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In Official Washington, Chasten Buttigieg is a stranger in a (very) strange land

By Ellen McCarthy
In Official Washington, Chasten Buttigieg is a stranger in a (very) strange land
Chasten Buttigieg talks to Laurie Gillman, co-owner of Washington's East City Bookshop, before signing copies of his book,

Chasten Buttigieg put on a few pounds during quarantine. So in April, with pandemic restrictions easing and two doses of vaccine safely in his arm, he set about looking for a gym to join in the city where he had relocated after his husband, Pete, became the secretary of transportation.

He found one on Capitol Hill that seemed nice enough, he says, until one of the gym's personal trainers approached him and explained that he also worked as a lobbyist and that his boss would be upset if he didn't take the opportunity to ask Chasten to pass along some information to the secretary.

"It was like, 'Well, can't go here. Can't go to the lobbyist gym,' " Chasten recalls during a recent interview, rolling his eyes beneath his signature owl-framed glasses.

He'd been warned. Before the Buttigieges moved to Washington, a friend gave them a critical piece of advice about life in the Capitol: "Work is play and play is work."

Six months in, the former first man of South Bend, Ind., can't believe how true it is. "Like, anytime you think you're just relaxing, you're working," he says. "Especially on the Hill. Cocktails, dinners, drinks. Everyone says, 'No work tonight.' Then two minutes go by and they're talking about a pipeline, you know, or a bill or a package."

The secretary's husband isn't particularly interested in talking pipelines and packages all night. He wants to dish about the HBO comedy "Hacks." Alas, he seldom sees an opening.

Such is life in Washington for Chasten, who finds himself in the deep end of an education in what it means to be the husband of a powerful political figure in a town of grippers, grinners and wonks.

Chasten, 32, was the breakout star of Pete's 2020 presidential campaign. The middle-school drama teacher was a novelty. Not just because he was the man married to an openly gay presidential candidate, but because he was young, a savvy and self-effacing user of social media, enthusiastic about pop culture in a way that didn't feel strained or strategic.

In Washington, Chasten is more of a fish out of water than he was on the campaign. He remains bewildered by many of Washington's social mores.

Example: The Buttigieges recently received a dinner invitation that came with two notes on what to expect: "Super casual. No work." The host even mentioned that there would be bike parking, presumably because Pete Buttigieg often cycles to work.

Chasten wavered, having rarely seen his definition of "casual" on display at social events in D.C., but he eventually pulled on chinos and a polo shirt. "I was like, 'I swear to God, if we show up and everyone's in suits and dresses. . . ," he says. "And we showed up and everyone was in suits and dresses."

On a Friday morning in June, Chasten sits at a window-side table at Canopy at the Wharf, entertaining his visiting mother-in-law over breakfast until Pete could get out of work. It's the start of D.C.'s highly celebratory Pride weekend, but he is not enmeshed enough with the city's nongovernment circles to take part. ("Oh, is there a parade this weekend?" he replies when asked about his Pride plans.)

"It's very hard to make a friend when everybody wants something from your husband," he says. "Or they're expecting him to do something. It makes interactions feel inauthentic a lot. You just kind of have to always have your guard up."

It's a familiar kind of whiplash for newcomers, especially those trailing a spouse rather than chasing a dream.

"It has definitely been an adjustment for him," says Eddie Neve, a friend since college at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. "When I moved to New York, I always told him that in New York everyone is trying to go somewhere and achieve something. And I feel like D.C. is the same way. But he's such a communal person. When people come up to him, there may be something there beyond that they just want to grab coffee. He's kind of had to change his thinking a little bit and anticipate that."

While Pete seems to know exactly what he's doing here, Chasten is less certain. He remains somewhat stranded on an elevated, ill-defined pedestal on the dais of Official Washington. He is paid nothing, has no title and feels alternately in-demand and ineffectual.

But he has held tight to a personal refrain: "What you're doing is important."

Even when what you're doing isn't exactly clear.

---

"We're going to take those out the maximum," Chasten says, pulling at the thigh area of a new pair of suit pants two weeks later as he turns to examine himself in a three-way mirror at a Nordstrom in Arlington.

He bought the grayish-green suit on winter clearance, but never bothered to have it tailored. Now the tailor has bad news. The slim-cut pants can't be made much wider.

"Well, hopefully I get smaller," Chasten quips. "I'll do my best not to sit down."

He never owned a suit until he started dating Pete. Never needed one. Then Pete ran for president, so Chasten spent a year living in them.

Love is the reason Chasten Buttigieg is willing to do all of this - move to a new city, leave his friends and family, give up his own career and privacy.

Pete Buttigieg, who declined to be interviewed for this story, seems a natural fit with Official Washington's coterie of overachievers who never take a break. His gig in the Biden Cabinet seems to be going great; on Friday, Politico gushed that Pete had "redefined" transportation secretary as a premier posting, declaring him the winner of the recent infrastructure-bill drama on Capitol Hill.

The 39-year-old Harvard grad, former McKinsey consultant and Navy reservist has so much excess ambition that, in addition running the U.S. Department of Transportation, he is also training to compete in a Half Ironman triathlon this fall. He wakes for a 6 a.m. swim session most weekday mornings and stacks his weekends with long runs, bike rides and workshops on open-water swimming.

One day, Chasten was riding a bike alongside Pete on a 10-mile run, for moral support. Afterward, while Pete paced in circles catching his breath, a young man approached the couple with a smartphone and questioned the secretary about his position on China. Pete handled the ambush with impressive equanimity, according to his husband, warding off the man with a book recommendation.

Chasten is a drama kid at heart, but Washington is a different kind of theater. The show never stops, and you don't always know when you're onstage - and on whose terms. "When your life becomes the center for other people's criticisms and commentary all the time, why stay?" he says.

"It's why I love him very much," he continues, talking about Pete. "He's so committed to the job. And you can tell he's happy and can tell he cares, but sometimes it's like, 'Well, it feels like you're built for this; it feels like you can handle it.' Sometimes I'm like, 'I'm done. I'm taking a break. I can't be everything for everybody all the time.' "

After the Nordstrom stop, Chasten faced the good and bad of his new reality while trying to return some new purchases at Banana Republic: One star-struck salesperson wanted a photo with him, and another wouldn't credit his account without a receipt. Fearing the idea of people gossiping that Pete Buttigieg's husband is a difficult customer, he chose not to press his case. Another time, while walking the dogs, his stomach dropped when he caught a glimpse of his reflection at a coffee shop. "My hair was sticking straight up on the side," he says. "I was like, 'Oh my God. I'm going to be in Playbook for looking like an idiot.' " (Chasten has been name-checked several times in Playbook - the Politico newsletter where the city's political class stares at its own reflection - but never for "looking like an idiot.")

He's found a few places in the city where he feels at least somewhat comfortable. He loves ducking out to Eastern Market for the quiches, bacon and croissants - the Buttigieges' favorite weekend brunch. Kramers, in Dupont Circle, has become a haven. And while friends often invite them to fancy restaurants, the couple's favorite spot so far is Mr. Henry's, the longtime Capitol Hill saloon, where they can order beers and burgers.

"I see the charm in it," Chasten says of D.C. "I know there are people who are very in love with the city."

It's a short stroll from charmed to sticker-shocked, and one of the couple's favorite Washington pastimes is playing Zillow Price Is Right, where they try to guess the out-of-reach appraisal values of homes they admire and then look up the actual estimate online.

The Buttigieges themselves moved into an 800-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment near Eastern Market. "We couldn't afford the one-bedroom-plus-den," Chasten says. They chose the high-end building because of its location and the security it offered - the couple has faced threats and even a break-in back in South Bend. Rent for currently available two-bedrooms start at $5,650, though Chasten says they got their one-bedroom for closer to $3,000 by locking in a long lease that gave them two months rent-free.

"We're doing fine for ourselves, and [yet] the city is almost unaffordable," he adds, while driving their Subaru Outback up I-395. "Which tells you how extremely unaffordable it is for many people." (The transportation secretary's salary is $221,400.)

The couple sold their home in South Bend earlier this year, knowing they couldn't keep up the old Victorian from afar. But they didn't leave the Midwest behind entirely, purchasing a home on Lake Michigan, in Traverse City, Mich., where Chasten grew up and where his parents still live. He likes to escape there, when he can, to hang drywall with his dad and surround himself with old friends - "people who remind me of, like, me."

"His ambition is just living his life - in a very wonderful way. I don't know many people like that," says Charlotte Clymer, a writer and activist who became friends with Chasten during the presidential campaign. "He's just himself. He doesn't try to mold himself into what he thinks people want. It's not even that he resists it. But he says the best person he can be is himself."

---

"I need a job," Chasten says flatly.

Namely, he wants a job that will pose no risk to his husband's career while also allowing him to remain true to his passions and personality. Stepping away from teaching middle-school drama has been one of his biggest sacrifices, says Neve, Chasten's friend since college. "He loves to play; he loves theater and improv," Neve says. "Bringing that to younger kids was an outlet for him."

He feels he can't go back - at least now, and not at the K-12 level. How could he be honest and present in the work of teaching young people, he wonders, knowing that a disgruntled parent could make news by airing their grievances?

"Teaching is a hard job, and it requires you to make difficult decisions. You need a lot of individuality in the role." he says. "You need a lot of trust. Trust from parents, trust from the students. And when you are high-profile person, there are many vulnerabilities." He's considered taking a page from Jill Biden and trying to get a job teaching college, which might be less fraught.

In between Pete's presidential campaign and his Cabinet appointment, Chasten did find work that allowed him to be vulnerable on his own terms. In the attic of their house in South Bend, he wrote a memoir that would be titled, "I Have Something to Tell You," which he's now adapting for adolescent readers.

"When reporters would ask me questions like 'Did you ever imagine this is where you'd end up?' and 'What prepared you for this?' part of me felt like they were saying, 'People like you don't really belong here,' " he writes in the book.

And then, several paragraphs later: "I believed so strongly in my husband and our marriage that I got to the point where I was forced to start believing in myself, too."

The Buttigieges are also preparing to begin work on an important job, together: raising a child.

They've been trying to adopt for a year now, going through home studies and parenting workshops, writing up descriptions of their family values and ideal weekends. They are on lists that would allow them to receive a baby who has been abandoned or surrendered at very little notice, and through lengthier processes that would allow a prospective mother to choose them in advance (although she wouldn't know their identities). They've gotten close enough, on multiple occasions, to shop for baby gear and discuss names.

One afternoon, two weeks ago, Chasten got a call about a birth mother who was in labor and wanted to place her baby for adoption. The couple scrambled to figure out how to clear their schedules, track down an infant car seat and travel to the state where she was delivering the baby. A few hours later, he got another call. The mother had changed her mind.

"It's a really weird cycle of anger and frustration and hope," says Chasten. "You think it's finally happening and you get so excited, and then it's gone." He thinks, sometimes, about what they will tell their future child: "We tried so hard for you. We waited so long for you." He fantasizes about taking a little one to Michigan, where they could romp through the woods and cast fishing lines with Grandpa.

After the mall, Chasten is thinking about Pete. It's their third wedding anniversary. During a quick Target stop, he spots a hot pink gift bag with a close-up of a dog that resembles Buddy, their one-eyed puggle. It reads, "You're Pug-tastic."

"OMG," Chasten says. "That's it. That's the one." He slips it into a wobbly-wheeled cart, confident it will make Pete smile. "This is great."

Pete has something planned for the night, although he's keeping the details a surprise. The secretary did give Chasten one hint: "Don't wear anything too dressy."

So he won't. Chasten Buttigieg knows there's one Washington insider who won't lead him astray.

Months later, officers bear trauma of Jan. 6

By Peter Hermann
Months later, officers bear trauma of Jan. 6
Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, a Capitol Police officer, is suffering from physical and psychological injuries stemming from the Jan. 6 insurrection. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Sarah L. Voisin.

WASHINGTON - More than six months after Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell battled the mob that stormed the Capitol, he remains hobbled, a hand scarred, a shoulder aching, recovering from surgery to an injured foot that swelled so large it no longer fit his shoe.

The 42-year-oldCapitol Police officer and Army reservist is also seeing a therapist to help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), first diagnosed after he served in the war in Iraq.

He said bouts of anxiety returned after his battle on American soil in the Jan. 6 riot.

"I can be fine now and see or hear something and next thing I get tears and get emotional," said Gonell, who was hurt when rioters tried to yank away his ballistic shield, threw a speaker at him, struck him in the face with a pole and sprayed him with chemical irritants.

"I tried to be strong," he said of the months following the riot. "I tried not to show my emotion." But once, he said, he retreated to a quiet space at his home in Virginia, away from his wife and 9-year-old son: "I completely broke down."

In the aftermath of the riot, authorities said about 140 Capitol and D.C. police officers were hurt when supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in a failed effort to overturn Joe Biden's election victory. Police were bludgeoned with poles and bats, pushed and trampled, and sprayed with chemical irritants.

A Capitol officer, Brian D. Sicknick, collapsed after confronting rioters and died a day later of a stroke. Two other officers in the riot, one Capitol, one D.C., later died by suicide. One Capitol officer surrendered her weapon, fearing she might use it on herself, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., said.

But the full toll on police is still coming into view as officers continue to grapple with the impact of hours of hand-to-hand fighting. They have emerged with a complex jumble of physical and emotional trauma that has made diagnoses and treatment challenging, a problem some officers said is made more difficult by efforts of Republican lawmakers to downplay the riot.

Some officers who were assaulted Jan. 6 experienced different or worsening symptoms in the weeks and months that followed, indicating they may have suffered injuries more severe than had initially been believed, in particular undiagnosed head trauma, according to a therapist who has seen hundreds of D.C. officers. She thinks others who emerged exhausted and sore may not have reported injuries, or even recognized they needed medical care.

The Washington Post interviewed six D.C. or Capitol police officers who suffered physical injuries or emotional problems, and in some cases both.

Three who agreed to be named - Gonell, Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn and D.C. officer Michael Fanone - have already shared public accounts and are among those set to testify Tuesday before a congressional committee studying the riot. They have pushed for public accountability and openly criticized Republicans who blocked forming an independent commission in May.

- - -

In interviews with The Post, the officers said they were speaking on their own behalf, not representing their agencies. Three others asked to remain anonymous, saying they did not have permission from their departments or were concerned about jeopardizing criminal cases of accused rioters.

One Capitol officer who was knocked unconscious and could "barely walk, barely talk" said she was initially told she would be out of work for a week. She was later diagnosed with a concussion and has not yet returned to the job.

A D.C. officer who was hit on the back of the head with a pole and had his head wrenched back when rioters tried to tear off his helmet also has been out with a concussion, and sees a neurologist and two therapists. He said his mind shifts between "anger, confusion, despair," and between wanting to return to the job and wanting to quit.

D.C. police said six officers who responded to the Capitol were still on leave as of mid-July. Capitol Police declined to provide a number, though the labor union said some "were hurt so badly they may never return to duty."

Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, who is Black, wasn't physically hurt by the mob, but he was scarred by racist invectives hurled at him as he defended the building where he has worked for 13 years.

"I was directly called the n-word," said Dunn. "At the time, my mind didn't process it, that I was being attacked because of my race."

Speaking out against the mob has made him a continued target for some, including Fox host Tucker Carlson, who recently called Dunn an "angry left-wing political activist." Dunn's lawyer fought back on Twitter, saying Dunn would give his life to protect lawmakers of either party.

After Jan. 6, Dunn - who once relished his interactions with tourists and boasted he once "lit up a room" when he walked into one - became more reserved, "like a whole different person." He said he's talked two struggling colleagues into seeking therapy.

He used to enjoy lunch in the Capitol cafeteria, where he could strike up conversations. But now, he mostly retreats to his vehicle to eat alone.

- - -

Neck surgery and physical therapy largely eased the pain of one D.C. officer who was injured during the riot, but he still wasn't himself. As the spring wore on, he complained he felt as though he were in a fog.

"Something wasn't adding up to me," said Beverly Anderson, a therapist who treated him and has spent decades helping D.C. police officers involved in shootings or other violent incidents.

During an April session, Anderson said, she instructed the officer to "take your hand and show me where the first impact was."

The officer pointed to the top of his head.

It was only then that Anderson suspected his neck had twisted from the force of a blow to the head. She believed he had suffered a concussion, a diagnosis she said doctors later confirmed. By that time, it had gone untreated for more than three months.

Cases such as that officer's have turned Anderson, clinical director of the Washington D.C. police employee assistance program, into a detective of sorts. The symptoms of PTSD and head trauma can be similar, she said, and she has been working to make sure officers who fought the Capitol mob get the treatment they need.

In the days after the riot, Anderson led group therapy sessions for the 850 D.C. officers who responded to the Capitol, meeting every day for a week. Since then, she has met with officers individually at a rowhouse on Capitol Hill.

She said many D.C. officers were already under strain from working the streets during weeks of summer demonstrations, which included rallies against police brutality and then later protests by far-right Trump supporters who came to the District, sometimes clashing with counterprotesters.

Then came the intense fighting of Jan. 6.

In sessions since then, officers told her they were anxious, forgetful or had moments of confusion, she said. Some had trouble sleeping, were sensitive to light or had debilitating headaches. Some complained of trouble formulating thoughts.

As she helps officers cope with psychological impacts, she quizzes her patients and their spouses or police partners, looking for clues that indicate they may also have undiagnosed physical injuries. She even watches their body-camera videos.

She said police officers are often reluctant to disclose discomfort, preferring to tough it out. Others don't remember what happened to them.

"I know there are officers who did not report their injuries," Anderson said.

Anderson, who does not report to police leaders and whose position is negotiated by the labor union, is working with the department to develop a concussion protocol, similar to that used by the NFL, that would require officers with symptoms to be pulled from the front lines. She is already training supervisors to recognize the signs.

D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III, who said he wants to be a leader in helping officers deal with physical and psychological issues, has created a new office and director of employee well-being support to help officers recovering from the riot as well as any future incidents.

"Some are still suffering or have not fully recovered from visible injuries that they have," Contee said of officers who responded to the riot. "Those are the injuries that we see. But what about the internal injuries that we don't see?"

The chief added, "Are they extra agitated because they are still dealing with the trauma associated with Jan. 6? Whether it's in one person or one hundred, it definitely exists."

The Capitol Police said the department offers peer counseling and brought in therapy dogs, efforts that officials say are intended to make officers more comfortable seeking help.

"We want them to come to us in a safe way," said Richard Braddock, the chief administrative officer for the Capitol Police. "You can tell us you're having a bad day."

- - -

Michael Fanone startles easily these days, jumping once when his mom said hi. He has trouble engaging in small talk. He gets anxious when he tries to process a lot of information.

"Every now and then I struggle searching for a certain word," he said.

Fanone's story is familiar to many who have seen the 40-year-old officer on television or in newspapers, recounting what it was like for officers who fought to hold back rioters. On Jan. 6, he was dragged into a hostile crowd, beaten and repeatedly shocked on the back of the neck until he was unconscious. Doctors told him his heart stopped beating for a moment.

Fanone, who joined the D.C. force after 9/11, has become a de facto spokesman for officers who fought on Jan. 6 and says many have confided in him their own struggles. Speaking about the insurrection helps him cope and has thrust him into the national spotlight.

He has walked the halls of the Capitol, cajoling lawmakers for their support, whether it be for medals of honor or a commission to explore the origins of the riot.

Fanone said he went from being overwhelmed by the attention to feeling "completely isolated." His activism has given him a new purpose, but it comes at a price for a man who still finds it hard to hold a conversation with people with whom he is not familiar.

"This is much more exhausting than any criminal investigation I ever participated in," he said.

Fanone had been working as a crime-suppression detail when the urgent call went out for officers to help at the Capitol. He was hospitalized for treatment of his injuries and went home the next day, his neck and back hurting, unable to maintain his balance or think clearly. He was sensitive to sound and light. He had headaches so severe that they induced nausea. He was nervous in crowds and became overwhelmed by the stream of well-wishing text messages, able to respond only with a single emoji.

He said he was treated by a cardiologist and passed an agility test. But his cognitive issues continued, so his doctors held off clearing him to return to policing.

"I had a very difficult time concentrating," Fanone said. "I would drift off in mid-conversation with somebody, even over the most simple things."

Anderson, who has been counseling Fanone since January and discussed the case with his permission, said she expected to see more improvement in the weeks after the riot and was trying to figure out how to help him. Then his partner told her about the moment fellow officers pulled Fanone from the crowd.

"We thought he was dead," that officer had said.

Fanone had described falling in and out of consciousness, but his partner's recollection suggested Fanone didn't understand how serious his condition had been. Anderson asked a police commander to study Fanone's body camera; he'd been unconscious for four minutes.

Neurologists later diagnosed Fanone with a concussion and traumatic brain injury.

Fanone said his health is improving, though he remains on leave, spending time at home and with his four daughters.

He said he started speaking out because he felt officers deserved more acknowledgment. Now, he has thrust himself full-bore into argument with Republican lawmakers who refuse to admit what he experienced is real.

Fanone accompanied Sicknick's mother and partner to the Capitol in May to try to convince Republican senators to support an independent commission on the riot. He returned there in June, seeking out House Republicans who voted against giving officers the Congressional Gold Medal. A lawmaker who referred to insurrectionists as tourists refused to shake his hand after the officer buttonholed him in an elevator.

He went back again later that month, this time with other officers, to watch the House approve a committee to investigate the riot.

For Fanone and others, public acknowledgment that Jan. 6 was a violent insurrection is crucial to their recovery.

"My life clock stopped on Jan. 7," Fanone said. "Everybody else has moved on. . . . This was the most significant moment of my entire life and all of a sudden, nobody gives a s--- anymore. And now, on top of all that, we have people saying what we went through didn't happen."

- - -

Aquilino Gonell was 12 years old when he emigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic with his mother in 1992, following his father, a taxi driver who had come years earlier. He joined the Army in 1999, hoping to further his education, but decided to stay on. He spent a year in Iraq in the mid-2000s, based north of Baghdad.

"We were getting mortar rockets fired on us," Gonell recalled. "People were dying." He was in a commissary hit by a mortar that killed people days away from going home. He recalled soldiers carried into a field hospital with missing limbs and an Iraqi child whose face was badly injured.

Back home, he battled PTSD. Recovery came over time, and two years ago, he was doing so well that he stopped therapy.

Gonell wasn't involved in policing last summer's demonstrations. But from his vantage point at the Capitol, he saw the swarm of federal officers, National Guard members with military vehicles and low-flying Army helicopters brought to the city.

"I remember looking down for my rifle," Gonell said. "For a minute, I thought I was back in Iraq. . . . I felt this was not America."

Then came Jan. 6.

Gonell fought on the Capitol's West Terrace. He said he and his colleagues were called unpatriotic, scum, traitors and un-American. He didn't know he had been struck with a speaker until he saw himself on a video.

After the riot, Gonell powered through his injuries and insisted on working through the Jan. 20 inauguration, hiding his limp and shoulder pain and ignoring a doctor's advice to take it easy. He stopped only after Biden was sworn in, when his foot had become dangerously swollen and he could no longer stand.

He underwent surgery, and his recovery forced him to miss the memorial for Sicknick, whom he had sometimes supervised. He has since returned to work, though he is confined to limited desk duty until at least late summer.

Gonell, who went on CNN to denounce lawmakers who opposed a commission to study Jan. 6, is now back seeing the same therapist he did after the war. He's in physical therapy for his shoulder and foot, helped in recovery by his dog, Milo.

He said he raised his hands three times to "defend and protect the Constitution" - when be became a citizen, when he joined the army and when he became a police officer.

Now, Gonell said, he feels "insulted and betrayed."

He added, "The sacrifices we made, it feels it was for nothing."

Thousands of bullets have been fired in this D.C. neighborhood. Fear is part of everyday life.

By Peter Hermann and John D. Harden
Thousands of bullets have been fired in this D.C. neighborhood. Fear is part of everyday life.
Markeith Muskelly is a barber who has spent half his 52 years cutting hair at a shop located at the Benco Shopping Center on Benning Road in SE Washington. He has seen many shootings at the shopping center and lost his brother in a drug-related shooting. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Michael S. Williamson

WASHINGTON - Markeith Muskelly, a barber who has spent half his 52 years cutting hair in Southeast Washington D.C., has seen people get shot on the street outside the shop where he works.

Last fall, he saw a man die there.

Fifteen bullets fired.

The cracks of gunfire stick with him, the sound of a neighborhood under threat.

"It is like a rack of firecracker sounds," said Muskelly, who works at Unique Cutz on Benning Road. "You go to work and you see someone get killed. How would it impact you?"

The shop is tucked into a corner of the Benco Shopping Center, a mainstay in the Marshall Heights neighborhood for six decades. Its plate-glass window has long offered a view of one of the most dangerous streets in the District.

A rising number of shootings in cities nationwide has led to more deaths, left communities including the District struggling to quell gun violence and put residents on edge. Late on July 16, a 6-year-old D.C. girl was fatally shot and her mother and four others were wounded in a burst of gunfire in the city. The next night, fans at Nationals Park rushed for cover and ducked under seats when they heard rapid pops of gunfire from just outside the ballpark that wounded three people and brought the game to a halt.

And on Thursday night, two people were wounded by bullets fired along 14th Street NW, scattering outdoor diners and causing new panic along a stretch of restaurants and bars in the Logan Circle area.

In some places, the violence is nothing new. Each blast of gunfire strips away a sense of security, instilling fear even if no casualties are claimed. In the neighborhood where Muskelly works, gun violence has affected generations, bringing a sad realization that, for some, the danger may never end.

- - -

District authorities say just over 40% of the gunfire is concentrated on 151 blocks - or 2%.

Two of them are on a one-mile stretch of Benning Road in Marshall Heights, with Benco between them.

A Washington Post analysis shows that in a recent period of a little more than three years, crime scene technicians found 2,759 bullet casings - byproducts of shootings involving rifles, pistols and shotguns - in about a one-square-mile area that includes those blocks. It is among the highest concentrations of bullet casings collected in the city in that period, a stark demonstration of how many times triggers were pulled.

More than 260 of those casings were found on or near that mile-long strip of Benning, extending from the landmark Shrimp Boat Plaza soul food restaurant to the Maryland line. Bullets have struck people, pockmarked parked cars, embedded in walls of homes and shattered windows of businesses filled with patrons. Patrol officers carry "quick clot gauze" used by troops in war; a patrolman used it this spring to stop a man's bleeding after he was shot outside Benco by someone in a speeding car.

For the barber at Unique Cutz, and others who live, work and shop in Marshall Heights, gunfire shapes everyday life. Demeitri Anderson, 23, the man killed outside Muskelly's barber shop, had been headed to a job interview at a fast-food restaurant when he was shot. It was lunchtime on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Hearing the pops, Muskelly spun his client's chair to face away from the window, a well-practiced maneuver to shield his customers.

He saw Anderson, who lived a few blocks away, fall to the rutted pavement. Then a gunman stood over the young man's body and fired again. And again.

Muskelly has been on both sides of a gun: shot twice as a younger man and locked up for carrying an illegal firearm. He has three daughters and one son, 31, who has been imprisoned since he was 19 for armed robbery and attempted murder. He lost his brother to a drug-related shooting.

Cutting hair became Muskelly's way out. He opens the shop every morning confident that the "hood respect" from his past means he won't be a target. "You got to be strong," he said. "I got to eat. I got to come to work. I got to cut hair."

- - -

Several years ago, a bullet flew across Benning Road and tore into the house where George Hood lives with his wife. He had been planning to take a shower, but decided that first he'd run across the street to play his lottery numbers at a convenience store.

"A guy started shooting in the middle of the block, like Clint Eastwood," Hood recalled, "and when I got back and went into the bathroom, there was a bullet on the floor."

His three-bedroom bungalow-style house, and nine others just like it, went up in 1992 as a symbol of hope in Marshall Heights. Hood had joined former president Jimmy Carter and hundreds of other volunteers in a blitz build-out - foundations to rooftop in days - a week after three people were killed nearby.

At the time, Carter told The Washington Post that the houses, built through the Habitat for Humanity program, were "islands of stability where once stood a crime-ridden neighborhood."

People in Marshall Heights have always struggled, fighting for land, resources and their lives. The community, settled by Black families looking to buy property after World War I, grew in the 1930s and became known as a shantytown. The hilly area was rural, with residents living off chicken and hogs and without sewers and water lines until the 1950s. At one point, residents beat back government efforts to clear the houses, worried that they would lose their properties.

In the late 1980s, the crack epidemic hit the neighborhood hard. Benning Road became the divide between two street crews - Simple City and Eastgate - that came to symbolize the deadly drug wars of that era.

There also were moments of promise. In 1991, streets were tidied to prepare for a visit by Queen Elizabeth II, who came to learn about a homeownership program and meet students from Fletcher-Johnson junior high school who had written essays about being youth ambassadors.

Hood, now 61 and a retired home improvement contractor, moved into the "Jimmy Carter houses," as they are called, soon after they were finished. He and his wife raised three children there, all of them now in law enforcement fields. They have enjoyed the sense of community built with neighbors in the nearly identical houses, which are connected by paths and have space to socialize. A chain-link fence separates them from Benning Road.

Still, Hood's wife refuses to cross Benning Road to visit a corner store, fearing gunfire and wanting to avoid people she treated at her job in the D.C. jail infirmary. Hood avoids it, too, if there's a crowd outside that appears to be up to no good. The couple shops for groceries at a box store far away from the neighborhood.

Hood shrugs off gunfire as a part of everyday life, noting that a shooting could "happen anytime, anywhere." Nevertheless, he keeps watch for warning signs, such as a speeding car, and says that if shooting starts, you "get down on your knees and stay out of harm's way."

Across the District, homicides reached a 16-year high in 2020, and are staying apace this year. The number of people who are shot and survive has increased more than 60% from 2018 to 2020. Each summer, D.C. focuses extra police and other resources on high-crime areas, and this year Marshall Heights is among them. While police concentrate on getting guns out of the hands of shooters, Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser also has focused on a more intensive public health approach called Building Blocks DC that addresses underlying causes of violence, combating drug addiction, joblessness and poverty.

Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia are among the places nationwide that also are experiencing a rise in shootings and homicides. Officials are portending a deadly summer.

Nearly every shooting leaves behind a bullet casing, and each casing collected by D.C. authorities is logged into a growing list, which totaled 40,302 casings recovered from across the nation's capital from January 2018 through February: "FC 9mm Luger cartridge case recovered from side alley of 5026 Benning Rd SE"; "One cartridge case, 'RP 9mm LUGER +P' recovered from the grass area adjacent to the sidewalk in the 4600 B/O Benning Road SE."; "FC 9mm Luger" cartridge case recovered from side alley of 5026 Benning Rd SE." And so on.

Casings pile up quickly from crime scene to crime scene: 83 on one street in Marshall Heights, 76 on another, 59 on a third. At a news conference this month about efforts to contain violence, D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III said that more than half the bullet casings collected at crime scenes are linked to guns used in previous crimes.

Many have been collected on Benning Road, where a man was shot in 2018 from three guns.

Forty-two bullets fired.

Where a 17-year-old was shot dead in 2019 in what police said was retaliation by members of a crew for a robbery they believed was committed by the victim's friend.

Seven bullets fired.

Where police allege that a gunman wounded one man outside a gas station in 2020, and then returned the next week to shoot another.

Nineteen bullets fired.

Where, early on Feb. 6, a 22-year-old man named Deshawn Watkins was shot and killed in a case that is unsolved.

Fifteen bullets fired.

Where, on March 8, someone fired from vehicle, hitting a man who was in nearly the same spot where Demeitri Anderson was killed in November, and steps from a makeshift memorial erected in his memory. In the commotion, one of the teddy bears and posters put up for Anderson fell to the ground.

Treated by an officer carrying the quick-clot gauze, the man survived a wound to the abdomen. One bullet pierced a window at Ken's Beauty & More, dropping into a box of hair extensions. Broken glass littered the walkway out front.

Where, on an evening in April, there was more shooting outside the gas station, which is 350 feet from George Hood's front door. Police said two groups were firing at each other when they found a common enemy and trained their gunfire on an unoccupied police cruiser and responding officers, who escaped injury. A gas pump and a police car's windshield were struck.

Twenty bullets fired.

- - -

Ebbon Allen has fond memories of his two-bedroom childhood home on Hanna Place, just a few steps from Benning Road, where his mother grew up with nine siblings. It was the go-to place for birthdays, cookouts and holidays, filled with the aroma of mac-and-cheese, cornbread and sweet potato pie.

But the back window also offered Allen a view of the more dangerous world outside his door - the sprawling Eastgate projects just down a hill.

He remembers how his young eyes fixated on the flashing lights of police cars that seemed ever-present, his ears drawn to the whir of police helicopters and sirens.

Allen, now 43, walked Benning Road to Fletcher-Johnson junior high during the height of the drug feud that helped define the District as the nation's murder capital.

His story is a familiar one here: His brother was shot and killed in 1998 at age 26; his father died in 1989 at age 35. Allen is one of the people who made it out, and he's now back in, determined to help make Marshall Heights better than the place where he grew up.

He recently retired after serving four years as an advisory neighborhood commissioner; his mother started a ministry to help relatives of people killed.

Allen is an academic coordinator of a high school enrichment program. He and his wife, a principal, are raising their children, ages 1 and 3, in a three-story townhouse within walking distance of his childhood home. In February, gunshots rousted the couple from a sound sleep.

It was the fatal shooting of Deshawn Watkins on Benning Road.

The family takes steps to stay safe in their neighborhood. If Allen has to get gas at a station on Benning Road, he sets a strict deadline of early afternoon. The potential for shootings grows as the day turns into evening. Most of the time, he drives into Maryland to fill his tank. He would love to jog Benning Road, but that's too dangerous at any time of day; he limits his early morning workouts to the fields at the now-abandoned Fletcher-Johnson school.

There are a lot of men who grew up in Marshall Heights and are now successful. Some participated in illicit trades of the day. Others avoided it. All count friends who are dead or imprisoned. Many have moved out of the neighborhood but are drawn back to Benning Road, hoping to bring change.

Harold "Shootah" Redd, who runs a commercial cleaning franchise and an indoor sports facility in Maryland and still uses a childhood nickname earned from his talent on the basketball court, said that his mother was addicted to heroin and cocaine and that a family member has been imprisoned for murder since 1994. Redd founded a youth football league - the Metro Bengals - that has helped offer purpose and structure for many kids in the neighborhood.

Sean Johnson, who once boxed in the U.S. championships, has lost so many friends to violence that he no longer attends funerals.

"I'm tired of praying over a person in a casket that I played pee-wee football with," he said.

Johnson, who had long mentored kids in Marshall Heights, had been trying to start a boxing program at the long-planned Woody Ward Recreation Center, which had its grand opening at the end of May. But Johnson said his efforts were turned down; he now works at a youth center in Virginia.

Today, the Eastgate projects the queen visited have been replaced with suburban-style townhouses, and the old Fletcher-Johnson school site is slated for new condos and a grocery store. Old-timers view the changes as suspect, worried that the goal is to replace the neighborhood rather than improve it.

And still, the violence persists.

Allen said he is in therapy to help cope with the trauma he grew up with and the gunshots he still hears today.

But he can't think of anywhere else he'd want to live. And he is optimistic. He fought for the new recreation center for years as a neighborhood commissioner and said it "brings hope to the people." "We've endured," Allen said. "If I leave, who is going to take up the mantle to keep this side of Ward 7?"

The barber Markeith Muskelly wasn't the only person who saw the shooting of Demeitri Anderson.

A police officer in his patrol car on the other side of Benning Road heard the rapid pops as well, and reported seeing Anderson on the ground "with a shooter standing over him firing multiple gunshots."

The officer chased the gunman, who police said threw his 9mm pistol - emptied of bullets - onto the street and escaped in a rented red Nissan Versa, the officer managing to jot down the first three characters of the Virginia license plate as it sped away. A suspect was later arrested.

Four miles away, Anderson's grandmother Nedra Anderson sat in her apartment, where she had been texting her 23-year-old grandson. "I love you nana," he wrote at 10:53 a.m. It would be his last words to his grandmother.

Demeitri Anderson didn't have much luck during his short life. He didn't finish high school and was working on his GED. He was between jobs. He was in and out of jail, mostly for stealing. He'd been wounded by gunfire before, and PCP took his mother's life at age 37. But he had a girlfriend, whom he lived with near Benco, and two children, Malachi, 3, and Azari, 4.

"He was my best friend," Nedra Anderson said. "He still is."

The time Demeitri was wounded by gunfire and survived, Nedra Anderson called hospitals to find him. She encouraged him to find work, and she came to collect him when he got out of jail. After police arrested a suspect in his killing, she sat at the courthouse all day for a hearing.

Now, the grandmother helps raise Demeitri's children, watching them on weekends. Her bedroom is a shrine to her grandson - photo collages on the walls, smaller pictures wedged into the frame of a mirror over the dresser, even smaller ones on her nightstand.

The memorial outside Benco also has photos of Demeitri smiling, above a bouquet of plastic red roses and handwritten messages on white paper. "R.I.P" from Heavy, reads one; "Rest in Peace grandson," reads another.

The words are Nedra Anderson's, but someone else put them up. She has avoided going to Benco since the shooting.

Elsewhere along the strip mall, which has inexpensive takeout restaurants, a grocer and a liquor store, shop windows are lined with police reward posters, some for killings that happened years ago and far away. On one, someone scribbled a "justice4man" hashtag. One shop has a sign warning that "weapons - including concealed firearms - are not welcome on these premises."

Nedra Anderson had warned her grandson, "That will be the death of you, at Benco."

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

A Democrat is president. Which means Republicans are trying to take the economy hostage.

By catherine rampell
A Democrat is president. Which means Republicans are trying to take the economy hostage.

CATHERINE RAMPELL COLUMN

Advance for release Tuesday, July 27, 2021, and thereafter

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By Catherine Rampell

A Democrat is back in the White House. Which means, right on schedule, Republicans are again trying to take the economy hostage - by refusing to raise the U.S. debt limit.

While President Donald Trump was in office, Republican and Democratic lawmakers repeatedly came together to lift the statutory amount that the government can borrow to pay its bills. And why wouldn't they? For decades, raising the debt ceiling was considered a necessary, routine congressional action, one that keeps the government functioning and financial markets calm.

To be clear, a debt-ceiling increase does not authorize new spending; it just raises the arbitrary cap on how much the government can borrow to pay off bills that it has already committed to. Given that Congress spends more than it collects in revenue, it must allow Treasury to borrow money to make up the difference. If Treasury can't borrow, on the other hand, lots of bad stuff happens.

Among the most immediate bad stuff: Uncle Sam would have trouble paying military and civilian salaries, Social Security benefits, government contractors, domestic and international creditors, and almost every other bill already racked up.

If we default on these IOUs, even briefly, that does not only hurt those denied their promised payments. Default would also make it more expensive for the government to borrow going forward. Right now, the United States can borrow on the cheap because creditors do not question whether they'll be paid in full and on time. A default would reveal us to be untrustworthy borrowers, and creditors would demand higher interest rates.

So, not exactly great for reducing our future debt burden.

Even worse, a U.S. default could trigger a worldwide financial crisis. That's because financial markets currently treat U.S. debt as the safest of assets, with all other assets around the world benchmarked against us. Our default would send waves of financial panic cascading through lots of other markets, too.

There's also the pesky matter of whether failing to raise the debt ceiling would violate the Constitution, which states that the "validity of the public debt of the United States . . . shall not be questioned."

All of which is to say that raising the debt ceiling should be a no-brainer. And it often is - just not, apparently, when a Democrat is president.

During the Obama presidency, Republicans repeatedly held the debt limit hostage. The 2011 debt-limit showdown led the credit rating agency Standard & Poor's to downgrade the country's perfect credit rating for the first time, saying that "political brinkmanship" over paying our bills revealed U.S. governance and finances to be "less stable, less effective and less predictable" than previously believed.

Now that President Biden is in office, and with a debt-ceiling deadline looming this weekend, opportunistic Republicans appear to be attempting the same feat.

"I can't imagine there will be a single Republican voting to raise the debt ceiling after what we've been experiencing," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said last week. Several of his GOP colleagues have echoed these remarks.

This all follows another credit rating agency, Fitch, recently warning that it might also downgrade its rating of U.S. debt due to a "deterioration in governance."

Democrats, understandably, are furious.

Lifting the debt ceiling is necessary to pay bills racked up during the Trump years, including the nearly $5 trillion of new debt signed into law through tax cuts and spending increases even before covid-19 struck. Covid then added trillions more in red ink, primarily through bipartisan relief plans passed last year under Trump.

None of that apparently matters to Republicans.

The statutory debt limit kicks in Aug. 1, after which point Treasury will take additional "extraordinary measures" so the government can continue paying its bills. Exactly how long these bookkeeping gymnastics can stave off default is unclear, because covid and its economic effects have introduced more uncertainty into the timing of tax collections and spending obligations. The Congressional Budget Office forecasts that the government would be unable to make its usual payments around October or November; Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned this could happen shortly after lawmakers return from their August recess.

This time around, at least, Democrats might be able to avoid another last-minute hostage crisis; because Congress is still crafting its next budget resolution, lawmakers can raise the debt limit through the reconciliation process - i.e., with only Democratic votes, which isn't always possible. Some Republicans, including McConnell, are even urging them to do so.

This solution may deprive Republicans of the financial catastrophe they seem to crave, but they can still take advantage. Already, Republicans have (falsely) portrayed any Democratic vote to raise the debt limit as a decision to unilaterally add trillions to the debt. Even though, once again, this is about paying off old bills - not creating new ones.

Per usual, it's left to Democrats alone to do the right thing. And somehow they'll still get punished in the process.

- - -

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

The unvaccinated are testing our pandemic luck

By eugene robinson
The unvaccinated are testing our pandemic luck

EUGENE ROBINSON COLUMN

Advance for release Tuesday, July 27, 2021, and thereafter

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By Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON -- It is hard to know how deadly and disruptive the covid-19 surge brought on by the delta variant will ultimately prove to be. But one thing is clear: It is completely unnecessary. The vast majority of those who now get sick have only themselves to blame.

If you don't believe me, listen to Republican Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama, where only 39.9% of residents 12 and older have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, the lowest vaccination rate of any state in the country. "It's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks," Ivey said. "It's the unvaccinated folks who are letting us down."

She means you, if you have refused to get one of the safe and effective vaccines (without a legitimate medical reason). Does it make you mad to have to wear a mask at the airport and on a plane? Get your shot. Do you want all schools and workplaces to get back to normal this fall? Get your shot. Are you ready for some football, meaning full college and professional seasons with tailgate parties and jam-packed stadiums? For the love of Vince Lombardi, get your shot.

We are witnessing a massive exercise in self-harm. And the rest of us -- those who chose to protect ourselves -- are being forced to suffer collateral damage. It's not fair, and we have every right to be angry about it.

The miraculous Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines -- all of them proven safe and effective, including against the more highly infectious delta variant -- are universally available across the country. You can probably get vaccinated today, right now, at your local pharmacy. Your doctor will almost surely advise you that that's exactly what you should do.

Yet only 49.1% of the U.S. population has been vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including 57.4% of those 12 or older (the vaccines are not yet approved for children under 12). To be sure, that is much better than the vaccination rates in most of the rest of the world. But other wealthy nations, such as Canada, Spain and Germany, have pulled ahead of us after getting off to a much slower start.

And while nearly 80% of those in the United States who are 65 or older -- the population most vulnerable to serious illness or death from covid-19 -- have been vaccinated, the fact that so many younger adults have declined vaccination gives the coronavirus an ample supply of new targets. By refusing to protect yourselves, anti-vaxxers, you are ensuring the coronavirus will have time and space to continue to mutate. We have been lucky that no variant has emerged with the ability to defeat our vaccines. The unvaccinated make it more likely that our luck will run out.

Republican politicians and right-wing commentators have shamelessly and disgracefully sought for months to score points against the Biden administration by portraying vaccination as some kind of threat to individual freedom, rather than what it really is -- a path toward our collective freedom. Now, with cases and hospitalizations rising sharply in red states, these officials and talking heads are temporizing, trying to have it both ways. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., even rolled up his sleeve -- at this late date -- and got his first dose of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine, calling it "safe and effective." But Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis -- though he has switched course and now encourages Floridians to get vaccinated -- continues to pursue a court battle against CDC regulations designed to keep cruise ships from becoming covid-19 petri dishes.

Ivey is the rare Republican officeholder whose road-to-Damascus conversion seems genuine and who places blame where it belongs. No one is forcing Republicans, conservatives, young adults and other laggards to listen to bad advice given by unscrupulous politicians over good advice given by expert scientists and trusted doctors.

And speaking of medical professionals, it is nothing short of outrageous that any doctor, nurse or staff member working in the nation's hospitals would still be unvaccinated at this late date. Give us a break, people. Protect yourselves and your patients.

Some hospitals are beginning to require personnel to get vaccinated. The private sector in general should follow suit, welcoming employees back to office buildings and other places of business -- when they provide proof of vaccination or a doctor's excuse. Companies that do not want to impose mandates can offer workers incentives to get vaccinated.

Any effective investment in getting the nation and the world to herd immunity will ultimately be worthwhile. And it is in everyone's interest to save anti-vaxxers from their own wrongheaded stubbornness.

- - -

Eugene Robinson is on Twitter: @Eugene_Robinson

State officials claiming 'medical freedom' with anti-vaccine bills are endangering public health

By michael gerson
State officials claiming 'medical freedom' with anti-vaccine bills are endangering public health

MICHAEL GERSON COLUMN

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By Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- I know that politics is not always a feast of reason, but there has to be some line between normal levels of absurdity and lethal madness. Wherever you locate that limit, Gov. Chris Sununu, R-N.H., is on the wrong side of it.

Sununu recently signed one of the "medical freedom" bills making their way through the Solomonic subcommittees of Republican state legislatures. The New Hampshire version boldly declares that citizens have a "natural, essential and inherent right to bodily integrity, free from any threat or compulsion by government to accept an immunization." The law, while phrased like a late addition to the Bill of Rights, does have a qualification. It doesn't affect the state law regarding the half dozen or so vaccines required for a child to enter school.

Seldom has fine print been more revealing. Why do we have vaccine requirements for school attendance? Because parents have a natural, essential and inherent right to determine what chemicals are injected in their children -- until enough reckless, witless parents refuse to vaccinate their offspring, creating an environment where children needlessly suffer and die of preventable diseases.

There is a very small but measurable risk that a child can have an adverse reaction to vaccination. Yet the state requires childhood vaccinations anyway because there is a far greater risk to children from rampant measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis and diphtheria. State mandates often include exemptions when parents have strong religious or philosophic objections. These can be dangerous loopholes when too broadly drawn. But states are at least trying to set a bar of seriousness. It's one thing for parents to be strict Christian Scientists; it's another for parents to have heard a scary Internet rumor or to be too busy to get their children vaccinated.

Sununu and other Republicans are engaged in performative libertarianism. But even the most strident forms of that creed come with a qualification. It is John Stuart Mill who is most closely associated with the "harm principle" -- that humans should be free to act, unless their actions bring harm to others. I think this is impoverished as a moral theory. But it accurately describes the mission of public health.

Epidemiologists and public health professions are charged with determining when an individual sickness becomes a threat to the community, then recommending and helping implement actions by the community to limit or defeat that threat. They live by a slightly modified version of Mill's principle: Americans have the natural, inherent, bodily right to throw up in their own bathrooms. They don't have an absolute right to use their body in such a way that the tiny pathogens riding in it spread a deadly pandemic disease to others.

Sometimes there are hard calls in determining the appropriate level of intervention. The use of vaccine mandates to boost national coverage is not one of them. We're a nation with vast piles of coronavirus vaccine doses that involve negligible heath risk to take, and that go unused for trivial, foolish reasons. Those people who currently refuse the vaccine (without health reasons), and those who encourage others to refuse the vaccine, are causing needless death (whatever their intention). It is not just the right, but the moral responsibility of government at every level to institute policies that move the public toward herd immunity, save innocent lives, and return security and prosperity to our country.

The decision by the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and other health groups to endorse mandatory covid vaccination of health personnel is admirable and could be a spur to action in other areas. It is also a minimal and obvious step. With many health professionals frantically urging Americans to be vaccinated, the health industry has been undermining that message through its own poor uptake. American medicine has been mixing its own message.

It is good to have that message unmixed -- though the industry has some work to do in ironing out the inconsistencies. Why in heaven's name isn't there a national mandate for nursing home workers to get the flu shot? Why would children place their parent in a nursing home without a flu shot mandate, unless they're impatient to know what's in the will?

Requiring covid vaccinations for everyone who works in health facilities, and for everyone working or learning in high schools and colleges, is obviously needed. Allowing and encouraging private businesses to require their staff and customers to be vaccinated is an obvious step for leaders at every level. If, at that point, we are still below the needed level of coverage, France offers a model of suitable urgency.

But let's also deal with the matter of stigma. Republican public officials who bray about defending "bodily integrity" -- while actual American bodies needlessly go to the morgue -- have ceased to serve the public.

- - -

Michael Gerson's email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

Why D.C.'s high-profile shootings are such a huge problem

By megan mcardle
Why D.C.'s high-profile shootings are such a huge problem

MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

Advance for release Tuesday, July 27, 2021, and thereafter

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By Megan McArdle

WASHINGTON -- Gunfire erupted in my city on Thursday night, at the intersection of 14th and Riggs streets NW. For those unfamiliar with Washington D.C., 14th Street serves as the main commercial artery for some of the city's densest neighborhoods, and Riggs crosses its most affluent stretch. When the shooting started around 8 p.m., the intersection was filled with people out for dinner.

This follows last Saturday's gunfight outside Nationals Park, while a game was in progress. These events may be high-profile because of their proximity to the privileged, but they are in fact part of a horrific surge in gun violence and homicides. Murders rose nearly 20% above their pre-pandemic level last summer. Those numbers are basically unchanged this summer, even as the city reopens.

We can't afford the false comfort of irrelevant comparisons to the early 1990s, when crime was at its peak. Nor should we be cheered that other kinds of crime are down, since many of those acts, such as burglary or muggings, are hard to commit when many people are parked at home. A number of U.S. cities are at risk of entering a vicious cycle whereby crime begets more crime. That chases out jobs and residents, begetting still more crime. Mayors must act decisively before that happens.

Whatever the root causes of crime, its prevalence is at least partly a function of the likelihood of a person being caught and punished for any particular crime. Unfortunately, the likelihood that a criminal will be caught and punished is also at least partly a function of the amount of crime.

Imagine, if you will, two cities with roughly the same laws, identically sized police departments and similarly skilled investigators. Now, imagine the crime rate in City A is three times the crime rate of City B. It is immediately obvious that perpetrators operating in City B will face a much higher risk of getting caught than people committing the same crimes in City A, because police in City B have lower caseloads and can pay more attention to each investigation.

If you were a criminal, you'd probably rather operate in City A. Maybe you face a little more competition from fellow criminals, but you face a much lower risk of going to jail.

For that reason, a higher crime rate makes further crimes even more likely -- the aforementioned vicious circle. Conversely, lowering the crime rate can create a virtuous cycle in which committing crime becomes less attractive.

Those vicious or virtuous cycles can be further exacerbated by other factors. When crime is high, people may not even bother telling the police; when I was growing up in New York City, few people bothered reporting crimes unless they involved grievous bodily harm or needed to be claimed on insurance. Deprived of information about the community, police become even less effective.

Non-criminals also fear crime and will go to great lengths to avoid it, such as staying home or moving. All else equal, City A, with its high crime rate, is more likely to end up with abandoned houses, empty storefronts and deserted streets -- a much more attractive place to commit crimes than a street bustling with residents and shoppers. City A will also probably have a faltering tax base, which will make it harder for government to reverse these trends, whether that's through more police or higher social spending.

That was the disaster visited on U.S. cities by the late-20th-century crime wave. That's the disaster that should be at the forefront of mayoral minds as they contemplate what to do about murderers menacing their streets.

The high-profile shootings in highly public spots matter not because they are more important when they threaten the affluent, but because such events are more likely to chase people away from the city's commercial destinations. That, in turn, makes violence more likely in the future.

They can also matter if they serve as a wake-up call to Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser. Crime needs to be the city's No. 1 priority until the homicide rate starts falling again, because the longer that vicious circle is allowed to spin, the harder it becomes to check that momentum.

That, of course, doesn't mean going back to the excesses of 1990s-era policing, many of which were morally wrong, constitutionally dubious and alienating to the community, breeding the backlash of the past seven years. But it does mean that the mayor should rethink shrinking the police department's budget at a time when the department is already smaller than it has been in decades.

The kinds of alternative strategies that Democrats, including our mayor, like to talk up -- from housing supports to pilot programs to assisting recently released inmates -- may help. But in the short term, there is no substitute for police on the street to deter crime and track down any offenders. And if we don't take care of the short term, we'll find it much harder to handle the long run.

- - -

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

Is the truth out there? We can only spray.

By gene weingarten
Is the truth out there? We can only spray.

GENE WEINGARTEN COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021, and thereafter

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By Gene Weingarten

Memo to: The Food and Drug Administration

Re: Controversial claims by the food industry that a "single serving" from spray cans of vegetable-based cooking oil contains "zero calories."

Abstract: The public -- including this researcher -- has long been publicly skeptical of this assertion. Is the industry crassly manipulating data to make its product more attractive to the diet-conscious? Finally, I performed experiments to test this thesis.

For the current study this researcher used a can of no-stick vegetable oil cooking spray.

The main ingredient of this product is soybean oil, a teaspoon of which, nutritionally, contains 40 calories. Using a bathroom scale in the popular weigh-yourself-then-weigh-yourself-holding-the-dog procedure, the full can appeared to weigh zero ounces. While an intriguing result, I judged it to be due to equipment imprecision, and sought a different methodological approach.

A standard 10-inch diameter frying pan was obtained. Using a new can of oil, I lightly sprayed the bottom of the pan, as the can instructed me to, "over the entire area to be used." Without draining the pan, I repeated the identical spray pattern 71 times, at which time the can was empty. The entire contents created a pool of oil substantial enough to deep-fry a jelly bean. Using standard kitchen measuring utensils, I determined the volume of this liquid to be 45 teaspoons. At 40 calories per teaspoon, that amounted to 1,800 calories in the can. Dividing 71 servings into 1,800, that worked out (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) to zero calories per serving, but to 25.35211 calories, which is, by way of scientific comparison, more than the number of calories in a Hershey's Kiss with Almonds (23.00).

That is when this researcher realized something important, something exculpatory to the food companies. On its "nutrition facts" panel, the can expressly states that it delivers "565 servings." I had apparently been promiscuous with what I considered to be even a light pan-coating. In fact, in smaller letters the can informed me that each serving was to last "about one fourth of a second." My light, full-bottom spray had lasted substantially longer.

I set about to rectify my error. The first challenge was to determine how to deliver a quarter-second spray. This proved difficult, at least through conventional means. After several attempts using my index finger timed by a stopwatch, I determined that because of limits in the functions of human neurology -- the speed with which the extensor indicis proprius and flexor muscles, powered by the median nerve extending from the brachial plexus, manipulates the actions of the index finger -- coupled with inherent mechanical limitations of the aerosol nozzle, a finger-activated quarter-second spray is impossible. I even attempted the old Wild West revolver-fanning quick-draw technique positioning the can on my hip, inches from the pan, which was held vertically parallel to my body. I fanned. I only got greasy pants.

But that did not mean the industry was wrong. What if I eliminated the human element altogether? So I held the can upside down, seven inches above the pan and dropped it onto its nozzle. It landed, popped right back up, excreting a little dollop of oil, the size, we estimate, of a mosquito's pee. Time of release? Slightly (BEG ITAL)less (END ITAL)than one quarter of a second!

Next I attempted to smear this oil throughout the pan but encountered more difficulties. Paper towel soaks it all up, as does the human finger. Eventually, I settled on a single-edged razor blade, which -- due to the interplay of differently charged molecular structures -- adhered to some oil but distributed most of it into a circle roughly the size of a quarter. And here is where it becomes obvious how the spray-food industry has been unfairly vilified. When they told us to spray the oil over "the entire area to be used," they did not imagine we would wastefully use the full surface of a pan. We are a society with knives. Any food can be cut up before cooking so each piece is the size of a quarter, with the possible exception of an egg, and you shouldn't be eating those anyway.

One last matter: Even with the quarter-second spray, there are exactly 3.1858407 calories per serving. At first this seemed a smoking gun. But further research revealed FDA regulations permit the industry to brag of "zero" calories so long as the actual number is under five.

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Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten.

Republicans unleashed a deadly vaccine skepticism. Can they now contain it?

By e.j. dionne jr.
Republicans unleashed a deadly vaccine skepticism. Can they now contain it?

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

Advance for release Monday, July 26, 2021, and thereafter

(For Dionne clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

Bad news is leading to at least a bit of good news: The surge of the covid-19 delta variant seems to have lit a fire under many Republican politicians. As the virus spreads largely in GOP regions with low vaccination rates, leaders of a party where anti-vax sentiment has run rampant have started sounding the alarm: Not getting vaccinated really can kill you.

One of the most unequivocal statements came from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "These shots need to get in everybody's arm as rapidly as possible," he said last week, adding a swipe at those pushing falsehoods about vaccines, who happen to include many in his own party:

"I want to encourage everybody . . . to ignore all of these other voices that are giving demonstrably bad advice."

As Republican pollster Whit Ayres notes, McConnell, who endured polio as a child, has always embraced the power of vaccination. More surprising was a vaccine plug from Florida's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, a longtime baiter of federal authorities whose reelection campaign is selling merchandise mocking Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House health adviser.

Yes, even the man peddling "Don't Fauci My Florida" T-shirts seems to have noticed that over the past two weeks, 20% of all the nation's new covid-19 cases were in his state.

"If you look at the people that are being admitted to hospitals, over 95% of them are either not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all," DeSantis said Wednesday. "And so these vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality."

The pro-vaccine message is even reaching the heart of Trump country. "Folks are supposed to have common sense," Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey said on Thursday. "But it's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It's the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down." You might say the scolding was overdue. Ivey leads the country's least vaccinated state.

We should cheer all Republicans joining the fight against the anti-vaccine undertow in their party -- and be especially appreciative of Republican officials who have been there from the beginning.

Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus coordinator, has been resolute in trying to keep politics out of vaccination efforts and spoke in an interview of his weekly calls with governors of both parties.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine are among those Republicans who have been especially passionate about getting the job done, Zients said. Republican governors of Democratic-leaning states -- Phil Scott in Vermont, Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, Larry Hogan of Maryland and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire -- can be proud that their states are in the top 10 in vaccination rates.

Infuriatingly, there are still Republicans -- Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin among them -- who continue to reinforce right-wing vaccine skepticism. The doubts they and others are spreading on Fox News (even if some in Fox's ranks, including Sean Hannity, seem to be repenting) and on other pro-Trump outlets have created a toxic vaccine gap.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that as of July 23, the 20 states with the highest vaccination rates (counting the District of Columbia as a state) all voted for Joe Biden.

A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of CDC data found that as of July 6, the average vaccination rate in counties that voted for Biden was 46.7%. In counties that voted for Donald Trump, the vaccination rate was 35%.

This, sadly, should be no surprise. An Associated Press-NORC poll released Friday found that among Democrats, only 18% were "not very" or "not at all" confident in the effectiveness of vaccines; among Republicans, 42% expressed such doubts.

Three states -- Florida, Texas and Missouri -- accounted for 40% of new covid cases last week.

It's the new political geography of sickness and death.

Ayres, the Republican pollster, said the growing willingness of leaders of his party to speak up for vaccinations is a response to dangers that can no longer be ignored. "The surge is in the red states and the red counties," he said in an interview, "and there's a real concern about protecting the health of people who are not yet vaccinated, many of whom are our people."

We can be thankful that the facts are starting to matter. In recent weeks, Zients notes, the five states with the highest rates of covid cases -- Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada -- had a higher rate of new vaccinations than the national average.

So please, Republican politicians, keep shouting from the rooftops about the imperative of getting vaccinated. But you also need to take another virus seriously. The spread of extremism in your party is deadly -- to our health and to our democracy.

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

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