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Pilot-hungry airlines are raiding flight schools - creating a shortage of instructors to train the next generation

By Andrew Van Dam
Pilot-hungry airlines are raiding flight schools - creating a shortage of instructors to train the next generation
Cade Glass, 13, poses by a Cirrus SR20 airplane during a lesson at Chesterfield County Airport near Richmond, Va., in March. Glass has wanted to be a pilot since at least 7. MUST CREDIT: Scott Glass

Airlines' insatiable demand for pilots threatens to sabotage flight schools' ability to train new ones. Carriers are raising wages and hoarding every available pilot - including the instructors schools rely on to teach incoming students.

The very pilot pipeline that is supposed to meet decades of projected labor shortfalls is being squeezed. According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, some schools have been forced to scale back operations or turn down qualified students because they do not have enough instructors.

Michael Farley has been teaching at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts for 18 years. Applications for his program are up, but the aviation department chair is so short on instructors that he has had to cap the number of students in his program.

"In my tenure, this is unprecedented," Farley said, reflecting on the speed with which airlines were hiring recent graduates.

--How the flight-school model used to work

The problem is rooted in how collegiate aviation is structured. Classroom courses such as meteorology and aviation law are taught by academic faculty, but flight instructors are usually experienced students or graduates looking to gain flight hours before heading off to the commercial big leagues.

Details vary between vocational, two-year and four-year schools, but an aspiring pilot at a typical accredited institution needs about 250 to 300 hours to become a certified instructor. Those 250 hours used to be all you needed to join an airline as a co-pilot. In some countries, it still is.

Since 2013, most students have had to fly between 1,000 and 1,500 hours to qualify for work at a passenger airline. Even before that, the GAO report found, airlines expected as much as 2,000 hours of experience from entry-level employees, depending on the job market.

So, where do young pilots get the other 1,000 hours or so? Some do aerial photography or fly banners, but the overwhelming majority work at their aviation college or an affiliated institution as a flight instructor. It is built into their career path.

In an ideal world, a pilot works first as an instructor at her flight school, then as a co-pilot and pilot at a regional airline (such as Cape Air or SkyWest Airlines) and finally as a co-pilot and pilot at a major airline (such as Southwest Airlines or United Airlines).

--When the model snaps

Demand for pilots swings hard. In 2009, as American families and businesses slashed their air-travel budgets amid the Great Recession and furloughs swept the industry, major airlines hired just 30 pilots, according to pilot-advisory service FAPA.aero. That number soared to 5,000 in 2017. In 2018, it will be even higher.

When the market was slow, students stuck around, and instructors were cheap and abundant. But when hiring took off, they vanished into jobs flying passenger or cargo jets.

When employees complain about worker shortages, the obvious reply is employees would not be so hard to find if businesses just offered more money.

The aviation job market is complicated by strict federal regulations and what FAPA's president, Louis Smith, called the "poach chain."

Flight-school instructors are almost all flight-school students, which means they came into aviation because they wanted to sit in the cockpit of a mammoth Boeing or Airbus with "Delta" or "American" stamped on the side, not babysit their peers in a single-engine Cessna.

From Day 1, they are focused on getting to a major airline and building seniority, the all-important number that rules everything from route assignments and pay scales to standby tickets. Those major airlines poach from the regional airlines, and regional airlines poach from flight schools.

Life is hard at the bottom of the poach chain, where flight schools compete for instructors. U.S. Aviation Academy, a large training outfit that partners with Tarrant County College in Texas, offers new instructors a $2,500 bonus and between $27 and $35 an hour - a wage it has been forced to raise about 15 percent in recent months.

"We think we're solving the problem," said Scott Sykes, who handles business development for the academy. "We've got a full-time recruiting staff that are out there nationwide beating the streets."

Their pay is competitive with regional airlines, where new pilots earn an estimated $50,000 to $60,000 a year. But when a 21-year-old instructor gets poached, the schools are not competing with the regional carrier. They are competing with the promise of a 44-year career in a high-profile, lionized position that can pay north of $200,000 a year and offers excellent benefits.

Aspiring pilot Cade Glass, of Midlothian, Virginia, plans on becoming an instructor to help pay for flight school and said he has considered a career in aviation education, but the 13-year-old already understands the cold calculus involved.

"If airlines are paying like they are today, with nearly $20,000 signing bonuses? I'm going to go there every time," Glass said.

--Competition causes collateral damage

As flight schools pay instructors more, they are raising their prices to compensate. It is a fraught decision in an industry that worried it is charging too much to attract the quantity and diversity of students that airlines need.

Federal student aid, while available at many aviation schools, typically does not stretch to cover flight-school costs, which are boosted by investments in aircraft, fuel and facilities - not to mention the instructors. The GAO found that most pilot programs charge more than $50,000 for flight training alone.

Not all students have access to the wealth or credit needed to fill the gap between student aid and the flight-school bill, even if they can be reasonably sure - in this job market, at least - they will earn it back. Schools told the GAO that, after instructor attrition, their biggest obstacle to training enough pilots was their own high price tag.

Glass's first choice of flight school - Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where he went to aviation camp and learned the ropes from student instructors - costs $48,000 a year. That does not include the cumulative $40,000 to $60,000 the school expects students to spend on flight training while they are there.

"If you don't have the financial backing, it's difficult," Glass said.

--Putting the model back together

The quickest solution to the instructor shortage would be another downturn in the cyclical industry, which would reduce demand for new pilots and flood the market with laid-off and furloughed workers, but nobody's advocating that. It also seems unlikely given the industry's bullish projections that predict the pilot shortfall will extend for decades.

In the short term, schools have partnered with regional airlines and struck deals that allow pilots to earn seniority while they are instructing. They have also offered what Tom Hiltner, FAPA's vice president of operations, called "indentured servitude packages," in which students promise to stick around longer in exchange for advanced flight training. The GAO found at least one school is attempting to negotiate non-poaching agreements with regional airlines.

Hiltner said some schools have also intensified recruitment of nontraditional instructors including retired pilots, pilots who might not meet medical restrictions for airline certification, and pilots who care less about globe-trotting and more about working regular hours and sleeping in their own bed each night.

It is still a challenge. Farley of Bridgewater State University said that he had not been able to hire nontraditional instructors, and was not sure they would be a long-term solution to his instructor shortage. People join aviation because they want to work for airlines, and aviation schools just cannot compete in terms of pay or prestige.

The shortages are growing more acute as airlines hire away the people who would otherwise be training more people for them to hire - and Farley does not see a solution coming until (and if) the bottleneck works all the way up the poach chain.

"When it affects the major airlines, we might see some changes," Farley said.

Months of inaction led 20 Republicans to take a stand on immigration

By Mike DeBonis
Months of inaction led 20 Republicans to take a stand on immigration
House Speaker Paul Ryan pauses while speaking during a press conference on Capitol Hill April 11, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Al Drago

WASHINGTON - Before they were "dreamers," they were just neighbors to California Republican Rep. Jeff Denham.

They played basketball with his kids. They were the pride of the immigrant families upon which the Central Valley's agricultural economy relies. And now, under threat of deportation, young undocumented immigrants want answers from Denham - even at his son's recent birthday party.

"One of his friends, a fraternity brother, came to me and said, 'What are you doing on this issue?' " he recalled.

Denham and nearly two dozen of his fellow Republican lawmakers have now joined together, spurred by pressure back home and frustrated by the GOP leadership's lack of action on a heated issue that has long stymied the party. They could represent the best chance that dreamers - beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program - now have to secure legal protections under President Donald Trump.

They are pitted against the conservatives who dominate the Republican rank-and-file and have campaigned against "amnesty" for people who are in the country illegally. The conservatives take their cues on the issue from a president who has angrily demanded a crackdown at the border but has also promised at times to solve the dreamers' dilemma once and for all.

"We've had it," said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who has joined Denham and the others pressing for a bill. "We're boiling over. It's got to get done."

By undertaking a rare maneuver to force consideration of legislation over the objections of the Republican leadership, this group has rekindled a sputtering immigration debate in Congress and raised the possibility that a bipartisan compromise could emerge from the deeply divided House, giving President Trump what could be his only opportunity to sign an immigration bill into law this year.

They have done so by defying House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and other top Republican leaders who fear that unleashing such an internally divisive issue in an election year could hurt the GOP's chances in November's midterms and potentially risk the party's majority in the House.

Interviews with more than half of the 20 Republicans who have signed the measure reveal a cadre of dutiful lawmakers who typically follow their leaders on key initiatives and in many cases have won positions of trust in the GOP ranks but have also nursed deep frustrations over the lack of progress on immigration.

"You just wake up one day and realize that you're running in place, and that's when we got together and said it's time to take this step," said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., who filed the "discharge petition" that has prompted the showdown.

The Republican signers range in seniority from Upton, a 16-term incumbent and former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to John Faso, a freshman representing a district in Upstate New York.

They represent districts that stretch from the heart of Miami to the sprawling suburbs of Denver to the rural Adirondack Mountains. Some, such as Florida Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, are veteran combatants in the immigration debate. Others, such as Michigan's Dave Trott and New Jersey's Leonard Lance, represent suburban districts that are home to relatively few dreamers.

Twelve of the 20 face competitive races in November, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report - including Curbelo, Denham and Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, who are leading the discharge push.

Three, however, represent districts Trump won by double digits. Four more are retiring from Congress at the end of the year, and one - Charlie Dent, R-Pa. - has already resigned altogether. (His signature still counts, according to House rules.)

What ties together the discharge proponents is "just pure frustration," said Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., who represents a diverse suburban district. "Republicans always argue that it's a step-by-step process. Well, when are we going to take the first step?"

The tortured state of immigration politics inside the Republican Party can be traced back at least as far as the presidency of George W. Bush, who wanted to give at least some illegal immigrants a path to legal status. Since then, the party has moved steadily rightward, culminating last year in Trump's decision to cancel DACA - the program created by President Barack Obama that now protects hundreds of thousands of dreamers from deportation. But when that cancellation was at least temporarily blocked by the courts, Congress lost any momentum it may have had to cut a deal.

Despite Trump's continued stridence on immigration - including remarks calling some immigrants "animals" at a White House event last week meant to highlight the criminal threat - the discharge backers believe that he could be amenable to a compromise that would allow him to deliver on at least some of his priorities on enforcement and security. And they believe the only way to test that theory is to force a debate.

"This institution acts only when pressured to, and we knew that we needed to find a new source of pressure," said Curbelo, who represents a South Florida district that is home to an estimated 5,000 dreamers.

The discharge proponents have been inspired by their ideological opposites on the GOP's hard right, who have used procedural hardball tactics to drive Republican legislation in their own direction. That was on display Friday, when members of the House Freedom Caucus voted down a massive GOP-written farm bill to secure a vote on conservative immigration legislation and block bipartisan alternatives.

"While I am frustrated by a lot of the Freedom Caucus's tactics, I can also appreciate that their tactics are forcing their issues forward," Denham said. "And I think there are a number of us who realized that."

A blunt and imposing Air Force veteran, Denham has spent his congressional career quizzing every member of the House - both Republican and Democrat - to learn their immigration views in detail.

He has long championed a bill, the ENLIST Act, that would allow dreamers who serve in the military to earn permanent legal residency and eventually citizenship. That bill now has more than half the House signed on as co-sponsors, but leadership has never allowed it - or any other immigration measure - to come to a vote.

" 'We need a little more time to work on this' - that's been the excuse for eight years that I've been in the House now," Denham said.

This year, patience ran out. In January, Hurd co-introduced a bill with Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., that would couple a DACA fix with border security funding - though not the wall Trump champions. In March, Denham filed a special resolution that would set up debate and votes on a series of bills, including Hurd's. Then, this month, Curbelo filed the discharge petition to force that debate.

They have since found support from lawmakers with a diverse set of motivations.

Upton, for instance, represents a farm-heavy district in southwest Michigan where apple growers, asparagus harvesters and dairy farmers all rely on immigrant labor. Trips around the district routinely mean talking to farmers who fret over the potential loss of their workforce and constituents who are living in legal limbo.

Some are dreamers, some knowingly crossed the border illegally. The conversations, Upton said, are always difficult.

Just this month, he said, he met a father of two who is married to an American and rides a bike to work because he doesn't have a driver's license. "He's scared to death he is going to be picked up for whatever and sent someplace else, and it is frightening," Upton said. "You sit down with these folks, and, I mean, people cry."

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., stands apart from the other signers in many ways: He occupies a safe Republican seat and was among Trump's earliest supporters in Congress. But his western New York district is home to hundreds of dairy farms that rely on immigrant labor.

"Right now, my dairy farmers are saying to Republicans: You've got the House, the Senate, the White House, and you've got to give us a legal workforce, and I agree with that," he said.

Collins, who favors a conservative immigration bill that would set up an agricultural guest worker program, acknowledged that the House may never be able to pass a bill. "But then those of us can go home and say we did our best," he added. "I fought for you and I'm willing to go against leadership to fight for you, and that's all you can expect out of me."

Others, meanwhile, are just sick of waiting for an immigration debate whose time never seems to come.

"I missed the part where the status quo is a win," said Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., who represents a largely rural district that Trump won by 12 points and is home to an estimated 2,900 DACA recipients. "You tell me how you go home and say, 'Let me tell you how I'm kicking tail representing you by doing nothing.' "

With five more Republican signatures need to force an immigration debate, assuming all Democrats sign the petition, top Republican leaders indicated Friday that they are ready to put the issue on the floor next month. But key details remain to be hashed out, and Curbelo and Denham both said they are unwilling to abandon their petition just yet.

Several Republicans said last week that they are waiting in the wings, hoping GOP leaders make good on their promises before the start of a week-long Memorial Day recess next week.

Rep. Tom Reed, who represents another western New York district, said he would sign the discharge petition if Ryan & Co. do not quickly tee up a debate: "I don't want to go home without having forced the question on this issue."

Denham said he is "extremely confident" more Republicans will follow. "I know where my votes are," he said.

State regulators unveil nationwide crackdown on suspicious cryptocurrency investment schemes

By Brian Fung
State regulators unveil nationwide crackdown on suspicious cryptocurrency investment schemes
A screenshot of a website targeted by the Texas State Securities Board for enforcement. The site is accused of using a deceptive image of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. MUST CREDIT: Texas State Securities Board

Securities regulators across the United States and Canada announced dozens of investigations Monday into potentially deceitful cryptocurrency investment products, the largest coordinated crackdown to date by state and provincial officials on bitcoin scams.

As many as 70 investigations have been opened in the sweep, with more expected in the coming weeks, said the North American Securities Administrators Association, which helped coordinate the probes. As many as 35 cases are pending or already completed, with some resulting in cease-and-desist letters warning the alleged schemes that their unregistered activity violates state securities law.

The enforcement actions, which have not been previously reported, take aim at efforts by groups in more than 40 jurisdictions to attract money from unsuspecting investors. They target unregistered securities offerings that promise lucrative returns without adequately informing investors of the risks, according to state regulators. The state agencies are also pursuing suspicious cases of initial coin offerings, or ICOs, a fundraising technique used by both legitimate and illegitimate cryptocurrency projects in ways that resemble initial public offerings of stock.

"We're putting ourselves in the shoes of investors. We're seeing what's being promoted to investors. And then we're taking the next step and then we're finding out whether they're complying with securities laws," said Joseph Borg, president of NASAA and the director of the Alabama Securities Commission.

Not every ICO or cryptocurrency investment product is fraudulent, Borg added. But consumers face higher risks of being misled at a time when the intense demand for bitcoin has prompted many retail investors to take extreme steps to gain exposure to the currency, such as taking out a bigger mortgage.

Posing as members of the public, investigators discovered roughly 30,000 cryptocurrency-related domain names in recent weeks, most of which were registered in the past year as the price of bitcoin soared past $19,000. Many of the alleged scams use fake addresses, slick marketing materials and promises of over 4 percent daily interest, regulators said. A few have even used unauthorized photos of high-profile individuals, such as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to portray themselves as above-board.

Other sites have used images of Prince Charles and actor Jennifer Aniston, but identified them under different names, to provide testimonials, the regulators said.

"It's royal wedding fever that's a part of this operation," said Joseph Rotunda, director of enforcement at the Texas State Securities Board.

After receiving the cease-and-desist letters warning of illegal activity, the targets of the investigations typically have up to a month to file a response, depending on the jurisdiction, said Borg. Some states allow for a hearing before the state securities commission, and an appeal to a court or administrative law judge. Regulators could also take the schemes to court. But regulators expect many sites to shut down voluntarily or amend their practices to comply with securities laws.

In one recent case, regulators sent a warning letter this month to a U.K.-based cryptocurrency scheme known as BTCrush alleging that it was violating state laws by selling securities to Texas residents without registration and by using misleading marketing. BTCrush claimed to run three bitcoin mining farms - one hidden away in a World War II-era bunker - and served up videos on its site to support the claim. But regulators found that the shots of the mining farms turned out to be publicly available stock footage.

BTCrush was also allegedly recruiting Texas investors as sales agents, promising them even more money if they promoted the company. As a result, said Rotunda, any Texas resident who agreed to participate was at risk of violating state securities laws themselves.

Confronted with the allegations of deception and illegal activity, BTCrush quickly responded, claiming they had no knowledge of its site being used by U.S.-based investors. BTCrush, in a statement Sunday, said it "has complied and will continue to comply" with its cease-and-desist.

"We sincerely regret that such precedents could have taken place. And we would like to inform you that if such precedents could have taken place, then we were not aware of such facts until today," the operators of BTCrush wrote in a letter to authorities.

Borg said he expects many more consumers to come forward to report suspicious bitcoin schemes as a result of the sweep, which will allow regulators to begin to identify real-world cases of harm to consumers and, in some instances, to demand refunds for investors.

"A lot of times you don't know who the victims are unless they call you up," said Borg.

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

Trump's dehumanization project

By e.j. dionne jr.
Trump's dehumanization project

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

(Advance for Monday, May 21, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Sunday, May 20, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Dionne clients only)

By E.J. DIONNE JR.

WASHINGTON -- It's never right to call other human beings "animals." It's not something we should even have to debate. No matter how debased the behavior of a given individual or group, no matter how much legitimate anger genuinely evil actions might inspire, dehumanizing others always leads us down a dangerous path.

This is why we need to reflect on the controversy over exactly whom President Trump was referring to as "animals" during a roundtable discussion last week at the White House with state and local officials from California on so-called sanctuary laws.

On its face -- and this is certainly how Trump wants us to view things -- this is an argument about whether the media distorted his intent by reporting what he said out of context.

But Trump is responsible for this problem precisely because he systematically obliterates any distinctions between the overwhelming majority of immigrants who are law-abiding and the violent minority among the foreign-born.

The slippery inexactness of Trump's language is often ascribed by his detractors to the deficiencies of his verbal skills and his lazy tendency to return again and again to the same stock words and phrases. Trump's admirers frequently cite his use of colloquial language as key to his success in persuading so many that he is not a traditional politician. After all, the way in which he uses the word "animals" is drawn from common street-corner or barroom talk. It's not a usage he invented.

But both of these innocent explanations underestimate Trump's gift for using incendiary words that send clear messages to his supporters. He is brutally calculating in finding ways of casting large groups of people as undeserving of dignity. Dehumanizing those he and his core constituents see as radically different is central to Trump's project.

The White House event where Trump made the comment was a gathering last Wednesday of California officials opposed to what Trump, in his introductory remarks, called "deadly and unconstitutional sanctuary state laws." They offered, Trump said, "safe harbor to some of the most vicious and violent offenders on earth, like MS-13 gang members, putting innocent men, women and children at the mercy of these sadistic criminals."

Trump's use of "animals" came in response to Margaret Mims, the sheriff of Fresno County, who spoke of the problems created for local law enforcement by the conflict between federal laws and California's sanctuary laws. Not being able to cooperate fully with federal immigration officials, Mims argued, made efforts "to find the bad guys" far more difficult."

In a follow-up, Mims elaborated that "there could be an MS-13 gang member I know about" and that if "they don't reach a certain threshold," under the state's law, "I cannot tell ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] about it."

This is when Trump declared: "You wouldn't believe how bad these people are. These aren't people. These are animals. And we're taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that's never happened before."

The New York Times and some other media outlets tweeted that Trump had used the "animals" reference about unauthorized immigrants generally and did not make mention of Mims' invocation of MS-13. Trump's claim is that it should have been obvious that he meant only MS-13 members. In a Friday tweet, he proclaimed that "Fake News got it purposely wrong, as usual."

Here's what's insidious about this: Throughout his presidential campaign and since, Trump has regularly blended talk about all immigrants with specific attacks on immigrants who committed serious crimes -- particularly those who belong to the murderous MS-13. Even assuming that Trump was, in fact, limiting himself to MS-13 in his reply to Mims, he has spent years creating rhetorical links between the foreign-born as a whole (especially those here illegally) and the bloodshed perpetrated by the few.

By playing fast and loose with language, Trump avails himself of escape hatches, as he did last week, and can then go on to cast his critics as defenders of criminality.

No one wants to be put in a position of seeming to say anything good about gang members. Yet Trump's strategy of dehumanization must be resisted across the board. We cannot shy away from what history teaches. Pronouncing whole categories of people as subhuman numbs a nation's moral sense and, in extreme but, unfortunately, too many cases, becomes a rationale for collective cruelty.

What's not fake news is Trump's refusal to take responsibility for using words quite deliberately to enrage, degrade and divide. In doing so, he debases and dehumanizes all of us.

E.J. Dionne's email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

A royal fantasy

By kathleen parker
A royal fantasy

KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, May 20, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, May 19, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Parker clients only)

By KATHLEEN PARKER

WASHINGTON -- You can have your royal wedding, your princess bride, your pomp and your circumstance. For a real love story, I'm going with Thomas Markle.

As in the father of Meghan Markle, former actress and now bride of Prince Harry.

Last week, in anticipation of Saturday's royal wedding, tabloid history surpassed itself while "fake news" was displaced by a fake paparazzo. Throughout drips of gossip and shifting tales of family drama, royal watchers were mesmerized by the story of Thomas Markle's failed photo ruse, his on-again-off-again plans to walk his daughter down the aisle, his heart surgery and, ultimately, his cancelled trip to London.

While some criticized him for allegedly trying to profit from his daughter's rather good fortune, I saw only a man who wanted to make his daughter proud. His was the story that touched the heart of this father's daughter.

It is entirely possible that I'm projecting my own experience and love for my own father, who on Friday would have turned 94. But even reconciling that understanding -- and despite never having met Mr. Markle -- another narrative is at least as likely as the unflattering one extant.

What happened: Markle's other daughter, Samantha Markle, has said that she dreamed up the idea for her dad to commission staged photographs as a way to counter real paparazzi photos that recently had displayed him as a disheveled bohemian eating and drinking. If ever there were a caricature of the least likely father of a girl about to become Queen Elizabeth's granddaughter-in-law, one would be hard pressed to find one.

Then again, Americans are suckers for a pauper-to-prince story. Now we have an actress-to-princess story to rival that of Grace Kelly's 1956 marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco. As the world turns, so do we -- away from class and racial distinctions, if sometimes in theory more than practice, and diversity has become our middle name.

We did, after all, elect an African-American, twice, to lead the country -- a baby step, perhaps, in the longitudinal scheme of things but nonetheless historical and noteworthy. Someday a woman or other minority will assume the office. Every few years, we reset precedent with our presidents, it seems. The current White House occupant -- thrice-married and you know the rest -- certainly is a new take on "presidential."

The real paparazzi photos that Thomas Markle had no doubt hoped to eclipse with his own staged versions showed him at less than his Sunday best. In various shots, he was shown buying beer and cigarettes, sipping red wine at a bar, picking up takeout. British outlets probably paid handsomely for the unflattering snapshots, no doubt because they conveyed that the new Duchess of Sussex doesn't exactly hail from aristocracy.

Two thoughts come to mind: One, though we tune in for epic dramas where kings and queens still reign, we don't cotton to royals or aristocracy here in the U.S. One could say we made that point rather bloodily clear a few centuries ago. And, two, who hasn't shuffled out to a corner store wearing jeans and an untucked shirt to grab a six-pack and some cigs? (Piffle, I say, if you say you haven't.) Surely, the adventurous Prince Harry, who has ditched his royal pretensions a time or two in the past, wouldn't deny such an errand.

So, Thomas Markle (or Samantha) conspired with a photographer who pretended he was a paparazzo and shot dear ol' dad in various staged vignettes -- working out to get in shape for the big event, getting fitted for his wedding suit, flipping through a book about English houses and customs, and looking at a photo of his daughter and Prince Harry on a public computer screen.

In retrospect, a paparazzo would have needed the aid of supernatural intercessionaries to capture so many "spontaneous" events. But in my fairy tale, Markle wasn't trying to profit via his soon-to-be-royal daughter. He was reinventing himself as the better man his Meghan made him want to be. By creating images over which he did have some control, perhaps he was projecting how he sees himself. To me, they were valentines to his daughter -- and heartbreakingly dear.

So, cheers to you, Mr. Markle. Here's hoping your heart mends soon and that you live happily ever after.

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

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Congress takes food from 2 million poor people -- and doesn't even save money

By catherine rampell
Congress takes food from 2 million poor people -- and doesn't even save money

THE MILLENNIAL VIEW

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Rampell clients only)

WRITETHRU: Updating 2nd graf due to the House failing to pass farm bill

By CATHERINE RAMPELL

Leave it to Congress to take food away from 2 million poor people and somehow save no money in the process.

The House farm bill failed on Friday after Freedom Caucus members withheld their votes in the hope of getting immigration legislation to the floor. But assuming this farm bill gets revived, it would completely revamp the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as food stamps). In many ways, the legislation -- which, in a break with tradition, was written entirely by Republicans -- contains objectives shared by people on both sides of the aisle. These include helping low-income people find more stable work and encouraging noncustodial parents to contribute financially to their kids' upbringing.

However noble such goals are, though, the actual consequence of the bill would be a gigantic, expensive new government bureaucracy -- one that eats up nearly all the "savings" from kicking people off food stamps, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.

The most controversial part of the bill, and the part that President Trump has reportedly made a condition of his signature, involves work requirements.

To be clear, the food-stamp system (BEG ITAL)already(END ITAL) has work requirements. Under current law, working-age SNAP beneficiaries, with some modest exceptions, must work or participate in training programs. Those who don't can lose some or all of their benefits. For example, able-bodied adults under the age of 49, without dependents, can get food stamps for just three months of every three years, unless they prove they're working at least 20 hours a week. And states can impose stricter work requirements if they choose.

The bill House Republicans wrote would ratchet up these requirements, for every state. It would force every able-bodied person from ages 18 to 59, and without a preschool-aged child, to prove they are either working or in a qualified job-training program for at least 20 hours per week.

They would also have to submit documentation to prove and re-prove their eligibility every month. Miss a single month, and the penalty would be steep: They could be locked out of the system for an entire year.

Most able-bodied food-stamp recipients, it turns out, are already working. So you might wonder what the big deal is.

Well, aside from apparently abandoning Republicans' supposed commitment to states' rights, there are a few problems with this proposed "reform."

One is that low-wage workers often have limited control over their work schedules. If a restaurant cuts a single mom's hours one week because business is slow, or she has to miss a few days because her child care fell through, she could lose food assistance for an entire year.

Checking eligibility every month is also expensive.

Currently, most states verify work status every six months, or when a major change occurs in a household. A new, monthly evaluation for millions of people would be a huge administrative undertaking, requiring governments to invest in new computer systems and more staff.

Documenting work hours each month would be challenging and burdensome for lots of workers, too, particularly the self-employed. A lot of people who legally qualify for food stamps would still likely lose them.

But hey, better to let 10 deserving people go hungry than a single undeserving person be fed, right?

These changes would be less problematic if they looked as though they'd help more poor people get jobs. But that seems unlikely. The bill kicks some money -- financed by benefit cuts -- toward training, but not nearly enough. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, it comes to about $30 per month per worker.

There are other problematic eligibility changes in the bill, as well.

For instance, parents living apart would have to participate in the child-support enforcement program or lose benefits. Which again, may sound like a good idea. Who doesn't want more "deadbeat dads" to cough up?

But as with the work requirements, states (BEG ITAL)already(END ITAL) can impose these conditions, on both custodial and noncustodial parents. Only six states do so, because most have crunched the numbers and realized the administrative costs aren't worth it.

The custodial parent who isn't already receiving or pursuing child support often either knows the other parent has no money or doesn't want to be in touch because of a history of domestic abuse. In other words: It's the hard, and expensive, cases that remain.

The net consequence of these and other ill-thought-out provisions: Millions will see their food assistance cut or eliminated, or never even apply for it. Billions will be spent getting that outcome.

All of which is to say: Republicans aren't really opposed to Big Government; they just want their Big Government to help fewer people.

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

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

The old capitalism returns

By robert j. samuelson
The old capitalism returns

ROBERT J. SAMUELSON COLUMN

(Advance for Monday, May 21, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Sunday, May 20, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Samuelson clients only)

By ROBERT J. SAMUELSON

WASHINGTON -- We flatter ourselves into thinking that we live in a time of exceptional economic upheaval. The truth is that the present resembles the past. What we learned -- and forget -- is that a dynamic economy is inherently destructive. But the periodic convulsions often create long-term benefits. That has been true for most of our history.

To be sure, economic change now abounds: The internet; vast U.S. budget deficits; high private and public debt levels in both affluent and developing nations; the rise of China; growing income and wealth inequality; immigration; an aging population; "globalization" -- not just trade in goods and services but huge cross-border money flows.

And so on.

The very nature of the economy seems to be shifting, to what we do not know. Our sense of security is shaken. It's all true. But it's always been true. The same contradictory mix of awe and anxiety applies to most, if not all, previous economic eras. Indeed, by comparison to some, today's economy seems placid.

A few years ago, a friend gave me a copy of a book called "Recent Economic Changes," published in 1890 and written by David A. Wells, one of the leading American economists of the late 19th century. Browsing through the book, it's hard not to be struck by the parallels between then and now. Here's how Wells opens his almost 500 pages of commentary:

"The economic changes that have occurred during the last quarter of a century -- or during the present generation of living men -- have unquestionably been more important and varied than during any former corresponding period of the world's history."

Sound familiar?

In Wells' time, there had been astonishing advances in transportation, communications and manufacturing. Steam had replaced wind as the main energy source for water-borne transportation. The railroad had displaced carriages and wagons. In 1869, the Suez Canal opened; coincidentally, so did the first transcontinental railroad in the United States.

In 1800, it took an average of 42 days for a traveler to go from New York to the then tiny outpost of Chicago; by the eve of the Civil War, the transit time had dropped to two days, according to the Historical Statistics of the United States, Millennial Edition. Faster trains and more tracks lowered transportation costs. From 1859 to 1890, railroad mileage grew almost 20 times, from 9,021 miles to 166,703 miles.

This was the era when America urbanized and industrialized. In 1860, four out of five Americans lived in rural areas; by 1900, the population had almost tripled to 76 million, and 40 percent lived in urban areas. Manufacturing exploded. In 1871, the United States produced 6.6 million barrels of beer; by 1900, output was six times as large.

By comparison, many of today's economic advances seem mild. The rise of great cities was surely more important to daily life than the advent of Facebook or Instagram. For all the amazing, frustrating and infuriating things that digital technology can do, its effects are overshadowed by the social and economic cataclysms of the last half of the 19th century.

Of course, there was a backlash then, just as today. These advances have resulted, wrote Wells, "in the absolute destruction of large amounts of capital through new inventions and discoveries and in the impairment of even greater amounts through extensive reductions in the rates of interest and profits [and] in the discontent of labor and in an increasing antagonism of nations."

Sound familiar?

One downside of this progress was chronic instability. There were financial panics or depressions in 1873, 1882, 1893 and 1907, among other years. Labor strife often disintegrated into violent protests when firms cut wages. Some economic dynamism spawned stock-market speculation and fraud.

In the post-World War II era, we thought we were modernizing and improving this raw capitalism. Active monetary and fiscal policy -- the government's use of credit and the federal budget -- would smooth business cycles. The social safety net (unemployment insurance, food stamps and the like) would mitigate human suffering caused by unavoidable slumps.

There was an historic break. The old and cruel capitalism was giving way to a new and gentler capitalism. Or was it? The further we get from World War II, the more that the new capitalism seems to resemble the old. Advances in productivity and living standards come in unpredicted spurts; severe business cycles endure; economic inequality increases.

It is an exaggeration to say that the new capitalism has entirely reverted into the old. The social safety net and modern monetary and fiscal policy remain. They make a difference. Few of us would ditch them. Still, the past is slowly catching up with the future.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

Trump is fomenting a trans-Atlantic rift

By david ignatius
Trump is fomenting a trans-Atlantic rift

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, May 18, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, May 17, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

By DAVID IGNATIUS

BRUSSELS -- President Trump's dismissive treatment of Europe is beginning to erode the trans-Atlantic alliance, which for many decades has been the central pillar of U.S. national-security policy.

The growing European-American rift may be the most important but least discussed consequence of Trump's foreign policy. His disruptive style is usually seen as destabilizing distant adversaries in Pyongyang, Tehran and Beijing. But the diplomatic bombs have also been exploding here in the capital of the European Union -- as well as in Paris, Berlin and London -- and they appear to be causing real damage.

Many European leaders have stopped being polite about Trump. After a year and a half of intermittent skirmishes, they've started firing back -- describing Trump as a danger to Europe's security interests and moving toward an open break with Washington on Iran and other key issues.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said this month that Trump's assault on the Iran deal had created a "real crisis" for the global order. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said unilateral U.S. imposition of sanctions as "economic policeman of the planet" is "not acceptable."

European Council President Donald Tusk summed up the continental frustration and anger in a bitter tweet Wednesday, "Looking at latest decisions of [Donald Trump] someone could even think: with friends like that who needs enemies. But frankly, [the European Union] should be grateful. Thanks to him we got rid of all illusions."

The NATO military alliance still seems relatively solid. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted after visiting Trump Thursday that it was a "good meeting" and credited the president's "leadership on defense spending." But how long can this defense amity continue if there's an open break on major diplomatic issues?

The Europeans will take an important symbolic step away from the U.S. next week when representatives of Germany, France and Britain join Russia and China in a meeting of the joint commission that oversees the Iran nuclear agreement. "This is painful for us," said a senior member of the European Union's diplomatic service, in an interview Wednesday here.

European officials say they don't feel comfortable siding with Russia, China and Iran against the U.S., but that the Trump administration's withdrawal from the deal has given them no alternative. Europeans see the agreement as vital for their national security because it checks the danger of nuclear breakout by Iran and other countries in a Middle East that's all too close to Europe.

Europeans scrambled this week to reassure Iran and keep it in the deal partly because they don't want to jeopardize its monitoring provision. Under the current inspection regime, cameras record 2 million digital images a day at key sites in Iran, says one official. Thanks to the deal, estimates this official, Iran's breakout time to build a bomb has stretched from a few weeks to a year. Europeans don't want to risk losing that warning time by scuttling the agreement.

"The U.S. has never told us what Plan B is," says the EU diplomat. "What do we do when [the Iranians] kick the inspectors out?"

The U.S.-European confrontation will deepen if Washington, as expected, imposes secondary sanctions against European companies that do business with Iran. If so, Europe might retaliate with "blocking regulations" that punish companies that comply with the American measures.

European companies don't like being squeezed. Total, the giant French oil company that plans a multibillion dollar natural-gas project in Iran, said Wednesday that unless it gets "a specific project waiver" from the Treasury Department, it will have to scuttle its investment plan, which Total says has "huge potential."

Trump is so unpopular in Europe that defying him carries little political risk. On issues such as trade, climate change, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and global economic policy, the traditional centrist policy consensus has mostly held in Europe.

The trans-Atlantic divide on culture and values, once the bedrock of the alliance, is striking. Trump, with his braggadocio and vulgarity, seems almost a caricature of a rough, violent America that many Europeans dislike. A poll last year by the Pew Research Center found that only 11 percent of Germans, for example, trusted Trump to do the right thing, compared with 86 percent for his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Americans have taken European support for granted so long that few analysts have examined what a real breach in the trans-Atlantic alliance would look like. Maybe it's time to consider the "what ifs."

Trump has often said that "America First" doesn't mean "America alone." But Europe gets a vote on that, too, and this week it was resoundingly negative.

David Ignatius can be reached via Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Actually, Mueller's 'witch hunt' is bagging flesh-and-blood villains

By ruth marcus
Actually, Mueller's 'witch hunt' is bagging flesh-and-blood villains

RUTH MARCUS COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, May 18, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, May 17, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Normally advance for Sunday, May 20, 2018.)

(For Marcus clients only)

By RUTH MARCUS

WASHINGTON -- Congratulations, America, indeed.

President Trump was being sarcastic when he tweeted, at 7:28 Thursday morning, "Congratulations America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History ... and there is still No Collusion and No Obstruction."

A year into the probe by special counsel Robert Mueller, both he and, yes, America, deserve congratulations. Our system -- in particular, a Justice Department that is part of the executive branch but that maintains necessary independence from political meddling; prosecutors who operate in appropriate secrecy but within guidelines and with judicial oversight -- is working as intended.

The wrap-it-up cries from Team Trump are as wrong as they are predictable.

There was never any reasonable prospect that an investigation this sprawling, sensitive and important could be concluded in a single year. Trump's lawyers, seeking to calm presidential nerves, did him no favors by suggesting otherwise.

Mueller is no doubt exquisitely aware of the political seasons and the political clock, which advise more emphasis on speed than in an ordinary investigation. But he is also cognizant of the imperative for thoroughness. History hinges on his performance.

Nothing in the conduct of the Mueller probe suggests anything other than the diligent professionalism that he is known for -- and that was initially lauded by some of the very folks who now argue that he should move on.

In fact, notwithstanding Trump's constant claims of "No Collusion and No Obstruction," the facts look much worse today than when Mueller was named, both about the underlying issue of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and about the possibility that Trump or others obstructed justice in trying to derail the probe. The information that has emerged -- from outside reporting, from the congressional inquiries and from the flurry of indictments and other activity by Mueller himself -- presents a far more detailed and alarming picture on both scores.

On collusion: We now know, but didn't back then, about the Trump Tower meeting -- that Donald Trump Jr. responded eagerly to an offer from a purported emissary of the Russian government to offer damaging information about Hillary Clinton and arranged a meeting to obtain it that included Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

When Mueller was named, we had some scattered knowledge of contacts between Trump campaign aides and Russians, most prominently the meetings between then-Sen. Jeff Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and the phone conversations between Kislyak and incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn. Yet we had no inkling of how many Trump associates and campaign aides had dealings with Russian officials and operatives -- at least 75 contacts and 22 meetings between Trump's team and individuals linked to Russia, according to the Moscow Project, an initiative of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

We did not know that, during the campaign, Manafort was meeting with a person with ties to Russian intelligence and, through him, offering to brief a Vladimir Putin ally, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. We did not know that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and business associate Felix Sater were pushing construction of Trump Tower Moscow during the campaign -- indeed, Trump assured the public he had no business there -- or that their emails on the subject included this assurance from Sater: "I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected." We did not know that a professor with links to Russia had offered campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos "thousands of emails" with "dirt" on Clinton.

And on obstruction, we knew the essence of the possible case: that Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to "let this go" on Flynn and fired Comey, he said, to relieve the pressure of "this Russia thing." But we did not know that Trump had ordered his White House counsel, Don McGahn, to instruct the attorney general not to recuse himself in the probe. That Trump ordered Mueller's firing and backed off only after McGahn threatened to quit. That Trump himself was involved in drafting a misleading statement describing his son's Trump Tower meeting as "primarily ... about the adoption of Russian children."

A year in, Mueller has under his belt the indictments of 19 individuals and three companies. He has amassed five guilty pleas, including from Flynn, Papadopoulos and Manafort deputy Rick Gates. What Trump rails against as a witch hunt is bagging flesh-and-blood villains and uncovering real villainy at the heart of our system -- which may be why the president is so worked up about it.

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

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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