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Life under Kim Jong Un

By Anna Fifield
Life under Kim Jong Un
For use only with Washington Post story NKOREA. Moved November 17, 2017. MUST CREDIT: Illustration by Dominic Bugatto

"In North Korea, life only gets better if the state helps you. But these days, the state doesn't help. We're on our own."

- The bride, now 23, from Hyesan. Escaped from North Korea in May 2017.

- - -

When Kim Jong Un became the leader of North Korea almost six years ago, many North Koreans thought that their lives were going to improve. He offered the hope of generational change in the world's longest-running communist dynasty. After all, he was so young. A millennial. Someone with experience of the outside world.

But the "Great Successor," as he is called by the regime, has turned out to be every bit as brutal as his father and grandfather before him. Even as he has allowed greater economic freedom, he has tried to seal the country off more than ever, stepping up security along the border with China and stepping up the punishments for those who dare to try to cross it. And at home, freedom of speech, and of thought, is still a mirage.

In six months of interviews in South Korea and Thailand, The Washington Post talked with more than 25 North Koreans from different walks of life who lived in Kim Jong Un's North Korea and managed to escape from it. In barbecue restaurants, cramped apartments and hotel rooms, these refugees provided the fullest account to date of daily life inside North Korea and how it has changed, and how it hasn't, since Kim took over from his father, Kim Jong Il, at the end of 2011. Many are from the northern parts of the country that border China - the part of North Korea where life is toughest, and where knowledge about the outside world just across the river is most widespread - and are from the relatively small segment of the population that is prepared to take the risks involved in trying to escape.

Some parts of their stories cannot be independently verified because of the secretive nature of the regime, and their names have been withheld to protect their family members still in North Korea. They were introduced to The Post by groups that help North Korean escapees, including No Chain for North Korea, Woorion and Liberty in North Korea.

But in talking about their personal experiences, including torture and the culture of surveillance, they recounted the hardships of daily life under Kim Jong Un's regime. They paint a picture of a once-communist state that has all but broken down, its state-directed economy at a standstill. Today, North Koreans are making their own way, earning money in an entrepreneurial and often illegal fashion. There are only a few problems in North Korea these days that money can't solve.

As life inside North Korea is changing, so too are people's reasons for escaping.

Increasingly, North Koreans are not fleeing their totalitarian state because they are hungry, as they did during the 15 or so years following the outbreak of a devastating famine in the mid-1990s. Now, they are leaving because they are disillusioned.

Market activity is exploding, andwith that comes a flow of information, whether as chitchat from traders who cross into China or as soap operas loaded on USB sticks. And this leads many North Koreans to dream in a way they hadn't before.

Some are leaving North Korea because they want their children to get a better education. Some are leaving because their dreams of success and riches in the North Korean system are being thwarted. And some are leaving because they want to be able to speak their minds.

- - -

A new Kim at the helm

Korean Central News Agency - Dec. 19, 2011 - "Standing at the forefront of the Korean revolution is Kim Jong Un, great successor to the revolutionary cause of Juche [self-reliance ideology] and outstanding leader of our party, army and people."

- - -

The meat delivery guy, now 23, from Undok. Escaped in 2014:

"Kim Jong Un came to power the same year I graduated from high school, and I had very high hopes for him. I heard that he'd studied abroad in Switzerland. I thought he was going to be very different from his father."

- - -

The young mother, now 29, from Hoeryong. Escaped in 2014:

"I could see how young he was, and I hoped that maybe things were going to get better. We were given some rations through our neighborhood association - we even got meat and fish - at the time he took over."

- - -

The preschooler, now 7, from Hoeryong. Escaped in 2014:

"I remember how fat he was. He had a very fat face like a pig."

- - -

As the regime started preparing for Kim's succession, it put out a song that everyone in the country was made to learn, called "Footsteps." The idea was that Kim was following in the footsteps of his father and would lead the country into a glorious future.

- - -

The money man, now 43, from Hyesan. Escaped in 2015:

"We heard the song 'Footsteps' and we were told to memorize it so [we] knew that he was going to be the leader after Kim Jong Il. We were told how great he was, that he could ride a horse when he was 5 years old and shoot a gun when he was 3. Of course we didn't believe these things, but if you laughed or said anything, you'd be killed."

- - -

The university student, now 37, from Sariwon. Escaped in 2013:

"I was in my second year at the university when this person was introduced to us as our new leader. I thought it was a joke. Among my closest friends, we were calling him a piece of s---. Everyone thinks this, but you can only say it to your closest friends or to your parents if you know that they agree."

- - -

The drug dealer, now 46, from Hoeryong. Escaped in 2014:

"I created some kind of fantasy in my mind about Kim Jong Un. Because he was so young, I thought he was going to open North Korea's doors, but after he took power and I lived three years under him, life became harder."

- - -

Money talks

In theory, North Korea is a bastion of socialism, a country where the state provides everything, including housing, health care, education and jobs. In reality, the state economy barely operates anymore. People work in factories and fields, but there is little for them to do, and they are paid almost nothing. A vibrant private economy has sprung up out of necessity, one where people find ways to make money on their own, whether through selling homemade tofu or dealing drugs, through smuggling small DVD players with screens called "notels" over the border or extracting bribes.

- - -

The university student:

"North Korea technically has a centrally planned economy, but now people's lives revolve around the market. No one expects the government to provide things anymore. Everyone has to find their own way to survive."

- - -

The hairdresser, now 23, from Hyesan. Escaped in 2016:

"I had to drop out of teachers college when I was 19 because my father became ill so I needed to work. I started doing people's hair at my house. All the women wanted perms. I charged 30 [Chinese] yuan for a regular perm or 50 yuan for a perm with better products. But it was still hard to make money. [Thirty yuan is about $4.50.]"

- - -

"The farmer, now 46, from Hoeryong. Escaped in 2014."

We lived in the city center, but we rented some land in the foothills of the mountains and grew corn there. During planting and harvest season, we would wake up at 4 a.m. and walk three hours to reach the farmland. We'd take a little break for lunch or a snack, then work until 8 p.m. before walking home again. Doing the weeding was the hardest because we had to get rid of them by hand. And we'd buy beans from the market and make tofu that we'd sell from our house. Our profit was less than 5,000 won [60 cents at the black market rate] a day. But because the bean price fluctuates, sometimes we were left with nothing at all.

- - -

North Koreans first learned how to be entrepreneurs during the famine, when they had to make money to survive. While men had to continue to show up for work in dormant factories, women would turn corn into noodles and keep a little for themselves but sell the rest so they could buy more corn for the following day. Homeless children would steal manhole covers to sell as scrap metal. Markets began to appear and took hold. North Koreans used to joke you could buy everything there except cats' horns.

These days, you can probably buy cats' horns, too.

- - -

The bean trader, now 23, from Hyesan. Escaped in 2014:

"I had an aunt in Pyongyang who sold beans in the market there. I would buy what she needed from various farmers and get it to her. I'd pay people to pack up the beans into sacks, pay porters to take them to the station, get them onto the train. You have to smooth the way with money. My uncle is in the military, so his position provided protection for my aunt's business. Of course, my aunt was the main earner in the house. It's the women who can really make money in North Korea."

- - -

Tens of thousands of North Koreans now work outside the country, in lumber yards and garment factories and on construction sites, in China, Russia and other countries, earning foreign currency. Generally, two-thirds of their pay goes to the regime, and they're allowed to keep the rest.

- - -

The construction worker, now 40, from Pyongyang. Escaped in 2015:

"I wanted to earn money for my family and buy a house, so I paid $100 to bribe my way into an overseas construction job. I was sent to St. Petersburg. We lived at the construction site and would work from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., or sometimes until midnight in the summer, then we'd go back to our dormitory to eat. We worked seven days a week, but we could finish early on Sundays - 7 p.m. - and that was nice. My whole purpose for being there was to make lots of money and go home proud of my achievement. I still remember the first time I got paid. It was 1,000 rubles. When I finished work at 10 p.m., I went to the store and saw that a bottle of beer was 27 rubles. I thought, wow I'm rich."

- - -

As the economy and the rules that govern it change, there are more and more gray areas that can be exploited. That means that illegal trade and activity have blossomed, too.

- - -

The drug dealer:

"I did so many things that I wasn't supposed to do. I worked as a broker transferring money and connecting people in North Korea with people in South Korea through phone calls. I arranged reunions for them in China. I smuggled antiques out of North Korea and sold them in China. I sold ginseng and pheasants to China. And I dealt ice [methamphetamines]. Officially, I was a factory worker, but I bribed my way out of having to go to work. If you don't operate this way in North Korea, you have nothing."

- - -

The doctor, now 42, from Hyesan. Escaped in 2014:

"The salary for doctors was about 3,500 won a month. That was less than it cost to buy one kilogram of rice. So of course, being a doctor was not my main job. My main job was smuggling at night. I would send herbal medicine from North Korea into China, and with the money, I would import home appliances back into North Korea. Rice cookers, notels, LCD monitors, that kind of thing."

- - -

From the biggest cities to the smallest villages, there is now some kind of market building where people can sell their wares and keep their profits. Some are state-run, some are state-sanctioned, some are ad hoc. The markets have been retroactively legalized by the regime.

Money is now needed for nearly everything - even for the parts of communist life that the Kim regime crows about providing, like housing and schooling. Bribery and corruption have become endemic, undermining the regime by loosening controls and creating incentives that may not always be in line with Kim's priorities.

- - -

The farmer:

"Technically, you don't have to pay to go to school, but the teachers tell you that you have to submit a certain amount of beans or rabbit skins that can be sold. If you don't submit, you get told off continuously, and that's why students stop going to school. The kids are hurt just because the parents can't afford it."

- - -

The young mother:

"I used to pay the teachers at my daughter's school so they would look after her better than others. I would give them 120,000 won at a time - that's enough to buy 25 kilograms of rice - twice a year. If you don't pay the teachers, they won't make any effort."

- - -

The fisherman, now 45, from Ryongchon. Escaped in 2017:

"I lived through all three Kims, but our life was not getting any better for any of us. We all have to pay for Kim Jong Un's projects, like Ryomyong Street [a residential development in Pyongyang]. We had to contribute 15,000 North Korean won per household [more than four months' salary] to the government for that street."

- - -

The drug dealer:

"My main business was selling ice. I think that 70 or 80 percent of the adults in Hoeryong city were using ice. My customers were just ordinary people. Police officers, security agents, party members, teachers, doctors. Ice made a really good gift for birthday parties or for high school graduation presents. It makes you feel good and helps you release stress, and it really helps relations between men and women. My 76-year-old mother was using it because she had low blood pressure, and it worked well. Lots of police officers and security agents would come to my house to smoke, and of course I didn't charge them - they were my protection. They would come by during their lunch break, stop by my house. The head of the secret police in my area was almost living at my house."

- - -

The ability to make money, sometimes lots of money, through means both legal and illegal has led to visible inequality in a country that has long touted itself as an egalitarian socialist paradise. This could be a potential source of disruption. Bean traders and drug dealers and everyone in between have the prospect of making a decent living. Those working only in official jobs, whether they be on a state-owned ostrich farm or in a government ministry in Pyongyang, earn only a few dollars a month and get little in the way of rations to supplement their meager salaries.

- - -

The rich kid, now 20, from Chongjin. Escaped in 2014:

"Skating rinks opened in 2013, and rollerblading became a really big thing. Rich kids had their own rollerblades. We'd carry them slung over our shoulders as we walked to the rink - it was a status symbol, a sign that you have money. I bought my rollerblades at the market. They were pink, and it cost 200 Chinese yuan. That's the same price as 30 kilograms of rice. It's unthinkable for poor kids."

- - -

The construction worker:

"There were long periods where we didn't get paid. I once went for six months without getting any salary at all. We lived in a shipping container at the construction site. We were given rice and cabbage and one egg per person per day, and we had an electric coil in our container that we could cook on. We needed some protein because our work was so hard, so we started buying pigskin at the market because it was cheap. Washing was like a special occasion. But if you went to the bathhouse, you would miss out on work. Once I didn't bathe for two months. We didn't think anything of it. It was just the way we lived."

- - -

The rich kid:

"Cellphones are a big thing. To be able to afford a smartphone, you had to come from a rich family. Of course, there were some poor kids at my school, but I didn't hang out with them. I had an Arirang smartphone that cost $400. When boys came up to talk to me, I'd check out their phone. If they had one of those old-style phones with buttons, I wasn't interested.:

- - -

The markets are the distribution point not just for goods, but also for information. Chatter, rumors, illicit foreign media.

- - -

The farmer:

"Women make their living in the market, and while they're sitting there at the stalls, they talk. So the market is a great place to learn about the outside world."

- - -

The phone connector, now 49, from Hoeryong. Escaped in 2013:

"I watched lots of [smuggled] movies and soap operas on USB sticks from the market. I would plug them into my TV. Vendors who are selling ordinary things like batteries or rice or whatever, they hide the USBs inside under the counter. When you go into the market you say to the vendors: Do you have anything delicious today? That's the code. USBs are also good because they are so easy to hide, and you can just break them if you get caught."

- - -

The fisherman:

"In the past, if you watched Chinese movies on USBs you were okay. You got put in a labor camp only if you were caught with South Korean or American movies. But now, under Kim Jong Un, you get sent to a labor camp if you're caught watching Chinese movies, too. The police and the security services and government officials live better these days. The more people they catch, the more money they earn."

- - -

The teenage prisoner, now 22, from Hyesan. Escaped in 2013:

"I loved the way that women were being cherished. North Korea is a very male-oriented society, men never bother about taking care of women. And I liked to look at their fancy cars and houses."

- - -

The accordion player, now 25, from Hamhung. Escaped in 2015:

"My mom worked in the market selling home appliances, so she had a way to get DVDs. I watched Chinese, Indian and Russian movies, and lots of South Korean soap operas. I thought that if I got to South Korea, I could do anything I wanted."

- - -

It is impossible to overstate the pervasiveness of the personality cult surrounding the Kims in North Korea. Founding President Kim Il Sung, his son Kim Jong Il and his grandson, the current leader, Kim Jong Un form a kind of holy trinity in North Korea. There is no criticizing them or questioning the system - at least not without risking your freedom and the freedom of your entire family. Your life itself could be at stake.

- - -

The preschooler:

"I learned songs about the general and about the Kim family and how great Kim Il Sung was."

- - -

The elementary schoolgirl, now 7, from Ryongchon. Escaped in 2017:

"We got gifts on Kim Jong Un's birthday: candy and cookies and gum and puffed rice. I was so grateful to him for giving me all these sweets. We would stand up in class and say, 'Thank you, General Kim Jong Un.' "

- - -

The university student:

"We had ideological education for 90 minutes every day. There was revolutionary history, lessons about Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un. Of course, they taught us about why we needed nuclear weapons, and they would tell us that we needed to make sacrifices in our daily lives so they could build these weapons and protect our country, keep the nation safe. I was so sick and tired of hearing about all this revolutionary history, I was so sick of calling everyone 'comrade.' I didn't care about any of that stuff."

- - -

The young mother:

"Everybody knew that Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un were both liars, that everything is their fault, but it's impossible to voice any opposition because we are under such tight surveillance. If someone is drunk and says Kim Jong Un is a son of a bitch, you'll never see them again."

- - -

The doctor:

"It's like a religion. From birth, you learn about the Kim family, learn that they are gods, that you must be absolutely obedient to the Kim family. The elites are treated nicely, and because of that they make sure that the system stays stable. But for everyone else, it's a reign of terror. The Kim family uses terror to keep people scared, and that makes it impossible to stage any kind of social gathering, let alone an uprising."

- - -

The construction worker:

"We had education sessions when we would go back to the main building and into a big room where there were portraits of the leaders. Everyone had to bow and buy bunches of flowers to lay in front of the portraits. There would be a speech by the boss, who was a party member. We would hear about how Kim Jong Un had done this and this and that [he] was working so hard for the party and for the nation and for the people. I believed it up until the Kim Jong Un era, but this exaggeration was just too much. It just didn't make sense."

- - -

The money man:

"Every month there was special instruction about Kim Jong Un. It came down from Pyongyang to the neighborhood associations. We were told that Kim Jong Un wanted to know everything so that he could take proper care of everyone, help everyone. Nobody believed this because if Kim Jong Un knew we had no electricity and were eating corn rice [imitation rice made from ground corn], why wasn't he doing anything about it?"

- - -

The bean trader:

"There was this story going around that Kim Il Sung had asked Kim Jong Un to get him an apple. Kim Jong Un asked for a shovel because he wanted to bring the whole tree. It was the kind of joke that the secret police would create. Instead of just doing top-down teaching, they would also create stories like this [about devotion to the regime] because they thought that their propaganda would circulate better as rumors and would seem more convincing."

- - -

North Korea operates as a vast surveillance state, with a menacing state security department called the Bowibu as its backbone. Its agents are everywhere and operate with impunity.

The regime also operates a kind of neighborhood watch system. Every district in every town or city is broken up into neighborhood groups of 30 or 40 households, each with a leader who is responsible for coordinating grass-roots surveillance and encouraging people to snitch.

- - -

The young mother:

"People in each neighborhood association are always checking up on each other. If one family seems to be living better than everyone else, then all the neighbors try to find out how they are making their money. Everybody is sensitive because if someone seems to be living well, then people get jealous of that house. Nobody has to be asked to bring that wealthy family down and make sure that this wealthy family loses their money. When you see a family lose their house, that feels good. That's why it's important not to show off how wealthy you are."

- - -

The farmer:

"Of course I thought about the outside world, but if you say, "I want to go to China or South Korea," then it can be reported by an informant to the security services. You can think it, but you can't say it. You never know who is going to snitch on you. We often heard and saw how Chinese people had money because Chinese people used to come to North Korea to sell things, so we thought it would be nice to live there."

- - -

The rich kid:

"There were youth leaders who would patrol around, looking for things that we weren't supposed to be doing. If you were wearing jeans or skinny pants, or if you had a manicure or your hair was too long, you would get in trouble. They would sometimes check your phone to see if you had any South Korean songs. I got busted for this, but I got out of it by buying them a box of 20 bottles of beer."

- - -

For those who ran afoul of the regime in ways that money could not solve, the punishment could be harsh.

Those accused of economic crimes - which could involve any kind of private enterprise - are sent to prisons and often made to do hard labor, such as building roads by hand. But those accused of being traitors to the nation, a broad category that includes questioning the Kim family or its system, end up in political prison camps where they have to work in mines and receive almost no food. It is not unusual for three generations of a "traitor's" family to end up in these concentration camps under North Korea's guilt-by-association system.

- - -

The teenage prisoner:

"When I was 16, I was staying at my grandma's house and there was a banging on the door late at night. Two secret police officers took me to the police station and asked me: 'Where are your parents?' I told them I didn't know. It turned out that they had gone missing and I suspected that my mom's business associates, when they realized this, planted a whole lot of stuff on her, said that she was the mastermind behind this big smuggling operation. The police yelled at me: 'You're just like your mother. You probably have fantasies about China, too.' They slapped my face about five times."

- - -

The phone connector:

"The first time I went to prison, I had been caught helping people make phone calls to their relatives in South Korea. I was sentenced to four months' hard labor, building a road on the side of a mountain that they said we needed in case there was a war. The men did the digging and the women had to carry rocks and soil."

- - -

Escapees from North Korea's gruesome political prisons have recounted brutal treatment over the years, including medieval torture with shackles and fire and being forced to undergo abortions by the crudest methods. Human rights activists say that this appears to have lessened slightly under Kim. But severe beatings and certain kinds of torture - including being forced to remain in stress positions for crippling lengths of time - are commonplace throughout North Korea's detention systems, as are public executions.

- - -

The teenage prisoner:

"I was interrogated again by the secret police, and they wanted to know about my mother's business. They were slapping me around the face again. They always go for the face. I was beaten severely that time. They pushed me so hard against the wall that I had blood coming from my head. I still get a headache sometimes. While I was there they made me sit with my legs crossed and my arms resting on my knees and my head always down. If you move at all or if you try to stretch your legs out, they will yell at you and hit you. I had to stay like that for hours on end."

- - -

The money man:

"In 2015, a money transfer went bad - the woman I'd given the money to got caught and she ratted on me - and I was put in detention. I spent two months there. I wasn't treated like a human being - they beat me, they made me sit in stress positions where I couldn't lift my head. Two times they slapped my face and kicked me during interrogation, but I was not beaten up badly. Maybe because I was not a nobody, maybe they feared that I knew someone who could get back at them. "

- - -

Starvation is often part of the punishment, even for children. The 16-year-old lost 13 pounds in prison, weighing only 88 pounds when she emerged.

- - -

The teenage prisoner:

"We got up at 6 a.m. every day and went to bed at 11 p.m., and in between we would be working the whole time, shoveling cement or lugging sacks, except for lunch. Lunch was usually steamed corn. I was too scared to eat. I cried a lot. I didn't want to live."

- - -

The phone connector:

"Even though we were working so hard in prison camp, all we got to eat was a tiny bit of corn rice and a small potato. By the time I got out, I was so malnourished I could hardly walk."

- - -

It is this web of prisons and concentration camps, coupled with the threat of execution, that stops people from speaking up. There is no organized dissent in North Korea, no political opposition.

- - -

The drug dealer:

"If you make problems, then your whole family gets punished. That's why people don't want to make any trouble. If I get punished for my wrongdoing, that's one thing. But it's my whole family that would be put at risk if I did something. North Koreans have seen that Kim Jong Un killed his own uncle, so we understand how merciless he can be. That's why you can't have an uprising in North Korea."

- - -

The university student:

"The secret to North Korea's survival is the reign of terror. Why do you think North Korea has public executions? Why do you think they block all communications? Why do you think North Koreans leave, knowing that they will never see their families again? It shows how bad things are. All our rights as people have been stripped away."

- - -

The phone connector:

"If you speak out against the system, you will immediately be arrested. And if you do something wrong, then three generations of your family will be punished. In 2009, I heard there was a going to be some kind of coup launched in Chongjin and that all of the people involved were executed. When you hear about cases like this, of course you're scared. So instead of trying to do something to change the system, it's better just to leave."

- - -

Some people do leave, but not that many. It's incredibly risky and logistically difficult to get around the border guards and the barbed wire. Unknown thousands cross into China each year. Some remain in China, almost always young women who get sold to poor Chinese men in the countryside who can't get a wife any other way. Some get caught and sent back - to certain imprisonment.

- - -

The repatriated wife, now 50, from Nampo. Escaped for the last time in 2016:

"I had lived in China for 20 years, but someone must have reported me. I was sent back to North Korea, and I spent two and a half years in a prison camp. [After she had left once more for China], I knew I couldn't be repatriated again. I thought that it would be the end of my life."

- - -

But each year, a thousand or so North Koreans make it to South Korea. In the 20-odd years since the famine, only 30,000 North Koreans have made it to the southern side of the peninsula.

During the late 1990s and the early 2000s, almost all the North Koreans who fled were escaping out of hunger or economic need. But the explosion of markets has improved life for many. Today, more people are leaving North Korea because they are disillusioned with the system, not because they can't feed their families.

- - -

The accordion player:

"I was ambitious. I wanted to be a party member and enjoy all the opportunities that come with that. My dream was to make lots of money and be a high-ranking government official. Family background means so much in North Korea, but I had family in China and I realized that this would stop me from being able to follow my dreams. I left because I didn't have the freedom to do what I wanted to do."

- - -

The bean trader:

"I wanted to progress in life, I wanted to go to university, but because my mother had defected to China, it looked like I wouldn't be able to go any further. It looked like I would be stuck in North Korea where I was. I could have moved, lived, no problem, but I felt like I didn't have any future in North Korea. That's why I decided to leave."

- - -

The meat delivery guy:

"We were told in school that we could be anybody. But after graduation, I realized that this wasn't true and that I was being punished for somebody else's wrongdoing. I realized I wouldn't be able to survive here. So for two years I looked for a way out. When I thought about escaping, it gave me a psychological boost."

- - -

The doctor:

"I hoped to work abroad as a doctor in the Middle East or Africa. But to work overseas you have to pass security screening to make sure you're ideologically sound and aren't going to defect. That's a problem that money can't solve and that's where I got blocked. I was very angry, very annoyed. I cursed our society. I am a very capable person, and I was a party member, but even I couldn't make it."

- - -

The construction worker:

"I worked for three and a half years, but I made only $2,000 during that time. We were allowed to work overseas for five years maximum, and I was hoping to save $10,000 and return home proud. I realized it wasn't going to happen, so I started looking for a chance to escape."

- - -

The university student:

"I was so disgusted with the system. I didn't have freedom to speak my mind, or to travel anywhere I wanted, or even to wear what I wanted. It was like living in a prison. We were monitored all the time by our neighborhood leader, by the normal police, by the secret police. If you ask me what was the worst thing about North Korea, I'd say: Being born there"

- - -

The bride:

After graduating from high school, she worked in the cornfields for two years but just sat at home after that. So when she heard that her friend had been sold to a Chinese man as a wife, she asked to be introduced to the broker so that she could be sold, too. At least she'd be able to earn money in China. She has just arrived in South Korea.

- - -

The meat delivery guy:

Because his mother was a "traitor" who had defected to South Korea, he was blocked from going to college or joining the military. Instead, he was put to work doing manual labor with criminals and low-lifes, for almost no salary. He made money by delivering meat from his father's butchery to local restaurants. He is now a university student in South Korea.

- - -

The young mother, now 29, from Hoeryong. Escaped in 2014:

She came from a good family background, but her father was violent. She married young, to a truck driver, and they lived comfortably in North Korea. But her aunts lived in the South, and they told her she should bring their sister, her mother, to them. So she defected with her husband and their two daughters, a 4-year-old and a 1-month-old. She is now an office worker in South Korea.

- - -

The preschooler:

She doesn't remember much of her life in North Korea, just her friends from preschool and a few songs that they used to sing. She is now in elementary school in South Korea.

- - -

The money man:

He had been a border guard but bribed his way out. He then started working as a money transfer broker, moving cash from families in China or South Korea to relatives in North Korea, all for a hefty fee. But one day a deal went bad when a customer in North Korea was caught with a large amount of Chinese currency and turned him in. He now works at a factory in South Korea.

- - -

The university student:

He came from an ordinary family but had big dreams. He kept thinking about escaping to China and becoming successful, doing a job that he found rewarding. One day his parents told him he should chase his dreams. So he did. He is now a reporter in South Korea.

- - -

The drug dealer:

After bribing his way out of his factory job during the famine, he got involved in all sorts of illegal activities, from smuggling antiques to selling ice, a methamphetamine, in both China and North Korea. He is now a construction worker in South Korea.

- - -

The hairdresser:

She had been at teachers college but had to quit when she was 19 to earn money for the family after her father became sick. She started doing hair at her house, but then got an opportunity to work at a restaurant in China and earn much more. So off she went, with a broker. But she discovered there was no restaurant. Instead, she was sold to a Chinese man for $12,000. She has just arrived in South Korea.

- - -

The farmer:

After her husband defected, she had to make ends meet. She made tofu from scratch, grew corn in a plot of land several hours' walk from her home and raised pigs in her yard. It was hard to make ends meet, but it became even harder when she hurt her back and struggled to work. She still has a bad back and cannot work in South Korea.

- - -

The bean trader:

He came from a privileged family and lived well, until his grandfather got in trouble with the regime and his mother defected. So he worked as a trader, sourcing beans and sending them to his aunt, who would sell them at the markets in Pyongyang. He is now a university student in South Korea.

- - -

The construction worker:

He worked and bribed his way into a construction job in Russia, a potentially lucrative posting. But despite working long hours, he often went months without being paid. Watching South Korean television opened his eyes to the lies of North Korea. He now works in South Korea.

- - -

The doctor:

He worked at a hospital in Hyesan and was a member of the Workers' Party. He dreamed of being sent to the Middle East or Africa, where he could make much more money. But he was blocked from leaving. He now works as a doctor at a hospital in South Korea.

- - -

The fisherman:

He earned a good living, fishing for a state company and using his access to China to smuggle goods across the river. But his exposure to Chinese capitalism and South Korean radio broadcasts made him want to escape. He has just arrived in South Korea.

- - -

The rich kid:

She was a high school student, the daughter of a successful businessman who was flourishing in the emerging private economy. She wanted for nothing. She is now a university student in South Korea.

- - -

The phone connector:

Using her Chinese cellphone, she worked arranging phone calls between North Koreans and relatives on the outside, either in China or South Korea. But she got caught and was forced to do hard labor in prison. She was caught a second time but paid a huge bribe to get off. She fled before she was caught again. She now works in South Korea.

- - -

The teenage prisoner:

She was a high school student and was staying with her grandmother in another city when the rest of her family suddenly escaped to China, apparently because one of her mother's business deals went bad. She was imprisoned, tortured and made to do hard labor. She is now a university student in South Korea.

- - -

The accordion player:

She volunteered for the military as a way to improve her prospects in North Korea. She hoped to become a member of the Workers' Party and be the mayor of her city one day. But she was thwarted from advancing because she had family in China. She is now a university student in South Korea.

- - -

The elementary:

She loves pink and a doll she was given after escaping North Korea. She'd never owned a doll before. She has just arrived in South Korea.

- - -

The repatriated wife:

She escaped to China during the famine and had been living with a Chinese man. They have two children. But in 2014, she was repatriated to North Korea and spent 2 1/2 years in a prison camp. When she was released, she escaped again but this time didn't stop in China. She has just arrived in South Korea.

- - -

The Washington Post's Yoonjung Seo contributed to this report.

Thanksgiving stuffing (or dressing) is the dish that best reflects America's diversity

By Tim Carman
Thanksgiving stuffing (or dressing) is the dish that best reflects America's diversity
Charleston Rice Dressing. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post.

Despite its reputation, Thanksgiving dinner is not a one-size-fits-all meal, a table set in brown from coast to coast. America is too vast, too inventive and too flush with immigrants from around the globe to subscribe to a single, unified vision of the holiday feast.

The evidence is right on your table: You could argue that no other Thanksgiving staple better reflects the nation's diversity than the side dish known as stuffing. Variations abound, and they venture well beyond the choice of breads - white, corn or Pepperidge Farm - and even beyond such decisions as whether to add oysters or giblets. Americans can't even agree on a name or preparation: Some call it stuffing and bake it inside the turkey (except when they don't). Others call it dressing and bake it in a casserole (except when they don't).

Then there are those who call it filling, as in "potato filling," a Thanksgiving requirement for just about everyone in Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Sally Churgai grew up on a small farm in Howard County, Maryland, but when she married Jim Churgai in 1972, she was introduced to potato filling via her husband's maternal family. They're Pennsylvania Dutch, the often-misleading term for the German immigrants who started arriving in the state in the late 18th century, their diet rich in potatoes. Pennsylvania Dutch stuffing naturally includes spuds, often mixed with bread, butter, celery and eggs for a hearty, if plain, side.

"I thought it was a little bland," Churgai remembers about her first taste. But over time, and with a little help from added seasonings and herbs, potato filling became a staple of Churgai's own Thanksgiving feast, even after she and her husband ended their marriage of more than 20 years.

"Without it, there was no Thanksgiving," Churgai says from her home in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. "It's as important as the turkey."

Few stuffings/dressings are as identifiable with a region and culture as potato filling is with the Pennsylvania Dutch. But regional stuffings do exist, even if family migrations, food media and other factors have conspired to erase the boundaries that once limited these dishes to certain geographic areas. In New England, cooks rely on Bell's Seasoning to flavor their stuffing. In Minnesota, they prepare a stuffing with wild rice, the aquatic grass that grows abundantly in the state. And in New Mexico, they make a corn bread stuffing with Hatch chiles.

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that cooks in these regions sometimes make these stuffings. It's almost impossible to generalize about stuffing anymore.

In October, I polled friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter to find the answers to two basic questions: Where did you grow up, and what kind of stuffing was on your Thanksgiving table? More than 150 people responded - hardly the sample size pollsters want when surveying the United States, but the results, plotted on Google Maps, revealed a few regional and cultural trends.

Some were obvious: Cajun-style dressings in Louisiana and Texas, and Italian-style stuffings in New York and New Jersey, where one Newark family has enjoyed a Thanksgiving stuffing made with corn bread, hot and sweet Italian sausages and Parmesan. But there were also vestiges of once-proud Thanksgiving traditions, like the chestnut stuffings that used to grace holiday tables across the eastern states before a fungus nearly wiped out the American chestnut tree in the early 20th century. You can still find families from Connecticut to North Carolina clinging to their chestnut stuffing, thanks to farmers growing trees now resistant to the chestnut blight that was accidentally introduced from Japan.

"I do distinctly remember my grandfather getting aggravated at trying to handle the hot chestnuts," recalled Francine Cohen in a Facebook remembrance of the stuffings of her Mid-Atlantic youth. "We fondly referred to the whole process of making stuffing as the 'annual yelling at the chestnuts.' "

But other stuffings and dressings have migrated far from the regions associated with them. Corn-bread-based stuffings are no longer limited to the South, where the preferred term is "dressing," a fact substantiated by Google Correlate, which shows that far more Southern states use the search term "Thanksgiving dressing recipe." People told me that their families made corn bread stuffing in Missouri, Washington state and Pennsylvania.

Likewise, oyster stuffing can be found in homes far from such major bodies of water as the Gulf of Mexico or the Chesapeake Bay. You'll find it in Michigan and Indiana, states not known for their bivalve aquaculture. Oyster stuffing in the Midwest may be just another sign of America's prowess at moving highly perishable, and potentially dangerous, products across great distances. But there's something else at play here, too.

Michael Stern, one-half of the Roadfood duo that has roamed the United States for decades in search of local specialties, equates the collapsing boundaries around the regional stuffings with the blurred lines in American barbecue. The wealth of regional recipes at our fingertips - on personal blogs, online magazines, Pinterest, YouTube videos, etc. - has made Americans "more aware and interested in what people are cooking in other parts of the country," he says.

At the same time, Stern doesn't view this streak of Thanksgiving experimentalism as the death of regional stuffings. He says it's more of an expansion.

"There might be an alternative [stuffing] for the more adventurous, but God forbid if you serve only the alternative," Stern says. "It's important for people to recognize their traditions. People don't want to throw away what they've always done in the past."

Perhaps more than any other dish, stuffing underscores Thanksgiving's complicated relationship with tradition. As children, we were often told that the holiday's central feast - a bronzed turkey with all the trimmings - could trace its origins back to 1621, when colonists and Wampanoag people first gathered around the table. Only later did we learn that the autumnal meal was largely cobbled together and promoted by other folks, including a 19th-century writer and editor who pushed to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Bread stuffing probably never appeared at the "first Thanksgiving," though cooks at the time probably stuffed fowl with nuts, oats, onions and herbs. More than 200 years later, in 1829, New England author and abolitionist Lydia Maria Child published "The Frugal Housewife," one of the first American cookbooks to target households without servants. In her section on turkey, Child suggested a stuffing of either pounded crackers or crumbled bread, with salt pork and sage (or sweet marjoram), perhaps bound with an egg to make the dish easier to cut.

"But [it] is not worth while when eggs are dear," Child noted.

Child's approach, emphasizing practicality and flexibility, has basically served as a template for all stuffings since. Stuffings based on local ingredients. Stuffings based on ingredients familiar to immigrants looking to assimilate into American culture. (Think Laotian sticky rice stuffing with chestnuts or Greek gemista stuffing with rice and giblets.)

"I talked to some Asian-American friends and asked them what they cooked for Thanksgiving stuffing," says author Diane Morgan, who has written several holiday cookbooks, including "The New Thanksgiving Table." "They were mostly doing some variation of rice with Chinese sausage. So it wasn't straying too far from their foods and incorporating them into a Thanksgiving meal."

Corporate America would eventually worm its way into the Thanksgiving dinner, offering the ease of convenience, that mid-20th-century buzzword that would give rise to stuffing products such as Pepperidge Farm and Stove Top, among others. Numerous people in my survey said that they grew up on stuffing made with Pepperidge Farm mixes.

Each stuffing is American in its own, sometimes complicated, way. But could there be a stuffing more American than the one White Castle unleashed on the country in 1991, purportedly a creation of a company employee who adapted her grandmother's recipe? It's a stuffing built with hamburgers, from a fast-food chain that debuted in the American heartland.

Many years ago, Therese Lewis, a culinary manager for Dierbergs Markets in the St. Louis area, served the White Castle dressing to her family on a dare. Personally, Lewis has a soft spot for White Castle. She grew up with its juicy sliders, steam-grilled over chopped onions. But she wasn't sure how those fast-food flavors would translate to the Thanksgiving table. So she didn't tell her kids what was in the stuffing.

"They loved it!" Lewis recalls. So much that she now must serve the White Castle side dish every year, her own Midwestern spin on the ever-evolving Thanksgiving stuffing.

- - -

Charleston Rice Dressing

6 to 8 servings

Large silver rice spoons are a regular implement in South Carolina, used to spoon this dressing out of fowl, particularly turkey.

MAKE AHEAD: The dressing can be refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.

Adapted from "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking," by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart (Gibbs Smith, 2012).

Ingredients

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

8 ounces chicken livers (may substitute giblets and liver from 1 turkey), cleaned

Kosher salt

1 medium onion, chopped (1 cup)

2 or 3 large ribs celery (1 cup)

2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced

6 cups steamed white rice

1 cup no-salt-added turkey stock or low-sodium chicken broth, or more as needed

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup packed chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme and sage

Steps

Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat. Stir in the giblets and liver and season with a hefty pinch of salt; cook for about 15 minutes, until golden brown, stirring a few times. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a plate.

Add the onion and celery to the pan; cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic (to taste) and cook for 1 minute, or until just fragrant.

Meanwhile, coarsely chop the chicken livers.

Stir the rice into the pan, adding stock or broth, as needed, to create a moist mixture, then add meat, pecans and herbs, stirring to incorporate.

Serve warm, as is, or cool completely for use as a stuffing or dressing.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 8): 350 calories, 10 g protein, 38 g carbohydrates, 18 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 130 mg cholesterol, 80 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugar

- - -

Grandma Jerry's Stuffing

12 to 16 servings

This is a generous, eggless rendition that earns its New Jersey chops by using two kinds of Italian sausage and topping of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The family recipe comes by way of descendant David Smelson and is named for Grandma Jerry, whose name was Violet. She was a Polish-Catholic immigrant who married a Jewish-Eastern European immigrant named James Smelson. They both grew up in Newark.

MAKE AHEAD: The stuffing mixture, minus its broth, can be assembled and refrigerated a day in advance. The baked stuffing can be reheated, covered, in a 300-degree oven until warmed through.

Adapted from food blogger David Smelson.

Ingredients

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter

2 large yellow onions, cut into small dice (about 3 cups)

1 clove garlic, minced

2 ribs celery, thinly sliced

1 pound sweet Italian bulk sausage

1 pound hot Italian bulk sausage

10 large basil leaves, rolled and cut into thin ribbons (3 tablespoons chiffonade; may substitute 1 tablespoon dried basil)

10 to 12 fresh sage leaves, rolled and cut into thin ribbons (3 tablespoons chiffonade; may substitute 1 tablespoon dried sage)

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (may substitute 1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves)

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

28 ounces (2 bags) dried corn bread stuffing cubes, preferably unseasoned

2 cups homemade chicken broth or no-salt-added dark/rich chicken broth, or more as needed

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Steps

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease 2 or 3 large baking dishes or casseroles.

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the onions, garlic and celery. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, adding another 2 to 4 tablespoons of butter, as needed, until the onions and celery have become translucent. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl.

Add the two kinds of sausage in pinches to the pan; cook 12 to 15 minutes, until it loses its raw look, breaking it up into smaller pieces as it cooks. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to the mixing bowl. Discard the rendered fat in the pan.

Add the herbs, lemon zest and corn bread cubes to the bowl, stirring to incorporate. Gradually pour in the stock or broth, stirring to distribute it evenly.

Divide the stuffing mixture among the casserole or baking dishes; you should have enough to also put some inside a turkey, if desired.

Melt the remaining butter, then use it all to drizzle over the stuffing. Scatter the cheese on top. Cover with aluminum foil and bake (middle rack) for 30 minutes, then uncover and check for dryness; add more stock or broth if the stuffing seems dry, then cover and bake a bit longer. If it seems too wet, leave it uncovered and bake for another 15 minutes.

Serve warm.

Nutrition | Per serving: 410 calories, 12 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 25 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 970 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

- - -

Nana's Andouille and Corn Bread Dressing

8 to 10 servings

Reader Kate Harrington of San Antonio says this side has been on the table at Thanksgiving and Christmas in her family for at least three generations.

MAKE AHEAD: The giblets can be cooked, cooled and refrigerated a day or two in advance. The dressing can be assembled, without the broth, and refrigerated a day in advance.

From a recipe by her grandmother Norma Harrington, who lived in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Ingredients

4 cups water, or more as needed

1 packet turkey giblets (from a whole turkey); can substitute 6 ounces cleaned chicken livers

Two 8.5-ounce packages Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix

2 large eggs

2/3 cup whole or low-fat milk

1/4 cup sugar

Canola oil, as needed

8 ounces cooked/cured (pork) andouille sausage, chopped

1 large white onion, diced

1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and diced

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/4 packed cup chopped parsley

Leaves from 1 sprig fresh rosemary or thyme

2 teaspoons Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning or other Cajun seasoning blend

Steps

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the giblets; once the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to medium/medium-low (so it is barely bubbling) and cook for 1 hour, adding water as needed. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the giblets to a plate to cool, and reserve the cooking liquid.

Cut the cooled giblets into small pieces.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or casserole with tall sides. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Whisk together the Jiffy mixes, eggs, milk and sugar in a mixing bowl, to form a lumpy batter. Pour into the baking dish; bake (middle rack) for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool.

Meanwhile, use enough canola oil to coat the bottom and sides of a large cast-iron skillet, then place over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the andouille sausage; cook, stirring often, until it has all browned nicely. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium; stir in the onion, green bell pepper and celery so that they're evenly coated. Cook until the onions are translucent but have not picked up any color, adding oil as needed to prevent sticking. Remove from the heat.

Crumble the cooled corn bread into a large mixing bowl, then stir in the chopped giblets, sausage, onion mixture, parsley and rosemary or thyme; toss well, then add the Cajun seasoning blend and stir to incorporate.

Press the dressing mixture into the baking dish so that it is firmly packed, then pour the giblet cooking liquid evenly over the top. You may not use all the liquid; but it should be at the point where it is no longer being absorbed. Bake (middle rack) for 30 to 40 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and still moist inside. Cool slightly before serving.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 10): 320 calories, 11 g protein, 43 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 110 mg cholesterol, 880 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 16 g sugar

- - -

Pennsylvania Dutch-Style Potato Filling

10 servings

A staple of Pennsylvania Dutch country, potato filling is a side dish built with butter - and more butter. Consider yourself warned. The dish is also something of a carb hog, injecting the autumnal flavors of traditional Thanksgiving stuffing into mashed potatoes. As such, you likely won't need another potato dish on the holiday table, unless it's the sweet variety.

MAKE AHEAD: The filling can be assembled and refrigerated a day in advance.

Adapted from recipes by Sally Churgai of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and Bonnie Boyer from CookingChannel.com.

Ingredients

20 tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter

4 ribs celery (trimmed), diced

1 medium onion, diced

5 slices white bread, cut into 1/2-inch squares (crusts on)

3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

1/4 cup regular or low-fat milk

1 large egg

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Steps

Melt 12 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in the celery and onion; cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned at the edges.

Add the bread pieces; cook for about 10 minutes, stirring gently, until they absorb the butter in the pan and their crusts have slightly crisped. Be careful not to burn the onion, which will be somewhat caramelized and turn a deeper shade of brown. Let cool.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease a 3-quart baking dish or casserole.

Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water by an inch or two. Add 1/2 teaspoon of the salt to the water; bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium; cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until tender, then drain and return them to the pot. Mash them gently, then immediately fold in the milk, egg, the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter and a teaspoon of salt, stirring until the butter has melted.

Add the bread mixture to the pot, along with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and stir until incorporated. Spoon the mixture into the baking dish or casserole; bake (middle rack) for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the edges start to brown and pull away from the sides of the dish.

Serve hot.

Nutrition | Per serving: 380 calories, 5 g protein, 37 g carbohydrates, 24 g fat, 15 g saturated fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 360 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

- - -

West Coast Oyster Dressing

12 to 16 servings

This recipe typically uses Olympia oysters from the southern Puget Sound, which are said to have a sweet, metallic, celery-salt flavor. If they aren't available, ask your fishmonger for an oyster with a similar flavor profile.

MAKE AHEAD: The sourdough bread cubes can be dried in the oven several days in advance and stored in an airtight container. The dressing's vegetables can be cooked and refrigerated a day in advance. The dressing is best served the same day it's made.

Adapted from a recipe by Santa Barbara, California, resident Carol Dickey.

Ingredients

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish

2 medium onions, coarsely chopped

3 ribs celery, cut into small dice

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed, as needed

1 cup homemade or low-sodium chicken broth or turkey stock, plus more as needed

1-pound loaf sourdough bread, cut into cubes and dried in the oven (see NOTE)

1 tablespoon poultry seasoning blend

2 cups shucked small West Coast oysters, coarsely chopped, plus their liquor (see headnote)

Steps

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use some butter to generously grease a large baking dish or casserole.

Melt the 8 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onions and celery. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, combine the mushrooms and broth in a separate saute pan over medium heat. Cook 10 minutes until tender and most of the liquids in the pan have evaporated.

Place the dried sourdough bread cubes in a large mixing bowl. Add the onion mixture, the mushrooms, the poultry seasoning blend; toss to incorporate, then add the oysters and their liquor and toss so that the dressing is evenly moistened. Add more broth, as needed. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Pack the dressing into the baking dish or casserole. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake (middle rack) for about 45 minutes, then uncover and bake for about 15 minutes, or until nicely browned on top.

Serve warm.

NOTE: Spread the bread cubes on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 10 minutes until they are crisped but not browned. Cool completely.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 16): 160 calories, 7 g protein, 18 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 210 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar

- - -

White Castle Dressing

8 to 12 servings

Using the square sliders created by this Midwestern chain restaurant makes sense as the base of a quick Thanksgiving side: They bring the onion, meat and bread to this basic recipe, which is said to have been created by a White Castle employee who "enhanced her grandmother's family stuffing recipe with a sack of those hamburgers."

These days, you don't need to find one of the company's restaurants to acquire the hamburgers; they are sold in the frozen section of supermarkets and some drug stores.

MAKE AHEAD: The dressing can be assembled and refrigerated (unbaked) a day in advance.

From a recipe provided by Marianne Moore, chef and creative culinary director of Dierbergs School of Cooking in Chesterfield, Missouri, based on the 1991 White Castle stuffing recipe.

Ingredients

12 White Castle Hamburgers (not cheeseburgers; see headnote)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 ribs celery stalks, chopped (about 1 cup)

6 fresh sage leaves, minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth or turkey stock

Steps

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease a 3-quart casserole.

Remove pickles from the burgers, as needed, then cut the burgers into chunks and place in a mixing bowl.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the garlic and cook for about 20 seconds, until fragrant, then stir in the celery and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Remove from the heat, and add the sage, thyme and pepper, stirring to incorporate.

Transfer to the mixing bowl, add 1/2 cup of the broth or stock and stir until evenly moistened; add some or all the remaining broth or stock, as needed. Taste and adjust the pepper, as needed.

Bake (middle rack) for 30 to 40 minutes, until crisped on top. Serve warm.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 12): 160 calories, 7 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 190 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar

These are the melting glaciers that might someday drown your city, according to NASA

By Chris Mooney
These are the melting glaciers that might someday drown your city, according to NASA
This NASA Earth Observatory image obtained July 27, 2012, shows a massive ice island as it broke free of the Petermann Glacier in northwestern Greenland. MUST CREDIT: Handout photo by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon/NASA Earth Observatory

New York City has plenty to worry about from sea level rise. But according to a new study by NASA researchers, it should worry specifically about two major glacier systems in Greenland's northeast and northwest - but not so much about other parts of the vast northern ice sheet.

The research draws on a curious and counterintuitive insight that sea level researchers have emphasized in recent years: As ocean levels rise around the globe, they will not do so evenly. Rather, because of the enormous scale of the ice masses that are melting and feeding the oceans, there will be gravitational effects and even subtle effects on the crust and rotation of the Earth. This, in turn, will leave behind a particular "fingerprint" of sea level rise, depending on when and precisely which parts of Greenland or Antarctica collapse.

Now, Eric Larour, Erik Ivins and Surendra Adhikari of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have teased out one fascinating implication of this finding: Different cities should fear the collapse of different large glaciers.

"It tells you what is the rate of increase of sea level in that city with respect to the rate of change of ice masses everywhere in the world," Larour said of the new tool his team created.

The research was published in Science Advances, accompanied by an online feature that allows you to choose from among 293 coastal cities and see how certain ice masses could affect them if the ice enters the ocean. The scientists also released a video that captures some of how it works.

The upshot is that New York needs to worry about certain parts of Greenland collapsing, but not so much others. Sydney, however, needs to worry about the loss of particular sectors of Antarctica - the ones farther away from it - and not so much about the ones nearer. And so on.

This is the case because sea level actually decreases near a large ice body that loses mass, because that mass no longer exerts the same gravitational pull on the ocean, which accordingly shifts farther away. This means that from a sea level rise perspective, one of the safest things is to live close to a large ice mass that is melting.

"If you are close enough, then the effect of ice loss will be a sea level drop, not sea level rise," said Adhikari. The effect is immediate across the globe.

Indeed, the research shows that for cities like Oslo and Reykjavik, which are close to Greenland, a collapse of many of the ice sheet's key sectors would lower, not raise, the local sea level. (These places have more to fear from ice loss in Antarctica, even though it is much farther away.)

The risk is mainly from the northern parts of Greenland and especially from the ice sheet's northeast, according to research.

This is revealing because while Greenland has hundreds of glaciers, three in particular are known to pose the greatest sea level risk because of their size and, if they collapse, how they could allow the ocean to reach deep into the remaining ice sheet, continually driving more ice loss. The three most threatening by far are Jakobshavn glacier on Greenland's central western coast, Petermann glacier in its far northwest and Zachariae glacier in the far northeast. Zachariae is partof a massive feature known as the Northeast Greenland Ice Stream, which reaches all the way to the center of the ice sheet and through which fully 12 percent of Greenland's total ice flows.

The new research shows that Petermann, and especially the northeast ice stream, are a far bigger threat to New York than Jakobshavn is.

In a high-end global warming scenario run out for 200 years, the study reported, Petermann glacier would cause 3.23 inches of globally averaged sea level rise, the northeast ice stream would cause 4.17 inches, and Jakobshavn would cause 1.73 inches. Of this total, New York would see two inches of rise from Petermann, 2.83 inches from the Northeast ice stream and just 0.6 inches from Jakobshavn.

This all really matters because in the real world, glaciers are melting at very different rates. Jakobshavn is the biggest ice loser from Greenland and is beating a very rapid retreat at the moment. Zachariae is starting to lose ice and looking increasingly worrisome, but still nothing like Jakobshavn. Petermann is holding up the best, for now, though it has lost large parts of the floating ice shelf that stabilizes it and holds it in place.

You will note that in no case does New York get the full effect of ice loss from any of these parts of Greenland - it's still far too close to the ice sheet. But Miami gets 95 percent of the globe's total sea level rise from the northeast ice stream, while distant Rio de Janeiro gets 124 percent, or over five inches in the scenario above.

The same goes for Antarctica - its melting, too, will have differential effects around the world. And that matters even more because the ice masses that could be lost are considerably larger than in Greenland. Antarctica, like Greenland, is melting at different rates. Substantialice loss is already happening in west Antarctica and in the Antarctic peninsula. Meanwhile, although scientists are watching the far larger eastern Antarctica carefully, so far it's not contributing nearly as much to sea level rise.

Farther away - like, say, New York - Antarctic loss is a big deal. Research has shown that if west Antarctica collapses, the U.S. East Coast would see morethan the average global sea level rise.

The current research does not take into account all aspects of sea level rise. Shifting ocean currents can redistribute the mass of the oceans and change sea level, for instance, and as global warming progresses, it causes seawater to expand, and thus a steady rise in seas.

Overall, though, the new study underscores a common theme of recent climate developments: We are now altering the Earth on such a massive scale that it puts us at the mercy of fundamental laws of physics as they mete out the consequences.

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

Russia investigation includes spectacular level of lies

By michael gerson
Russia investigation includes spectacular level of lies

WASHINGTON -- I spent part of my convalescence from a recent illness reading some of the comprehensive timelines of the Russia investigation (which indicates, I suppose, a sickness of another sort). One, compiled by Politico, runs to nearly 12,000 words -- an almost book-length account of stupidity, cynicism, hubris and corruption at the highest levels of American politics.

The cumulative effect on the reader is a kind of nausea no pill can cure. Most recently, we learned about Donald Trump Jr.’s direct communications with WikiLeaks -- which CIA Director Mike Pompeo has called a “hostile intelligence service helped by Russia” -- during its efforts to produce incriminating material on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. But this is one sentence in an epic of corruption. There is the narrative of a campaign in which high-level operatives believed that Russian espionage could help secure the American presidency, and acted on that belief. There is the narrative of deception to conceal the nature and extent of Russian ties. And there is the narrative of a president attempting to prevent or shut down the investigation of those ties, and soliciting others for help in that task.

In all of this, there is a spectacular accumulation of lies. Lies on disclosure forms. Lies at confirmation hearings. Lies on Twitter. Lies in the White House briefing room. Lies to the FBI. Self-protective lies by the attorney general. Blocking and tackling lies by Vice President Pence. This is, with a few exceptions, a group of people for whom truth, political honor, ethics and integrity mean nothing.

What are the implications? Trump and others in his administration are about to be hit by a legal tidal wave. We look at the Russia scandal and see lies. A skilled prosecutor sees leverage. People caught in criminal violations make more cooperative witnesses. Robert Mueller and his A-team of investigators have plenty of stupidity and venality to work with. They are investigating an administration riven by internal hatreds -- also the prosecutor’s friend. And Trump has already alienated many potential allies in a public contest between himself and Mueller. A number of elected Republicans, particularly in the Senate, would watch this showdown with popcorn.

But the implications of all this are not only legal and political. We are witnessing what happens when right-wing politics becomes untethered from morality and religion.

What does public life look like without the constraining internal force of character -- without the firm ethical commitments often (though not exclusively) rooted in faith? It looks like a presidential campaign unable to determine right from wrong and loyalty from disloyalty. It looks like an administration engaged in a daily assault on truth and convinced that might makes right. It looks like the residual scum left from retreating political principle -- the worship of money, power and self-promoted fame. The Trumpian trinity.

But also: Power without character looks like the environment for women at Fox News during the reigns of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly -- what former network host Andrea Tantaros called “a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.” It looks like Breitbart’s racial transgressiveness, providing permission and legitimacy to the alt-right. It looks like the cruelty and dehumanization practiced by Dinesh D’Souza, dismissing the tears and trauma of one Roy Moore accuser as a “performance.” And it looks like the Christian defense of Moore, which has ceased to be recognizably Christian.

This may be the greatest shame of a shameful time. What institution, of all institutions, should be providing the leaven of principle to political life? What institution is specifically called on to oppose the oppression of children, women and minorities, to engage the world with civility and kindness, to prepare its members for honorable service to the common good?

A hint: It is the institution that is currently -- in some visible expressions -- overlooking, for political reasons, credible accusations of child molestation. Some religious leaders are willing to call good evil, and evil good in service to a different faith -- a faith defined by their political identity. This is heresy at best; idolatry at worst.

Most Christians, of course, are not actively supporting Moore. But how many Americans would identify evangelical Christianity as a prophetic voice for human dignity and moral character on the political right? Very few. And they would be wrong.

Many of the people who should be supplying the moral values required by self-government have corrupted themselves. The Trump administration will be remembered for many things. The widespread, infectious corruption of institutions and individuals may be its most damning legacy.

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

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump is now invested in a risky Saudi strategy

By fareed zakaria
Trump is now invested in a risky Saudi strategy

LONDON -- Donald Trump gave a speech this week grading his Asia trip. Not surprisingly, he thought it was a “tremendous success.” “Our great country is respected again in Asia,” he tweeted. All recent polling data from the region suggests the opposite. A core focus of Trump’s trip was Japan and South Korea, but only 17 percent of South Koreans and 24 percent of Japanese express confidence in him, down from 88 percent and 78 percent who expressed confidence in President Obama during his second term. Trump’s rhetoric of self-interest and “America First” was seen by Asians as a sign of retreat, in contrast to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s more open, outward-looking and ambitious agenda.

However, Trump’s foreign policy faces a new challenge that could further disrupt the Middle East, already the most unstable part of the world. Trump has given the green light to an extraordinary series of moves in Saudi Arabia that can only be described as a revolution from above. Some of them suggest real and long-needed reforms. But all appear to have the risk of destabilizing Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has moved to consolidate power in all directions, jailing conservative clerics on the one hand and advocates of political reform on the other. His most recent targets have been some of the kingdom’s most powerful princes, including the head of the National Guard as well as the billionaire investor Alwaleed bin Talal, on allegations of corruption. A senior Arab statesman and businessman told me the reasons given seem suspect. He said, “Every prince in Saudi Arabia has partaken in the institutionalized corruption that is embedded into the system. If this was really about corruption, Alwaleed is the last Saudi prince you would go after.”

If fighting terrorism were a paramount concern, you would not humiliate Mohammed bin Nayef, who was crown prince until he was replaced by Mohammed bin Salman in June, and whose bank accounts have now been frozen. For the last decade, Nayef worked closely with Washington in prosecuting the war against al-Qaida and similar terror groups and was routinely and lavishly praised by American officials. But far from speaking out for this longtime ally, Trump actually tweeted his support for the purge, which has so far been carried out without specific charges or due process.

Saudi Arabia has historically rested on three pillars of stability. There’s the royal family, a large loose group with 15,000-30,000 members, which has intermarried with a second pillar of Saudi society, the tribes. The two ally with the final pillar, the country’s ultra-orthodox religious establishment, whose power has grown over the last four decades. Mohammed bin Salman has been saying the right things about religious moderation and has taken on all three pillars. In doing so he is altering the very structure of the Saudi regime, from a patronage state based on consensus to a police state based on centralized control.

Time will tell whether it will work.

But the greater puzzle and danger is that while taking on this bold and risky domestic agenda, the crown prince has made a series of aggressive moves abroad. He has escalated Saudi intervention in Yemen, with bombing strikes and air, land and sea blockades. He has tried to quarantine Qatar, hoping to turn it into a submissive satellite state. He apparently forced the Lebanese prime minister to resign, hoping to destabilize the Shiite-dominated government. All these are part of an effort to fight back against Iran’s growing regional influence.

These are blunt tools for the complex challenge that is the Middle East. The Saudis are attempting to dislodge the Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah from its position of power in Lebanon and punish Qatar for its alleged ties to the group. But for several years now, the Saudis and Americans have been in an unspoken alliance with Hezbollah against the Islamic State, which is being defeated largely by American-backed Kurdish forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias. Iran’s influence has been nefarious in some areas and helpful in others.

In any event, the Saudi strategy does not seem to be working. The war in Yemen has turned into a disaster, creating a failed state on Saudi Arabia’s border that is seething with anger against Riyadh. Qatar has not surrendered and doesn’t seem likely to anytime soon. So far, the Shiites in Lebanon have acted responsibly, refusing to take the bait and plunge the country into civil war. But everywhere in the Middle East, tensions are rising, sectarianism is gaining ground and, with a couple of miscalculations or accidents, things could spiral out of control. With Trump so firmly supporting the Saudi strategy, America could find itself dragged further into the deepening Middle East morass.

And the biggest loser in the GOP’s tax plan is ... humans

By catherine rampell
And the biggest loser in the GOP’s tax plan is ... humans

Corporations are people, my friend. Both Mitt Romney and the Supreme Court told us so years ago.

Still, they left out one key fact: It’s way better to be a corporate-person than a person-person. At least when Republicans are reshaping the tax code.

Republicans love cutting taxes. They’d cut all the taxes in the world if they could. But the rules that allow senators to pass their tax agenda with only 51 votes require setting priorities for who gets the most generous cuts, or any cuts at all. This week, the party made its top priority abundantly clear.

It chose corporations. By a long shot.

Both the House tax bill -- which passed handily Thursday -- and the Senate version are heavily weighted toward business. Both bills would slash rates on regular corporate profits, “pass-through” business income (currently taxed at regular individual rates) and overseas profits that get repatriated. They also provide other tax breaks for companies, such as allowing full and immediate expensing for qualified investments.

Of course, Republican lawmakers and administration officials promise that these corporate giveaways will really, truly, honest-to-goodness primarily benefit us regular humans, especially humans in the middle class.

That’s because, they claim, corporate tax cuts will unleash a wave of business investment and therefore economic growth, most of which will trickle down to the little people-people.

It’s hard to find an independent economist who buys this. Even corporate executives won’t back up this story.

At the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council meeting this week, a Journal editor asked audience members to raise their hands if their companies planned to invest more should the tax legislation pass. Only a smattering of hands went up.

Gary Cohn, the director of President Trump’s National Economic Council, looked out at the crowd with surprise.

“Why aren’t the other hands up?” he said, laughing a bit.

This was no one-off embarrassment. A survey of 300 companies this summer similarly found that a tax holiday on the repatriation of overseas profits was more likely to lead to share buybacks, mergers and paying down debt than investment and hiring.

It gets worse. The Senate plan isn’t just more generous to companies than it is to individuals. It effectively takes from low- and middle-income individuals to give to corporations.

The Senate bill makes the corporate rate cuts permanent. Which is expensive. So expensive, in fact, that the cuts would cause the bill to run afoul of those rules that allow passage with a simple majority vote.

Senate Republicans came up with a solution, however. To offset the cost of those corporate cuts, they did a few things that hurt individuals.

First, they decided to “sunset” -- that is, make temporary -- nearly all of the goodies for households, such as the doubling of the standard deduction and expanding of the child tax credit, in their bill. Further, they changed the way that individual tax brackets are calculated so that households move into higher marginal rates more quickly than they do under current law.

Finally, they added the repeal of the individual health-insurance mandate, which would have the not-very-intuitive effect of reducing tax subsidies for lower- and middle-income Americans, some of whom will cease buying health insurance without the mandate.

The net result of these changes: Over time, fewer American households get tax cuts. In fact, as of 2021, households making $10,000 to $30,000 would see their taxes go (BEG ITAL)up(END ITAL) on average, according to a report released Thursday by the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’ nonpartisan internal analysis shop.

And, by 2027, every income group under $75,000 would experience tax increases, on average, relative to what they would pay if Congress left the law unchanged.

This doesn’t even account for other effects of repealing the individual mandate that would also hurt many human-persons. Premiums, for instance, would spike, as healthier and younger people dropped out of individual insurance pools.

Nor does it include the fact that passing tax cuts this year would trigger automatic cuts to Medicare starting in January. Not a decade from now, or five years from now, but (BEG ITAL)January(END ITAL). Overriding these cuts would require 60 votes in the Senate.

Perhaps because the legislative process has been so rushed, many senators don’t appear to even know that these cuts are in the offing. Even so, when given the opportunity to vote for an amendment explicitly ruling out cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid if their tax bill blows a hole in the budget, Republicans voted no Wednesday.

Person-persons, rather than corporate-persons, may still be the ones who vote. But they’re clearly not Republican lawmakers’ most prized constituents.

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

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Saudi political explosions risk collateral damage

By david ignatius
Saudi political explosions risk collateral damage

WASHINGTON -- Nearly two weeks after the double political explosion that rocked Riyadh, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to be doing damage control in ways that may help stabilize Saudi Arabia and the region.

The first bombshell was the Nov. 4 arrest on corruption charges of 201 prominent Saudis, including princes and government ministers. Now MBS, as the 32-year-old crown prince is known, is beginning a resolution process that may settle many of these cases out of court.

A senior Saudi official told me Thursday that the kingdom’s anti-corruption commission would follow the standard “plea-bargain process” that is “usually conducted by the public prosecutor prior to transferring a case to the relevant court.” The commission’s overall aim, he said, was to “send a strong message” that corruption won’t be allowed, “irrespective of rank or status.”

The crackdown may have consolidated support for MBS among younger Saudis who resent older, wealthy princes and palace insiders. But his power play risked a backlash within the royal family because it violated the kingdom’s traditional consensual politics. Resolution of corruption cases out of court may dampen such high-level dissension.

The second Nov. 4 explosion was Saad Hariri’s announcement from Riyadh that he was quitting as Lebanon’s prime minister. Hariri’s resignation, which Lebanese sources told me came under pressure from MBS, risked causing instability in Lebanon that would have enhanced Hezbollah’s power there, the opposite of what the Saudis wanted. On Thursday, the Saudis agreed to allow Hariri to travel to France; Lebanese sources said he will then return to Lebanon.

The Hariri episode appears to have convinced Washington and Riyadh that their interests are better served by stability in Lebanon than instability, even though that approach requires some cooperation with Hezbollah, the dominant political faction. A Saudi official told me that the kingdom plans to work with the U.S. to support Lebanese institutions, such as the army, that can gradually reduce the power of Hezbollah and its patron, Iran. MBS seems to have recognized that combating Hezbollah is a long game, not a short one.

Hariri’s resignation and seeming house arrest made him a hero in Lebanon and a symbol of the country’s yearning for sovereignty. This may give him some new leverage when he returns to Beirut. Lebanese sources told me Thursday that Hariri’s supporters may urge Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters from Yemen as a gesture of solidarity. Hariri will also campaign anew for international support for Lebanon’s economy and military.

MBS’ sweeping arrests sent shock waves through the kingdom and the region, and surprised even some Saudis who are close to the crown prince. But the warning signals were there: King Salman said back on March 10, 2015, in his first major speech after taking the throne, that he had “directed the government to review its processes to help eradicate corruption,” according to a Reuters report at the time.

MBS had a reputation as a freewheeling businessman himself before joining the royal court. But he underlined the anti-corruption theme in a May 2017 interview with Al Arabiya television: “If fighting corruption is not on the top of the agenda, it means the [king’s] fight is not succeeding. ... I reiterate that anyone who is involved in corruption will not be spared.”

As examples of the corrupt deals that led to the Nov. 4 arrests, a senior Saudi official cited a land purchase in Jeddah where the government paid roughly double the market price, to provide a big kickback to a prominent official. Another instance was the purchase by the Ministry of Education of vastly overpriced airline tickets for the hundreds of thousands of Saudis studying abroad, with payoffs for officials.

Corruption has been so endemic in Saudi Arabia that many observers assumed it was part of how the House of Saud governed. After first visiting the kingdom in 1981, I wrote a series of articles for The Wall Street Journal about how payoffs were undermining the defense and oil sectors. In subsequent decades, the shakedowns became less visible, but corruption continued.

MBS’ purge looked to many outsiders like a high-risk political move. But a senior prince cautioned me the country isn’t as fragile as it may look. One of MBS’ key backers put it this way: “Corruption can’t keep the country stable. Having a corruption-free country will keep us stable.”

That’s a worthy ambition, but as MBS detonates his bombs, he must avoid blowing himself up.

David Ignatius’ email address is davidignatius@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Homeowners: Don’t panic yet over Senate tax overhaul

By kenneth r. harney
Homeowners: Don’t panic yet over Senate tax overhaul

WASHINGTON -- If you hoped that Senate Republicans would treat homeowners and buyers more kindly in their tax overhaul plans than their colleagues did in the House, you were an optimist. It didn’t happen.

In fact, the Senate tax bill released last week is harsher on residential real estate in some areas than the House version, with two notable exceptions: Senate tax writers retained the current $1 million ceiling on home mortgage amounts that are eligible for interest deductions. The House bill seeks to cut that in half to $500,000. But the Senate’s seeming concession has limited value, given that only a small fraction of homeowners in the U.S. have mortgages of $500,000 to $1 million. Also, the Senate bill leaves intact mortgage-interest deductions on second homes; the House bill would eliminate them.

Here’s a quick look at some key punitive details in the Senate bill’s fine print that haven’t gotten much attention but could be important to you:

-- (BEG ITAL)Home equity loans(END ITAL). Under current law, you can borrow up to $100,000 in “home equity indebtedness” and write off the interest on that amount. Home equity loans have become enormously popular in recent years -- especially in the form of lines of credit (HELOCs) -- as owners’ equity holdings have soared to record levels. In the first quarter of 2017 alone, according to ATTOM Data Solutions, 227,000 new HELOCs worth $43.4 billion were originated around the country. HELOCs are hot.

Among the traditional attractions of HELOCs and other forms of home equity loans has been their flexibility. You can use the money you pull from your equity for whatever you like. That would change drastically under the Senate Republicans’ bill. It would erase the entire category known as “home equity indebtedness” from the tax code, pulling the rug out from under the booming HELOC market. Though the bill doesn’t get into operational details, homeowners with existing first mortgages might still be able to borrow against their equity, but they could be restricted to using the money for improvements to their principal residence.

-- (BEG ITAL)SALT(END ITAL). Deductions of state and local property taxes, sales taxes and income taxes -- the so-called SALT write-offs that are heavily used by homeowners -- take a heavy hit under the Senate bill. The House Republicans’ bill would limit SALT deductions to $10,000 in property taxes. Currently there is no dollar limit, and income and sales taxes can be included. The Senate bill would kill the deduction outright. For owners in high-tax markets such as Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, California, New Jersey, New York, the New England states plus Illinois and Ohio, the Senate’s total wipeout of the deduction could raise their federal tax bills starting next Jan 1.

-- (BEG ITAL)Tax-free gains(END ITAL). The Senate bill would also make a major change in one of the most valuable current tax benefits for homeowners -- the ability to pocket capital gains on home sales free of federal taxation. Under the current tax code, home sellers filing jointly can “exclude” up to $500,000 of gains from a sale (up to $250,000 for single filers) tax-free, provided they have lived in and used the property as their principal residence for an aggregate two years out of the preceding five years. That’s a big deal for many sellers, especially seniors who expect to depend on the cash raised from their sale to supplement their incomes during their retirement years.

Like the House bill, the Senate version rejiggers the tax-free formula in order to slash the number of sellers eligible to use this benefit. To qualify, sellers would have to live in their homes for five out of the preceding eight years, and could only use the tax-free provision once every five years. That’s likely to create problems for young families who move from their first home within the first five years and people who are transferred or move to new jobs more quickly than they had originally planned.

What’s next? The two bills must survive upcoming floor debates, which could be dicey given that both measures gush red ink, add to the deficit and have generated strong opposition for handing too many costly breaks to corporations and wealthy taxpayers. Republicans in both houses will need every vote they can muster.

Bottom line: The changes the bills propose to make in home real estate rules are drastic, but they are no sure thing. Don’t panic quite yet -- this game is just getting started.

Ken Harney’s email address is kenharney@earthlink.net.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

‘Bernie Bernstein’ wants the world to know his name

By dana milbank
‘Bernie Bernstein’ wants the world to know his name

WASHINGTON -- It is time for us as journalists to come clean and to recognize the great debt our profession owes Bernie Bernstein.

After years of toiling in obscurity, Bernie gained national attention Tuesday when an Alabama pastor shared with a local TV station a voice mail left by Bernie. “Hi, this is Bernie Bernstein. I’m a reporter for The Washington Post calling to find out if anyone at this address is a female between the ages of 54 to 57 years old willing to make damaging remarks about candidate Roy Moore for a reward of between $5,000 and $7,000,” it said. “We will not be fully investigating these claims. However, we will make a written report.”

This produced a rather harsh response from Marty Baron, The Post’s executive editor, about the person “falsely claiming to be from The Washington Post. The call’s description of our reporting methods bears no relationship to reality. We are shocked and appalled that anyone would stoop to this level to discredit real journalism.” A Post article about the episode piled on, alleging that “there are no Washington Post reporters or editors named Bernie Bernstein,” and a Post spokeswoman dutifully explained that there is “an explicit policy that prohibits paying sources.”

I understand my colleagues’ reluctance to admit that The Post gathers its news by making robo-calls and paying people to say bad things that we do not confirm.

That is why, for decades, Bernie Bernstein and his colleague Woody Woodward have toiled in The Post’s basement, doing random-digit dialing, 10 hours a day, seven days a week. Bernie and Woody broke scoop after scoop, yet they were always hidden from view while others got the credit.

Until now. Bernie is speaking up. When I found Bernie in his windowless office Wednesday, he was distraught. “I can’t believe Marty said I don’t exist! ‘No relationship to reality’? ‘No Washington Post reporters or editors named Bernie Bernstein’? I made this paper!”

Indeed, you can’t quarrel with success. Bernie and Woody broke the Watergate story, while upstairs their more telegenic colleagues Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (no relation) got the glory. Woody and Bernie robo-called everybody in Washington and offered $1,000 -- it was cheaper back then -- for anyone willing to make damaging remarks about Richard Nixon. They told Ben Bradlee that they would report the claims without fully investigating them, to which Bradlee replied, “I’m cool with that.” In the movie “All the President’s Men,” when Deep Throat says “follow the money,” he is in fact encouraging Bernie and Woody to offer more cash on their robo-calls.

Bernie says he was moved to become a robo-caller in his youth, when he heard inspiring stories about people being offered $20 a pop to make damaging remarks about President Franklin Roosevelt. (Most homes didn’t have telephones back then, so the work was supplemented with robo-telegrams.)

Bernie’s first major triumph was the leak of the Pentagon Papers (often falsely credited to The New York Times). On one of his routine days of random-digit dialing, he reached Daniel Ellsberg and offered him $2,000 to say damaging things about Lyndon Johnson. Bernie was on his way. Iran-Contra, Monica Lewinsky, black-site prisons, the Walter Reed Scandal: Bernie’s robo-calls brought them all to light.

Bernie caused great controversy within The Post in 2016, when he obtained the Access Hollywood tape and exposed the many failures at Trump’s charities -- work attributed to The Post’s David Fahrenthold. When Bernie in his robo-calls offered $4,000 to any person willing to make damaging remarks about Donald Trump, the response was so large that the payments threatened to bankrupt The Post and owner Jeff Bezos.

Bernie told me Wednesday that he was particularly offended by Baron’s denials because of their long history. In 2001 and 2002, Baron, then editor of The Boston Globe, contracted with Bernie to make calls offering $3,000 to anybody “willing to make damaging remarks about” a Catholic priest. Bernie’s contribution produced the extraordinary journalism featured in the movie “Spotlight” -- but, as with “All the President’s Men,” Bernie’s role was edited out.

Even now, as Bernie pays Alabamians to say damaging things about Roy Moore, some colleagues want to keep him secret. It was long thought that the American public simply would not believe or accept that the great journalism of recent decades was accomplished by one unknown man in a basement, dialing random phone numbers and, in an exaggerated New York accent, offering cash for malice he promises not to corroborate.

But I think Bernie’s day has finally come -- because people are ready and willing to believe just about anything. They certainly seem to be in Alabama.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

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