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Melting ice has US military looking north

By Dan Lamothe
Melting ice has US military looking north
Scientists, engineers and crew members from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy prepare to unload gear on Oct. 2, 2018, about 715 miles north of Barrow, Alaska, in the Arctic. MUST CREDIT: U.S. Coast Guard photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi

UNALASKA, Alaska - Army helicopters began flying in and out of the scraggily wilderness near this fishing town in August, surprising even the mayor.

The tan, twin-rotor Chinook aircraft thumped over treeless cliffs and the historic port of Dutch Harbor, parking at a mountainside airstrip too small to land jet airliners.

Soldiers came and went, sometimes staying at the main hotel in town, across the street from a bar called the Norwegian Rat Saloon. Unalaska's mayor, Frank Kelty, said he called the military to find out what was going on but learned little.

"We have these Army helicopters here, and we don't know what they're doing or where they're going," he said after driving by the airport on the remote Aleutian island and seeing a Chinook resting near the runway.

The mysterious operation was part of the U.S. military's gradual growth in the Arctic as it grapples with the effects of melting polar ice and Russia's and China's increasing assertiveness in the region. The slowly evolving plan has included stationing more fighter jets in Alaska, expanding partnerships with Nordic militaries, increasing cold-weather training and designing a new class of icebreaker ship for the Coast Guard that could be armed.

The vision could take greater shape by the end of the year: Both the Navy and Coast Guard are working on new Arctic strategies in light of the quickly changing circumstances senior U.S. military officials see.

In October, the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier and its associated ships sailed above the Arctic Circle, the first such unit to do so since the Cold War. The strike group, carrying thousands of sailors, practiced cold-weather operations in the Norwegian Sea, an area where Russian submarines operate.

"Certainly America has got to up its game in the Arctic. There's no doubt about that," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said during a visit to Alaska in June. "The reality is that we're going to have to deal with the developing Arctic, and it is developing."

Recent upgrades include new sensors on several Aleutian islands for a radar network known as the North Warning System. It was first installed during the Cold War to watch for incoming aircraft and ballistic missiles, but the Pentagon concluded more recently that existing radar did not offer "adequate detection and identification of aircraft operating outside the continental United States," according to an Air Force assessment.

That prompted the operation involving the helicopters in Unalaska.

A military spokeswoman, Leah Garton, said the mission allowed the aircrews to practice navigating over water and landing in mountainous areas, where the sensors were installed. The new equipment will "assist in flight safety for all civilian and military aircraft in the local area," she said.

The new Navy and Coast Guard Arctic strategies would follow the national defense strategy released by Mattis in January that made countering Russia and China a priority. Both nations have shown interest in Arctic resources as the ice melts, including fossil fuels, diamonds, and metals like nickel and platinum.

Russia has more than 40 icebreakers - the U.S. military has two working ones - and stationed more troops in the region. China, meanwhile, is building its third polar icebreaker and staked a claim this year as a "near-Arctic" state, further injecting itself into policy debates.

"We're obviously watching both the Russians and the Chinese quite closely," said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, who oversees Coast Guard operations in the Arctic and Pacific. "Russia, on their side of the Arctic in sort of the Northern Sea Route, is investing heavily in commercial infrastructure and in military infrastructure."

Coast Guard Capt. Gregory Tlapa, who commands the lone U.S. military icebreaker traveling to the Arctic each year, said waterways like the frosty Bering Strait are not yet busy with ships, especially when compared with other maritime corridors. Waters are warming, he said, but "somewhat warmer still means mostly frozen."

But the lack of U.S. military vessels and infrastructure in the Arctic could be problematic, said Tlapa, speaking on the red-hulled USCGC Healy while it refueled in Dutch Harbor in August. Congress recently approved initial funding for six new polar icebreakers, but they are probably still years away from deploying.

"It's that school of international realism: If you're not here, someone else will be," Tlapa said. "The nation doesn't have a deep-bench strength in terms of capabilities to operate up here and project power and protect our national interests."

The potential militarization has raised hope for investment in places like Unalaska and Nome, a port town on Alaska's western coast.

Unalaska, with nearly 5,000 full-time residents, is perhaps best known as the port in Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch" series. The town processes the largest volume of commercial fishing in the United States each year, with the company UniSea operating hotels, bunkhouses and bars there.

The fishing helps make Unalaska home to hundreds of bald eagles, which scavenge dumpsters, perch on lamp posts and occasionally swoop down to attack people.

The town - which takes its name from the Aleut word "Ounalashka," meaning "near the peninsula" - has struggled with unemployment, alcoholism and bar fights. But Kelty said that has improved in recent years as the number of full-time residents increases and the success of the fishing industry has helped bankroll paved roads, schools and other municipal projects.

Echoes of World War II are still obvious across Unalaska. The hull of the SS Northwestern, a ship bombed during a Japanese air raid in 1942, rests upended in a bay, and many World War II-era buildings have been repurposed by the fishing industry. The ruins of an old Army installation, Fort Mears, overlook Dutch Harbor.

Though nothing is planned, Kelty argued that an influx of U.S. troops could bring infrastructure projects that could benefit residents, such as the installation of undersea fiber-optic cables from mainland Alaska that could bring more affordable internet and cellphone service.

In Nome, the Army Corps of Engineers is studying whether the small city's port can be dug deeper to handle large vessels. Doing so would add another deepwater port on the Bering Sea, 730 miles closer to the Arctic Circle than Unalaska. Both towns are below the circle but are considered a part of the Arctic by the U.S. government because of how connected they are to it.

Despite its distance from the Arctic, Unalaska is the last deepwater port where large ships heading to the Arctic can refuel in the western United States, and the first when returning. However, it is not considered ideal by mariners and pilots because of its limitations, which include no highway connecting it to mainland Alaska, limited communications and wild weather in which thick fog and high winds are common and can maroon visitors for days.

Elsewhere in the Arctic, the Pentagon has begun to expand its presence through training exercises with partner nations. In Europe, the Marine Corps is deepening relationships with Norway, Finland and Sweden, training units of rank-and-file troops in the shadow of Russia. In June, Norway's government asked the United States to increase the number of Marines there from about 330 to 700, with plans to base them on a rotational basis in the Norwegian Arctic.

Russia vaguely warned Norway that there will be "consequences" to the decision, and U.S. and Norwegian officials have sought to stress that the arrangement is meant to deepen their security partnership and build expertise on existing Arctic training ranges, rather than deter Russian aggression.

Col. John Carroll, the deputy commander of Marine Corps Forces Europe, said commanders want to make sure service members are familiar with the biting cold and can move through the countryside on skis or snowshoes.

"Everything is hard. Everything is more difficult," Carroll said. "When the wind is blowing at freakin' 30 miles per hour, it's dark 24-7, and it's minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit, and you've got to put your gear in your pack, get out of your rack, get out of your sleeping bag, get outside the tent and go do something - everything is hard."

The Air Force also has sought to strengthen its relationships with Arctic allies, said Iris Ferguson, a civilian analyst for the service. That includes the formation of the Arctic Challenge exercise over Europe that will probably test air-to-air combat and other skills and involve Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the United States at some point in the future.

"The demands of the region make alliances and partnerships all the more vital," said Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force's top officer.

The Air Force is planning to base two squadrons of advanced F-35A fighters in Alaska by 2022, supplementing a fleet of jets that already includes two squadrons of F-22 Raptors, considered the Pentagon's best in air-to-air combat. The decision will allow the Air Force to take advantage of the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, a sprawling installation that includes 65,000 square miles of space for pilots to train.

"Air power, in particular, plays such a crucial role in this region," Ferguson said. "The ice is melting, absolutely, but the reality is that it's incredibly difficult to operate from a surface perspective, either on ocean or on land. That is certainly the case in the near future, and I would argue probably much farther afield as well."

The Army and Marine Corps increasingly have trained ground forces in Alaska. In March, a joint force of about 1,500 U.S. troops trained together in an exercise known as Arctic Edge, with some driving armored vehicles across frosty terrain and others moving on foot through frigid, snowy conditions.

Army Maj. Chad Peltier, the commandant of the school at the Northern Warfare Training Center in Black Rapids, said instructors stress to students the things that change when working in extreme subzero temperatures.

"If you bring your weapon from the temperature into a warmer environment - say, inside of a tent - and then you bring it back out into that negative-40, negative-60 temperature, the condensation that has built up is enough to freeze that weapon up," he said. "That's a simple thing that can disable a warfighter."

The elevated profile of Arctic operations at the center has raised the possibility that the Army will replace a tracked personnel carrier known as the small-unit sustainment vehicle, or SUSV. The vehicle, first fielded in the 1980s, rides high on snow and sometimes tows a squad of soldiers on skis behind it, said Jared Sapp, a science adviser to U.S. Army Alaska.

At sea, the Navy has operated submarines in the Arctic since the 1940s and carries out a large training every year with them known as ICEX north of Alaska.

In April, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the recent decrease in polar ice has prompted the Navy to begin preparing a new Arctic strategy just four years after the last one was released.

The plan will incorporate "blue-water Arctic operations," in which ships without icebreaking capability sail in areas that were once more frozen, he said.

Asked by reporters after the hearing what triggered the new review, Spencer was blunt.

"The damn thing melted," he said.

Russia avoids sanctions, supports rebels in eastern Ukraine using a financial system

By Anton Troianovski
Russia avoids sanctions, supports rebels in eastern Ukraine using a financial system
A view of Tskhinvali from a ruined building during the first war with Georgia. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Ksenia Ivanova

TSKHINVALI, South Ossetia - The Kremlin has for years bankrolled an array of pro-Russian breakaway states within the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. For Moscow, the goals could not be bigger - rebuilding Russia's influence and countering the region's drift toward the West.

The network of semi-states has become so important for Russia that an off-the-grid financial system now ties some of them together, bridging hundreds of miles and circumventing international sanctions.

A Washington Post investigation - including interviews with business and political leaders - uncovered the extensive use of this improvised banking system, which runs through a mountainous patch called South Ossetia, a self-declared splinter state in Georgia.

It works like a relay around the barriers put up by sanctions imposed by the European Union, the United States and others spelling out penalties for doing business directly with the separatist territories.

Separatist officials and business figures in eastern Ukraine - one of the main Moscow-backed breakaway territories in the region - transfer money to South Ossetia. The funds are wired to Russia, officials familiar with the arrangement told The Post. The money then pays for goods such as fuel and building materials, which are shipped from Russia directly to eastern Ukraine, interviews and records show.

The arrangement also works in reverse, allowing exports from the separatist territories to be sold in Russia. This year alone, more than $150 million in payments has been funneled through South Ossetia, according to an estimate by the territory's tax office.

In a rare visit by a Western journalist to South Ossetia, The Post reviewed documents and conducted interviews that showed how the enclave has quietly become a financial linchpin for Moscow.

"Maybe, from someone else's point of view, this is wrong," said Vakhtang Dzhigkaev, deputy head of the South Ossetian Chamber of Trade and Industry. "But from our point of view, we're operating in the realm of legality."

The story of how a Caucasus backwater became a Kremlin financial hub sheds light on Russia's opportunistic, low-budget approach to building its foreign influence in the region.

On a practical level, South Ossetia has allowed Russia to create its own rules and discrete financial channels to help sustain separatist economies and sidestep sanctions. The main beneficiary has been the separatists in eastern Ukraine - the most active flash point around the Black Sea.

South Ossetia also serves as a key Russian foothold to project staying power. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Black Sea region is among the main arenas as Moscow challenges what it views as Western encroachment.

Some of the Western-looking governments in the region - including Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova - have deepened cooperation with NATO and hold aspirations of possible formal membership in the future.

"Unresolved conflicts are clearly instruments of trying to keep these countries in the Russian orbit," said Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, the Georgian government minister in charge of conflict resolution with her country's breakaway territories.

With a gross domestic product less than one-tenth of the United States, Russia struggles to compete with the West economically even as Moscow's huge nuclear arsenal and costly military expansion remain key elements of its global ambitions. That economic mismatch means that Western sanctions can have an impact - and forces Russia to be both frugal and creative in trying to work around them.

- - -

Conflict-battered South Ossetia also has become an improbable financial gateway over the past three years.

About the size of Rhode Island, it has been the site of two wars between Western-leaning Georgia and Moscow-backed forces since the 1990s. Reminders of combat - toppled buildings and walls pockmarked by gunfire - rest among orchards, springs and mountain valleys. The population of roughly 50,000 largely speaks the native Ossetian tongue and maintains its traditions of homemade wine and salty cheese.

The Kremlin-backed rebel territories in eastern Ukraine - the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics - are 400 miles to the northwest. And the battles there have no direct impact on life in South Ossetia.

Still, South Ossetia is a vital cog for Moscow's reach into the Black Sea region.

The enclave's murky international status gives Russia free rein to set up its own banking system outside the normal rules. While South Ossetia describes itself as independent, it relies on Russia for its security and for almost all of its budget revenue. Georgian officials say that no major decisions are made in the territory without Moscow's approval.

The separate banking system, in turn, serves as a way to sustain the separatist eastern-Ukrainian economy as the war grinds on. More than 10,000 people have died in that conflict since 2014, according to the United Nations. Sporadic fighting continues between the rebels and Ukrainian forces.

The financial threads between the Kremlin and Ukraine's separatists pass through a sleek office building on Stalin Street in Tskhinvali, the main city of South Ossetia.

There, a three-year-old institution called the International Settlements Bank handles financial transactions with separatist territories in eastern Ukraine.

Russia traded roughly more than $150 million in goods with rebel-held territory in Ukraine in the first half of this year using South Ossetia as the payment center, according to officials and tax records. At least 146 limited liability companies, the South Ossetian tax office said, were active this year in facilitating trade with the Russian-backed separatist territories.

"Ossetia is essentially like an offshore company," said a lawyer based in the eastern-Ukraine rebel stronghold of Donetsk who specializes in foreign trade. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he said he worried about repercussions for describing the system to a Western reporter.

"This scheme," he said, "was clearly thought up by some rather sophisticated people."

The arrangement - which lawyers, businesspeople and officials described to The Post, many also speaking on the condition of anonymity - works like a "triangle," according to an adviser to separatist leaders in the Donetsk region.

Step 1:

Anytime someone in separatist territories wants to wire money to a company in Russia - and beyond - they do so by way of the International Settlements Bank in South Ossetia. (South Ossetia is the only entity that recognizes the eastern-Ukraine breakaway regions, making it the only place to have a formal banking relationship with them.)

Step 2:

The money is sent onward to Russia. (Russia recognized South Ossetian independence after the 2008 war. That allows Russian banks to transfer money to and from South Ossetia.)

Step 3:

The goods paid for by the transfers - including fuel, building materials and food - are shipped to eastern Ukraine, largely by truck from Russia over a shared border. (Rerouting cash and trade through South Ossetia lets Russia avoid the Western sanctions and opprobrium it would incur were Moscow to officially recognize Ukraine's separatist republics.)

To be sure, Russia sends other aid to the separatists more directly. International monitors' surveillance drones in recent months have repeatedly sighted truck convoys traveling at night from Russia into separatist territory and avoiding official border crossings.

Western and Ukrainian officials say Russia provides the rebels with troops and military and logistical aid. Russia denies providing any direct military support.

The South Ossetian connection provides a more formalized financial link that allows the roughly 3 million people living in the separatist-occupied territories to trade with the outside world.

The framework of the system goes back to 2015.

That year, the International Settlements Bank opened on Tskhinvali's Stalin Street. In Moscow, meanwhile, another financial institution was formed at almost the same time with almost the same name - the Center for International Settlements. It got a banking license in 2016.

And its chairman, Vyacheslav Mazurin, is a 1981 graduate from the Higher School of the KGB - an elite training ground for Russian spies. Mazurin declined an interview request made through a spokeswoman.

Officially, the two institutions have nothing to do with each other. Both banks rejected interview requests. CMRBank, as the Moscow institution is now called, said in a brief statement that it "carries out its activities in strict accordance with the laws of the Russian Federation."

But lawyers, businesspeople and government officials said that they form the backbone of the sanctions-snubbing financial nexus between Moscow and eastern Ukraine.

"We can only trade through South Ossetia - and we trade successfully," said Zakhar Prilepin, a nationalist Russian writer who served as an adviser to the separatist Donetsk People's Republic government until earlier this year. "They sign contracts with Ossetia, Ossetia does with us, and you get this triangle."

- - -

South Ossetia also gives the Kremlin something else - a military outpost deep in the Caucasus region that was once part of the Soviet Union.

After hostilities between Georgia and South Ossetia erupted into war for a second time in 2008, the Russian military stepped in and invaded Georgia proper. Moscow now recognizes the independence of South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia, and strengthened its military presence there.

Russia's strategic map of the region includes other splinter territories: Transnistria in Moldova, on the western end of the Black Sea, as well as the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 in a move that brought international outcry and sanctions against Moscow.

But the Kremlin's commitment to separatism as statecraft is expensive.

Russia's treasury is sapped by sanctions, an aging population, global military ambition and endemic corruption.

Of South Ossetia's $120 million in budget revenue last year, $110 million came as aid from Russia, according to official records. A new bridge connecting annexed Crimea to Russia cost some $4 billion. And Russia's military intervention in eastern Ukraine, along with spending on welfare payments and other assistance to separatist-controlled territory, also amounts in the billions, according to Russian media reports and Ukrainian government estimates.

A green fence, with cameras and motion sensors, runs through abandoned orchards separating South Ossetia from Georgia proper.

The road that once connected Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, to Tskhinvali is blocked by barricades and machine-gun nests. On either side, memorials featuring charred remnants of warfare depict the other as the barbaric aggressor. In South Ossetia, there are the remains of burned cars. On the Georgian side, glass bottles melted from the heat of fires.

For South Ossetians, the winding drive and two-mile tunnel through the Caucasus to Russia is now the sole link to the rest of the world. There is no airport. Credit cards do not work. Imports are so sparse that printed books are a prized commodity.

"Ossetia United - with Russia and with Putin," say letters scrawled in white paint on the road north from Tskhinvali.

Every Saturday morning, Dzerassa Dzhegayeva and three friends wend their way up a steep, dirt path before dawn, hauling a thermos of coffee and a bag of chocolates. They do exercises next to the ruins of a hilltop restaurant destroyed in South Ossetia's first post-Soviet war in the 1990s. The second conflict, in 2008, killed Dzhegayeva's brother and father.

"No matter what, we always hoped for something better," said Dzhegayeva, a 47-year-old civil servant. She described the people of eastern Ukraine as brethren of sorts: "They are also being bombed. They are also in a situation with no way out."

- - -

Anatoly Bibilov, the president of the separatist government in South Ossetia, keeps a white bust of Putin and a statuette of the Russian president riding a bear on his desk. The memorabilia, he said, was given to him as gifts in eastern Ukraine.

The breakaway territories of eastern Ukraine, Bibilov said, "are in the exact same state that we South Ossetians were in 20 years ago. We remember perfectly well how much we wanted someone to support us."

Russian-language outlets such as Meduza and Kommersant have also reported on South Ossetia's role in trade with eastern Ukraine, but the sheer volume of the funds now flowing between the enclaves has not been previously documented.

The South Ossetian tax office gave The Post a list of 146 registered South Ossetian companies likely to be doing business with separatist eastern Ukraine. The list indicates that fuel, food and building materials exported from Russia into eastern Ukraine represented much of the flow of goods.

The tax office compiled the list by naming companies that pay corporate income tax but no other types of taxes, such as on property. Such companies have no operations in South Ossetia and have proliferated in the territory over the past three years, according to tax-office head Vladimir Kadzhaev. The lawyer in eastern Ukraine specializing in international trade said he recognized some of the companies on the list.

The companies paid around $600,000 in taxes on the profits from revenue of about $150 million in the first half of this year, according to the document and interviews with Kadzhaev. The revenue total represents an estimate for the overall sum of money funneled between eastern Ukraine and Russia through South Ossetia, according to Kadzhaev.

The flow of funds is nearly twice what it was last year. In the first six months of 2017, South Ossetian companies doing business with eastern Ukraine reported revenue of $90 million at the current exchange rate, according to Kadzhaev.

The company that is the biggest taxpayer on the tax office's list is RTK, initials that are commonly used for the Republican Fuel Co., an operator of 52 gas stations controlled by the rebel government of the Donetsk People's Republic. The records suggest it buys fuel from Russia and pays for it via South Ossetia.

A representative of the fuel company's marketing department said its bosses were unwilling to comment on South Ossetia's role in their business.

"They thought the info was too political," the representative wrote in an email. Appending a frowning-face emoticon, he added, "We're scared."

The United States in January imposed sanctions on a South Ossetian-registered company called Vneshtorgservis for exporting coal out of the separatist territories via Russia. Kadzhaev and other South Ossetian officials said they had no knowledge of the company, and its representatives could not be reached.

The South Ossetian government is now working to replicate the country's middleman role to offer trade links to other internationally ostracized territories that are close to Russia, said Dzhigkaev, the deputy head of the South Ossetian Chamber of Trade and Industry.

Bibilov met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in July. South Ossetia now plans to open a representative office in Damascus.

South Ossetia also signed business and economic cooperation agreements with Crimea earlier this year, and officials from the fellow pro-Russian breakaway territories of Transnistria and Abkhazia make regular visits, according to reports by Russian media.

"We have very big plans for turning our state into a transit corridor for various kinds of flows of goods," said Dzhigkaev. "We don't fear sanctions."

The growing role of South Ossetia in Moscow's financial outreach to the region creates a quandary for Georgia.

Georgia's government, like the West and almost all other governments, considers South Ossetia to be Russian-occupied Georgian territory. But Georgian officials indicated they did not want to raise too much of an outcry.

Georgia still has not restored diplomatic ties with Russia, which it severed after the 2008 war. But relations have gradually improved, and a resurgence in Russian tourism and trade has pumped much-needed cash into the Georgian economy. Georgian officials say they are focused on reconciling the population of Abkhazia and South Ossetia with the rest of Georgia.

"Unfortunately, we know" about the financial flows from South Ossetia to eastern Ukraine, said Tsikhelashvili, the Georgian government minister dealing with the breakaway territories. "But not much can be done at the moment."

In eastern Ukraine, the two separatist governments refused to allow The Post to visit their territory and declined requests for telephone interviews.

- - -

The Kremlin's point man for the breakaway territories in Ukraine and Georgia is Vladislav Surkov, a former deputy prime minister who now works as a personal adviser to Putin.

Emails leaked in 2016 by Ukrainian hackers showed his office closely involved in how the territories are run, reviewing expense reports from Donetsk and draft legislation in Abkhazia. At a Tskhinvali celebration in August marking the 10th anniversary of Russia's recognition of South Ossetian independence, Surkov waxed lyrical on the territory's "courage" in recognizing the People's Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.

"This financial, trade, economic, legal and organizational infrastructure created in South Ossetia for these two republics is a lifeline amid the blockade of the Kiev regime," Surkov said, according to Russia's Tass news agency.

Surkov declined an interview request.

Just as a Post reporter was asking South Ossetia's Bibilov about Surkov during an interview in the president's office in Tskhinvali, a beige telephone rang. The phone had no dial or a keypad. It sat next to the Putin memorabilia.

Bibilov stopped the interview mid-sentence. He picked up the phone and then, with an amused expression, mouthed "Surkov!" before stepping out of the office.

He came back after several minutes.

"It was business," he said.

- - - -

The Washington Post's Natalia Abbakumova contributed to this report.


Video Embed Code

Video: The Post's Anton Troianovski traveled to South Ossetia, part of a growing network of separatist territories on Russia's southwestern frontier.(Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

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Haitian immigrants revived America's turkey town. This Thanksgiving together might be their last.

By Damian Paletta
Haitian immigrants revived America's turkey town. This Thanksgiving together might be their last.
Turkey feathers line the road in front of a 675,000-square-foot Butterball facility where 17 million turkeys are processed each year at the world's largest turkey-processing plant located in Mount Olive, N.C. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Michael S. Williamson

CROIX-DES-BOUQUETS, Haiti - In a proud but unfinished home on a dirt road where goats and children walk together, four generations of one family live under an earthquake-proof roof.

Jean Felix Petit-Frere, a 63-year-old grandfather, has paid for the house's every cinder block, walls that keep his wife of 37 years, two daughters, son-in-law, mother-in-law and granddaughter safe from the chaos and slums that surround them.

But Petit-Frere has never set foot in the house. He lives in North Carolina, working at the world's largest turkey-processing plant, Butterball's facility in the small town of Mount Olive.

Petit-Frere is one of nearly 59,000 Haitians working under a temporary protected status program created for them after a 2010 earthquake triggered a humanitarian crisis. Like many of those immigrants, he sends a large portion of his wages home, a critical financial pipeline to an impoverished country where many children bathe in buckets and clean water is sold in bags.

He may not be able to send money home much longer.

President Donald Trump has moved to end the protections for Haitian immigrants, arguing that temporary rules cannot be allowed to remain in place indefinitely. Along with plans to take away similar protections for certain people from Nicaragua, El Salvador and Sudan, Trump's moves would lead to the deportation of 200,000 workers who have more than 200,000 U.S.-born children.

Immigrants and advocacy groups are suing to block the deportations, and both they and the White House await a ruling in federal court.

The administration says the program has run its course, arguing that temporary rules for Haitians cannot be allowed to remain in place indefinitely.

The ruling has major implications for thousands of Haitian immigrants and their newfound communities, as the two groups have become economically intertwined. Extended families in Haiti rely on wages from relatives in the United States, and U.S. companies - including major American brands like Butterball - need their immigrant workforce.

Some of the Haitians work in big cities such as Miami, but others have transformed small towns like Mount Olive, which was breathed back to life after 1,500 Haitian immigrants moved to the area in the summer of 2010, lured by the prospect of work at Butterball.

Butterball turkeys are one of Thanksgiving's most recognizable brands, and each year the Mount Olive facility processes 500 million pounds.

The arrival of workers such as Petit-Frere eight years ago reshaped the company and the town around it, filling vacant homes, creating new businesses and injecting money into local grocery stores and retailers that had seen incomes stagnate.

If these workers are sent home, local officials fear it could unwind much of the revival the area has seen in the past eight years.

"If the Haitians and other immigrants suddenly went away, not just in Mount Olive but in eastern North Carolina, agriculture would suffer an amazingly hard blow," said Charles Brown, the town manager who helped many of them acclimate there. "They've contributed to the economy. They've contributed to the labor market."

The consequences would fall even harder on the families left behind, including Petit-Frere's wife, Rose Marie. Roughly 60 percent of all Haitians live on less than $2.41 a day, according to the World Bank. Less than 1 in 4 Haitian families has access to a toilet.

In an interview on the front porch of their incomplete house here, 15 miles northwest of the Haitian capital, Rose Marie said she misses her husband madly but is worried that if he comes home he won't be able to find sustainable work in a country sliding further into disarray.

He sends almost everything he can spare back to his wife and four children, often more than $1,000 a month. He even overdraws his bank account to stretch the money further.

A new motorbike for his son Jean Caleb, who is one of the only people in this municipality to wear a helmet on the crowded roads. A refrigerator, pigs and goats for Rose Marie. And the new, three-bedroom house that has allowed much of his family to stay close.

Rose Marie appears pinched between the bountiful life he has created for her on his $13-per-hour wage and the prospect of being back by his side but impoverished, like so many of her neighbors.

Asked when she thinks she will see him again, she put her face in her hands. "I don't know," she says. "Only God knows."

- - -

Petit-Frere works a long late-day shift at Butterball, cleaning floors and equipment. It's usually 2 a.m. before he returns home. By the time he goes to bed, another Haitian immigrant is waking up a few miles away.

Elisena Joseph, also 63, trudges out each morning in thick coveralls and a winter hat. She makes more than $12 an hour cleaning turkey meat, eclipsing in 60 minutes what she earned in a week selling tomatoes and cabbage on the sidewalk in Port-au-Prince eight years ago.

And it's safe, far from the near-death experience that brought her to North Carolina.

On Jan. 12, 2010, Joseph was walking back from praying on a hillside outside Port-au-Prince when the earth shook beneath her. The basket of vegetables she had balanced on her head toppled to the ground. When she collected her food and looked up, everything was covered in dust. People were screaming.

The single mother knew three of her children were home alone, and she rushed back to find them.

When she arrived, she saw her daughter, Marie Rosie, lying on the ground unresponsive with a massive gash in the back of her head. A wall had fallen on her and smashed her skull. Joseph managed to get her 26-year-old daughter to a public square, but it was full of the injured and the dead.

After two weeks of desperate pleas, Joseph and Marie Rosie were evacuated by the U.S. government to a hospital in Tampa. They never even had time to say goodbye to the rest of their family.

"There was so much going on in my head," she recalled. "She was dying. I was just crying. I couldn't think of anything."

Haiti's 2010 earthquake was one of the worst natural disasters in the past 100 years, felling thousands of buildings in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area.

Reports of the quake's death toll vary widely, as an exact count was impossible in the earthquake's chaotic aftermath. But estimates reach as high as 300,000, and in Port-au-Prince, so many people died that relief workers constructed a mass grave on the outskirts of town, dumping hundreds of truckloads of bodies into a massive pit to limit the stench and spread of disease.

Even before the earthquake, Haiti was already considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The education system was uneven. Health conditions were very poor. Many people lacked clean running water and used communal pit latrines.

In an effort to help deal with the crisis, the Obama administration modified the existing TPS program, which aimed to allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States if conditions in their home countries were unsafe. The change allowed Haitians living in the United States to temporarily stay and legally work. Administration officials said it was unsafe for them to return home to a country on the brink of humanitarian and economic collapse.

Relief groups in Tampa helped Joseph apply while she waited for Marie Rosie to slowly recover.

Finding a job wasn't easy. She didn't speak English and couldn't read or write, having received little education. Some Haitian friends in Florida told her about Butterball, and in 2012 she took a van up north.

She soon had health insurance, a retirement account and money to help her five children and grandchildren.

She has used her Butterball income to help two of her sons move to Chile, another country where Haitians have found economic opportunity. Now, just one of her five children still lives in Haiti, her eldest daughter Cecile Cherisca, 48.

There are limits, though, to how far the money can stretch. Cherisca and her two children live in a small, one-room apartment in the middle of a densely populated section of Croix-des-Bouquets. Their apartment lacks running water.

Joseph has so many people depending on her that she sends money to Cherisca only occasionally, helping her pay rent and medical bills.

Cherisca tries to earn more by selling things like ketchup packs and onions from a small table outside her home, but it often yields just $1 a day. She said she can barely cover other bills, including her daughter's middle school tuition. They share a pit latrine with neighbors.

She said she misses her mother but hopes she stays in the United States, predicting her mother would die given Haiti's worsening condition and uncertain future.

"This country is not going well," she said. "It's like living in evil."

Two thousand miles away, Joseph sleeps in a room that is roughly the same size as her daughter's apartment. It's in a rental house with a clean bathroom, electricity and a furnished kitchen.

There's a single picture frame on her bureau, with the family members they left behind and haven't seen in eight years.

Joseph sleeps on an inflatable mattress in a room she shares with Marie Rosie. Sometimes, at night, her daughter climbs down to join her.

- - -

On Jan. 11, one day before the earthquake's eight-year anniversary, Trump berated a group of lawmakers and senior advisers and said he wanted the special assistance for Haitians to end.

"Why are we having all these people from s---hole countries come here?" Trump asked, telling them he didn't want any special provisions made for Haitians as part of a broader immigration deal under consideration.

Seven days later, the Department of Homeland Security published a notice formally terminating TPS for Haitian immigrants. Those with existing permits could work until July 22, 2019, but then they would have to leave.

White House officials have said the program was meant to deal with the aftermath of the earthquake. It was not meant, they say, to remain ongoing while Haiti deals with its long-standing structural problems, which might never be resolved.

"Yes, Haiti had horrible conditions before the earthquake, and those conditions aren't much better after the earthquake," then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told a congressional panel last year. "But the earthquake was why TPS was - was granted and - and that's how I have to look at it."

Because TPS was always meant to be temporary, it must frequently be renewed to prevent it from expiring. The Obama administration did this four times. The Trump administration has extended Haiti's TPS program once, last year.

A number of federal agencies have warned the White House that terminating the program could further destabilize Haiti. Some have even warned it could lead to more undocumented immigrants' seeking to enter the United States. Sending thousands of immigrants back to unstable countries could create more desperation, prompting others to try to flee.

"The return of a large number of citizens may place additional security stress upon the Haitian government, which is contending with rising crime and violence," U.S. Southern Command, a division of the U.S. military, wrote in a memo to other agencies last year.

Less than two months after the White House formally announced it was ending TPS for Haitians, a group of immigrants filed a lawsuit. It alleged the Trump administration's effort "was motivated by intentional race- and national-origin-based animus."

On Oct. 3, a federal judge ruled against the Trump administration, finding that the plaintiffs in the case "have established without dispute that local and national economies will be hurt if hundreds of thousands of TPS beneficiaries are uprooted and removed," as the case would affect people from Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Sudan. The order temporarily blocked any deportation orders until a final decision is reached.

Even with the court ruling, the White House has not given any indication that it will soften its TPS approach. Trump has expressed frustration that his aides aren't moving more quickly to deport people who he has said shouldn't be in the United States. He has alleged the United States has been too accommodative to immigrants for years and that he wants to let in well-educated foreign workers, not people from poor countries like Haiti. He instead expressed a desire to see more immigrants from places like Norway.

- - -

Mount Olive is a small town in eastern North Carolina, with its economy closely intertwined with agriculture and food production. The motto on its municipal building reads "We value hometown tradition."

The town's population was dwindling in 2010, but that all changed a few months after the earthquake in Haiti. Petit-Frere was in the group arriving in Mount Olive that summer, promised there was good pay at a company that processes "kodenn," the Haitian Creole word for turkey.

Karen Ingram, senior manager of human resources at Butterball's Mount Olive facility, said Haitians were drawn to the company "through word of mouth," not active recruiting. She said they provided translators and other services to try to help.

But the sudden influx took some members of the town by surprise.

"We had people all over town we hadn't seen before speaking a language none of us had ever heard," said Brown, the Mount Olive town manager. Women walked back from the grocery store with bags on their heads. Newcomers crowded into houses because they didn't know where else to go.

Brown knew the immigrants were there to work at the Butterball plant, which was the largest turkey processing facility in the world and always faced high turnover.

The town is famous for being the hometown of the pickle company that shares its name, but Butterball has the labor-intensive plant that needs the most workers. And these jobs can be very difficult. One recent listing says certain workers must be able to lift "up to 57 pounds" and be able to work "with animal organs and animal feces."

"It's tough, dirty work, and not everyone can do it," Brown said.

Christa Leupen, a Butterball spokeswoman, said finding enough workers for the facility has long been a challenge. Even with the Haitian immigrants at the facility now, the company is seeking to hire 100 new people each week, in part to deal with turnover and demand.

Asked about the Haitian workers, she said, "These folks have been working here for a long time and have been part of the family of the operation."

If they were all deported, especially at once, "that's a significant blow."

Mount Olive had 4,700 people before the earthquake, Brown said, and its population grew by 30 percent when Haitians arrived that summer. He said it helped kick the local economy back to life.

"We've got a Walmart, and they are buying big-screen televisions," Brown said. "They are buying cars. They are buying groceries."

He said they would go together to the local Piggly Wiggly grocery store. Longtime residents would see Haitians spending money in their town every day.

But few of the new workers spoke English or knew U.S. customs and laws. Brown needed to find a way to help them adapt.

That winter, the town received a complaint that there were 25 Haitians living in a single small home. Faced with the decision on whether to evict them, Brown told his aides to let them stay, fearing that putting them out in freezing temperatures could put lives at risk. But he knew changes were necessary.

A few months later, Brown called a meeting with Butterball's chief executive and several Mount Olive landlords, explaining that they would all benefit if more was done to help the new residents assimilate.

Brown told the landlords that if they would take steps to fix up older, vacant homes, they would find dozens of eager tenants with good-paying jobs looking for a safe place to live.

This ultimately led to the opening of two Haitian groceries. One of them, God's Grace Convenience Store, is run by an immigrant couple, selling Haitian "patties," baked goods, and a range of vegetables and sodas that are popular in Port-au-Prince.

Nowhere is the Haitian impact more on display than in the six churches they created in Mount Olive. These are loud, pulsating celebrations in old, packed buildings. At several of the assemblies, the guitars and drums are played so loud that the floor vibrates. Lyrics are sung in two languages: at times in English, but the congregations really come to life when they sing in Haitian Creole.

On a recent Sunday, Elisena Joseph sat by the window in the back of the Full Gospel Assembly of North Carolina, belting out a hymn with her eyes shut.

- - -

After church, a small kitten with no collar was asleep on a dirty rug behind Jean Felix Petit-Frere's home. Petit-Frere claimed no connection but later admitted he buys the cat food every so often because, as he is, it appears to be all alone. The kitten buried its head in his chest when he picked it up. He calls it Mimi.

Petit-Frere rents a room in the small house on Mount Olive's gritty southern edge. He said he's settled, but there are no decorations, and his belongings are packed in a way that would make it easy to move out quickly. His room had the odor of wet laundry that won't dry. His green Butterball shirt sat at the top of his pile of clothes.

Even though he has lived in Mount Olive eight years, he wants to eventually return to Croix-des-Bouquets and be with his family in the home he has paid to construct. The house in Haiti isn't complete yet. He still needs to pay for a toilet and sink, and the building needs tiles and windows. As much as he misses Rose Marie, he knows it's too soon to return.

"I feel my heart broken," he said. "The Bible says you are supposed to stay close to your wife."

Back in Haiti, Rose Marie sleeps down the hall from her daughters, in a bed with an elaborate, polished headboard Jean Felix carved for her before he left.

She remembers the last time they were together, three years ago, when he came home for their son Obed's wedding.

She wore perfume and a green and white dress. He looked handsome in his suit and stayed for a week. The family was together again. When it was time to leave, she cried, uncertain when they would see each other again.

He knew that if he left the United States one more time, he might be barred from ever returning, costing him his job at Butterball and the income it provided. And conditions in Haiti were not improving.

"Life can be very strange," he told her as they embraced. "Life can make people be apart."

She tried to reassure him.

"Even if we are apart, there is no separation between us," she said.

Above the doorway in their incomplete home, Jean Felix's family carved a reference to one of their favorite biblical passages.

"Do not fear," reads the section from the second book of Kings, "for those who are with us are more than those who are with them."

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

The lessons my father, Charles Krauthammer, taught me about being thankful

By charles krauthammer
The lessons my father, Charles Krauthammer, taught me about being thankful


(SPECIAL COLUMN advance for Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Washington Post News Service & Syndicate clients only)


EDITORS -- This Thanksgiving-themed column is written by Daniel Krauthammer, the son of Charles Krauthammer, and is available for use, at no charge, by all Washington Post News Service & Syndicate clients.

WASHINGTON -- Thirty-three years ago, my father published a column that explored the meaning of Thanksgiving -- beyond cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and pigskin. Reading that column, which is featured in his forthcoming posthumous book, "The Point of It All," prompted me to contemplate some of the most important ideas he introduced into my life, which now occupy my heart and my mind on this holiday.

Thanksgiving is a religious occasion, my father wrote, but not one belonging to "Protestantism or Judaism or any other particularist faith." Rather, it belongs to all Americans as part of "what has been called the American Civil Religion."

This religion's "Supreme Being," my father wrote, "is Jefferson's rights-giving Creator, Washington's First Author, Lincoln's Judge -- an American Providence." The only orthodoxy it demands is belief in the core principles laid out in its foundational holy texts: Most important, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." And "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

It is important to recognize that we are speaking here about belief. Not proof, but faith. Our founding documents declare "these truths to be self-evident." But are they? What, exactly, is so "self-evident" about them? One cannot empirically prove that "all men are created equal" or that the purpose of government is to protect individual rights and human liberty. These are moral and metaphysical assertions that operate on a separate plane from scientific inquiry.

They are self-evident, ultimately, because we believe that they are. Or because we believe in a God -- whether biblical or not, literal or metaphorical or perhaps, like Jefferson's or Einstein's God, one and the same with the laws of nature -- who decrees that they are. And, ultimately, this is a distinction without a difference. Either way, what lies at the foundation of the American experiment, our democracy, our very way of life, is an article of faith.

It is by no means the only possible political faith. For most of human history, no one believed in these propositions. Indeed, no one had even conceived of them. We forget how revolutionary these principles were at the time of the American founding, and even for centuries afterward. Until the late 20th century, liberal democracy was an exceedingly rare (and usually short-lived) phenomenon. For millennia, it appeared "self-evident" to most of humanity that the legitimacy of governments flowed from the divine right of kings, or the inherent superiority of a feudal aristocracy, or the enlightened wisdom of a theocratic priesthood. In the last century, totalitarian ideologies of left and right built regimes whose claims to legitimacy rested on the complete sublimation of individual worth to the deified class or race collective. And still today, authoritarians around the world bolster their support by championing the power of national and ethnic groups above the rights of the citizen.

In our own politics, no force prevents our leaders or our electorate from choosing to believe that the "self-evident" and highest purpose of our government should be, say, to "make America great again" or to achieve "social justice." That is not to say those goals are unworthy (depending on how they are defined). But if our system is to endure, they must remain subordinate to the primary principles of democratic self-government.

The alternative ideologies all offer a predefined and unifying cause that serves a purpose greater than the self. At each of their cores lies a quasi-religious belief in the absolute and unquestioned rightness of that cause, whether it be the glory of king or country or the righteous struggle of one collective tribal identity against another.

In contrast, democracy is not a natural unifier. It allows -- indeed, it requires -- individuals to choose their own destinies. "Democracy," my father wrote, "is designed at its core to be spiritually empty," for "it mandates means (elections, parliaments, markets) but not ends. Democracy leaves the goals of life entirely up to the individual. Where[as] the totalitarian state decrees life's purposes." As a result, democracy is at once "the most free, most humane, most decent political system ever invented by man," and also "the most banal. Dying for it is far more ennobling than living it." And paradoxically, my father argued, this is exactly the point: "the glories yielded by such a successful politics lie outside itself. Its deepest purpose is to create the conditions for the cultivation of the finer things."

Democracy's extraordinary gift -- freedom -- is therefore also a burden. It is not easy to define and pursue one's own path and purpose in life, especially if we feel alone in that endeavor. We need social bonds that unite us in common cause while maintaining the political structures that guarantee our liberty. This is the vital role served by America's civil religion. Its traditions, its ceremonies, its symbols and even its holidays give physical form, emotional weight and devotional object to a set of ideas that could otherwise remain coldly theoretical and inaccessible to the spiritual heart of our human nature. Its practice, my father wrote, was meant "to infuse communal life with a religious dimension. ... Its purpose was to make of the social contract not merely a convention but a faith." For a political creed built on the sanctity of the individual, the kind of fellowship and connection forged through these traditions of communal devotion is crucial.

And what better symbol for communal devotion could there be than the Thanksgiving table? It was Abraham Lincoln who established Thanksgiving as an annual national holiday. And it was he, of all our presidents, who most powerfully imbued our politics with a higher spiritual purpose: He urged that "to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor. ... In short, let it become the political religion of the nation."

On this day, we give thanks for our country's natural bounty -- but even more, for its moral and philosophical bounty, of which we are history's lucky inheritors. Our gratitude should prompt us to accept the responsibility for safeguarding it and passing it down to the next generation so that they may continue to enjoy its blessings. On this day, I am thankful to my father for passing it down to me.

Daniel Krauthammer is the editor of Charles Krauthammer's book "The Point of It All," which will be published in December.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post

Lock her up?

By alexandra petri
Lock her up?



(For Petri clients only)


All the bells clanged in every port, in every steeple of every church. As the somber knell rang out over the entire land, President Trump sat motionless at his window, gazing out over the countryside.

"You know the penalty, my lord."

He nodded. He knew the penalty. That was why the bells tolled.

All the flags slid all the way to the bottom of the staff. A velvet drapery was placed over every statue, even the good ones he was annoyed the states were trying to replace. Around the neck of every ox, a small bell rang mournfully with every step.

What could the nation do but weep?

In the towns they began to rend their garments. The ploughmen at their plows doffed their soft caps and threw them to the ground and trampled upon them. The valleys were still, and the glens and dells, but if you listened you could hear the faerie folk lamenting, and a mournful tinkling as many tiny bells began to ring out. The oceans halted momentarily in their rise.

All the shoes everywhere were placed into a pile and burned. All the books, too, but that was unrelated.

Limo drivers began weeping and could not continue. Limo passengers unclamped their chains of pearls and let them spill to the ground. In the gas station coffee shops, disgruntled voters telling reporters they felt left behind fell silent.

The city streets were empty. A child whispered a question to his mother and was quickly hushed. All the mannequins in the shop windows were denuded of their Christmas garb and clad in solemn black. Times Square was dark and still.

"It's time now, sir."

President Trump did not turn from the window.

She had done it, the one unthinkable crime. Even she, his only daughter (except Tiffany). The most awful crime a person could commit. Indeed, there were no other crimes. The one thing! The one unforgivable thing!

She had sent government emails from her private account.

If justice were to remain in the land, any semblance of justice, she must bear the punishment. They must begin the chanting.

"Couldn't we just ... decide we didn't actually care about this?" he asked.

"Impossible! We cannot be safe until all such evildoers are eradicated!"

Ivanka waited, surrounded by her handmaids, her head shrouded in a veil, for the sentencing.

He turned with a heavy sigh. "Lock her up."

Across the nation, from rally to rally, the chant joined the rolling of the bells. He did not watch as they led her away.

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Nancy Pelosi is the best person to lead the House Democrats. That's why she should retire.

By dana milbank
Nancy Pelosi is the best person to lead the House Democrats. That's why she should retire.



(For Milbank clients only)


WASHINGTON -- Nancy Pelosi had an exceptional 2018 midterm election cycle. Her prodigious fundraising and the message discipline she helped impose propelled House Democrats to their biggest gains since 1974. She has proved herself to be a skilled legislative whip, and she is -- by far -- the best person to lead House Democrats in 2019.

This is why she should announce her retirement.

Paradoxical? Not at all.

The 16 House Democrats who signed a letter Monday declaring they would vote against Rep. Pelosi, Calif., for speaker, combined with a dozen others who have vaguely stated their opposition, represent a potent threat to her leadership. The rebels also threaten to divide Democrats at precisely the time they need to be a disciplined counter to President Trump.

But the dissidents are justified in their desire for new leadership. Pelosi has led House Democrats for 16 years (compared with 10 for the legendary Thomas "Tip" O'Neill) and has already served as speaker. She and the No. 2 and No. 3 House Democrats, Steny Hoyer, Md., and James Clyburn, S.C., are all pushing 80 at a time when the party is becoming younger. Pelosi herself recently said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that she wishes to be a "transitional figure."

So she should be that transitional figure -- now. By announcing that this will be her last term, she would deflate the insurgency against her, give new members a reason to feel good about voting for her, lead Democrats with discipline in 2019 and preside over an orderly transition.

There are many reasons to be cynical about the 16-member putsch against Pelosi, led by the likes of Reps. Tim Ryan, Ohio, and Seth Moulton, Mass. At a time when the House Democratic caucus will be made up of only 38 percent white males, 13 of the 16 signatories are white men.

Though they claim to desire "change" and "new leadership," five of the 16 signers -- Stephen F. Lynch, Mass., Kurt Schrader, Ore., Brian Higgins, N.Y., Anthony Brindisi, N.Y., and Jeff Van Drew, N.J. -- also signed a letter just last week supporting Hoyer, BuzzFeed's Lissandra Villa noted. Hoyer is a year older than Pelosi and has been in his position just as long.

And though the rebels justify their rebellion by saying "our majority came on the backs of candidates who said that they would support new leadership," 11 of the 16 are from relatively safe seats and only five were just elected. Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old darling of progressives, said this week that she is leaning toward supporting Pelosi: "I would like to see new, younger leadership, but I don't want new leadership that's more conservative."

The rebellion of 16, finally, threatens to paralyze House Democrats and deny them a unifying voice just as the presidential primaries factionalize the party. Though they could register their disapproval by voting "present" on the House floor, which could still allow Pelosi to be elected by a majority, their letter says they are "committed to voting for new leadership." This, and the absence of an announced opponent -- they aren't about to vote for Republican Kevin McCarthy, Calif. -- essentially means their goal is deadlock.

Apparently, with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation hanging by a thread and Trump continuing to run amok, the rebels think Democrats would benefit from a replay of 1855, when it took two months and 133 ballots to select a speaker.

I share their desire for new blood. Two years ago, I urged Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn to step down, noting that their combined ages date back to 1787. Though Democrats prevailed in 2018, and there is little evidence that Pelosi dragged any Democrat down, this doesn't change the reality that it would be easier to boost enthusiasm among millennials if the party's leadership were turned over to a new generation.

Pelosi seems to know this, on some level. As she said in her Los Angeles Times interview: "I have things to do. Books to write; places to go; grandchildren, first and foremost, to love." She wasn't specific, expressing reluctance to "make myself a lame duck right here over this double-espresso."

But now is the time to make herself a lame duck (and coax Hoyer and Clyburn into that pond, too). Pelosi allies fear she would lose her fundraising clout if she announced this to be her last term. But Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who announced his retirement in April, did fine as a lame-duck fundraiser, even during a bad year for Republicans. His Congressional Leadership Fund raised nearly $144 million this cycle, and his Team Ryan joint fundraising committee raised an additional $64 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

By announcing that this will be her last term, Pelosi would make herself the kingmaker (or queenmaker), while remaining the disciplinarian Democrats urgently need. This is the time to begin a departure on her terms.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Pelosi's bid for speaker puts Democrats in disarray

By ruben navarrette jr.
Pelosi's bid for speaker puts Democrats in disarray


(Advance for Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Navarrette clients only)


SAN DIEGO -- To the victor goes the mayhem. Democrats in Congress are learning that lesson as they manage their way through hard feelings and even harder choices.

It's always more fun to lead the resistance than to actually have to lead. And sometimes the first decision is the toughest, like who gets to hold the gavel.

On Monday, 16 House Democrats signed a letter declaring that they would oppose Nancy Pelosi's bid to once again serve as House speaker.

The theme of the rebellion? One word: change.

"Democrats ran and won on a message of change," they wrote. "Our majority came on the backs of candidates who said that they would support new leadership because voters in hard-won districts, and across the country, want to see real change in Washington. We promised to change the status quo, and we intend to deliver on that promise."

The pro-Pelosi faction pointed out that the rebels included Utah's Ben McAdams, whose race against incumbent Rep. Mia Love was still too close to call as of late Tuesday.

The anti-Pelosi crowd responded that there were still more Democratic lawmakers who had said they were opposed to Pelosi becoming speaker who hadn't signed the letter.

One thing is beyond dispute: The California Democrat is in trouble. Pelosi needs every vote she can get if she hopes to continue what she accomplished during her first stint -- from 2007 to 2011.

Remind me. What (BEG ITAL)did(END ITAL) Pelosi accomplish the first time around? She helped President Obama round up the Democratic votes to pass the Affordable Care Act, and certainly that was no small thing. But hardline liberals did not get everything they wanted from Obamacare, and Obama himself deserves much of the credit for last-minute arm-twisting.

Besides, Pelosi took a pass on other major issues: immigration reform, entitlement reform and education reform to name just a few.

It's true that Pelosi is highly skilled in the only language that many members of Congress understand: fundraising. She is also the Democrat whom Republicans love to hate, which feeds the legend that she is also the one they fear the most.

Of course, some Democrats may look askance at Pelosi for snagging the not-so-coveted endorsement of President Trump -- a blessing that isn't so surprising when you consider that Trump was, up until a few years ago, a liberal Manhattan Democrat who had given Democrats lots of campaign contributions. According to some political observers, those contributions helped Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives in 2006 -- which, of course, led to Pelosi being named speaker. But Pelosi's backers could also argue that she is in the best position to forge compromises with the White House on common-ground issues, such as repairing America's infrastructure.

However, while Pelosi definitely has her attributes, they were not enough to quell the uprising among Democrats.

Pelosi's defenders glibly claim that those who say she shouldn't be speaker can't say exactly why that is.

Really? I can say.

For one thing, it's not about ageism or sexism -- or any -ism in fact.

Under normal circumstances, the fact that Pelosi is 78 might disqualify her. But, as you have probably noticed, these days, nothing about politics is normal.

For baby boomers, the 70s are the new 40s. Republicans are rallying around a 72-year-old commander in chief. In 2020, Democrats might have to choose between a 73-year-old Hillary Clinton and a 78-year-old Joe Biden.

Then, of course, you have those Pelosi supporters who can't help but play the gender card and insist this latest rebellion is about men not wanting to answer to powerful women. But that argument works better when the glass ceiling is still intact; Pelosi shattered this one 11 years ago, when she became the first female House speaker. Back then, sexism didn't stand a chance. And it wouldn't fare much better now.

There are three better reasons as to why Pelosi shouldn't re-claim the gavel.

--Geography. She's from San Francisco, California -- a liberal city in a dark-blue state. She would do more to broaden her party's appeal if she were from Saginaw, Michigan, or Marion, Ohio.

--Novelty. Democrats have played this game before, and it didn't end well. Pelosi had her turn at bat, and it's hard to imagine that she has a whole new set of legislative priorities to address in the new Congress.

--Consistency. Democrats have been bragging about how they brought into the process young people and minorities, and it would serve them well to elect leaders who reflect that diversity.

Face it, Congressional Democrats are a hot mess. And if they don't choose new and better leaders from this point on, things will only get worse.

Ruben Navarrette's email address is His daily podcast, "Navarrette Nation," is available through every podcast app.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

Ignorance of history fuels hatred in America

By esther j. cepeda
Ignorance of history fuels hatred in America


(Advance for Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Cepeda clients only)


CHICAGO -- The sickening photo of dozens of Wisconsin high school boys apparently giving a Nazi salute sparked so much media outrage last week that even Gov. Scott Walker shook his head and said, "They're just a bunch of idiots."

The well-dressed boys were photographed outside a county courthouse last spring at prom time, and about two-thirds of them had their right arms raised in what looks -- to anyone with eyes in their head -- to be a Sieg Heil salute. One student also appears to be making the upside-down "OK" hand signal that white supremacists use to mean "white power."

To be fair, the parent who took the photo -- who also owns a photography business -- said that he had simply asked the boys to wave "goodbye" for the camera, and that the final result had been misinterpreted. However, several news outlets also reported that some of the boys meant it, possibly as a joke.

Har. Dee. Har. Har.

One student at the school, Jordan Blue, told media outlets that some of his classmates were goofing around. He told CNN that the episode was "a scary moment, and it was very shocking and upsetting."

But what's even more upsetting is that some of Blue's fellow students at Baraboo High School felt otherwise.

Nate Mathis-Vargas, a white father of two girls who attend the high school, spoke to the podcast "It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders" and said that he was appalled by the picture. He also said that he was concerned for his daughters -- not only because they go to school with people who either hold white-supremacist beliefs or think it's a joking matter, but also because many students didn't even understand the problem.

He discussed the incident with his daughters and found that "they weren't aware of a lot about the Nazi army itself, so they didn't understand what that meant, which was more shocking to me than the picture itself," Mathis-Vargas said. "It's like: How did they not teach that? How do they not know that?"

Sadly, those kids are not alone in their ignorance.

A study released last summer by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which pursues restitution for victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs, delivered the alarming news that 11 percent of all Americans and 22 percent of millennials hadn't heard of the Holocaust or weren't sure what it was.

The study also found that 31 percent of all Americans and 41 percent of millennials believe that 2 million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust. (The number is actually around 6 million.)

Forty-one percent of all Americans and 66 percent of millennials cannot say what Auschwitz was (it was a Nazi concentration and extermination camp), and 52 percent of Americans wrongly think Hitler came to power through force.

As amazing as it may sound, only 10 states -- New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Rhode Island, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Connecticut and Kentucky -- have legislative requirements about the teaching of genocide and the Holocaust in their public schools, according to the New York-based Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect.

It's not perfect -- not all of those states have a commission or task force to keep genocide education comprehensive, rigorous or up to date. Still, it's something, and another 18 states have told the center they are committed to passing or strengthening their legislation.

In the absence of such education, Mathis-Vargas' daughters were angry about the backlash over the photo, because they didn't understand what was wrong with what the boys had done. All they saw, according to Mathis-Vargas, was their school being attacked and their friends demonized and even threatened. "It opened my eyes about what I need to do as a parent on talking to my kids about these things," the father said. He added that he hoped the school would start offering more instruction to prevent these kinds of misunderstandings in the future.

Hopefully, the "future" won't be too late. Already, hate crimes in America have spiked by 17 percent over 2017, with a corresponding 37 percent increase in anti-Semitic attacks, according to FBI statistics.

Ignorance fans hatred. On Election Day, a Holocaust denier and white supremacist won 56,000 votes in the western suburbs of Chicago. Thankfully, he lost. But his candidacy is proof that America needs some serious schooling before it relives history's worst mistakes.

Esther Cepeda's email address is, or follow her on Twitter: @estherjcepeda.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Why banning students from wearing designer coats won't prevent 'poverty shaming'

By michelle singletary
Why banning students from wearing designer coats won't prevent 'poverty shaming'


(Advance for Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Singletary clients only)


WASHINGTON -- I remember it like it was yesterday.

My grandmother Big Mama couldn't afford to purchase the five grandchildren she had rescued from being placed in foster care the popular sneakers at the time. The Jack Purcell canvas athletic shoes were the Air Jordans of their day.

All Big Mama could afford was knockoff shoes that sold for $1.99 a pair.

Despite our pleas to my grandmother to stretch the budget and buy us the brand-name sneakers, she wouldn't.

So we got teased -- relentlessly.

Children can be so cruel. The off-brand shoes had a rubber front tip that looked like a large fish head. It was a distinguishing design that spawned a song meant to shame.

The little ditty went like this: "Fish heads, they cost a dollar ninety-nine. Fish heads, they make your feet feel fine."

This two-verse song still haunts me. It represents a time when my siblings and I stood out for being poor.

This memory came back after reading about a British school that has banned its students from wearing expensive Canada Goose, Moncler and Pyrenex winter coats. The coat ban is part of an effort to identity barriers to learning by "poverty proofing" the school day.

"We are very concerned about the fact that our children put a lot of pressure on parents to buy them expensive coats," head teacher Rebekah Phillips said in an interview with The Independent newspaper.

Online I saw youth prices for a Canada Goose coat from $350 to $750. One Moncler style winter jacket for a boy cost $955. A hooded down Pyrenex coat for a 10-year-old was $489.

The students who didn't have the coats were stigmatized and often felt left out or inadequate, Phillips said.

The yawning gap between the haves and have-nots exists worldwide.

"While the bottom half of adults collectively owns less than 1 percent of total wealth, the richest decile (top 10 percent of adults) owns 85 percent of global wealth," according to Credit Suisse Research Institute's latest Global Wealth Report.

Since 1980, inequality has grown moderately in Europe. It has increased rapidly in North America, China, India and Russia, according to research in a separate report released by the World Inequality Database.

In comparing just the U.S. and Western Europe, the disparity is stark.

"While the top 1 percent income share was close to 10 percent in both regions in 1980, it rose only slightly to 12 percent in 2016 in Western Europe, while it shot up to 20 percent in the United States," the database researchers said.

They concluded that economic inequality to some extent is inevitable, but we should try to reduce the gap to prevent political, economic and social catastrophes.

But does banning designer coats or clothes achieve this goal?

I don't think it does, not permanently anyway.

We can't eradicate poverty shaming by taking away the right of the wealthy to buy what they want for themselves or their children.

For a period, my children attended a school that required uniforms right down to the shoes they wore. One would think this would eliminate clashes over inequality.

However, the children of means found other ways to shame their less wealthy classmates. They made fun of children who didn't have smartphones. They compared the cars their parents drove or the homes they had. And of course, the children interacted outside of school, so out came the brand-name shoes and clothes once they were off campus.

The fact is the less emotionally secure among us will always find a way to humiliate their peers.

I hope the school won't just stop at just banning the coats. Additional efforts should be made to encourage richer parents to model the behavior that sends a strong message that it's not OK to look down on folks for what they don't have.

The researchers are right: A wide economic gap is not good for any society. We should be deeply concerned about poverty and the effect it has on children.

I'm not completely against the school ban on pricey coats. But, from experience, I also know it won't poverty-proof their students' social networks. Despite efforts to reduce the signs of income inequality, there will always be somebody who has more.

Big Mama never apologized for her inability to buy us those Jack Purcell shoes. By not being ashamed of what she could afford and not going broke trying to prevent us from being teased, my grandmother taught me a priceless life lesson.

What I had was good enough. I could feel sorry for myself for my $1.99 fish heads -- or realize that what I wear is not a measure of my value as a person.

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

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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