Vote Act, already watered down in a vain quest for Republican support, would have somewhat leveled the playing field. Yet even the few GOP senators who occasionally show a glimmer of conscience -- Mitt Romney (Utah), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Susan Collins (Maine) -- voted the party line, which was against allowing the Senate even to debate the bill.

The many Republicans who helped pass the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 -- giants such as Everett Dirksen of Illinois, Margaret Chase Smith of Maine and Jacob Javits of New York -- would weep if they could witness what has happened to their party.

Similarly, Republicans blocked all attempts to establish a proper bicameral, bipartisan blue-ribbon panel to fully investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Pelosi then had no option but to create a House select committee, whose important work Republicans now dismiss as "partisan."

The thing is, we become inured to such behavior. The public has come to expect it, at all levels of government, as if representing the needs and aspirations of the American people were nothing but a blood sport and all that matters is which political tribe wins and which loses. If many voters are angry or disenchanted, who can blame them?

This is not a "both sides" situation. Republicans and Democrats are not equally to blame, though the GOP would like you to believe otherwise. You don't have to support everything the Democrats are trying to accomplish to recognize that one party is at least trying to govern -- and that the other seeks only to sabotage.

Forty years of trickle-down economic orthodoxy produced growth and innovation but also created shocking levels of inequality. Working-class and middle-class incomes stagnated, while the rich became richer beyond their wildest dreams. The nation's infrastructure was allowed to sag and rust. We failed to invest adequately in our future.

President Biden and the Democrats are trying to begin addressing these problems, whose existence and urgency many Republicans recognize. Indeed, 19 GOP senators (out of 50) did ultimately vote for the $1.2 trillion "hard infrastructure" bill that awaits approval by the House. But Republicans are forcing Democrats to conceive and pass a larger "human infrastructure" package on their own -- while under rhetorical sniper fire from the GOP.

So Democrats are having the kinds of arguments among themselves that used to take place between the two parties -- what new programs to start, how long those programs should last, how much to spend, how to pay for it all. Instead of participating in these important debates, Republicans are threatening to trigger a financial cataclysm by refusing to raise the federal debt ceiling. They have already tried this supremely irresponsible maneuver once, and they threaten to do it again in December.

And watch: When Democrats eventually do pass the spending packages and Biden signs them into law, Republicans will be quick to take credit for all the measures that are popular with the folks back home.

I am not happy that Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., are blocking initiatives I believe are needed. But at least they are engaged in the process. The much bigger problem is that one of our two major parties -- the GOP -- is doing nothing but throwing rocks and bottles from the sidelines.

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Eugene Robinson's email address is

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