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Trust fails to recover from nuclear disaster

By Simon Denyer
Trust fails to recover from nuclear disaster
Fishermen leave a fishing boat at the port of Onahama in Iwaki, Japan. MUST CREDIT: photo for The Washington Post by Shiho Fukada.

FUKUSHIMA, Japan - Eight years after an earthquake, tsunami and one of the most severe nuclear accidents in history, the Japanese prefecture of Fukushima is getting back on its feet.

Officials say the area's fruits and vegetables are fine to eat. So is the catch from the Fukushima fishing boats.

Radiation levels in the prefecture's capital city, Fukushima, are comparable to the super-safe readings in places such as Hong Kong and London, monitors say. And a massive decontamination effort is still underway.

But facts and spreadsheets supplied by the government are one thing.

Rebuilding trust among locals may be significantly harder, thanks to a culture of coverups and denials that contributed to the nuclear accident and continues to dog Japan's efforts to restart its nuclear industry, experts say.

"A lot of challenges still need to be addressed," Mitsuru Shoji, an official in the international affairs division of the prefecture government, said during a recent press tour. "[But] Fukushima Prefecture is regaining its strength."

The twin natural disasters in March 2011 killed 16,000 people, and the subsequent multiple reactor explosions sent clouds of radioactive dust spewing over thousands of square miles of northern Japan, causing 165,000 people to flee their homes across 12 percent of the prefecture. Agriculture and fisheries industries collapsed as consumers steered clear of their products, and tourists shunned the region.

Most of the evacuees have gone home across the prefecture. Less than 3 percent - an area roughly twice the size of the District of Columbia - of the prefecture remains officially off limits: in the mountainous forests and ghost towns nearest the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Huge swaths of topsoil have been removed. Potassium has been added to soil to displace the radioactive cesium that fell from the sky and prevent it entering plants through their roots.

Japan has set stringent limits on the amount of cesium allowed in food, 12 times stricter than the United States. And an agriculture testing center in the city of Koriyama has analyzed 210,00 samples of local produce, including peaches, rice, asparagus, strawberries and beef from the danger zone. At the Onahama fishing port, a similar effort monitors fish from every ocean catch.

With the exception of a handful of samples of wild mushrooms and freshwater fish, none of the samples has exceeded the radiation limits in the past three years, officials say.

Exports of agriculture, forestry and fisheries products, at one point down 98 percent, have recovered beyond pre-disaster levels, as have tourist arrivals.

Overcoming initial concerns, the percentage of locally produced ingredients in Fukushima school lunches is back where it was in 2010, and above the national average. Peaches from the area are popular in Southeast Asia, and local sake is winning national awards.

Still, at least 24 countries and territories ban some produce from Fukushima. Taiwan, South Korea and China still impose a total food ban. The United States prohibits Fukushima produce such as mushrooms, leafy vegetables and broccoli. Fishermen now only ply the seas two days a week: Fish from Fukushima, which once enjoyed a high reputation in Tokyo's fish market, is no longer the flavor of the day.

The government blames "harmful rumors," a phrase that dominated the two-day press tour and has been labeled the fourth disaster to hit Fukushima, after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident.

Yet there is a much deeper trust deficit that remains extremely hard to overcome.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the ill-fated plant, spent two months after the nuclear disaster denying that a meltdown had occurred. TEPCO later apologized for a "coverup" that remains the source of much bitterness among people here.

Katsunobu Sakurai, former mayor of the nearby town of Minamisoma, says TEPCO gave out very little information about the disaster during a chaotic evacuation that ultimately led to the deaths of 3,700 people, including many elderly people whose medical care was interrupted.

In 2012, TEPCO was forced to admit that it had failed to heed safety warnings before the accident, or even consider the risk of a large tsunami, because it feared doing so would undermine public confidence in the industry.

Experts say TEPCO has still failed to come clean about the problems associated with decommissioning the reactors and decontaminating the environment.

"To me, talking about 'harmful rumors' sounds like they are making someone else the bad guy or villain, as if they are blaming people for saying negative things because they don't understand science and radiation," said Riken Komatsu, a community activist in Onahama.

"But those who have lost our trust do not have the right" to talk about harmful rumors, Komatsu added.

The government and TEPCO say the nuclear power plant itself could take 30 or 40 years to decommission and estimates the cleanup will cost 22 trillion yen ($200 billion). But in 2015, the plant's manager told London's Times newspaper that the technological challenges involved in removing hundreds of tons of molten radioactive fuel from three reactors could mean decommissioning will take 200 years.

The Japan Center for Economic Research, a conservative think tank, estimates the cleanup bill could come to 50 trillion to 70 trillion yen ($460 billion to 640 billion).

One of the biggest problems involves groundwater that seeps into the reactor buildings, mixes with cooling water and becomes radioactive.

TEPCO has been trying to limit water contamination ever since the accident, creating a mile-long "ice wall" of sunken, frozen soil around the reactors to keep water out, and another concrete wall to prevent it from reaching the ocean.

In 2016, TEPCO admitted that the ice wall was only slowing - but not preventing - water seeping in. Today, around 100 cubic meters of groundwater still become contaminated at Fukushima every day, and 1 million tons of radioactive water is stored in 994 huge tanks around the site.

A new tank fills up every seven to 10 days, and storage space is running out.

TEPCO had initially claimed that 26 out of 27 radioactive nuclides had been removed from that water through an advanced treatment system, living only tritium behind.

But after reports by Kyodo news and local media, and a protest by fishermen, the company acknowledged in September that 80 percent of the tanks contain water that is still contaminated with dangerous radioactive elements, including strontium-90, a bone-seeking radionuclide that causes cancer.

Launching his successful bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the situation at Fukushima was "under control." One of his predecessors, Junichiro Koizumi said the water crisis showed that was a lie.

An external committee established by TEPCO to advise the board of directors says it is "very frustrated" at the company's inability to communicate properly.

"If TEPCO does not improve their communication, it will be very difficult for them to regain the public trust," committee chairman and former head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Dale Klein told a news conference on Jan. 30.

Shigenori Makino, TEPCO's managing executive officer, vowed to do better. "We take the severe evaluation of our effort to heart, " he said.

Today, one of the hottest controversies is what to do with all that water, after a government task force suggested gradually releasing it into the sea.

TEPCO says it has significantly reduced contamination in the water and would treat it again before it is released. It argues that other nuclear plants around the world release water containing tritium.

But for the fishermen of Fukushima, already deeply frustrated with the havoc the disaster has wrought, such a move is unthinkable.

"We have worked so hard to regain the trust and sense of safety among consumers," said Hisashi Maeda, deputy manager of the Dredge Fishing Cooperative at the Onahama port. "If they release the water, it would put us back to square one again."

- - -

The Washington Post's Akiko Kashiwagi contributed to this report.

The New Oscars: In a climate of change, is Disney the real disrupter?

By Steven Zeitchik
The New Oscars: In a climate of change, is Disney the real disrupter?
Michael B. Jordan, left, and Daniel Kaluuya as Killmonger and W'Kabi in Disney-Marvel's

At the Oscars this Sunday, a whole lot of entertainment-world drama will reach its conclusion. Some unusually wide-open races will be resolved, an especially brutal season of campaigning will end, and millions of Americans will learn whether an awards-show host is a vestigial structure.

But the story lines go beyond the ceremony. It has been a wild six months for the business of Hollywood - wilder, perhaps, than any other period in recent memory. For film-industry veterans who've long been observing this September-February period known as award season, in which working Hollywood members are wooed with screenings, meals and the lighted halo of celebrity, this has been a year of almost unfathomable change.

Old-time establishment players who've not won best picture in a long time (or ever) have been making resurgent bids. New players, from Netflix to Megan Ellison's Annapurna Pictures, have been mounting a case that they're the new establishment. And money has been spent at seemingly record levels, with numerous campaigns in the tens of millions of dollars. Studios like Warner Bros. ("A Star is Born") and Universal Pictures ("Green Book") have been spending like they were Netflix. Netflix has been spending like it's a presidential candidate.

There's a lot of talk about the way the television business has been upended by change in recent years. But the Oscars this year suggest that the film business - still in some ways rooted in the tradition of big-studio opening weekends and communal multiplex experiences - sits at its own transformative moment.

The Academy Awards ended this crazy chapter on Tuesday. Voting for Sunday's show officially closed at 5 p.m. Pacific Time. Which means that if you're in a major media market, particularly Los Angeles, you will no longer be bombarded with campaign ads - TV spots reminding you of movies you've been meaning to see, evoking a group whose purpose you're not really sure of - at least until Emmy season rolls around this summer.

Some of these shifts happened because of inside-baseball factors: Traditional powerhouse Fox Searchlight, winner of best picture three of the past five years, sits only in the middle of the pack with "The Favourite," while recently hot indie A24 ("Moonlight," "Lady Bird") is out of the running this year. Or the lingering effects of the demise of The Weinstein Company, which through 2017 had landed a best-picture slot eight of nine years.

Yet the shifts often have had far more to do with the individual companies and how they're realigning themselves for a new world (and how the new world is realigning itself to them).

There's more to say in the coming days on these changes, and how they've created a fresh set of front-runners - even rules - at these new Oscars. Today it's worth taking a look at one of them: Disney, holder of possibly the strangest claim in the entertainment business. The studio is among the most storied in Hollywood history. Yet it has never won best picture.

On a few occasions it has gotten into the field - "Mary Poppins" in 1965, and more recent animated films like "Up" and "Toy Story 3." But it's never sniffed victory.

That could all change this year. The studio's megahit, "Black Panther," is one of several contenders at the front of the crowded pack. How far front? "Panther" hasn't won many of the predictive Hollywood guild awards in recent months. But several weeks ago it took the Screen Actors Guild prize for outstanding cast, which foreshadows Oscar best picture about half the time - 7 of 13 instances since 2006. Actors are the largest bloc of Oscar voters, so having them on your side goes a long way.

If Disney could break its drought, it wouldn't be happenstance. It would be the result of twin sets of factors, involving both the studio's actions and the actions of those around it. Basically, after years of mutual suspicion between a broad entertainment company and the world of prestige film, the two have slowly, carefully, finally inched closer together.

Disney would get over the hump not with its classic family fare, but with a superhero movie, a category it didn't enter until relatively recently. (A decade ago it didn't own Marvel.) And not just any superhero movie, but a slyly political superhero movie from a major filmmaker. Which it didn't produce until really recently.

A few years ago, Disney-Marvel simply wasn't investing in the kind of creative talent that would attract awards voters. Yet after a long period of essentially directorial work-for-hire, executives realized that simply cranking out studio product with little filmmaker vision wasn't going to keep viewers coming back. So they brought on filmmakers with more distinct points of view. Panther's" Ryan Coogler ("Creed," "Fruitvale Station") exemplifies this decision.

Meanwhile, after years of earning a reputation that it didn't wish to spend on awards, Disney has also opened up the coffers. Maybe not Netflix or Warner Bros. opened up. But it's certainly and unquestionably taken some strategic swings.

It would be a mistake, though, to think Disney was just moving toward the prestige world. At the same time as all this was happening, the Oscar voting body began to get past its superhero-skepticism.

Or, maybe, past its superhero skeptics..

In recent years, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has made a deliberate push to get younger and more diverse: the group has grown by some 30 percent since 2016, much of it the result of younger voters and people of color. This includes 928 new members last year, its biggest gain in the modern era. Tastes can still vary, of course. But when your membership looks more and more like that, its choices are more likely to contain a "Black Panther."

If Disney can pull off a win - experts say it's in essentially a three-pony race with "Roma" and "Green Book," and maybe a dark horse in "Bohemian Rhapsody" - this would have major implications.

The first is the lesson that a movie with complex racial themes can not only succeed with a new "woke" audience but with a group that rarely leads the social-change charge.

The second is that all the campaign money in the world can't compete with Hollywood's real dollar measures: box office. "Black Panther" grossed $700 million in the U.S., more than any movie in history besides "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and "Avatar." All the Netflix-sponsored salads at Spago can't compete with that kind of green.

The third is that Disney may now be willing to play a bit more in the awards pool. It's still hard to see the company ever going as all-out as other studios. But as it takes charge of Fox Searchlight, a company famous rational about its award spending, more money for these campaigns could follow. This is especially true if it wants to keep pace with Netflix.

But the biggest result of a "Black Panther" win may be the way it sets the stage for movies well outside of Disney.

This has been the age of franchise films everywhere - among parents and kids, teen girls and boys, in small American towns and big cities, across Asia, Europe and Latin America.

Everywhere, that is but at the Academy Awards. As die-hards will tell you, "Black Panther" would be the first superhero movie ever to win best picture. In fact, it's the first superhero movie even nominated for the prize.

But that doesn't mean it's the last. As much as we tend to see these things as binary - nothing ever was nominated before, and now the feat has been achieved - the reality is much more of a continuum.

Disney is standing on the shoulders of predecessors. The best-picture snub for Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" a decade ago helped lead to a nomination for his "Inception" two years later (and prompted the academy to expand the best-picture field). Then a smart multiplex hit like "Inception" helped open some academy eyes to "Black Panther."

And a "Black Panther" win? It could help future commercial genres take the prize. It's been nearly 30 years since a movie with a claim to the horror label, "The Silence of the Lambs," won. And unless you count "The Shape of Water" (and you shouldn't) a science-fiction film has never won best picture.

The previous time a franchise film has won best picture was 15 years ago with "Lord Of The Rings: Return of the King." "Black Panther" could further pry open those doors too.

Even as this piece was being readied, early notices were arriving about the quality and depth of another winter Marvel release, the Brie Larson-starring "Captain Marvel." The film is the studio's first with a lead female superhero, and also had unique voices behind the camera. Some of its early buzz is reminiscent of "Black Panther."

Disney, in this entertainment age of streamers and Silicon Valley, isn't regarded as a disrupter. Yet when it comes to the movies that get to the Oscar podium - to new budgets and new genres - they may have a surprisingly game-changing effect. You could almost call it Netflixian.

'The pope ignored them': Alleged abuse of deaf children on two continents points to Vatican failings

By Anthony Faiola, et al.
'The pope ignored them': Alleged abuse of deaf children on two continents points to Vatican failings
The city of Verona, Italy, as seen from the Castel San Pietro on Jan. 25, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Emanuele Amighetti

LUJAN DE CUYO, Argentina -When investigators swept in and raided the religious Antonio Provolo Institute for the Deaf, they uncovered one of the worst cases yet among the global abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church: a place of silent torment where prosecutors say pedophiles preyed on the most isolated and submissive children.

The scope of the alleged abuse was vast. Charges are pending against 13 suspects; a 14th person pleaded guilty to sexual abuse, including rape, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The case of the accused ringleader - an octogenarian Italian priest named Nicola Corradi - is set to go before a judge next month.

Corradi was spiritual director of the school and had a decades-long career spanning two continents. And so his arrest in late 2016 raised an immediate question: Did the Catholic Church have any sense that he could be a danger to children?

The answer, according to a Washington Post investigation that included a review of court and church documents, private letters, and dozens of interviews in Argentina and Italy, is that church officials up to and including Pope Francis were warned repeatedly and directly about a group of alleged predators that included Corradi.

Yet they took no apparent action against him.

"I want Pope Francis to come here, I want him to explain how this happened, how they knew this and did nothing," a 24-year-old alumna of the Provolo Institute said, using sign language as her hands shook in rage. She and her 22-year-old brother, who requested anonymity to share their experiences as minors, are among at least 14 former students who say they were victims of abuse at the now-shuttered boarding school in the shadow of the Andes.

Vulnerable to the extreme, the deaf students tended to come from poor families that fervently believed in the sanctity of the church. Prosecutors say the children were fondled, raped, sometimes tied up and, in one instance, forced to wear a diaper to hide the bleeding. All the while, their limited ability to communicate complicated their ability to tell others what was happening to them. Students at the school were smacked if they used sign language. One of the few hand gestures used by the priests, victims say, was an index figure to lips - a demand for silence.

"They were the perfect victims," said Gustavo Stroppiana, the chief prosecutor in the case.

And yet they may not have been the first. Corradi, now 83 and under house arrest, is also under investigation for sexual crimes at a sister school in Argentina where he worked from 1970 to 1994. And alumni of a related school in Italy, where Corradi served earlier, identified him as being among a number of priests who carried out systematic abuse over five decades. The schools were all founded and staffed by priests from the Company of Mary for the Education of the Deaf, a small Catholic congregation that answers to the Vatican.

The Italian victims' efforts to sound the alarm to church authorities began in 2008 and included mailing a list of accused priests to Francis in 2014 and physically handing him the list in 2015.

It was not the church, however, but Argentine law enforcement that cut off Corradi's access to children when it shut down the Provolo school in Lujan. Argentine prosecutors say the church has not fully cooperated with their investigation.

As Francis prepares to host a historic bishops' summit this week to address clerical sexual abuse, the lapses in the case - affecting the pope's home country of Argentina and the home country of the Roman Catholic Church - illustrate the still-present failures of the church to fix a system that has allowed priests to continue to abuse children long after they were first accused.

Corradi's lawyer declined multiple interview requests for this article and did not respond to emails seeking to speak with the priest. Attempts to reach Corradi through his family were unsuccessful. The Vatican declined to comment on a detailed list of questions.

But Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the abuse-tracking site BishopAccountability.org, said the Provolo case "is truly emblematic."

"The church failed them abysmally. The pope ignored them, the police responded," she said. "It's a clear example of the tragedy that keeps playing out."

As in Argentina, deaf students from the Provolo schools in Verona, Italy, kept their experiences of sexual abuse to themselves for years. But after they started opening up, they worked from bottom to top to inform the Catholic church, according to letters and other documents. They wrote to the local bishop in 2008. Soon after, they provided a list of accused priests and religious figures to the local diocese. By 2011, a list of names was with the Vatican. By 2015, a list was in the hands of the pope.

The rumblings started with Dario Laiti, a former student who came forward in 2006 after noticing a new children's facility in the town and worrying that abuse might be happening there, as well.

"I was the first," said Laiti, who for years had made excuses when his wife asked why he hadn't wanted children.

Soon, more than a dozen other former students were telling their stories, using an improvised mix of sign language and limited speech. Their accounts ranged in time between the 1950s and 1980s. As adults, they had become woodcutters, delivery men, factory workers. Some were unemployed. Few had sustained relationships. One of their schoolmates had committed suicide.

One student, Alda Franchetto, said she had tried to confide in her parents years earlier - running away from the school as a 13-year-old in a burst of euphoria and explaining to them what was happening to her there. Her parents, she said, didn't believe her and returned her to the institute.

"They said, 'You need this to learn how to speak and write,' " Franchetto said.

By the time the adult former students started reporting their abuse, it was too late to press criminal charges. But it was not too late for accountability through the church. They wrote to the local bishop in 2008, informing him of their claims. Soon after, at the request of a journalist from the Italian news magazine L'Espresso, 15 former students took another step: writing sworn statements describing sodomization, forced masturbation and other forms of abuse. The statements named 24 priests and other faculty members, including Corradi. The student association said dozens of others had experienced abuse but did not want to come forward publicly.

The bishop, Giuseppe Zenti, was dismissive. In a news conference, he called the allegations "a hoax, a lie, and nothing more," and he noted the association for former students was involved in a property dispute with the Provolo Institute. The former students filed defamation charges against Zenti and included their statements as part of the lawsuit - essentially handing the names of the accused priests to the diocese.

The case caught the notice of the Vatican, which in 2010 asked Zenti to look more deeply into the claims, according to church letters. The local diocese brought in a retired judge, Mario Sannite, to investigate.

"That's how I found myself in the middle of this story," Sannite said.

Sannite became the on-the-ground representative of the Holy See, asked to relay his findings - and his analysis - to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In December 2010 and January 2011, Sannite interviewed 17 former students from Provolo, with the help of a sign-language interpreter. He said the accounts were harrowing, and he later wrote that there was no reason to doubt the "majority" of the accusations. In the report sent to the Vatican, though, Sannite wrote that he had doubts about one former student, the only one who happened to name Corradi as an abuser - even though some of the others interviewed had overlapped with Corradi's time at the school.

Gianni Bisoli, a then-62-year-old ski instructor, accused 30 religious figures and other Provolo faculty members of abusing him - a number far beyond the others. And his allegations were particularly explosive; one of those he accused was Giuseppe Carraro, the bishop of Verona in the 1960s and 1970s, who after his death was on the path to canonization.

"Bisoli's statements were likely deemed quite dangerous," said Paolo Tacchi Venturi, a lawyer who at the time was representing the victims.

With the help of a sign-language interpreter and Tacchi Venturi, Bisoli spoke with Sannite for 12 hours, over the course of three days, according to records. Others who were in the room told The Post that Bisoli described the abuse in detail.

In interviews with The Post, Bisoli recounted that he was abused by Corradi several times, including once when he had been corralled along with two other children into a bathroom reserved for priests. In that instance, Bisoli said, he was ordered against a wall by Corradi and two other religious figures. Bisoli remembered Corradi sodomizing him with his finger.

Sannite assessed that Bisoli was certainly a victim of abuse. But in the report he wrote, which was sent through Verona's diocese to the Vatican, the former judge said it was implausible that Bisoli could have been abused by so many - that the institute he described was akin to an "infernal circle." Sannite noted that some of Bisoli's dates did not match, and some of the accused did not appear to be at the institute in the years Bisoli described. Sannite also offered another theory: that Bisoli "repackaged his overflowing allegations by drawing from the collection of his own experiences as a homosexual" adult.

In an interview at his home last month, Sannite read from the report, though he did not share a copy with The Post. When asked why a gay man might be less likely to accurately describe abuse, Sannite said, "It's not as if I can say there are differences." Then he asked why he was being asked such a question. Later, Sannite wrote in an email that he did not mean to draw a connection between Bisoli's credibility and his sexuality.

Bisoli, in an interview, said it was "offensive" and a "provocation" that anybody's sexuality in adulthood might figure into an assessment.

Following church guidelines, Zenti wrote a letter to accompany the report to the Vatican, according to the Diocese of Verona, which declined to share it with The Post. But Zenti remained skeptical about the claims and said in 2017 testimony - conducted as part of a separate lawsuit - that even a word like sodomization would be "hard to convey for a deaf-mute." The bishop also reported hearing a theory that the Veronese victims were behind the claims in Argentina, as well, perhaps as a way to "gain possession of the nice properties of the institute in those places."

Based on the investigation in Verona, the Vatican punished only one priest, Eligio Piccoli, who was ordered to a life of prayer and penance away from minors. Three other priests were given admonitions - essentially warnings that the Vatican was watching future behavior.

A church official in Verona said the allegations against Corradi were not looked at closely in large part because of the assessment about Bisoli. "We acted on the broad premise that Bisoli wasn't deemed reliable," Monsignor Giampietro Mazzoni said. "In this case, perhaps, making a mistake - since we didn't know then what would later happen in Argentina."

One of the other former students who Bisoli said was in the priests-only bathroom, Maurizio Grotto, has offered conflicting accounts of what happened. He told Sannite he was not abused by Corradi and said in an interview with The Post that he was. Another former Provolo student, Franchetto, said in an interview that she was molested by Corradi but had tried for years, "as a measure of self-defense," to forget his face. She did not tell the Vatican investigator about her experiences. The president of the association representing the Italian victims, Giorgio Dalla Bernardina, said he knows of other Corradi victims who have been unwilling to speak publicly.

Lawyers involved in the case and experts on clerical abuse say the church failed to examine whether the pattern of abuse in Italy was playing out at the overseas Provolo locations where Italian priests had been sent. Some dioceses in the United States report abuse accusations to law enforcement no matter what - even if the accused priest is deceased or if the statute of limitations has expired - and suspend priests from ministry as accusations are being investigated. The Diocese of Verona said it did not contact law enforcement.

Tacchi Venturi, the lawyer who had represented the victims during the hearing, said the Vatican made one other error - a "logic contradiction" - by acknowledging that Bisoli was abused but not looking into who might have abused him.

"If you say he suffered abuses, and you believe he was a victim, and he says he was abused by people, then you hear them all," Tacchi Venturi said, noting that the task was easier because only some of the accused were still alive. "You go on and interrogate all of them."

The Italian victims believed that if anybody could better handle abuse cases, it was Francis, who was selected as leader of the church in 2013 - two years after the Verona inquiry - and who announced the creation of a new commission on child protection. The former Provolo students wrote to Francis in late 2013, giving a broad timeline of their case. They said they didn't hear anything back. In 2014, according to postal receipts, they tried again, with more direct language - mailing to the pontiff's Vatican address a list of the 14 alleged abusers they felt had gone largely unpunished. They received no response from Francis or others in the Vatican.

So, in October 2015, 20 people from Verona - most of them victims of abuse - boarded a train to Rome. They had no certainty of meeting the pope, but they targeted a day the Vatican was recognizing people with disabilities. And indeed, after Francis held Mass at St. Peter's Square, a Vatican official invited two of the people from Verona to a small event with the pontiff. Paola Lodi Rizzini and Giuseppe Consiglio took their place near the stage of Paul VI Audience Hall holding a letter - later reviewed by The Post - listing the same 14 names.

Consiglio, now 29, was the youngest of the victims from Verona. He'd attended school in the late 1990s, and he had come forward in 2012 - after the Vatican's investigation. But he was upset with the Vatican's response. He said he wanted the Vatican to "open its eyes" and "close the schools." He told The Post that his own childhood had unraveled because of abuse. He said he was raped hundreds of times by a priest who was "rough" but careful not to get Consiglio's blood on his cassock. Consiglio tried to jump out a school window when he was 12 but was stopped by a nun. He was treated with antipsychotics. Into his adulthood, he lived at home, with few friends. He was so terrified of being locked into rooms that he hoarded his family's keys.

Then, inside the Vatican, he was eye to eye with Francis.

Lodi Rizzini recalls speaking first and telling the pontiff they were there representing a victims' group from Verona.

"I said, 'Giuseppe is a victim of sexual abuse, and he has a letter from all victims,' " Lodi Rizzini said.

Consiglio handed Francis the envelope. A Vatican photographer documented the moment.

The letter inside appealed to the pontiff by saying the church's behavior in their case was "absolutely not aligned with the zero tolerance of Pope Francis." It said the church had let priests and other religious figures who had abused them go on to live "normal lives."

Then a paragraph listed 14 priests and lay brothers that the victims believed were still alive. The list included Consiglio's own alleged abuser, a handful of figures who had not been punished in Italy and four said to be in Argentina - including Corradi.

Lodi Rizzini and Consiglio remember Francis receiving the letter and handing it off to a deputy without opening it. Photos show Francis blessing both Lodi Rizzini and Consiglio by touching them on the head. Both of them remember Francis, before walking away, saying, "Pray for me."

People involved in the case say the former students' plea did not appear to prompt the church to take a closer look at any of the named priests.

Four months later, in February 2016, a letter arrived in Verona from one of Francis's close lieutenants, then-Bishop Angelo Becciu, who held a key position in the Secretariat of State. Becciu wrote that His Holiness "welcomed with lively participation what you wanted to confide in Him."

"He wishes to remind you," the letter continued, "of what the Holy See has done and keeps on doing with unwavering commitment on clerical sexual abuses, operating in support of the victims' tragedies and to prevent the sad phenomenon."

In the early 1960s, the Provolo Institute in Verona dismissed one priest and another faculty member for "moral inadequacy," church officials say. But there is no evidence, according to church records, that the Company of Mary knew of the allegations against Corradi when it transferred him from Italy to Argentina in 1970. Even if something had been known, "I doubt there would have been an explicit mention in the archive," said Mazzoni, the chief judicial figure in the Diocese of Verona.

In Argentina, Corradi initially taught at a Provolo Institute for the Deaf in La Plata, a provincial city an hour's drive from the belle époque buildings of Buenos Aires. Following the disclosures of widespread abuse in Lujan de Cuyo in 2016, La Plata authorities launched an investigation that has uncovered allegations of sexual abuse and mistreatment, dating back to the 1980s, against at least five men who worked at the school, including Corradi and another Italian cleric.

The other Italian - Elisio Pirmati - was also named by Verona students in the letters sent to the pope. Corfield said Pirmati has returned to Italy and is living in retirement at the Verona Provolo - which is no longer active as an institute for the deaf but rents space to another school. Efforts by The Post to contact him were unsuccessful.

Thus far, Corradi has been accused of sexual abuse by two alumni of the school in La Plata. Prosecutors received a report of another alleged Corradi victim who killed himself as an adult. While in total 10 alleged victims from the La Plata school have come forward, Corfield said she has spoken to other apparent victims who have resisted getting involved.

"They say they have families now and don't want to explain," she said.

Lisandro Borelli, now 40, entered the La Plata Provolo as a student in 1989 after becoming clinically deaf due to severe beatings from his parents. In an interview, he recalled Corradi placing him on his knee and fondling his genitals during lessons when the priest would also insert fingers into his mouth to try to teach him how to pronounce words.

Once, he said, he was punished at the school by being locked in a cage for two days without food. In a separate incident, he said he was thrown down a staircase in an act of intimidation after catching a priest at the school raping his roommate.

"When we found out this started in Italy, we were surprised," Borelli said in sign language. "Now I think about it and say, was this happening at other Provolo institutes?"

In 1994, Corradi's religious congregation sent him to set up a new Provolo Institute in western Argentina. The school - a sprawling brick compound surrounded by high walls that served as both a boarding and day school for dozens of deaf children - opened in 1998, with Corradi as spiritual director.

In the fluorescent-lit halls lined with polished tiles, Corradi first lured one boy to his room when he was around 7 years old, according to the alleged victim, who today is a shy and delicate 22-year-old. In an interview with The Post, the man recalled his confusion as Corradi undressed him, followed by the searing pain of rape. Afterward, Corradi gave him a toy - a small blue pickup truck. "I couldn't look him in the eye," the man said, using sign language. "It scared me. It disgusted me."

He said he was raped regularly for the next five years. He recalled that during the ordeals, he would stare at a statue of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus not far from Corradi's bed. He said he could see Corradi speaking words he could not hear or understand.

The school did not teach sign language - instead embracing a methodology that sought to teach deaf children to read and speak like the hearing. That system, prosecutors say, was also ideal for hiding abuse. Abused pupils say they learned sign language in secret from older students, but even that was of little help.

The 22-year-old man and his sister - the 24-year-old who wanted Francis to come to Argentina and see what happened there, and who said she was raped as a child by another Provolo employee - came from a poor family whose parents had limited knowledge of sign language.

"We didn't want to go to school, but our parents were convinced it was the best for us," said the sister. "So we were mistreated at home. We were hit because our parents just thought we didn't want to go to school."

Prosecutors say that as spiritual director of the school, Corradi not only took part in abuses, but facilitated access to children for other sexual predators working at the school.

Prosecutors and victims allege that under Corradi's direction, a Japanese nun, Kosaka Kumiko, would groom the most docile children. She would touch them, and have them touch themselves and each other. Kumiko has maintained her innocence in court.

Also among the alleged abusers in Lujan is a deaf and mentally challenged man, now in his 40s, who prosecutors say had been abandoned as a child at the Provolo Institute in La Plata. They say the man told other victims he had been abused by Corradi there. And when Corradi made him a gardener at the new Provolo school in Lujan, the man is alleged to have begun to abuse other children.

The worst cases of abuse documented by prosecutors at Lujan occurred between 2004 and 2009. During those years, Francis served as Cardinal Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, a diocese some 700 miles southeast of Lujan de Cuyo, and would not have been accountable for actions at the school. However, the allegations in Argentina of abuse and corruption of minors stretch beyond when the church was warned and well after the Italian victims sought to alert Francis directly in 2013. The most recent incident involving Corradi is alleged to have involved the distribution of pornography to children in 2013. Other suspects also allegedly touched students inappropriately in 2015 and 2016.

The church's inaction allowed the alleged abusers to remain in daily contact with children - until a distraught former student went to Argentine authorities.

The rail-thin 27-year-old, who, like other victims, spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she had been raped by an Argentine priest who served under Corradi. In an interview, she said that for years she considered killing herself - even writing a suicide note to her parents before standing on a bluff by a river and weighing whether to jump.

"I felt like water, as if I was nothing," she said in sign language in her lawyer's office in Mendoza, Argentina. "I wanted to kill myself, but I had to keep living with it, every year."

A friend, she said, convinced her that what she and other victims really needed was justice. So, in November 2016, she walked into a state center for people with disabilities and requested a sign-language interpreter. They would later go together to the state parliament, where, on Nov. 24, 2016, they met with a state senator who sounded the alarm.

Rapidly acting on her testimony, prosecutors raided the school two days later - finding pornography and letters that implicated one of Corradi's associates, Father Horacio Corbacho, a 58-year-old Argentine priest. In court filings, one sexually suggestive letter, apparently written by someone familiar with the abuse, asks Corbacho "how much more silence can you ask of a deaf mute?"

Jorge Bordon, Corradi's 62-year-old driver, last year pleaded guilty to 11 counts of abuse. His confession effectively implicated some of the other defendants, though Corbacho, Kumiko and others have denied the accusations. Corradi - under house arrest at an undisclosed location in Argentina and facing six counts of aggravated abuse - has yet to enter a plea.

The Rev. Alberto Germán Bochatey, a bishop appointed by the pope to oversee the Provolo schools in the aftermath of the scandal, said Corradi believes himself to be innocent.

"He feels destroyed," said Bochatey, who last met with Corradi two months ago. "He built that school."

After Argentine authorities shut down the Lujan school in November 2016, the Vatican appointed two priests to conduct an internal investigation that is still ongoing. Prosecutors say church officials in Argentina have declined their request to share the findings.

Bochatey, who is not involved in the investigation, denied a lack of church cooperation. He said he received a request for the report and replied in a letter to prosecutors that it needed to be submitted directly to the Vatican. He said he did not forward the request. Stroppiana, the prosecutor, said he has no recollection of receiving a response from Bochatey or any other church authorities.

Bochatey blamed prosecutors and victims' lawyers for overstating the scope of the allegations. He suggested Freemasons - members of a fraternal order known for secret rituals and community service that the Catholic Church has long viewed as antagonists - were somehow behind the accusations, although he acknowledged the church had no "proof."

"We think the Masonic order was behind it," he said. "We cannot understand why [the accusations] are so direct and intense. They try to build a big case that [it was a] house of horrors, 40 or 50 cases, but there are little more than 10."

He added, "I spoke with many parents who said their kids were happy. They didn't want their school to close." He continued, "I think something happened, but not the way they're trying to show."

He defended the school's approach to teaching the deaf, saying the point was for them to read and speak. Perhaps some teachers had been too strict, he said.

"Maybe sometimes a teacher did wrong," he said.

The church, he said, has not only been forced to close the school in Lujan but also sell the land it sits on.

"We're paying expensively for our mistake," he said.

- - - Harlan and Pitrelli reported from Verona, Italy. The Washington Post's Rachelle Krygier in Caracas, Venezuela, and Natalio Cosoy, in Buenos Aires, contributed to this report.

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

Jussie Smollett's story was theatrical. We should have been cautious from the start.

By megan mcardle
Jussie Smollett's story was theatrical. We should have been cautious from the start.

MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For McArdle clients only)

By MEGAN MCARDLE

WASHINGTON -- On Jan. 29, Jussie Smollett, a gay African-American actor, reported to Chicago police that he had been the victim of a vicious hate crime. As my colleague Nana Efua Mumford has noted, the disturbing details were almost cinematic, like an episode of "Empire," Smollett's television show. Two masked assailants not only made homophobic, racist slurs, according to Smollett, but also poured an unknown chemical on him and hung a noose around his neck. One of the attackers shouted, "This is MAGA country" -- as in the Trumpian phrase "Make America Great Again."

That theatricality, and the timeliness of the political message, ensured the incident would catch the public's imagination. Now, evidence is emerging that the episode may in fact have been scripted, by Smollett himself. On Wednesday evening, Chicago police announced that Smollet has been charged with disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. Smollett, through his attorneys, has denied participating in a hoax.

Regardless of how the Smollett episode ultimately turns out, it provides a useful reminder: The more a crime report sounds like a movie, the more suspicious you should be.

In Bill James' 2011 book, "Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence," he notes of serial killers that "one can almost say accurately that (BEG ITAL)every(END ITAL) serial killer in fiction is more organized than (BEG ITAL)any(END ITAL) serial killer in real life." Another way to put it: Fictional killers are unrealistically legible to outside viewers. In real life, after investigating for a year and a half, Las Vegas police still have no idea why Stephen Paddock committed the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

James' dictum applies equally well to other sorts of crimes, particularly when the details seem to serve a larger political narrative.

Hollywood strips away ambiguity and clarifies murky motives, and endows criminals with more planning ability than they usually possess. It heightens dramatic contrasts between villain and victim, and festoons the crime with eye-catching symbolic detail. Real criminals, by contrast, rarely have a simple discernible motive or a narrative arc. Nor can they generally work their crimes up for maximum dramatic effect, because, unlike actors playing criminals on a closed movie set, the real ones need to worry about getting caught.

A look at the most extreme form of hate crimes -- domestic right-wing terrorist attacks -- reveals the distance between reality and what movies lead us to expect. There are relatively few of what we might call Hollywood Crimes, such as Timothy McVeigh's bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 or Dylann Roof's 2015 massacre in an African-American church at Charleston, S.C. Often, the information about the incidents and attackers is so convoluted that it's not even entirely clear they (BEG ITAL)were(END ITAL) primarily motivated by politics.

Or what politics motivate them. Remember the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016? It was initially assumed to be an episode of right-wing homophobic violence. Then the shooter turned out to be an Islamic State follower who may not even have realized he had targeted a gay nightclub until he got there. Real crime, like real life, is complicated and confusing.

And so our spidey sense should tingle when alleged crimes seem ready for prime time. The perpetrators of racial and sexual violence aren't writing a manifesto; they're committing assault. Those assaults will rarely be structured to deliver a simple, on-point story: The assault on a lone victim by stereotypically powerful perpetrators; the attackers who helpfully reveal their one-note motive and then shut up; the abundance of stunning detail; the unmistakable connection to a larger political narrative. Or the victim who, like an actor, sustains minimal physical injuries from an apparently gory episode.

These elements should have urged us to caution in the Smollett case right from the start. As they should have in famous recent cases we now know were hoaxes: the confabulated rape accusations against the Duke University men's lacrosse team in 2006 and a University of Virginia fraternity in 2014, or the rash of slightly-too-on-the-nose hate crime reports following Donald Trump's election.

Paradoxically, though, bogus attacks may feel more authentic than actual ones because, luckily, most of us know these extreme forms of violence only from what we've seen on-screen. We amplify stories that tickle our narrative neurons, overlooking more complicated real attacks where the significance must be (BEG ITAL)explained(END ITAL).

This does a grave disservice to real victims. If we focus on the stories that give us the narratives we're looking for, we're going to end up with a disproportionate amount of fiction. And when those widely publicized stories come unglued, we'll inadvertently feed another false narrative: that racial and sexual violence are fake news, instead of all-too-real problems.

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

A very British lesson for the American left

By e.j. dionne jr.
A very British lesson for the American left

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

(Advance for Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Wednesday, Feb, 20, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Dionne clients only)

By E.J. DIONNE JR.

Does the bolt of eight members of Parliament from the British Labour Party out of frustration with its left-wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn, have anything to teach Democrats in the United States?

There's a case for saying no, since Corbyn is well to the left of anyone bidding to lead the Democratic Party. That would include Sen. Bernie Sanders, the democratic socialist who announced Tuesday that he's again seeking the presidency. The independent from Vermont is a lefty for sure, but his worldview is rooted in less radical forms of socialism than Corbyn's, and his foreign policy views are somewhat more conventional than the Labour leader's.

Competing with Sanders for support from the democratic left is Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. She proudly insists that she's a capitalist, a boast that would make Corbyn shudder.

Moreover, a core beef of the center-left British rebels has to do with Corbyn's handling of Brexit, an issue that -- mercifully -- the United States does not have to deal with.

Most Labour Party moderates, and the vast majority of its members, want their leadership to push hard for a second referendum to reverse the country's narrow 2016 decision to leave the European Union. But Corbyn is well-known to be, at best, ambivalent about membership in the EU (he opposed it in the past as a capitalist club) and has, up to now, not made a second referendum central to his strategy.

Corbyn's critics like to say he's had a "bad Brexit," by which they mean that he has failed to take advantage of Prime Minister Theresa May's chaotic performance. Her complex approach to leaving the EU has suffered one parliamentary defeat after another and split her Conservative Party.

Indeed, the revolt of the pro-Europe center broadened on Wednesday when three Conservative MPs quit their own party to join the new Independent Group.

Yet Corbyn-led Labour has not opened anything like the large advantage in the polls that an opposition ought to have in these circumstances.

A particular flashpoint is Corbyn's lack of real energy or clarity in confronting an outbreak of left-wing anti-Semitism. This was the prime motivation behind MP Luciana Berger's decision to leave the party. Berger, who is Jewish, has been treated barbarously by some on the "Brocialist" left.

"I cannot remain in a party that I have come to the sickening conclusion is institutionally anti-Semitic," Berger said. On Tuesday, an eighth Labour parliamentarian, Joan Ryan, joined the flight, citing a "culture of anti-Jewish racism" in the party she's belonged to for four decades.

So why should Democrats in the United States care about any of this?

Begin with the fact that Labour and the Democrats have historically had a lot in common as reformist center-left parties. President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were close allies in creating a middle-of-the-road politics that sought to accommodate the left to the market rhythms of the Reagan and Thatcher Eras. Blair's "New Labour" in the mid-1990s echoed Clinton's "New Democrats" from a few years earlier.

But the "neo-liberalism" the left associates with Clinton and Blair came under fierce progressive assault after the 2008 economic implosion for being too financier-friendly, insufficiently attentive to rising inequality, and too confident in the benefits of free trade and deregulation. The backlash in Britain was particularly vigorous in response to Blair's strong support for President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq.

Again, whatever Republicans may claim, Democrats are a long way from embracing Corbynism. But the bitterness of the growing divide between the left and center-left in Britain is a warning of how debilitating intra-progressive strife could become in Congress and in the 2020 primaries.

Given that the defeat of Donald Trump is the absolutely necessary first step toward a more humane politics, more moderate and more adventurous Democrats can ill afford to concentrate their fire on each other. The stakes are too high for self-indulgent sectarianism.

And differences in approach over how to guarantee everyone health coverage or how to fight climate change are less important than agreeing that both problems are urgent and need solving. Remembering that your opponents would prefer to do nothing at all on these issues is a good way to put such disagreements into perspective.

It's an irony of recent Labour Party history that both Blair and Corbyn invoked a commitment to stand up for "the many, not the few" as the battle cry of their very different campaigns. Nothing makes the privileged few happier than a left that becomes too maximalist to win, and then tears itself apart.

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

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Will the Dreamers ever catch a break?

By robert j. samuelson
Will the Dreamers ever catch a break?

ROBERT J. SAMUELSON COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Samuelson clients only)

WRITETHRU: 8th graf, 1st sentence: "in January" sted "in early January"

By ROBERT J. SAMUELSON

WASHINGTON -- The "Dreamers" lost again.

As you will recall, the Dreamers are illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as young children. Most have grown up as Americans; sending them back to a country where they barely lived seems a particularly heartless punishment -- and self-defeating for the United States if they're responsible and productive adults.

Happily, this is one problem for which there's an obvious political solution. The broad outlines of a compromise are no secret: The Dreamers get legal protection to stay in the United States; in exchange, President Trump and his allies get a significant down payment on his "wall" along the southern border.

Details can be negotiated. Who exactly qualifies as a "Dreamer"? Estimates vary from 800,000 to 1.8 million. Do they get a path to citizenship, a green card allowing permanent residency, or something in between? How much money does Trump receive for his wall? Are other restrictions imposed? Each side gets something; each side accepts something it dislikes.

After all, that's what compromise is about. The fact that this eludes Congress and the White House is a triumph of partisanship over policy. No one wants to be seen surrendering to the other side, even if compromise makes -- on balance -- everyone better off. The latest example of this corrosive calculus is the recent legislation preventing another government shutdown.

It presented an ideal opportunity to forge an agreement. No dice. Conventional wisdom mainly blames the Trump White House. Democrats argued that Trump couldn't be trusted to uphold his part of a bargain. There is some truth here; Trump has constantly vacillated on his views of the Dreamers.

But this is only a partial truth. Democrats were eager to portray the wall as a colossal waste of money and the president as its mindless defender. Democrats' underlying aim was not simply to defeat Trump but to do so in a way that was complete and humiliating.

As soon as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared in January that there would not be one dollar for the wall, any chance of a workable compromise disappeared. Compromise is impossible when one side eliminates the grounds for compromise. The Dreamers were simply hapless victims in this raw display of partisan power. All that remained was for Republican congressional leaders to negotiate their terms of surrender. Otherwise, the president and Republicans would be blamed again for shutting down the government.

The media played an important -- and largely unrecognized -- role in ignoring the Dreamers. With some exceptions, reporters and editors bought the story line as portrayed by Democrats that the wall was mostly a political symbol that wasn't to be taken seriously. Coverage overlooked the plight of the Dreamers.

The media, in effect, lined up behind Democrats. Their priority was embarrassing Trump, not reaching a pragmatic compromise. The question remains: When, if ever, will the Dreamers catch a break?

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

Beto puts on a show at the border

By ruben navarrette jr.
Beto puts on a show at the border

RUBEN NAVARRETTE COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Navarrette clients only)

By RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.

SAN DIEGO -- Welcome to The Beto Show!

Running for president ain't no spelling bee. The top job doesn't always go to the smartest person on the ballot. If it did, Adlai Stevenson, Jerry Brown, Al Gore, Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton would have all ended up in the White House. They didn't. Because they couldn't perform.

You see, running for president is performance art. And the goal is to capture the public's imagination.

Bill Clinton played the saxophone on "The Arsenio Hall Show." George W. Bush would work a crowd by speaking Spanish and grabbing people's cellphones to chat up whomever was on the other end of the line. Barack Obama practically changed his official address to Iowa and became a fixture at every picnic, festival, and barbecue in the state.

A former reality star, President Trump puts on shows nonstop. "What Trump promises" vs. "what Trump delivers" takes a back seat to "how Trump performs." It's the show that the audience comes to see.

This is how things work -- especially now when so many things compete for our attention. Republican or Democrat, it makes no difference. If you want my vote, put on a show.

Robert Francis O'Rourke -- a cultural enigma who goes by "Beto" while trying to woo Latino voters back home in West Texas but went by "Robert" at prep school and an Ivy League university -- understands this reality.

When Trump visited El Paso recently to push the idea that there is a national emergency on the border, the commander in chief set out to convince people that one of the safest cities in America was actually one of the most dangerous until a border barrier was built.

None of that is true. But since his days selling real estate in Manhattan, Trump has never let the truth interfere with a good pitch. The P.T. Barnum of Fifth Avenue used to attempt to convince people that Trump Tower had ten more floors than it really did.

Trump doesn't just sell the steak, or the sizzle. He can get by with just selling you the mere thought of a steak. That's a gift, folks.

O'Rourke knows this gift. At the same time as Trump's border rally, the Enigma put on his own show with a counter-protest. Sensing that the anti-Trump media would devour an alternate narrative, O'Rourke gave them one.

"Walls do not save lives," he told supporters. "Walls end lives."

Hmm. Really? How? The soundbite did not come with an explanation.

Still, The Beto Show worked. Just like The Trump Show did. Though Trump probably won on the basis of crowd size, O'Rourke -- who says he'll soon announce whether he's running for president in 2020 -- got an ego boost when the president called attention to the counterprotest in his remarks.

I'm a little surprised that O'Rourke figured out this game. Watch him speak, and you'll see that this guy is never going to make the honor roll.

In January, when the former congressman was asked about immigration by The Washington Post, he treated the topic as if it were advanced calculus. Asked what we should do about visa overstays, O'Rourke said: "I don't know."

Right. Because growing up in El Paso, and representing it for six years in Congress, when would a guy have a chance to think about immigration?

O'Rourke meandered his way through an answer before declaring that the issue is "something that we should be debating." This is his standard line with the thorniest subjects: Let Americans argue and figure it out, and they'll eventually do the right thing.

Imagine if John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson did that same thing with civil rights.

The Enigma actually seems to consider this outsourcing of leadership to be an enlightened approach instead of what it is: a cowardly one.

When asked by the Post why he doesn't have firm stances, O'Rourke said: "The genius is we can nonviolently resolve our differences, though I won't get to my version of perfect or I, working with you, will get to something better than what we have today."

Funny. If there's one word I don't associate with O'Rourke, it's genius.

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

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

Our political identity needs to be American first

By kathleen parker
Our political identity needs to be American first

KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Parker clients only)

WRITETHRU: Changes throughout 4th and 8th grafs, deleting 9th graf: "Oh, but lost forever is the sublime notion of being blissfully ignorant about the intimacies of others. 'Please, don't share' would be my hashtag of choice."

By KATHLEEN PARKER

WASHINGTON -- There's identity -- and then there's identity politics. The difference between them may well be the crux of our next presidential election.

Identity is, obviously, who we are -- the sum of our sex, race, religion (or lack thereof), experiences and heritage. Identity is essential to our sense of self, our relationship to others and our place in society. Inherent in identity is the nearly universal need for respect, dignity, value and, if it's not too much trouble, admiration.

When those "desirables" are imperiled, we turn to identity politics, drawing attention to plights, problems and issues unique to an ignored, marginalized, oppressed, disenfranchised or otherwise non-integrated segment of society.

We've all been participants in identity politics, at one time or another and to varying extents. The Irish (my hand is raised) in many instances came to this country as indentured servants. Our history isn't quite so noble as we might wish, but we are ever-changing and evolving.

Witness the all-LGBTQ city council of Palm Springs, California.

Though the council is a triumph of gender identity -- featuring one bisexual woman, one transgender woman and three gay men -- its members reportedly are not exactly singing in harmony. And, after a Latino civil rights group threatened a lawsuit last year, the council has changed the city's electoral system to ensure greater diversity of other orders. The civil rights group was unhappy with the all-whiteness of the council.

You can see their point, which is not the same as saying the council members aren't capable of making good decisions independent of their sexuality or race. But so goes identity politics: Everybody wants a seat at the table, and then somebody doesn't like the table.

By some measures, Palm Springs represents the zenith of identity politics. (BEG ITAL)Hey, hey, we've transcended sexual identification as a barrier to full societal participation!(END ITAL). "Coming out" was crucial to the gay movement and, perhaps, it still is. Far more noteworthy, however, would be (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) knowing such personal details, suggesting a truer transcendence, as well as respect for privacy -- and, not least, one's right not to know.

We know too well the proclivities of one Donald Trump, who surely represents the nadir of identity politics. His 2016 victory was sealed by his early recognition of identity-anxiety on the right and the perception that whites were losing their place in the hierarchy of American society. Trump came, saw and conquered against all odds because he understood what Southern politicians have always understood -- the collective id. His evil genius was in plumbing the depths of that id and liberating the latent bias there through his bigot-baiting jibes at Mexicans, Muslims and others.

To those involved in recent identity movements, such posturing by whites may seem ludicrous. The beneficiaries of white privilege, after all, don't get to whine about injustice. Yet, as Caucasians see their numbers dwindling amid projections of their near-future minority status, they might well feel diminished or threatened. How one deals with those feelings is a function of many factors, but a great leader inspires the angels of our better selves rather than the demons of our basest instincts.

Obviously, Trump chose the latter path.

Today, we have sunk to a level of tribalism that would seem to predate the modern era. Will we soon divide ourselves into fiefdoms led by warlords? Virtually speaking, we already have. By seeking like-ideological company around internet news sites and political watering holes, we sate our need for identity affirmation, rarely questioning whether there might be another way.

And so, we look toward 2020, where the line of Democratic candidates is already long. One thing seems obvious: The next president of the United States will need to start a movement, not merely run a campaign. He or she will have to make a stand against our divisions and those who profit by them. And we citizens need to use our votes to conquer the dividers. It's time to set aside our differences and reimagine our American identity -- as one nation, indivisible. This is the way we earn those earlier mentioned desirables -- our worth, our national sense of self, our dignity, self-respect and that of others. And, yes, too, perhaps even the admiration of a world that prays we return to our senses.

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

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump shouldn't be forcing Republicans to choose fidelity to him or to the Constitution

By marc a. thiessen
Trump shouldn't be forcing Republicans to choose fidelity to him or to the Constitution

MARC A. THIESSEN COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Thiessen clients only)

By MARC A. THIESSEN

WASHINGTON -- If the goal is to build a border wall, then President Trump has made the wrong decision at every turn. In early 2018, Trump had the opportunity to secure $25 billion in funding for his border wall in exchange for legal status for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients. Instead of taking the deal, he blew up the negotiations with his "s---hole" countries remark and by demanding changes to legal immigration policy.

Then in June, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $1.6 billion for 65 miles of fencing by an overwhelming bipartisan 26-5 margin. This could easily have passed the House and Senate. Instead, Trump later shut down the government over wall funding and demanded $5.7 billion. Result? After a disastrous 35-day shutdown, he got less - $1.38 billion - than he would have if he had just gone along with the bipartisan deal six months earlier.

Now, the smart move for Trump would have been to pocket that $1.38 billion and bolster it with another $3.1 billion he could arguably use without a declaration of a national emergency - by reprogramming $600 million from the Treasury Department's drug forfeiture fund and $2.5 billion from the Defense Department's drug interdiction program. That would have given him $4.48 billion in wall funding - nearly the full amount he was demanding from Congress. Then, in December, he could demand more money with leverage over Democrats when an automatic sequester kicks in, forcing $55 billion in across-the-board cuts to domestic discretionary spending unless Trump agrees to raise spending caps.

Instead, Trump has made the wrong move once again - declaring a national emergency, despite warnings from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Republicans that it could provoke a backlash from within his own party.

His order will face an immediate court challenge, which means he won't be able to spend the emergency funds anytime soon, if at all. And if he prevails in court, it will be a disaster for the cause of limited government. If Trump can declare a national emergency to build a border wall Congress refused to fund, then the power of the president to override Congress's power of the purse will be virtually unlimited. As Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., pointed out, a future liberal president could declare climate change a national emergency and "force the Green New Deal on the American people." Or, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., suggested, a Democratic president could one day declare the "epidemic of gun violence in America" a national emergency thanks to Trump's action.

Just as the Democrats' decision to eliminate the filibuster on lifetime judicial appointments below the Supreme Court backfired -- setting precedent for a Republican rules change to put two justices on the Supreme Court and secure its conservative majority for a generation -- Republicans will rue the day if they go along with Trump's executive power grab. More than a dozen Senate Republicans have spoken out against his emergency declaration -- including Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson, Pat Toomey, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Lamar Alexander, Ben Sasse, Thom Tillis, John Cornyn, Mike Rounds, Charles Grassley and Roy Blunt. If their votes comport with their words, that is more than enough to pass a resolution of disapproval.

In fact, every Republican in Congress should vote for such a resolution. Stopping executive overreach and restoring Congress's Article I powers was a key plank in Republicans' 2016 Better Way agenda. "Our President has been acting more like a monarch than an elected official," House Republicans declared. "That stops now."

Trump would no doubt veto a resolution. But the fact that a bipartisan majority of both houses voted to overturn Trump's declaration would bolster the legal case against his action. As Justice Robert Jackson wrote in a concurring opinion for Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, presidential powers "are not fixed but fluctuate, depending upon their disjunction or conjunction with those of Congress." When a president acts with congressional support, his power is "at its maximum." When Congress has not spoken, "there is a zone of twilight." But "when the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb," Jackson declared. A disapproval resolution would make clear that not only is Trump ignoring the will of Congress, but also Congress has further expressly disapproved of his actions.

Trump's defenders will argue that Republicans should not deliver such a rebuke to their president. In fact, the opposite is true: It is Trump who should not be forcing Republicans to choose between fidelity to their president and fidelity to the Constitution. And if forced to choose, they must choose the Constitution.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

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