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Man who has maintained innocence is released after new evidence surfaces in double slaying

By Keith L. Alexander
Man who has maintained innocence is released after new evidence surfaces in double slaying
Calvin Bright has been released after spending more than 25 years incarcerated in a murder case. He was not exonerated but has maintained his innocence. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jahi Chikwendiu

WASHINGTON - Calvin Bright had spent more than two decades imprisoned for a double murder he maintains he did not commit when new evidence surfaced in the case. He learned authorities had withheld a tip that another man was the killer.

Bright was presented with a choice.

He could continue his fight for a new trial in the hope he might someday be acquitted. Or, if he agreed he would not sue the District of Columbia for false arrest, he could be released immediately but remain a convicted murderer.

Bright, 48, chose freedom.

"I just want to get on with my life," Bright said after federal prosecutors agreed to his release from jail this month. "Everyone is trying to tell me what I should have done. I should have done this or I should have done that. But they weren't the ones sitting in that cage all those years."

Bright earned college credits from classes at the D.C. jail and hopes to one day become a private investigator. But as he prepares for his future, Dwan Peay, the brother of one of the murder victims, is angry and full of questions.

How could the man who was found guilty of killing his sister be released early for something Peay said he views, based on a letter from D.C.'s U.S. attorney's office, as a "technicality?"

Peay's 28-year-old sister, Tammy, along with her friend, 33-year-old William Frederick Ramsey, were killed early on a July morning in 1994, near the neighborhood where they grew up.

During the trial in 1995, two witnesses testified that they saw Bright shoot the friends. Bright's public defender argued Bright was the victim of mistaken identity. Still, he was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder while armed.

As he served a sentence of 65 years to life in prison, Bright said he focused on trying to clear his name. While working a $70-a-month job in prison libraries, stocking bookshelves and making photocopies for inmates, he also studied law books.

For years, Bright filed court motions seeking relief. In 2007, a judge assigned D.C. attorney David Benowitz to his case. Benowitz and Bright spent 10 years searching for ways to get Bright's conviction overturned. Then, in 2017, after Benowitz filed a Freedom of Information Act request on the case, a prosecutor within D.C.'s U.S. attorney's office sent a folder created by the lead detective on the case.

Inside was a note written four days after the slayings by a D.C. police lieutenant. It said an officer had received a tip that was about a man who lived in that neighborhood and was nicknamed "Catman."

"He had receive info. that Catman was the subject who committed the double murder on Central Place, Northeast," the officer wrote. The officer also supplied that person's real name, Social Security number and police department identification number.

That note, however, was never mentioned to Bright's attorneys. "That was definitely the jackpot," Benowitz recalled.

In criminal cases, prosecutors are required to disclose all evidence to defense attorneys, even if that evidence undermines or jeopardizes their case. Not doing so could ultimately result in a judge throwing out the entire case.

After questioning the officers involved in writing the "Catman" note, Benowitz said he learned police never investigated if the man was actually involved.

In hindsight, Bright said he was not surprised police charged him in the killings. Not because he was involved, but because he was known by officers because of his numerous arrests for selling PCP and crack cocaine.

"After my parents divorced, I began running around with the wrong crowd. I know what I was doing was wrong, but it doesn't justify them wrongly arresting me for murder," he said. "I was a convenient suspect for them."

About three weeks after the shootings, detectives picked Bright up and took him to the station. "They kept asking me where I was that night. It was a month later, I couldn't remember where I was," he said. He was arrested and charged in the homicides.

In an interview, Dwan Peay, 54, said his sister had attended a cookout earlier that evening near her old neighborhood. After the shooting, he recalled, residents in that area began calling his family's home.

"I just heard my grandmother screaming that Tammy had been shot in the head. I had gone to the bathroom and heard her on the phone screaming, 'Tammy was shot. Tammy was shot in the head,' " he said.

Peay said he was shocked when neighbors told his family that Bright was the shooter. He and his sister grew up with Bright, he said. Peay also remembered that Bright had a crush on his sister when they were young.

After hearing of the other suspect, Peay said he also knew "Catman." But it was odd, Peay said, that anyone in the close-knit neighborhood would confuse "Catman" and Bright, because both men were well known there, and they did not look alike. "Catman," he said, was given the nickname because of his light eyes.

Ramsey's family members could not be reached for comment.

During trial, a witness testified he had heard Bright threaten Ramsey over a drug debt. Tammy Peay, authorities determined, was killed because she was with Ramsey and would have been a witness.

According to court records, two other witnesses told authorities it was after 4 a.m. on July 24 when, under the streetlights, they saw the shooter grab Tammy Peay and put her in a bear hug. One witness said she heard Tammy Peay say "Get off me" before the shooter fired once at her head.

Both witnesses said they watched Ramsey, who was wearing a cast on his leg, try to run. But he fell. The shooter, the witnesses said, stood over him and fired multiple times before hopping onto a 10-speed bike and pedaling away.

The two witnesses identified Bright as the shooter. But Benowitz questions their credibility. Both had admitted to using drugs and alcohol that night, Benowitz said. And one of the witnesses had a criminal case in Maryland and lied to a grand jury about his identity when he testified in the murder case.

Benowitz believes "Catman" was responsible for shooting Ramsey in the leg during a dice game days before his death, giving him motive to return and fire the fatal shots days later.

After court hearings last year, Benowitz sought more information on who knew about the "Catman" note. Over repeated objections from prosecutors, Benowitz planned to call Ken Kohl, the former prosecutor on the case, to testify.

It was then when prosecutors made Bright an offer. To bring the hearings to an end and avoid having one of their colleagues testify, prosecutors agreed to Bright's release from prison. In exchange, prosecutors required that Bright sign an agreement stating he would not sue the city.

Bright decided facing another trial was riskier than accepting the prosecution's offer of time served. So he abandoned his quest for exoneration.

"I spent 312 months, 26 years, in a cage," Bright said. "I had to weigh what was important. I was supposed to trust the same government again with a new trial? I wanted to get out of prison and get on with my life."

- - -

The Washington Post's Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

Elon Musk went from sleeping in the factory to being on the cusp of launching a crew into space

By Christian Davenport and Faiz Siddiqui
Elon Musk went from sleeping in the factory to being on the cusp of launching a crew into space
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk talks with reporters following a press conference after NASA and SpaceX's performed an in-flight abort test of the Crew Dragon capsule at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Jan. 19, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton

Just over a year ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission had launched an investigation into Elon Musk after he tweeted that he planned to take Tesla private. He was facing criticism, and a defamation lawsuit, for calling a Thai-cave rescuer a "pedo guy" and "child rapist." And when Musk took a hit off a joint during an Internet broadcast, it triggered a safety review from NASA that was concerned the billionaire maverick was going off the rails.

But now Musk is on a roll, literally dancing his way forward past a thicket of controversies. Tesla's stock price has quadrupled, and the company's market value now is greater than GM's and Ford's combined. A jury acquitted him in the defamation suit. And SpaceX is on the cusp of its first human spaceflight, having just completed what Musk called "a picture-perfect" test flight.

President Donald Trump even compared him recently to Thomas Edison, calling him "one of our great geniuses."

Most notable for some is that Musk, known for taking to Twitter to tout his successes and lash out at his critics, has demonstrated restraint. He hasn't tweeted any sensitive numbers about the publicly traded Tesla, and he kept silent after NASA pronounced the software in Boeing's Starliner capsule - SpaceX's competitor for sending people into space - so flawed that more than a million lines of code must be meticulously reviewed, a process that could take months.

People who follow Musk closely say they've noticed the change. Rebukes by regulators and the serious responsibility of sending astronauts to space, now weeks away, have humbled him, they say.

"Elon's not dealing like he's under the vice anymore, and he is acting more reasonable," said Gene Munster, managing partner of analyst firm Loup Ventures.

That doesn't mean there aren't challenges ahead. Tesla is launching its new crossover SUV in the first quarter, and new vehicles in the past have become a production stumbling block. Tesla also revealed last week that it's again under investigation by the SEC.

And though he may have been humbled, he remains refreshingly unfiltered. He recently danced on stage in China, performing what some dubbed a strip tease, shrugging his hoodie off and then throwing it. He told a recent SpaceX event on the rushed timeline to build a rocket he hopes will get to Mars: "My new thing is management by rhyming: If the schedule is long, it's wrong; it if it's tight, it's right." He also recently released a song that climbed the charts on Spotify after he tweeted to his 30 million followers a shot of himself jamming to the beat.

The track's title also served a four-word manifesto: "Don't Doubt Ur Vibe."

- - -

Musk's relentless focus on Tesla, in particular, has begun to pay off. Musk's goal of injecting electric cars into the mainstream is becoming reality, and Wall Street has begun to accept that. The company's stock has long been besieged by short sellers, gambling that the company won't achieve its goals. But the short sellers are reeling, prompting headlines such as this recent one in the Wall Street Journal: "Detroit Falters as Tesla Excites."

"There are still things they need to work through," said Munster. "It's still going to be bumpy. But as far as the core concept - 'Will Tesla make it or not make it?' - that question has now been decided. Tesla is going to be around for decades."

Musk, who was bullied as a child in South Africa and made his way to North America as a teenager, has always had a combative streak that often pitted him against the establishment. He took on the credit card industry with PayPal, where he was CEO until he was ousted in 2000. He remained the company's largest shareholder, however, and pocketed $165 million when PayPal was acquired by EBay for $1.5 billion. He founded SpaceX in 2001 and disrupted the military-industrial complex that for years had held a strong hold over America's space industry. His investment in Tesla didn't come until 2004, when he was named the company's chairman of the board. He became CEO in 2008. Forbes estimates his net worth at more than $43 billion.

The low point for Musk came during the summer of 2018. A slate of top executives had left Tesla, which had been struggling and laying off employees in droves. The company was having difficulty delivering on its rosy production promises, and Musk said on Twitter that the company had graduated from one nightmare to another - "from production hell to delivery logistics hell."

He lamented to the New York Times that August in an interview that, "This past year has been the most difficult and painful year of my career. It was excruciating."

The company was struggling to achieve its goal of delivering 5,000 Model 3 cars per week.

Tesla never truly delivered on the core marketing component of the Model 3 - that it would be a $35,000 car, making it affordable to the masses. While a model costing that price was available briefly last year, it was pulled from Tesla's traditional online sales hub and moved to special order status.

Musk had long been turning attention - some said too much attention - to the intricacies of the company's product lineup and assembly line. And he made decisions in haste, axing products on impulse without embarking on market research.

"Get it off the website now," he said, after one executive presented what he saw as a compelling case.

When the company failed to meet its output for Model X SUVs because the falcon-wing doors were so hard to fit, "Elon moved into the factory for two weeks," said a former Tesla executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal company matters. "He was sleeping in a sleeping bag - real time triaging cars at the end of the line trying to get to the root cause of what the issues were. It was wild."

Musk also got hands-on when the company was facing a lag because of paint. "Elon wasn't satisfied," the former executive said, "and so he took over the paint shop. He ran the paint shop for two weeks."

His agony was compounded by a self-inflicted wound - when he took to Twitter to announce that if Tesla's stock price reached $420, he would take the company private.

"Funding secured," he wrote on Aug. 7, 2018, in a pronouncement that shocked investors and sparked an SEC investigation that resulted in a lawsuit accusing him of misleading investors and seeking to bar him from running any public company.

Musk ended up settling soon afterward, paying a $20 million fine and agreeing to step down as Tesla's chairman for three years.

Late in 2018, it was officials on the ninth floor of NASA headquarters who were fuming over his behavior. Musk had recently puffed a joint while appearing on the Joe Rogan show and took a sip of whiskey - not the sort of conduct NASA is used to seeing form the heads of one of their prime contractors.

In this case, NASA was relying on Musk's SpaceX to build a spacecraft capable of flying its astronauts to the International Space Station. And NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, a teetotaling conservative Republican former congressman from Oklahoma, didn't appreciate the message it sent.

He ordered a safety review of the company and publicly chastised Musk, saying that "culture and leadership start at the top. Anything that would result in some questioning the culture of safety, we need to fix immediately."

SpaceX went to great lengths to show that it prioritizes safety over all else. And in March of last year, it successfully flew its Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station and back, a feat that seemed to erase any concerns from Bridenstine, who crowed after the 2:49 a.m. launch that SpaceX had helped put NASA on the "precipice of launching American astronauts in American rockets from America soil."

Speaking at the pre-dawn press conference, Musk said he "was emotionally exhausted" and that the flight was "super stressful," and the culmination of "an incredible amount of hard work and sacrifice."

The high didn't last long.

A month later, that same spacecraft blew up during a test of its emergency abort system, sending an ominous cloud of orange smoke wafting into the Florida sky.

- - -

At Tesla, everything started to stabilize once Musk had a new team he could trust to deliver in 2019.

Gone were the days when Musk moved into the manufacturing plant, overseeing mundane elements of production personally, such as the Model X production, the company's paint shop and later the Model 3's lagging due to overemphasis on automation.

Finally, he began to delegate, more and more, becoming more comfortable after the revolving door of executives finally left him with a team he could trust, former officials and close observers said.

The Model 3 line was ramping up and meeting delivery goals. Tesla opened a factory to produce cars in China. The stock started rising. And Musk did a dance - arms pumping, jacket tossed to the side - at an event in Shanghai celebrating the first car deliveries in China that went viral and symbolized [] the sudden turn-around.

Still, there are many perils ahead.

Musk faces serious questions about core pieces of Tesla's business model that could send the company back to its near-constant volatility over the last few years, which saw the company's stock dip to a record low of $177 as recently as June. Even earlier this month, the stock rose nearly 14 percent to $887 before falling 17 percent the next day. It closed above $921 a share on Wednesday before following the market down on Friday.

One of Musk's biggest tests will be the first deliveries of its new Model Y crossover. Tesla has faced questions about demand now that a $7,500 federal tax credit for electric vehicle purchases has expired. Musk acknowledged the challenges on a call with analysts last month, though it was not demand that concerned him. "We are worried about production, [making] sure we get that production ramp going and reach volume production as soon as possible," he said.

It's also not out of the regulatory line of fire. Tesla revealed earlier this month that the SEC had subpoenaed the company seeking records concerning "certain financial data and contracts including Tesla's regular financing arrangements" in December, just as the agency closed the investigation into Musk's tweets. The company separately revealed that the Department of Justice was seeking documents on Musk's communications about taking the company private and Model 3 production. It also faces probes by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into safety regarding both its Autopilot assistant and alleged battery fires.

And then there's the question of whether Musk can safely fly astronauts - a feat SpaceX hasn't yet tried. That test is likely to come this spring, when SpaceX is expected to fly two NASA astronauts, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, to the International Space Station.

In January, SpaceX nailed a test flight that showed off the capsule's emergency abort system, paving the way for the first flight with crews on board. Garrett Reisman, a former NASA astronaut who worked at Space X for years and still serves as a consultant, said Musk and the people at SpaceX know "to never believe things are going to be as great as they are during the highs, and not as low during the lows."

Still, he said, the abort-system test "was a huge morale boost" that fired up Musk and his whole team.

It showed. Hours after the flight, Musk, who turns 49 in June, was loose and in a good mood, holding forth before a gaggle of reporters at the Kennedy Space Center. One of them urged him to show off his dance moves, as he had done in Shanghai when Tesla opened a factory there.

But he demurred, saying maybe he would consider it once he had flown astronauts safely. "I'm not your dancing puppet!" he said, laughing.

The Miracle on Ice arena still pulses with magic, even for those who see it every day

By Chuck Culpepper
The Miracle on Ice arena still pulses with magic, even for those who see it every day
The Lake Placid Olympic Center contains the Herb Brooks Arena and 1980 Rink, two other rinks and a museum. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Chuck Culpepper.

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - Why, of all the Rose Bowls and the Lambeaus, all the Fenways and the Dodgers, all the Gardens and the Oracles and the NHL rinks amid 24 U.S. cities or parking lots, somehow that bashful 7,700-seat building back there off Main Street wound up graced with the nation's tiptop outcome. Somehow, fate decided the foremost goose bump of American sports, the closing weekend of the 1980 Olympic men's hockey tournament, should settle itself inside an unassuming, boxy grunt.

Look, that's really the edifice, that white thing rising behind, but partially occluded by, an adorable gift shop. The harbor of miracles rests just steps across Main Street from the Pickled Pig pub. A sign on the side of the arena warns pedestrians about falling ice. The parking lot behind it nags that it's for "Lake Placid Central School staff parking," because really now, Lake Placid Central School sits just across little Cummings Road looking like some Hollywood high school set.

Herb Brooks Arena, so named since 2005 after the late coach of that American hockey team, sits in a snow-globe town way, way off Interstate 87 after the signs cautioning drivers of moose crossing. It's near a skate shop, a Japanese restaurant, a pizza joint, a Mobil and an American Legion post, along a thick stretch of shops and one-off motels with names like Edelweiss and Art Devlin's Olympic Motor Inn.

Said Sandy Caligiore, who knows the arena so well, "Well, you know, it's one big rectangle, more or less."

Yet even 40 years since the U.S. Olympic hockey team upset-of-all-upset the Soviet Union, 4-3, on Friday, Feb. 22, 1980, then beat Finland, 4-2, for the Olympic gold medal on Sunday, Feb. 24, 1980, that building in all its glorious non-glory still breathes magic through the 2,600-strong town. It still offers its endless relevance in ways both intellectual and visceral, day to day to day, even 14,000-plus days since the Soviets came to Lake Placid 1980 having toyed with NHL clubs as part of preparation, then lost to "a ragtag mélange of peach-fuzz kids and knockaround minor leaguers," as Leonard Shapiro wrote in The Washington Post, such that defenseman Bill Baker said, "You can't explain what's happened here. It just happened."

Mary Anne Hawley owns There . . . And Back Again, the gift shop in front of the arena with sassy kitchen gloves beckoning from the windows. "Oh, I think it's a daily presence," she said of that Olympic weekend. "Yes, I do think of that all the time."

"It's the living history," said Jon Lundin, the Lake Placid Olympic Center communications director who works a quick walk just a stairwell-and-change from the 1980 Rink, its formal name by now. "When you come here, you can feel it. You can feel the Olympics."

"I drive by it every day, coming and going," said Caligiore, who called the deathless games for nearby WNBZ radio. "And it's always that shrine. Every single time. It's always that shrine."

- - -

That peerless Friday 40 years ago, Hawley worked with her husband in their Olympic-apparel shop across Main Street from the arena. "There was an energy and an electricity in the air during that game that I've never felt before or since," she said. "You could literally hear the crowd that was inside the arena, outside the arena." She said, "Just when we were talking here, I had goose bumps up my back."

Surely, some days she comes to the shop and thinks about her tasks and doesn't think about the arena.

But there are no such days.

"Every time," she said.

For one thing, shoppers bring it up.

Forty years after a mix of geopolitics and intimacy of venue and helpful lack of Twitter that built the enchantment and will never go replicated, this rectangular little winner of fate's grand raffle keeps busy. It hosts the ECAC men's college hockey tournament. One could walk into it on the last Sunday in January and see the local Paul Smith's College women playing Norwich. There are "Miracle On Ice" fantasy camps. It has youth hockey events wherein even the children look wide-eyed, relish their souvenir medals, relish on-ice photos.

Steven Zulli was visiting from Pennsylvania in January with his daughter, who was playing at Herb Brooks Arena with her Delaware Ducks team of 13 boys and two girls. The father strained to explain the magic of the place to Nicola, 10, but he did say, "She's been playing for a few years now, so she understands what it's like to be the underdog. She's played on teams that were underdogs." In the sainted Locker Room 5 where the U.S. team gathered before it played the Soviets, Ducks Coach Mike Franchetti recited to the youngsters Brooks's famous pregame speech, parts of which are quoted on T-shirts sold in Main Street shops.

Much else remains unchanged. "Seats are the same!" Lundin said of those durable red, plastic chairs, though "they replaced the scoreboard a couple of years ago to an LED board from a lightbulb style." The ads ringing the rink have that clunky charm: Northwoods Hotel, Price Chopper grocery store, WSLP 93.3, Ellis coffee (Family Roasted Since 1854!), Paul Smith's College. Around the top, in white letters with red trim and light-blue backgrounds, are the names of the 20 1980 U.S. Olympic players and two coaches including Brooks and assistant Craig Patrick. It's the same rink where Sonja Henie won her figure skating gold medal at the 1932 Olympics. It's one of those fieldhouses in which one can hear yesteryear through the quiet.

Out on the high concourse, through large windows, the flags of the Olympic nations still flap in their row outdoors. In the distance rule the Adirondacks, but right smack down in the foreground, in front of the high school, lies the track where the Wisconsinite Eric Heiden won five speedskating gold medals and general heartthrob-itude.

The people who see this unprepossessing little arena every day have fanned out and learned how it registers across the country even to the multitudes who have never seen it. "If I'm at a conference," Lundin said, and he states he's from Lake Placid, the people, "They're going to talk to a complete stranger. It's something that immediately bonds them. It's incredible. Nothing else has that power." At a golf course in, say, Florida, Caligiore might find himself grouped with strangers, whose second question always tends to be, "Were you there?"

- - -

He was there, and it was so loud that he and broadcast partner Tom Fisch had to stand almost cheek-to-cheek to hear each other, and they paced as much as they could given the wires, and the game clock did seem slow, and Caligiore's call - "It's over! It's over!" - well, speaking of goose bumps. He and all others can tell you how Main Street felt like Times Square that night, and how people sang, and how that guy took a trumpet to the roof of Arena Grill, which sat where the gift shop now sits, and played "The Star-Spangled Banner."

"It's fascinating to think people like yourself will still come to Lake Placid so they can remember," Lundin said, and those people do come to the small museum in the facility - entry price: $8 - and the ABC broadcast, tape-delayed as it was at the time, does play in a loop in the corner on a Samsung framed by wood that slightly suggests 1970s paneling. That broadcast reminds that the "M*A*S*H" actor Jamie Farr joined those roaring from the stands, and that back then, TV broadcasts didn't see the need to display the game clock in perpetuity in the corner of the screen, starting it with 20 seconds left in this case.

That lack lent a certain magic when a 35-year-old Al Michaels in his famed call would have to say, "Two-oh-nine to play in the game," or, "A minute fifteen," or "Thirty-eight, thirty-seven seconds left in the game!" Eventually he gets to his, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" and soon, "Unknown, totally anonymous, about a week and a half ago!"

Along a wall opposite, the museum offers small pieces of paper on which visitors can answer the question for which so many know readily the answer: Where were you?

On Main Street as a biathlon and cross-country Olympic volunteer . . . On 42nd Street in New York at a bar where Xerox employees met . . . "Outside a TV store on Main Street with hundreds of others" . . . Skating at age 13 at a rink in Cleveland . . . "Not born yet" (with sad emoji penciled in) . . . age 15 in Cincinnati with buddies in a basement with a 32-inch Sony Trinitron . . . student center at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire . . . in a living room in Brooklyn with six siblings . . . a father's basketball game in Greendale, Wis., where they announced results . . . in college in Indiana, at a movie that stopped briefly for the announcement of the score . . . sneaking into the rink in the last period and seeing Mike Eruzione's winning goal with 10 minutes left . . . "I was not even alive" . . . in a dorm room with a bunch of guys at the University of South Carolina . . . in graduate school in New Jersey, avoiding the score on the radio while watching ABC's tape-delay . . . in high school and babysitting . . . in parents' den in Pennsylvania with cousins and neighbors before everyone went out in the streets banging pots . . . At a basketball game because parents said the U.S. couldn't possibly win . . . At the game with husband, behind one goal, in the middle section, "waving my flag in disbelief."

Then when it all ended that Sunday, and Monday morning came, and the Olympics had come and gone from Caligiore's little town, he stood before the bathroom mirror and suddenly, surprisingly sobbed. He had called radio play-by-play of an event so powerful that people 40 years later would remember it lucidly, so powerful that when Caligiore worked in communications for the Lake Placid Olympic Center from 1999 till 2009, he had himself a ritual.

At the ends of the workdays, he could have reached his car in seconds through a door near his office, or he could take minutes on a roundabout path through the arena to the parking lot. Each and every day, he chose the roundabout.

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

There is no sugarcoating the Nevada results. It was a Sanders blowout.

By ruth marcus
There is no sugarcoating the Nevada results. It was a Sanders blowout.



(For Ruth Marcus clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Ruth Marcus

WASHINGTON - There is no discounting the strength and significance of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders's victory Saturday night in the Nevada caucuses. For people like me, who would prefer to see anybody but Sanders as nominee, there is no sugarcoating the results. The polls had prepared us for a Sanders win in Nevada - just not one quite so resounding or broad-based.

Sanders claimed victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, but the first was contested and the second notably slim. In Iowa, Sanders won more of the popular vote - a shade over 2,000 more votes than former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, or 1.4 points - yet Buttigieg actually walked away with two more delegates. In New Hampshire, Sanders beat Buttigieg by fewer than 4,000 votes - 1.3 percentage points - but emerged with the same number of delegates.

Nevada was different. It was a Sanders blowout.

On Sunday morning, with a pathetic 60% of precincts reporting, Sanders had 46% of the delegates, trailed badly by former vice president Joe Biden with 19.6% and Buttigieg at 15.3%. Sanders skeptics could comfort themselves after Iowa and New Hampshire that the sum of the vote of his rivals far exceeded Sanders' support, underscoring the degree to which Democrats seemed to prefer a more moderate alternative. That argument was not available in Nevada.

As significant as Sanders' totals was the accompanying diversity of the coalition he assembled. Four years ago, Sanders lagged badly behind Hillary Clinton in most contests in attracting minority voters. This year in Nevada, the first voting state with a significant minority population, Sanders demonstrated strength with that critical coalition. Four years ago in Nevada, Clinton won 76% of the African American vote to Sanders' 22%; this year, Sanders secured 27% of the African American vote in the more crowded field, compared with Biden's 39%. Likewise, Sanders won an outright majority of Latino voters, 51%, effectively matching his 53% four years ago.

That wasn't all. The powerful Culinary Workers Union declined to endorse a candidate but warned that Sanders's Medicare-for-all proposal risked undoing their members hard-bargained and expansive health care benefits; nonetheless, 34% of union households backed Sanders, far more than the closest second, Biden with 21%. On ideological grounds, Sanders not only prevailed with voters who described themselves as very liberal (49%) or somewhat liberal (29%), he also won nearly a quarter of voters who called themselves moderate or conservative, the same 24% share of that group who backed Biden. Sanders won with every age group except those over 65.

The nomination battle isn't over, not yet. Biden can hang on at least through South Carolina, where he still leads in the polls, although his numbers have been dropping and Sanders has surged. A new CBS News poll finds Biden with 28% of the vote there, and Sanders at 23%; ominously, Biden's support among African Americans, who account for more than 60% of the state's Democratic voters, has fallen by 19 points since November, from 54% to 35%.

Meantime, former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg's billions have propelled him toward the top of the field - in the current RealClearPolitics national average, he is at 15% to Sanders' 29% and Biden's 17%. Bloomberg is positioned to do well in the expensive Super Tuesday states March 3, if another disastrous debate performance does not sink him.

But, but, but. The current betting has to be on Sanders. First, his opponents can't win by taking turns nipping at Sanders' heels and dividing the non-Sanders vote: Buttigieg doing well in Iowa, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar coming in third in New Hampshire, Biden hanging on in Nevada. On this score, Bloomberg's role threatens to be more spoiler than savior, further dividing the field.

Second, Sanders is the only candidate who has the financial structure - an enormous pool of low-dollar donors who can compete with Bloomberg, if not on a level playing field. Sanders has raised more ($133 million, as of the end of January) and spent more ($116 million) than any non-billionaire candidate. He had nearly $17 million on hand at the end of January, while his rivals were running out of fuel; Biden and Buttigieg had about $7 million each, Klobuchar and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) even less.

Finally, the party's delegate selection rules operate in Sanders' favor in a multicandidate field. His rivals can't win any delegates at all unless they reach 15% of the vote. That allows Sanders to win a plurality but amass an outsized share of delegates.

All of this is a recipe for disaster: a contested convention that leaves the party bitterly divided, or a Sanders nomination that will face an extraordinary electoral map challenge. Meanwhile, this dish is getting dangerously close to cooked.

Ruth Marcus' email address is

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Sanders is beating them all because they are all beating each other

By e.j. dionne jr.
Sanders is beating them all because they are all beating each other


(Advance for Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Dionne clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


WASHINGTON -- Bernie Sanders is for real, his opposition is fractured, and President Trump is delighted to play the Democrats against one another.

The Vermont senator's sweep of Nevada's caucuses on Saturday is no proof he can win in November. But it does reveal a campaign that can back what for many voters is a trusted brand with the political machinery to close the sale.

While Sanders' more moderate opponents wring their hands over what to do next, they might consider that Sanders built this brand in part through a series of specific promises: single-payer health care, free college, a Green New Deal, universal childcare and much more.

Sanders may not have explained in detail how he'd pay for all this, let alone, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., pointed out on Saturday night, how he'd shepherd it through Congress. But Sanders understands the hunger for very specific forms of relief within a significant part of the Democratic electorate, particularly the young who suffered most from the fallout of the Great Recession.

In Mike Bloomberg's business world, it might be said that Sanders offers a lot of "deliverables" -- putting aside whether they can be delivered. Warren's early "I have a plan for that" appeal made her competitive in this segment of the political marketplace, but she lost much of that edge after wavering on Medicare-for-all. In Nevada, Warren ran a distant fourth, behind Sanders, former vice president Joe Biden and former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Sanders' deliverables mattered in Nevada -- and his performance there confirmed that in a multicandidate field, he can keep winning simply by holding enough of the 2016 vote he assembled against Hillary Clinton.

His showing among Latino voters is a good example. Four years ago and again on Saturday, Sanders won about half the ballots cast by Latinos. This time, he outpaced Biden, his nearest competitor, by 3-to-1.

Because so many Latinos think of themselves as moderates or conservatives -- roughly 40% of them labeled themselves this way in Nevada, according to the Edison Entrance Poll -- their strong support for expansive government programs and economic progressivism is often ignored. Sanders never made that mistake. He thus carried even self-described moderate and conservative Latinos by better than 2-to-1.

A key test for Sanders will come on Super Tuesday in Texas, where Latinos rejected him in 2016 for Clinton. But here is the dilemma for the divided moderates: Roughly two-thirds of Nevada caucus-goers said their priority was to find a candidate who could beat Trump, and Sanders received less than a quarter of their preferences. But the rest of that beat-Trump-above-all crowd was relatively evenly scattered across the candidacies of Biden. Pete Buttigieg, and then Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

Sanders is beating them all because they are all beating each other.

After Klobuchar's late surge in New Hampshire -- its main impact was to deprive Buttigieg of a chance of defeating Sanders there -- she was pummeled in Nevada. Klobuchar now has no plausible place to go (except as a favorite in her home state), and her continuing in the race would only make her a spoiler.

In the meantime, Biden and Buttigieg each have a significant share of the non-Sanders vote, but neither has been able to secure the rest they need.

Buttigieg ran second to Sanders among white Nevada caucus-goers but received virtually no African American votes and just 1-in-10 Latinos.

Biden defeated Sanders among African American caucus-goers, a sign that he may be able to slow Sanders' momentum with a victory next Saturday in South Carolina, where black voters constitute a majority of the primary electorate. However, Biden's profound weakness among the young remains an anchor around his candidacy.

The splintering of the non-Sanders vote may get worse. Warren could not take full advantage of her strong debate performance last week because so many Nevada votes were cast early, so she'll soldier on. And Bloomberg's gargantuan spending for March 3's Super Tuesday primaries guarantees him a share of the middle-ground vote, despite his ineffectual response to Warren's pummeling.

Unity is nowhere in sight. Sanders's Friday tweet -- "I've got news for the Republican establishment. I've got news for the Democratic establishment. They can't stop us" -- showed he's in no mood to pull this fractured party together.

This breach of party solidarity alarmed down-ticket Democrats hoping to keep control of the House and win the Senate -- and must have delighted Trump, whose Saturday night tweet announced how he'll exploit the opposition's fractiousness, no matter what's next. He congratulated "Crazy Bernie" on his Nevada victory, adding, "Don't let them take it away from you!"

Trump would love to tie the entire Democratic Party to "crazy socialism" -- but he'd also relish attacking "the Democratic establishment" for denying Sanders the nomination. What petrifies Democrats is that not one of their candidates, whether on the left or in the middle, has found a way out of this box.

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Expect the unexpected in South Carolina

By kathleen parker
Expect the unexpected in South Carolina


(Advance for Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Parker clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


WASHINGTON - Watching the Democratic Debate in Las Vegas felt like watching a Tarantino movie. There was blood everywhere. About which South Carolinians might say: "Welcome to the Palmetto State, ladies and gentlemen. We love that stuff here."

In the state once described as "too small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum," politics has always been a blood sport. This is surely attributable to the deep vein of Scots-Irish blood that runs through generations and descendants of the earliest settlers. Or, perhaps, it's partly the vestige of The Civil War, which started here, too. Politics around here is just war by other means.

We're otherwise known for Rep. Joe Wilson's "you lie!" during then-President Barack Obama's 2009 address to a joint session of Congress and, years later, for Obama's rendering of "Amazing Grace" at a funeral for one of the nine African Americans who were slaughtered during a prayer meeting at their church by a young white supremacist. The Confederate flag, which had stood sentry in front of the Statehouse after its earlier removal from the same building's dome, finally was lowered and removed for good.

When it comes to politics, South Carolinians don't play by normal rules. Here, eccentrics tend to be favored and villains pardoned. Remember it was Gov. Mark Sanford, who wandered off to "hike the Appalachian Trail" and ended up in the arms of his lover in Argentina.

And then was elected to Congress.

Sanford represented the "Lowcountry," or low-lying coastal areas. A deep-port city, Charleston was once a hub for pirates, who seem to have infected the coastal zone with some of their wild spirit. As I was informed by the publisher of my first newspaper, The Charleston Evening Post, port cities tend to be more understanding of carnal transgressions than, say, their more provincial, inland cousins. (I don't recall how this came up.)

What makes 2020 different is that the low country has been transformed over the last decade by the arrival of many retirees from New York and New Jersey, as well as California and points in between, who have put down roots along the coast, from Myrtle Beach on down. No one knows, really, if there are more Democrats than Republicans among the newcomers, but it may not matter. The primary on Saturday is open to both.

About 150 miles away in the center of the state, Columbia anchors the so-called "Midlands," the state capital, and the most important political event of the Democratic calendar, the annual fish fry hosted by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn. Clyburn's endorsement is priceless in a primary where more than half the voters are African American, but he hasn't made one yet this year and probably won't. (He declined to do so in 2008, as well.) Columbia can roughly be described as a large and pleasant suburb of itself. Home to about 133,000, the city is a reservoir of traditional values, divided deeply along racial lines. The mayor is an up-and-coming star named Stephen K. Benjamin, an African American who has endorsed Michael Bloomberg. Who isn't even on the ballot.

Finally, "Up Country" South Carolina is anchored by Greenville County (pop. 514,000), an almost hip, thriving tech and business hub and home to Furman University, better known these days than the once-powerful Bob Jones University, which once forbade interracial dating and bathed the area with fundamentalist fervor. Hilly and far inland, this has always been the most conservative part of the state and yet it is up country where Bernie Sanders and his gritty economic message fared best against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary.

Overall, of course, South Carolina is still Trump country, much to the dismay of Democrats and at least some Republicans, who are forced to meet in undisclosed locations. But it's a pivotal state for Democrats in the presidential years. We tend to make or break Democratic presidential campaigns: Clinton clobbered Sanders here 3 to 1 in 2016; she won every county that year. Barack Obama got more than twice the vote of Hillary eight years before that. Although Joe Biden still leads here, thanks to support from African American voters his light has dimmed with each debate. And it may surprise some people to learn that Tom Steyer has had more events here than any other candidate still in the race.

What will it take to win it this year? That's impossible to say, but I do have a few suggestions. Sanders might want to lower his voice a bit and go easy on the arm-waving. Biden should flash more charm and smile, which sells better than anger in this well-mannered state. This is one of many reasons Pete Buttigieg will do better than people expect here.

Above all, be who you are, from wherever you are. It's a legacy of having been invaded: we can smell imposters long before we see them.

Kathleen Parker's email address is

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Dial down the chutzpah, Mike

By ruth marcus
Dial down the chutzpah, Mike


(Advance for Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Marcus clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Ruth Marcus

WASHINGTON - Maybe $64 billion buys you a lot of chutzpah.

The chutzpah, first and foremost, to think that you're entitled to purchase the presidency. To be clear, I'd be far happier with President Mike Bloomberg than President Bernie Sanders. But Bloomberg has unleashed my inner Sanders. Because the Vermont democratic socialist senator is right: the presidency shouldn't be for sale. It's legal, at least under the prevailing interpretation of the First Amendment, for Bloomberg to spend some of his fortune this way. That doesn't make it good for Democrats or, more important, healthy for democracy.

This is a fundamental point that Democrats have been too willing to suppress, desperate as they are for someone, anyone, who seems capable of defeating President Trump. In their hearts, they know it's wrong, but their heads are screaming: Someone must save us from Trump. If it takes a billionaire, so be it.

This is a corrosive approach to politics. Yes, the wealthy effectively buy Senate seats - the polite term is self-financing. Yes, the wealthy pump millions into politics on behalf of favored candidates and pet causes, and some of those sums are even more dangerous than Bloomberg's spending because it comes in the form of undisclosed dark money. But the presidency is different; it matters more. And there is a difference, too, between spending on behalf of others and purchasing for yourself.

Those who suppress their distaste of such checkbook politics have failed to price in both the short- and long-term risks of this practice. In the short term, there is a clear risk that supporters of other candidates would be so turned off by Bloomberg's nomination that they would stay home or vote for an alternative in November. In the longer term, the risk is far more grave: this billionaire may be tolerable, but the next one who wants to spend his way into office may be far less so. Having accepted the practice once it will be hard to stop it later.

Eye-popping is too mild an adjective to describe Bloomberg's spending: more than $400 million through the end of January - more than Trump spent on his entire 2016 campaign. The New York Times usefully calculated the Bloomberg burn rate last month alone at $7 million a day, or "roughly $300,000 per hour, $5,000 per minute and $82 per second." Bloomberg's spending so far amounts to more than all his non-billionaire Democratic rivals have spent combined.

It turns out, though, that spending your way to the top is just the beginning of Bloombergian chutzpah.

There is the chutzpah of thinking that your boundless money not only exempts you from competing in the initial contests - it excuses you from much of the rest of the dreary slog of a presidential campaign. Why earn media when you can buy it? Bloomberg has granted relatively few interviews. He has not appeared on a single Sunday show, unlike all of his competitors.

Bloomberg did not deign to sit down with the editorial board of his own hometown newspaper, The New York Times, as it weighed its presidential endorsement. A Bloomberg speech comes complete with teleprompter and podium, but without questions from voters, though he chats with them afterward. Monday will mark his first televised town hall.

Add another layer of chutzpah here: Bloomberg is the newest contender to the race - so new that he says he can't possibly produce his tax returns for voters to review yet. After all, he tells us, "the number of pages will probably be in the thousands of pages. I can't go to TurboTax."

But while voters are supposed to be patient while Bloomberg gets his records in order, Bloomberg's campaign is advising his rivals to get out of the race, pronto. Just Wednesday, before his stumbling performance in the Las Vegas debate, the campaign was circulating a make-way-for-Mike memo calling on Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar to kindly step aside.

"The bottom line is that if Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar remain in the race despite having no path to appreciably collecting delegates on Super Tuesday (and beyond)," the memo argued, "they will propel Sanders to a seemingly insurmountable delegate lead by siphoning votes away from [Bloomberg] with no upside for themselves."

This from a candidate who had not participated in a single caucus or primary, had not won a single delegate, and had not, at that point, taken part in a single debate.

Running for president takes chutzpah, sure. My point is that it would behoove Bloomberg to dial his chutzpah down. If I may indulge in some of my own, he can't afford not to.

Ruth Marcus' email address is

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump is hooked on deficits

By robert j. samuelson
Trump is hooked on deficits


(Advance for Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Samuelson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


EDITORS: Please insert the attached table between the 4th and 5th grafs.

WASHINGTON -- We are going to have this argument repeatedly between now and Election Day: Who gave us this lengthy economic expansion, which is now in its 11th year and is the longest in American history? Is it President Trump and his economists, who claim that their policies -- tax cuts, deregulation, trade agreements -- have restored dynamic growth? Or is it mostly a stroke of good luck, reflecting a gradual revival of confidence after the crushing Great Recession of 2007-2009?

Politically, the answer may not matter all that much. As long as the economy continues to advance, Trump will probably receive the lion's share of credit. For better or worse, incumbents usually get rewarded or blamed for the state of the economy when they're in office. Still, the administration, through the White House's Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), has mounted an aggressive campaign to show that good policies -- not good luck -- are the main reason the economy is faring so well.

The gist of the CEA's case is to compare the economy's actual performance with what was predicted before Trump's election. If the actual performance substantially exceeds the predicted performance, then something must account for the difference. The "something," the CEA says, is better policies. Since the 2016 election, the economy has added more than 7 million jobs, far more than the 1.9 million jobs forecast by the Congressional Budget Office. Similarly, says the CEA, growth of the economy's output (gross domestic product) has exceeded earlier forecasts.

The result, it's argued, has been a huge drop in unemployment across virtually all major ethnic, educational and racial groups, as the adjoining table shows. For example, among African Americans, the peak monthly unemployment rate fell from 16.8% in March 2010 to 6% in January of this year. Other groups also enjoyed large declines.


The administration argues that the poor and the near-poor were among the biggest beneficiaries. "The labor market experiences that people are gaining today will change the trajectories of their lives -- and those of their children -- for years to come," wrote Trump in the "Economic Report of the President," a shorter version of the CEA report.

All this seems impressive. So what's all the fuss about? Just this: There's an alternative explanation of what actually happened. In this telling, the sustained economic expansion doesn't result mainly from Trump's lower tax rates, deregulation and trade agreements. Indeed, it's widely acknowledged that Trump's trade wars with China depressed economic growth because they created greater uncertainty.

Trump's theory is that by lowering tax rates the government can stimulate investment and raise living standards. The reason: investments become more profitable. In 2017, Congress dutifully passed legislation that cut the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%.

But it didn't work out as planned. There was a spurt of investment after the rate cut, but it rapidly declined. For the first nine quarters after passage of the tax bill, growth of private nonresidential business investment grew at an average rate of 3.4%, with faster growth (6.8%) in the first four quarters and much slower in the next five quarters (0.8%), according to the CEA report.

The implication is that lower tax rates may be much less powerful in stimulating investment than has been assumed. The economy may be more influenced by outside events (Boeing's 737 Max jet crisis or the coronavirus) that affect the confidence of corporate executives and their willingness -- or unwillingness -- to invest.

Trump's policy has been straightforward: Keep pressure on the Federal Reserve for low interest rates; and expand budget deficits. The extra spending endorsed by the White House and Congress, along with the 2017 tax cut, has added $4.7 trillion to deficits over a decade, estimates the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The extra spending and tax cuts put more money in the pockets of businesses and consumers, including through higher dividends and stock repurchases. Some of this extra money was spent boosting the economy.

It's important to acknowledge what we know, what we don't know and what's up for grabs. Based on a reasonable reading of the record, the economy's growth reflects continued reliance on large deficits. How long this can last is one of the unknowns up for grabs.

(c) 2020, The Washington Post Writers Group

Trump's green card Catch-22

By catherine rampell
Trump's green card Catch-22



(For Catherine Rampell clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Catherine Rampell

Starting next week, green card applicants can be denied green cards partly on the basis that they are applying for green cards.

Yes, you read that correctly.

On Monday, the Trump administration begins enforcing a new rule supposedly designed to make sure any immigrants let in are self-sufficient and not a drain on government resources. That might sound reasonable enough. The rule is based on a series of flawed premises, though, and even more flawed processes.

For instance, immigrants (BEG ITAL)already(END ITAL) pay more in taxes than they receive in federal benefits. In fact, they use fewer benefits than their native-born counterparts.

Even those who arrive with relatively low incomes - people who might be suspected of one day becoming a burden on Uncle Sam - tend to have a steep earnings' trajectory as they gain skills, greater English-language proficiency and professional networks. Census data and reams of academic research show that poor immigrants generally do what politicians advise them to: work hard, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become productive members of society.

Yet the Trump administration is barreling ahead, keen to catch those imagined hordes of lazy, benefit-guzzling foreigners.

Thanks to what it calls the "public charge" rule, immigration officials are permitted to deny green cards (among other visas) if they suspect that the applicant might use government benefits someday - "at any time in the future." Exactly what this means, or how one might make such a prediction, is frustratingly vague.

The Trump administration admits as much: As it acknowledges in its rule, divining whether a person might, say, apply for food stamps or Medicaid in 30 years is "inherently subjective in nature."

Immigration officials have wide discretion when making these "inherently subjective" forecasts. The rule, however, includes factors that officials are supposed to consider when assessing the "totality of the circumstances presented in an applicant's case": current earnings, credit score, age, education and so on.

This month, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services published additional "guidance" on implementation in its internal policy manual. It elaborated on a particular red flag.

Among the "negative factors" it says employees should consider when assessing whether an immigrant could someday become a public charge: whether the immigrant is applying for a green card. You know, the very reason the official is evaluating the immigrant.

Now, a reasonable person might observe that people with green cards (which grant work authorization, among other perks) have (BEG ITAL)more(END ITAL) job opportunities than other immigrants. Therefore, green-card holders are probably better able to achieve and maintain self-sufficiency, the quality this administration is allegedly seeking out.

But the USCIS manual tells its officers to conclude the opposite. It says getting a green card makes an immigrant a (BEG ITAL)greater(END ITAL) risk for someday becoming a "public charge" because "they intend to reside permanently in the United States and [green-card holders] are eligible for more public benefits than" foreigners without green cards.

Because USCIS employees will have wide discretion in evaluating an applicant's "totality of circumstances," perhaps a generous officer might place little weight on this supposed red flag. But a venal officer could legally deny an applicant a green card because, among other things, the applicant committed the sin of applying for a green card.

Truly, it's a policy only Joseph Heller could love.

This ludicrous, self-contradictory policy is just one of many ways the Trump administration is weaponizing the administrative state against immigrants (among other disfavored groups). It has engaged in a slew of backdoor policies to slash levels of lawful immigration, with neither consent nor input from Congress.

The administration has also, among other recent actions,expanded the travel ban; ratcheted down refugee admissions; increased rejection rates of skilled-worker visas; tried to place other impossible-to-meet prerequisites upon immigrants; and begun rejecting asylum applications on bogus grounds, such as leaving blank the field for "middle name" when the applicant doesn't have a middle name.

Still, this public charge rule is likely to have the biggest effect on levels of legal immigration as its vague criteria could designate hundreds of thousands of noncitizens as future economic burdens. This rule, together with other recent policy changes, could push down legal immigration levels by as much as 30 percent in fiscal 2021 compared with fiscal 2016 (the last year before President Trump took office), according to Stuart Anderson of the National Foundation for American Policy.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney recently acknowledged that the U.S. economy is "desperate" for more people and that "we need more immigrants" to power economic growth, according to a secret recording obtained by The Washington Post.

He might want to tell his boss.

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

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

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