Get the best stories to your readers as they happen. The Washington Post News Service streams breaking news, enterprise and features with photos, graphics and video directly to you.

Revolutionary recycling? A new technology turns everyday trash into plastic treasure.

By Jim Morrison and Shoshana Kordova
Revolutionary recycling? A new technology turns everyday trash into plastic treasure.
Jack

KIBBUTZ TZE'ELIM, Israel - Eight tons of trash are piled high at the entrance of a small factory in this tree-lined kibbutz - rotting food mixed with plastic bags, dirty paper, castoff bottles and containers, even broken toys. But nothing is headed for a landfill. Instead, what's next is a process that could revolutionize recycling.

Within hours, the mound will be sorted, ground, chopped, shredded, cleaned and heated into a sort of garbage caramel, then resurrected as tiny pseudo-plastic pellets that can be made into everyday items like trays and packing crates.

"The magic that we're doing is we're taking everything - the chicken bones, the banana peels," says Jack "Tato" Bigio, the chief executive at UBQ Materials. "We take this waste, and we convert it."

Such upcycling is desperately needed by a world seeking solutions to the environmental challenges caused by the 2 billion tons of waste generated annually. Turning that trash into treasure has long held allure. Yet attempts have fallen short, and cynics abound.

UBQ says it has succeeded where others have failed, creating a radical technology that transforms garbage into the raw materials for plastics manufacturers and earns them a profit in the end.

And by diverting household refuse destined for long-term burial, the process will help to reduce landfill production of a powerful greenhouse gas while creating new life for hard-to-recycle plastic. The loop exemplifies a "circular economy," in which waste is turned into something useful.

One skeptic-turned-convert calls it a breakthrough that could, in the best way, "create very serious disruption."

"If we want to advance to a more sustainable future, we don't only need new technologies, but new business models," said Antonis Mavropoulos, a Greek chemical engineer who is president of the International Solid Waste Association. He visited UBQ's plant here in the Negev Desert and came away convinced. "In this case, we have a byproduct worth a very good price in the market."

Others are still dubious, though they have softened their tone recently. Duane Priddy is the chief executive of the Plastic Expert Group and a former principal scientist at Dow Chemical. Until a call last month with UBQ executives, he and his group had scoffed at their claims. Now they're keeping a more open mind.

"Although we remain skeptical, we look forward to evaluating UBQ products and continuing to learn more about the UBQ technology to further validate their findings and broad applications," the group said in a statement. Should the technology prove commercially viable, "it could be a game changer for the global environment."

The company's push is part of a broader effort during the past several decades as the colossal scope of the world's waste problem grew impossible to ignore. One approach has been to excavate existing sites, in part to recover potentially valuable debris. The strategy hasn't proved profitable, however.

UBQ aims to keep trash from ever going into landfills.

An analysis it commissioned by the Swiss environmental consulting firm Quantis found that keeping decomposing organic waste out of landfills and using it to create second-generation plastics could significantly cut methane, the gas that in the short term contributes more to global warming than carbon dioxide. Substituting a ton of UBQ's pellets for the same amount of polypropylene saves the equivalent of about 15 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, Quantis concluded; adding as little as 10% of its material can make the result carbon neutral, depending on the type of plastic being created.

What's the "magic" behind this? Executives are coy, but biotechnology expert Oded Shoseyov, a Hebrew University professor who has consulted for UBQ, says melting plastics and waste creates a homogeneous substance strengthened by fibers in the organic ingredients.

So far, that alchemy only happens at the plant in Kibbutz Tze'elim, population 464.

A Bedouin woman, her face almost completely covered by a black veil, was among several people at work at the first stage of the process on a Sunday morning. She plucked out a variety of items - larger things like shoes and coffee machines are culled at this point - while household flotsam moved along a short conveyor belt.

Next up were two automated cullings, one involving a magnetized oval track, to eliminate both ferrous and nonferrous metals. Then the waste was shredded and ground into brownish-gray confetti before more sorting, this time targeting glass and rocks.

These stinky prep stages can vary. Bigio says UBQ works to a customer's specifications for characteristics like tensile strength and flexibility. If its material is going to be used in injection molding, trash is sorted again and again to remove glass and metals that could damage delicate molds. If the material's final fate is for use in construction - in composite brick, for example - the sorting is less rigorous.

Regardless, there's one final check and cleaning using near-infrared spectroscopy.

"In UBQ, nothing goes to waste," Bigio said as he led visitors on a tour, past dunes of confetti awaiting their metamorphosis. "Metals and glass go to recyclers. There's no water in the process, so it's really efficient in terms of the environment."

The conversion stage takes place in an adjacent building. As much as five tons of waste can be fed into a red hopper leading to a multi-chamber reactor that sits behind a closed sliding door to block prying eyes. Temperatures up to 400 degrees break down the organic matter into its core elements, and then it and the plastics are re-engineered into a matrix through chemical and physical reactions that UBQ keeps secret.

The result is something of a tongue twister that seems too good to be true, what Bigio calls "a thermoplastic, composite, bio-based, sustainable, climate-positive material."

That is pulverized into a gray powder that looks and feels like ashes, the afterlife of people's waste. The final stage turns the powder into long, spaghetti-like strands that are cooled and cut into round or cylindrical pellets in an array of colors - forest green, bright orange, firehouse red, basic black, plus others.

Getting this far has taken some time. The company has been shepherded for about a decade by Rabbi Yehuda Pearl, a businessman who built Sabra into a hummus superpower before selling his interest to PepsiCo for nearly $50 million. Its pilot facility opened in 2013, and scientists, technicians and other staff spent the next several years on below-the-radar research and testing to ensure the green credentials and profitability of their product.

Pearl, a soft-spoken man with a grandfatherly bearing, said the team wanted to be "bulletproof" given the doubters they'd inevitably face. The company, which these days has more than three dozen employees, holds patents in Israel, the United States, Canada, China, India, South Korea and other countries.

Now UBQ - short for ubiquitous - is stepping into the market. It has publicly acknowledged just one customer, an Israeli company named Plasgad that makes pallets, crates and other products. In August, UBQ announced that 2,000 Plasgad-manufactured recycling bins were headed to the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority. Those bins, made with UBQ pellets, can be recycled in the future using the UBQ process.

According to Pearl, the company is in advanced talks with numerous Fortune 1000 firms interested in utilizing its material. Prominent names are on its board as advisers, including Roger Kornberg, a Stanford professor and Nobel laureate for chemistry.

This glimmer of hope for recycling is timely. The latest data show that Americans generate 262.4 million tons of waste a year - about 4.4 pounds per person per day. Where to put it is increasingly problematic. In 2018, China blocked the import of most plastic waste, essentially forcing more into landfills around the world. Some U.S. cities have ended their recycling programs.

UBQ Materials is itself a recycled, upcycled idea. The company's genesis traces back to a member of the Israeli armed forces who received compensation after he developed cancer during training dives in the polluted Kishon River. As Shoseyov recounted, the soldier took the money and started a company to mix plastic with polluted mud from the river - what he thought would be an inexpensive solution to encasing toxic substances in the riverbed. Scientists, Shoseyov said, would never have pursued such an outlandish concept.

Pearl invested $3.5 million in it, however. And while that first venture went bankrupt, he consulted with experts and decided the core idea had promise. He obtained the original patents and formed UBQ in 2012. The big breakthrough came when he asked whether the material could be liquefied enough to flow, a feat many experts told him was near impossible.

In the laboratory, the first tests replaced 10% of plastic with UBQ material in an injection molding machine. It worked, creating a small cup. Gradually, the amount of UBQ material was increased. Even at 90%, that garbage caramel still flowed.

The team continues investigating new applications and testing characteristics like durability. UBQ says its material doesn't break down and can have more than half a dozen lives, unlike most plastics, which can be recycled only once or twice because they degrade. Research has shown that additives can also be blended in to provide flame retardant or UV protection.

"This lab is the heart of the company," said Bigio, a businessman by training. He has lived in Israel since 1984, though his native Peruvian accent comes through in both Hebrew and English.

The plant's raw material is waste hauled from Tel Aviv's Hiriya transfer station, which otherwise would go to a landfill near Beersheba. The company has also imported waste from around the globe to ensure its approach works with garbage from other countries.

The facility can produce about one ton of UBQ material per hour, 5,000 to 7,000 tons annually. Another site, with an annual capacity of up to 100,000 tons, is being planned. Demand is huge, Bigio said, with the global plastic injection industry a $325 billion market. He and Pearl - one working from Israel, the other from New York - say their technology is easily scaled. They say UBQ is already making money on its manufacturing process, though they declined to give specific numbers.

Moving a start-up into the mainstream is a familiar refrain for Pearl. He owned a kosher specialty grocery in Scarsdale, New York, when he invested in Sabra in 1994, helping increase revenue from $1 million annually to $7 million in eight years. After he took control of Sabra in 2002, its fortunes skyrocketed. Sales jumped by 50% annually. He's had comparable success with his Long Island synagogue, Anshei Shalom, which started with seven families. Today, it has more than 300.

"It was similar with UBQ," he says. "I saw the germ of an idea that might be grown and influenced."

This time, instead of putting hummus in every refrigerator, he's aiming to put garbage in every piece of plastic.

- - -

Morrison reported from Virginia.

Years after a triple slaying gutted a family, one last death is mourned

By Kathleen McLaughlin
Years after a triple slaying gutted a family, one last death is mourned
A blue urn containing the ashes of Sean Brooks was the centerpiece of his funeral in Bozeman, Mont., nearly 32 years and hundreds of miles from where his life was ravaged as a young boy. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Janie Osborne

BOZEMAN, Mont. - Hours before the snow began falling in a sudden autumn blizzard, three siblings gathered beneath the tall pines of the city cemetery. They were there to bury their little brother, the final victim of a murderous rampage that more than three decades earlier claimed their parents and grandmother.

The killer had been a stranger, a 16-year-old boy who lived a house away in the eastern Montana town of Glendive. On a frigid midnight just days before Thanksgiving, he showed up at their front door, barged in and started firing.

It's difficult today, in an era of gun violence and mass shootings, to grasp how much his crime shocked an entire state and shattered two communities hundreds of miles apart. In 1987, Montana was a relatively safe, far-flung web of small cities and towns, with less than a million people total. It was a place where families routinely left their doors unlocked. That began to change.

The killer would go on to become the most prolific murderer in modern Montana history before hanging himself in prison. The 9-year-old boy he attacked would survive, though with a brain injury and severe psychological trauma that ultimately proved inescapable.

Sean Brooks died in late summer after years of running from the demons of that night. He was until the end a jokester, a charmer, an unflagging friend to the homeless, animals and just about anyone down on their luck. He'd moved far away from Montana and, for a time, had a job he loved and a partner who made him smile.

Yet, as his brother and two sisters stood graveside, that period of calm seemed like a fleeting, illusory moment. For them and the other relatives and friends at the cemetery, Sean's death underscored how such violence reverberates for a lifetime.

"He never had a chance," said Helen Wilson, the family friend who helped raise him in the tragedy's aftermath.

Jim and Sharon Brooks had not wanted to move their family to Glendive. It was nearly five hours away, almost to the North Dakota border, but when the Burlington Northern Railroad shuttered its machine shops in Livingston and eliminated 300 jobs overnight, their town splintered. Jim, a machinist, was at least offered a transfer, though the place they were going had little in common with the place they were leaving beyond a railroad line and the Yellowstone River.

They'd try to make the best of it. "They didn't have a choice," recalled Mike Brooks, who was then a high school senior.

One bright spot was the house they found, a rancher with spacious bedrooms and a sprawling basement on the edge of town. It had a big yard for Sean and Sherri and plenty of room for Mike and Sami, the oldest, to stay when they came home on breaks from college.

By fall 1987, 14-year-old Sherri was fast becoming a basketball star. She was a starter on the Glendive Red Devils girls' team, and on the evening of Nov. 19, she was playing in a regional tournament, her parents and grandmother in the stands cheering. After the game, she decided to hang out with friends to celebrate the team's victory. The rest of the family headed home. Both Mike and Sami were away at school.

About the same time, a sullen youth with deep-set eyes and a thick mullet haircut was at a party getting drunk on Southern Comfort. Doug Turner had recently been released from a juvenile alcohol treatment program and was reportedly mouthing off to whomever would listen about how he was going to kill someone that night. No one took him seriously.

He showed up at the Brooks house around midnight, a stranger armed with a rifle. The family was waiting for Sherri, the door unlocked. Turner struggled with Jim Brooks at the door and shot him dead in the living room. He then moved through the house and shot the two women. Sharon stumbled into the street.

Sean and a friend had been playing in the basement and ran upstairs when they heard the noise. The teenager aimed at both boys, but his gun misfired, so he clubbed them with the rifle butt. When Turner finally wandered away, Sean ran outside and found his dying mother. A neighbor driving by pulled him into her car and called the police.

At that point, the Brooks family had lived in Glendive for just over two years.

The town has not aged well in the decades since. Its population has fallen nearly 20%, part of a long, slow exodus from family farms and rail transport in this part of the country. Much of downtown is in tatters, belying the signs in store windows that proclaim: "I believe in Glendive."

In the Highland Park subdivision, the Brooks family's former house calls little attention to itself. A tall fence shields the front yard. The house where the family's killer lived, an empty lot away, also remains standing. His mother, who could not be reached for comment, still lives in town.

Turner wasn't the first violent teen to make the news in Montana during the 1980s. A couple years earlier, two boys in Butte, aged 14 and 15, had killed their mothers and a sister not far from their junior high school. Under state law at the time, the pair could not be tried as adults. They were sent to a reform school and released at 21, their records sealed. The boys' stay overlapped with the several months that Turner spent at the facility for drug-related crimes.

It's impossible to know whether the trio interacted but is equally impossible that Turner didn't know about the other two and what they had done. One thing is certain, though: Their crime altered his life. The Montana legislature revised the law because of it, which meant that, at 16, Turner could be tried and sentenced as an adult for triple homicide.

He would kill six more people while in prison, then hang himself with a bedsheet in his cell on death row. In 16 years, he never gave a reason for what he did to the Brooks family. He never even admitted to remembering it.

Over the years, Sean's big brother kept a thick, weathered manila envelope unopened. A packet of dozens of newspaper clippings, sent by a relative, retold the public version of his family's private anguish. In the final weeks of Sean's life, Mike Brooks finally opened the envelope, scanning the yellowed pages and creased photographs and realizing for the first time what the rest of the state and the nation beyond was told about their ordeal.

Forgetting was better for so many years, he says, because the family felt so stigmatized.

"We couldn't even go to the mall in Bozeman without people pointing and whispering," he said.

He learned little new from the old stories, but he and his sisters rediscovered painful images that had been offered up for all to see.

One front-page photo showed the chalk outline of their mother's body in the street in front of their home. Another was a close-up portrait of family members on their way into the funeral: Mike, 19, in visible anguish; Sherri 14, sad but stoic; their grandfather, his face twisted by the pain of losing his wife and only child. His youngest grandchild, pulled close beside him, stares hard at the ground. A small shaved spot on Sean's head marked where he'd been hit and needed stitches. For the rest of his life, his strawberry-blond hair never grew back there.

They all coped, and tried to move on, in different ways.

The tragedy freed Mike from an ongoing struggle over how to tell his family that he was gay. His parents' deaths devastated him but persuaded him to live his life. He moved to more liberal Missoula to finish college, began dating men and eventually met his husband.

Sami was halfway through college in Bozeman and early in a relationship with the man she later would marry. She was the motherly sister, and her mission would become caring for her little brother.

Sherri focused on basketball. Her parents and grandparents had been unfailingly proud of her athletic prowess, and playing well felt like a tribute to their memories. "Basketball saved my life," she explained through tears at the cemetery.

Then there was Sean. He stayed with Sami after the murder until he was 15, about the time he discovered that alcohol soothed his anxiety. He moved back to Livingston and got through high school and college. He and his siblings remained close but didn't speak much about the murders. If something was mentioned, he'd leave the room.

"I can't imagine what he went through, seeing what he saw that night, the way he changed," said Rusty Shipman, a friend of the Brooks kids in Livingston. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of this family and what happened to them."

For the three older children who weren't home that night, the trauma became a kind of background noise. For Sean, the trauma never really receded. He didn't like being alone anywhere. Even as an adult, he wore his father's class ring and kept a fading photo in his wallet. It showed him as a toddler, smiling atop his mother's lap.

Booze killed him in the end. He drank more and more over the years, leading to more falls, more head injuries, strained friendships, broken relationships. Rehab never worked; his siblings took care of his bills, his housing, his practical matters, but they couldn't reach in deep enough to pull him out. In his 30s, Sean moved near his brother in Arizona. There he found work and love, only to crash hard when his partner died suddenly and he lost his job.

Not quite two years ago, he learned his liver was failing. A transplant might have saved him, but the operation was impossible if he kept drinking. He couldn't stop.

By early August, he was dying. He was unrecognizable from past photos, his handsome face bloated and distorted because of the toxins his liver was unable to filter. He was mostly incoherent. A sometime friend was staying with him, using his debit card to buy him food and Mike's Hard Lemonade.

Within a week, his siblings moved Sean into hospice. He died Aug. 19, with all of them at his bedside. He was 41.

"It's so painful, even after 30-some years," admitted Sami, who still deals with anxiety that someone she's close to will die suddenly. "It's one thing after another with our family. It's just a constant reminder of the loss."

She, Mike and Sherri brought Sean's ashes home to Montana and buried half with his parents, placing an elegant blue urn in their plot.

The rest of his remains, they gave to the grand sweep of the Yellowstone River.

Students, their families try to navigate through experiment to integrate Brooklyn's middle schools

By Laura Meckler
Students, their families try to navigate through experiment to integrate Brooklyn's middle schools
Angel Angon Quiroz, center, speaks with fellow students in the auditorium at M.S. 447 Math & Science Exploratory School in Brooklyn, N.Y. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Yana Paskova

NEW YORK - On the first day of sixth grade, at his new school in a new neighborhood, Angel Angon Quiroz, 11, sat by himself in the corner of the cafeteria, wondering if he had made a mistake.

Students at Angel's old elementary school overwhelmingly come from poor and Hispanic families. Now, a new integration plan in Brooklyn had placed him at a middle school called the Math & Science Exploratory School. It was popular with affluent families, but would he fit in?

"Everyone else knows each other, but I know none of them," he said. "We are all puzzles, and I'm the only puzzle who doesn't fit."

Sophie Rivas, who comes from one of those affluent white families, badly wanted to attend Math & Science or one of her other top choices. Like Angel, she ranked Math & Science first on her school lottery application, but because Angel's family is low-income, he had priority. Sophie did not.

Instead, Sophie traveled to Sunset Park, where Angel lives, to a school she had not heard of until she found out she was placed there. She arrived to find she was one of the only non-Hispanic children in her class.

Better days would follow for Sophie and for Angel, too. But on the first day of school, she came home and collapsed in tears. "It was just overwhelming," she said.

Coast to coast, America's urban schools remain divided by race, 65 years after the Supreme Court declared segregated schools inherently unequal. Schools in many small towns are now more integrated than in most big cities.

New York City, with more than 1 million students, is far and away the nation's largest school district - and one of its most segregated. Resistance to integration dates to the 1950s, when mothers in Queens staged an early demonstration against busing.

Now, in fits and starts, the city is becoming a laboratory of experimentation, examining whether it's possible to tackle the stratification that courses through urban districts.

First, Mayor Bill de Blasio, D, tried - and has so far failed - to overhaul the admissions process for eight elite specialized high schools, which admit few black or Hispanic students. He is now considering a recommendation for a citywide plan to eliminate most gifted and talented programs, which attract a disproportionate number of white and Asian students.

In Lower Manhattan, an integration plan for elementary schools is in its second year, and another diversity plan is under discussion for seven elementary schools in Brooklyn. The schools chancellor says tackling segregation is a priority. And on Thursday, the New York City Council approved a measure requiring every school district in New York City to create an integration plan.

"New York City is really at the forefront of the school integration discussion," said Richard Kahlenberg, an expert on integration at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes integration. Kahlenberg, who serves on a city panel appointed to look at the issue, said the sheer number of ideas under discussion or in development is encouraging. "That's unusual in a country where separate but equal is the primary education strategy."

Now, all eyes are on the middle school plan in Brooklyn and a more modest version that took effect this fall in Manhattan. Success could buoy the chances for other, more ambitious efforts. Failure will surely set them back.

It won't be easy, chiefly because the status quo has worked for the most affluent, powerful families by giving them considerable control over where their children attend school. Changing the rules is a fraught and emotional proposition that pits the societal imperative of giving all children access to high-quality schools against parents who are seeking the best education for their own kids.

Under the old system, criteria set by each school played a big role in deciding who went where. Certain middle schools required high test scores and excellent behavior ratings from elementary school, and affluent families gravitated to them. Over time, various schools won reputations for excellence, and with each passing year, their incoming classes grew whiter and wealthier.

Take Math & Science, the school Angel entered this fall. Last year, 33% of incoming sixth-graders were English-language learners or came from poor families, and it was that high because the school had begun a version of the diversity program two years earlier.

Meanwhile, at Charles O. Dewey Middle School in Sunset Park, where Sophie is enrolled, that figure was 95%.

Last spring, Angel and Sophie were among about 3,700 fifth-graders who entered the middle school lottery and were affected by the new diversity program in District 15, one of 32 districts in the New York City school system. Their situations are very different, though. Both children were allowed to rank their choices for middle school, but Angel's choices were given more weight as the district worked to balance each of the school's populations.

Under the new plan, family preference still matters, but 52% of sixth-grade seats at each school are reserved for children from poor families or for those learning English, reflecting the demographics of the district as a whole. The city's goal is for each school to include 40% to 75% priority-group students by the program's fourth year.

Preliminary enrollment data released Thursday showed that eight of the district's 11 middle schools hit that target this fall. The portion of children from priority groups increased at Math & Science and other schools that have been most popular with affluent families. The portion of priority-group students fell at some other schools, including M.S. 88, which Angel's sister attends. At Dewey and another Sunset Park middle school, the numbers barely changed.

Backers say the change is an improvement for everyone and note that the plan was developed with extensive community input.

In Park Slope, Liz Phillips, principal of the elementary school P.S. 321, said children used to feel enormous anxiety about where they would be admitted. Some parents, she said, spent every parent-teacher conference lobbying for higher grades in hopes of getting their kids into the most selective middle schools.

Her counterpart at Sunset Park School, principal EuJin Tang, said that under the old system, many of her fifth-graders would not even consider applying to the district's highest-ranked schools. Two years ago, Tang said, her school sent 10 students to M.S. 51, which some consider the most elite middle school in the district. This year, she said, 55 were admitted.

"I had families in tears [of joy] when they looked at where their children were going," she said.

This sort of plan is possible only because a significant number of middle-class and wealthy families live in the area covered by the integration plan, Kahlenberg said. If there are too many poor kids, he said, meaningful integration is not possible. By Kahlenberg's calculations, integration is possible in nine of the city's 32 school districts.

Others caution that it won't work anywhere if affluent parents leave the public schools. When Mike Bloomberg was mayor, he worked to attract and keep these families by giving them considerable control over school placement. If you take that power away, these parents may choose private schools or to move, said Joel Klein, schools chancellor under Bloomberg.

"If you look at many urban school districts, you will find they are overwhelmingly minority because the middle class has already moved out," Klein said.

In Brooklyn, many families, affluent and poor, were happy with their placements when they were announced last spring. But 45 children were assigned to Charles O. Dewey, the middle school Sophie is attending, who had not included it anywhere on their ranked list of choices. Enrollment figures indicate most of those students did not show, moving to private or charter schools, or perhaps leaving the district. The percent of kids from priority groups enrolled in Dewey's sixth grade class went from 95% last year to 92% this year.

Anita Skop, the district's superintendent, acknowledged the numbers at Dewey fell well short of the goal, but she said she hopes they will improve. "Do I think it's all going to happen in one year? No, it's not," she said. "That doesn't mean it's not working."

Preliminary enrollment data show the overall racial makeup of District 15's sixth-grade class this year barely changed, with no sign of white flight from the public system. White children made up 31% of all kids last year and this year.

Didier Louvet's son was assigned to Dewey but opted not to go. He had participated in a French immersion program during elementary school, and the family was devastated he was not placed at the middle school with a French program they were expecting him to attend.

Soon after receiving news of his son's placement, Louvet, like all other parents whose children had been unexpectedly placed at Dewey, received a call from Dewey's principal at the time, Eric Sackler. Louvet was not persuaded by the principal's promise to create a French immersion program at Dewey. Rather, based mostly on test scores, he saw Dewey as an unsuccessful school.

His concerns were not related to race or ethnicity, he said. But he said he wanted his son educated with kids more like him in other ways.

"It's not a question of just the color of your skin. Some kids are driven. Some kids are less driven. Some kids are smart. Some kids are less smart. Some kids are going to make the effort, and some kids are not going to make the effort," he said.

Louvet enrolled his son in a private school.

- - -

When she was in fifth grade, Sophie Rivas and her parents debated which of the most popular middle schools to rank first on her application that would be used in the lottery. Sophie, a quiet girl with straight blond hair and braces, really liked M.S. 51, the school many of her friends were ranking first. Her parents preferred New Voices School of Academic & Creative Arts, the school her older sister attended, or Math & Science, where her other sister went.

They considered which schools would best nurture her love of reading and writing, what sports were offered, whether uniforms were required. Sophie visited seven or eight schools before ranking Math & Science as her top choice.

On April 15, Sophie's friends were excitedly texting about where they had matched. Sophie began frantically calling and texting her mom to find out her result. Carolyn Rivas, Sophie's mother, had logged into the system from work and saw her daughter was placed at Dewey, a school they knew almost nothing about.

Carolyn went home to share the news, and when she walked into their Cobble Hill apartment, Sophie burst into tears.

Carolyn then met her husband, Andrew, at a bar to talk through the situation. She feared his emotions might unsettle Sophie even more. They wanted to present a unified front and decided the message to their daughter would be: "You're a great kid, you're a great student and you're going to be fine."

Carolyn was also a mess. A first-grade teacher at Sophie's elementary school, she began calling anybody she could think of to try to get Sophie into a different middle school. She investigated the appeals process. She put Sophie's name on the waiting list for a charter school. Her husband, Andrew Rivas, grew concerned. "You have to stop emailing people, and you have to stop crying," he told her.

Then, Carolyn got a call from Sackler, the principal, who addressed some of her preliminary concerns. Sackler also came to their elementary school and met with the parents of kids who had been placed at Dewey. He told them about Dewey's international travel program and its arts and photography classes. He explained that test scores were low because so many families were juggling complex lives in poverty, often with parents who don't speak English.

As the meeting concluded, Andrew texted his wife: "Maybe we shouldn't appeal." They toured the school and were impressed with the teachers. They still had concerns but decided that unless the city granted their appeal, which seemed unlikely, Sophie was going to Dewey. She had one friend, Anna Leale, going with her.

"We started to think, 'Why are we living in New York City?' " Carolyn said over the summer. "She has an opportunity to have friends who aren't from her neighborhood, whose lives are different from hers. I want her to see not everyone in New York City lives the way she lives."

On the first day of school, Sophie dressed in her black polo with the Charles O. Dewey crest in the corner and a khaki skirt, the required uniform she had dreaded, and waited with Anna for half an hour for the school bus the district had promised. It never came. Anna's mother, Allison Leale, took the girls to school by subway.

That evening, Sophie was unsettled but didn't have specific complaints. She was still anxious about a Spanish immersion program her parents chose, in which science would be taught in Spanish some days. Her class appeared to be filled with native Spanish speakers, but she knew no Spanish.

Sophie said she wasn't sure how she felt about being one of the only non-Hispanic white children in her class. "I think it was a new feeling for you, and that may be why it's hard to name," Carolyn said to her daughter. "New York City is actually majority black and Hispanic."

On the third day of school, the bus still had yet to come. (It came on day four.) Waiting in a drizzly rain, Sophie's stomach was hurting. She didn't want breakfast; she was confused about which bathrooms were open when, and she feared not having one available when needed. Her mom brought her a Tums and an umbrella to the bus stop, and promised to email the guidance counselor to straighten things out. "Have a good day," she said. "I love you so much."

On the subway ride to school that morning, Allison Leale ran into a father from the neighborhood who railed against the diversity program. "How about focusing on making those schools better as opposed to doing a social experiment?" he volunteered.

Like Sophie's mom, Allison had toured Dewey and had come around. After confirming Sophie was attending Dewey, she gave up a last-minute seat she had secured for her daughter at a charter school. "Dewey is a superior school," she said. "I was just blown away by it."

In math class, Sophie shot her hand into the air with the right answer. In science, she seemed as befuddled as everyone else by the question of whether all of them eat plastic every day. (Answer: Yes, inadvertently.)

By lunch, Sophie was sitting with Anna and a small group of other sixth-grade girls, munching and smiling. The guidance counselor, having received Carolyn's email, pulled Sophie aside and made her promise she understood where the bathroom was. "Do you pinkie promise?" the counselor asked Sophie. With a big smile, Sophie nodded yes.

Then, Sophie, Anna and their new friends headed to the playground. They chased each other around in a vigorous game of tag, dodging wayward basketballs along the way.

- - -

When Angel Angon Quiroz was in fifth grade, his father suggested he apply to the same middle school his sister attended, known as M.S. 88. Last year, 8 in 10 sixth-graders at M.S. 88 came from low-income families or were learning English. His sister also wanted him to go there, "so she can take care of me," Angel said.

But Angel had been told there were other schools he might like, and he was determined to learn more. Touring them was hard for his father, Alfonso Angon, 39, who works six days a week for a furniture store and speaks limited English. Angel's mother, who works in food preparation for a restaurant, speaks almost no English. "We don't use the internet too much, you know," his dad said.

He moved to the United States from Mexico around 2002 and met his wife soon after. They decided to stay after two children were born, hoping to give them a better life.

His living quarters grew larger as his family grew. He first lived in one small room, then a larger room. Now, the family rents one half of an apartment in Sunset Park, up a steep staircase. They have two bedrooms - one for the parents, one for the kids - and share the kitchen and bathroom with tenants on the other side of the unit. Money is always tight, he said. "You need to pay for everything over here."

Most Saturday mornings, Alfonso takes Angel to the transit museum in Brooklyn, nourishing his son's granular knowledge of the New York subway system.

As he considered his middle school options, Angel was a little scared to go to M.S. 88, saying his sister's phone had been stolen in elementary school and that he feared the culprits were now at her middle school. He also suggested other far less likely scenarios. "What I'm worried about is people are drug addicts and there's a lot of kidnappers and a lot of kids near schools. I don't want to get kidnapped."

Angel decided his first choice was M.S. 447, the Math & Science Exploratory School, the same school Sophie had ranked first. He was admitted.

Over the summer, Angel said he was most excited about students there getting their own lockers and about learning more math.

"Math is a thing that people use throughout their lives," he said. "When you go to work, everyone will tell you you need to use math to be a cashier, or those tax people who do taxes and all that stuff."

On the first day of school, Angel woke up at 5 a.m. to shower, comb his hair just right and pack his backpack with binder, notebook, pencil case, two pencils, an eraser and keys to the apartment. Clad in new jeans, new navy dress shirt with white polka dots and new sneakers, he bounded out of his apartment and confidently walked to one subway line and then transferred to another.

But as he waited for the teachers to divide incoming students into classes, he could hear his new classmates chatting and laughing, and he realized he didn't know anybody. He wondered if he should have chosen M.S. 88.

Another sixth-grader, a white girl, saw Angel by himself and approached. "Hey, how are you doing?" she asked. He shook his hand to indicate he was shaky but also smiled.

In his classroom, there was evidence the diversity plan was working: 14 of the students appeared to be white, and 14 were students of color, mostly Hispanic and Asian. Angel was quick to raise his hand with answers, and within the first hour was chatting happily with the boy seated next to him.

When a teacher asked the class how they can each ensure a positive experience for everyone, Angel had a ready answer.

"If someone's looking down, I'll go up to them and I'll ask them if they need a friend," he said. "If they say yes, I'll be that friend."

Angel's class filed into the auditorium to listen to the principal address all the new sixth-graders. She talked about the book students were supposed to read over the summer ("The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind") and how there would be group discussions. Angel had missed orientation and had not read the book; he would later catch up.

Then, it was time for lunch. Angel was sitting with a group of boys when suddenly they rearranged seats in a way that left Angel momentarily at a table by himself. Some of these nearby boys had opinions about the new middle-school assignment plan. They mentioned friends from elementary school who didn't get into schools they wanted even though they had worked hard and received top grades.

"You can work hard and it doesn't matter at all," complained Reed Magliano.

Isaac Lazaroff said one of the smartest kids in his fifth-grade class was assigned to Dewey but decided to go to a Catholic school instead. "And she worked really hard," Henry Bardfeld added. "She won the spelling bee in our class."

Others had joined Angel's table, but he was mostly quiet, looking out the window. He had not packed a lunch but said he wasn't hungry.

"Third Avenue is right here," he said, orienting himself to the building. "I'm trying to figure out where we are."

- - -

The Washington Post's Moriah Balingit contributed to this report.


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

There was definitely no irony in Alexander Vindman's testimony. Right?

By alexandra petri
There was definitely no irony in Alexander Vindman's testimony. Right?

ALEXANDRA PETRI COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT RELEASE)

(For Petri clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By ALEXANDRA PETRI

"In Russia, my act of expressing my concerns to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions and offering public testimony involving the president would surely cost me my life. ... Dad, my sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth."

-- (BEG ITAL)Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, in his opening testimony before the House Intelligence Committee(END ITAL)

This was either a lovely, inspiring reminder of the great hope that America has to offer, or a statement laced with deep, bitter irony! Stay tuned for which! After this lovely statement about how our system differs, at least in theory, from an autocratic regime, Vindman and vice-presidential aide Jennifer Williams faced approximately these lines of questioning:

CHAIRMAN ADAM SCHIFF (D): I will begin by detailing the honors and plaudits these witnesses have received, just as a contrast to the way they have been described so far (as a "Never Trumper" and "maybe a secret Ukrainian asset seeking to undermine this country from within, which you can tell because he has dedicated his entire lifetime to the service of our country, something President Trump would never do, and thus an act that is inherently suspect," respectively).

RANKING REPUBLICAN DEVIN NUNES: (BEG ITAL)[Blowing a ring of smoke.](END ITAL) Welcome to the other side of the looking glass. Nothing that you see is real. Words have no meaning. I'm suing an imaginary cow. This Secret Ukrainian is wearing some sort of a fancy jacket with an arcane symbol on it, which I bet reflects a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top.

VINDMAN: This is my U.S. Army uniform, and the symbol I think you are talking about is a Purple Heart.

NUNES: Sounds fake, but, okay. Isn't it true that if Democrats were serious about hating corruption, they would be impeaching Hunter Biden? Please tell me whom you told about this call so that I can identify who the whistleblower was.

SCHIFF: To be clear, Lt. Col. Vindman, you don't have to do that.

NUNES: Ah, but Chairman, how can you tell that I am trying to identify the whistleblower, if you have not spoken to him? Game, set, touchdown!

MOST OF THE DEMOCRATIC QUESTIONERS: Unfortunately, we are limited to nonfiction questions. Is it true you were on a disturbing call where President Trump asked the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden as a "favor"?

VINDMAN: Yes.

DEMOCRATIC QUESTIONERS: And you were disturbed by that?

VINDMAN: Yes.

DEMOCRATIC QUESTIONERS: Why?

VINDMAN: Because it was obviously disturbing.

DEMOCRATIC QUESTIONERS: See, again, this is -- if people don't get why this is bad, I don't have a ton of options here. Uh. Now I will deliver a beautiful eulogy of your years of service. My question is: How did you come to be so brave, and has the country been grateful enough to you?

VINDMAN: You are welcome, and, I would have said yes until very recently.

JOHN RATCLIFFE (R): BOMBSHELL ALERT! I have done a word search through all of the testimony, and I have not found the word "bribery" in it one time! Not one time! Pretty sure that means there was not bribery.

SCHIFF: Uh.

RATCLIFFE: (BEG ITAL)[Confidently but with an underlying nervousness.](END ITAL) First they used the term "quid pro quo," then they used the word "extortion," now they're saying "bribery." But those words can't all be talking about the same thing, can they? Right? I mean, is that how words work? Can two different words be talking about the same thing? That can't be right, can it?

VINDMAN: Someone help this man.

REPUBLICAN QUESTIONER: When you were offered the position of King of Ukraine, were you very tempted, because of your deep corruption?

VINDMAN: No.

REPUBLICAN QUESTIONER: Is it true that everyone who worked with you said you were bad and untrustworthy, a garbage employee, a bad man with the wrong shape of hands who is like the vile goose of the office, who stinks in the nostrils of heaven and leaves smelly things in important places?

VINDMAN: I don't know about that. Here is a positive performance review I received, though.

SEAN MALONEY (D): Say that thing about your dad again, if you would, Lt. Col. Vindman. Why do you not feel worried for your safety?

VINDMAN: This is America, the country I have served and defended. And here, "right" matters. (BEG ITAL)[Staring directly into camera.](END ITAL) Right?

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Republicans portrayed Vindman as disloyal. They have no sense of decency.

By dana milbank
Republicans portrayed Vindman as disloyal. They have no sense of decency.

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT RELEASE)

(For Milbank clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By DANA MILBANK

WASHINGTON -- So this is how President Trump and his apologists say "thank you for your service."

Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman sat forward in the witness chair, festooned. On his left breast he wore the Combat Infantryman Badge, a testament to his ground combat in Iraq, and below that the Purple Heart, a souvenir of the IED that injured him while on patrol outside Fallujah. After Iraq, Vindman worked for the Joint Chiefs of Staff before the Pentagon sent him to the White House.

But because he cooperated with the impeachment inquiry, Republicans portrayed Vindman as a disloyal American. They insinuated that he had allegiance to Ukraine because a Ukrainian official had three times asked Vindman, who emigrated from Ukraine as a 3-year-old, to be the country's defense minister.

Vindman, though he suspected the offer was in jest, rejected it and reported it to his commanders and U.S. counterintelligence.

But at Tuesday's House Intelligence Committee hearing, Republican counsel Steve Castor used the incident to insinuate disloyalty. "Do you have any reason why he asked you to do that? … Did you leave the door open?"

And worst: "Did you ever think," Castor asked, "that it might create at least a perception of a conflict?"

Thus did this decorated officer, after more than 20 years of service, have to defend his faithfulness.

"I'm an American. I came here when I was a toddler," Vindman said. He added that he thought the Ukrainian official's inquiry "rather comical." (The Ukrainian said he was joking.)

The repugnant insinuation planted, Trump ran with it. Presenting it as evidence of the "impeachment scam," Trump retweeted a White House official's message that Vindman "was offered the position of defense minister for the Ukrainian government THREE times!"

They have no sense of decency.

Republicans accused Vindman of leaking, having poor judgment, violating his chain of command, accessing colleagues' computers and having a "nonsense" view of Trump's thinking. The committee's ranking Republican, Devin Nunes (Calif.), said Vindman may need to "plead the fifth" and, departing from the usual protocol for questioning military witnesses, called him "Mr. Vindman."

"Ranking member, it's Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, please," he replied.

This request earned a rebuke from Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah: "Do you always insist on civilians calling you by your rank?"

Stewart also faulted Vindman for wearing his military attire, as officers generally do when testifying. "I see you're wearing your dress uniform knowing that's not the suit of the day," he said. "You normally wear a suit to the White House."

Over at the White House, Trump, who never wore his country's uniform, joined in deriding Vindman for wearing his.

Trump had previously threatened to release unspecified damning information about Vindman, following Fox News suggestions that Vindman is a Ukrainian spy. On the eve of the hearing, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.) questioned Vindman's "motives" and said he fits the "profile" of somebody who wants to oust Trump.

Vindman, in his opening statement, condemned such "vile character attacks."

"As a young man I decided that I wanted to spend my life serving the nation that gave my family refuge from authoritarian oppression," he said, recalling his father's decision to flee the Soviet Union.

"In Russia," Vindman said, "offering public testimony involving the president would surely cost me my life." But not here, he said, addressing his father's fears. "Dad, my sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago. … Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth."

Even as Vindman said this, The Washington Post reported that the Army will relocate Vindman and his family to a military base for protection.

Vindman was prepared for the character attacks. When Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio) said Vindman's former boss questioned his judgment, Vindman read from her last evaluation of him: "brilliant, unflappable and exercises excellent judgment."

Vindman even joked about the attempts to question his loyalty. Asked which languages he speaks, he replied, in native English: "I speak Russian and Ukrainian and a little bit of English."

Democrats helped Vindman denounce Castor's smear, a dual-loyalty accusation "cloaked in a Brooks Brothers suit," as Rep. Jim Himes (Conn.) put it.

Chairman Adam Schiff (Calif.) read a statement by the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff calling Vindman a "patriotic and loyal officer."

And Rep. Sean Maloney (N.Y.) asked Vindman how he can reassure his father of his safety despite Trump's attacks.

"Congressman, because this is America," Vindman replied. "This is the country I served and defended, that all my brothers have served. And here, right matters."

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The Democrats' bombshells aren't exploding

By marc a. thiessen
The Democrats' bombshells aren't exploding

MARC A. THIESSEN COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT RELEASE.)

(For Thiessen clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By MARC A. THIESSEN

WASHINGTON -- As we enter week two of the House impeachment inquiry, it seems pretty clear that Democrats are suffering a massive ordnance failure. Their "bombshells" are not exploding.

The first unexploded bombshell came when acting ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. testified that a member of his embassy staff had overhead a cellphone conversation between President Trump and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, in a Kyiv restaurant in which Trump discussed the need for Ukrainian officials to pursue "investigations." (BEG ITAL)Aha(END ITAL), Democrats cried! A firsthand witness could now testify they heard Trump pressing the Ukrainians for investigations.

Um, so what? Trump had already released a rough transcript of his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he had pressed him for investigations. The overheard call told us nothing we did not already know. Indeed, the only one likely to get in trouble from this revelation is Sondland, who violated operational security by calling the president in public on an unsecure cellphone.

How about former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch's testimony? We learned that Trump fired her without explanation (which as president he had every right to do) and besmirched her reputation. Yes, Trump treated her horribly, but being a jerk is not an impeachable offense.

Then, as though to prove the point, Trump attacked her on Twitter as she was testifying, writing, "Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad." Democrats pounced, trying to turn Trump's blunder into a new charge of "witness intimidation." Please. Witness intimidation is defined as "the threatening of a crucial court witnesses by pressure or extortion to compel him/her to not to testify." Yovanovitch had already been fired as ambassador and was in the process of testifying. No bombshell there, either.

Then on Tuesday, Democrats asked Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman about his assertion that Zelensky had mentioned "Burisma" in his call with Trump, even though the word was not in the transcript released to the public. The suggestion was that the transcript had been doctored. Vindman testified that it was "not a significant omission" and that the career staff who produce the transcripts simply "didn't catch the word." In other words, there was no bombshell scrubbing of the transcript.

They got nothing damaging from Vice President Pence's Eurasia adviser Jennifer Williams, who testified Tuesday morning that investigations never came up in Pence's meeting with Zelensky in Warsaw. They got nothing from former special envoy Kurt Volker or former National Security Council staffer Tim Morrison on Tuesday afternoon. So after three days of hearings, Democrats have failed to produce anything remotely explosive.

That means they are losing. Polls show the vast majority of Americans agree with Vindman that the Trump-Zelensky call "was inappropriate." They agreed with Vindman before he testified. But only a minority of Americans say Trump's conduct warrants impeachment and removal. And the hearings are not changing their minds. Indeed, support for the impeachment inquiry has ticked down since the hearings began, as has the number of Americans tuning in to watch.

That means Democrats are failing to convince Americans that Trump's misconduct rises to the level of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. In blackjack, the tie goes to the dealer; in impeachment, the tie goes to the president. If Republicans fight Democrats to a draw, Trump wins.

Indeed, Republicans increasingly seem to believe impeachment will help them at the polls next November. A few weeks ago, Senate Republicans were discussing the possibility of a quick dismissal of any charges sent over by the House. They suggested they might follow the precedent set by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., during the Clinton impeachment trial and offer a motion to dismiss the charges soon after the trial begins. They would need just a simple majority to end the proceedings.

Now, Republican senators appear to be moving in the opposite direction. The Post has reported that there is discussion of drawing out the impeachment trial to keep the six Democratic senators who are running for president trapped in Washington and off the campaign trail. If Republicans thought impeachment was hurting them, there is zero chance they would be talking about an extended trial. As long as they show they are taking their jobs as jurors seriously, an impeachment trial can energize their base and help them keep the Senate and hold the White House.

Indeed, impeachment could be to the 2020 election what the Brett Kavanaugh hearings were to 2018 Senate midterms -- except GOP voters see Democrats smearing not just Trump's Supreme Court pick but Trump himself.

That is a message on which Trump will happily run.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

Castro's White House bid may be coming to an end -- but his story's not over

By ruben navarrette jr.
Castro's White House bid may be coming to an end -- but his story's not over

RUBEN NAVARRETTE COLUMN

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

(For Navarrette clients only)

By RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.

SAN DIEGO -- Julián Castro could lose his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and still come out a "winner."

How is that? Because, as we learned as children on baseball diamonds and volleyball courts, what matters is how you play the game.

For Castro, the game is winding down. The former secretary of housing and urban development failed to meet the polling requirement to make it onstage for this week's MSNBC debate in Atlanta. Castro and top members of his campaign staff have, in the past, acknowledged that there is no path to the nomination for those who can't qualify for debates.

Running for president is one tough endeavor, and -- as you can see from the current occupant of the White House -- the best person doesn't always win. You sometimes come up short in fundraising, polls, votes or media attention.

Those things are connected. People are not going to waste their votes on someone who the media tells them can't win because they don't have enough funds on hand, and that lack of enthusiasm will show up in the polls.

Castro had to suffer the foolishness of white reporters confusing him with his twin brother, Joaquin, and repeatedly asking why, as a third-generation Mexican American, he didn't speak perfect Spanish. He had to deal with white commentators and columnists who said that he wanted an "open border" and criticized him for proposing that the United States "de-criminalize" authorized entry by immigrants. And he had to get past white pundits and political observers who -- in dealing with both Castro and Asian American businessman Andrew Yang -- couldn't seem get their heads around the concept that a nonwhite candidate who wasn't black might face challenges.

The discrimination was so subtle that you could miss it. Now we know why the two major parties have never put a Latino on a presidential ticket, let alone why the country has never elected a Latino to the Oval Office.

Even in 2020, you're almost certain to lose a White House bid if you're not a white male -- which remains the nation's most favored demographic.

It doesn't help the chances of nonwhite candidates that two of the whitest states -- Iowa and New Hampshire -- vote first and winnow the field.

Castro wants to change the order in which the states hold primaries. The current system dates back to 1972, which means it's two years older than he is. The candidate has not been afraid to point out -- even while stumping in Iowa or New Hampshire -- that the nation has changed a lot in the last few decades.

Just as Castro wasn't afraid to recite the names of African Americans and Latinos killed by police, take up the cause of the voiceless and downtrodden, and lead the discussion on homelessness, race and poverty -- the kinds of gritty topics that politicians don't like talking about.

Just as Castro wasn't afraid to scold former Rep. Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke for not doing his homework, poke at former Vice President Joe Biden for appearing foggy, and tell a NAACP audience -- in an apparent dig at South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg -- that Democrats shouldn't nominate someone who "can't appeal" to African Americans and Latinos.

Meanwhile, the media -- which is predominantly white -- have chosen their final four: Biden, Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

For all the hubbub about the Democrats having the most diverse field of candidates in history, the party's primary leaderboard is as white as a winter's day in Des Moines or Manchester.

This fact did not escape Castro.

"If we're not going to fight for everybody having a place at the table, why the hell are we Democrats in the first place?" he told Rolling Stone magazine in explaining his proposal to shuffle the deck of primary states.

That can be read two different ways. Either Castro is asking why "we" Democrats don't fight for equal opportunity, or why "we" people of color still vote Democratic. Both are good questions.

As someone who has known Castro for more than 15 years, it's not easy for me to watch my friend approach the end of his quest, even as supporters beg him to stay in the race.

In politics, as in life, you don't always come out on top. Sometimes you lose. But that doesn't mean that, one day, people won't look back on you as a winner because of what you did and the dignity with which you did it.

Well played, Amigo. You may not make it to the White House this time. But, against long odds and a stacked deck, you made us proud.

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

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

By American fiat, a two-state solution is off the table

By david ignatius
By American fiat, a two-state solution is off the table

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, and thereafter.)

(For Ignatius clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By DAVID IGNATIUS

WASHINGTON -- One more timber of America's bipartisan foreign policy collapsed this week when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reversed a 41-year State Department legal judgment that Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank were "inconsistent with international law."

Pompeo promoted this change in policy as a pragmatic acceptance of fact. "What we've done today is we have recognized the reality on the ground," he said Monday. He argued that they could solve the Palestinian problem by "taking away this impediment, this idea that somehow there was going to be a legal resolution."

It's hard to quarrel with Pompeo's judgment that previous U.S. policy "didn't work." Israeli settlements are now so numerous that it's unlikely that any Israeli government (or any outside power) could remove them by force. And it's also true that the inexorable advance of settlements, despite decades of U.S. and international protest, makes a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem much harder.

But realpolitik comes with a cost, and not just in abandonment of legal or moral principles. With this decision, the Palestinians are newly ratified as one of modern history's biggest losers. And why? It's in part because they relied on American promises to reverse Israel's acquisition of land by force after the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars. Nine successive administrations gave that same assurance, and it is now shown to have been hollow.

This story has a harsh lesson: History is written by the victors. Sometimes, lost causes really are lost. Woe to the defeated. The Palestinians can testify to that, as can, nearer to home, Native Americans.

America was never entirely credible as a mediator in this conflict, given its close relationship with Israel. But until Donald Trump, every recent American president sought to broker negotiations for a Palestinian state. That era now seems to have passed. Trump has sided with the victors on key issues about the status of the West Bank, Golan Heights and Jerusalem.

Pompeo spoke cheerily on Monday of finding "a political solution for this very, very vexing problem." But there's no evidence that Palestinians are prepared to ratify their defeat with a peace agreement that formally abandons the aspiration for meaningful statehood.

As a journalist, I've been watching the story wind toward this dead end for 40 years. Over that time, I spent a week living in a Palestinian village in the West Bank, tracked the global diaspora of refugees from another Palestinian village, and talked to Palestinian terrorists, intelligence chiefs and, in more recent years, passionate but often hapless politicians. I met Palestinian farmers who disguised a national flag as an embroidered cover for a box of tissue and hid a map of Palestine behind a picture frame.

I've also watched a generation of Palestinian leaders botch their chances at statehood -- demanding the perfect deal rather than accepting the good deal that was achievable.

These Palestinian leaders preferred to keep their dignity, rather than compromise. They must have believed that, in the end, Israelis would get tired and give in to their demands. It hasn't worked out that way. Back when I started covering the Middle East, both sides thought they could have it all. Only the Israelis succeeded in that maximalist hope.

Over these decades, I've interviewed every Israeli prime minister since Menachem Begin, and developed a strong affection for that country. I've heard so many Israelis express the yearning for peace, and a disdain for the settlers who blocked progress, that I suspect there's a deep sadness among many Israelis this week about Pompeo's decision to abandon previous American policy and reward the most intransigent of their fellow Israeli citizens.

But regret and nostalgia don't make for good policy, any more than does raw realpolitik. People who want a just resolution of the Palestinian issue must look reality in the eye. And what we plainly see is that as long as Trump's policies prevail, a two-state solution is off the table, by American fiat.

Pompeo doesn't seem to realize it, but America is now implicitly endorsing a one-state solution -- forcing Israel to make an agonizing decision about whether to deny full rights to the Arab residents of that state. Perhaps Israelis will rebel against making this choice and revive the possibility of a Palestinian state. Or perhaps Arabs, exhausted by this conflict, will induce Palestinians to accept defeat ... and something less than statehood.

As with the other pillars of the old international order that Trump is dismantling, I suspect America will miss the role of peacemaker more than it may imagine. Reality on the ground can get ugly.

Contact David Ignatius on Twitter @IgnatiusPost

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The number of 401(k) millionaires hit a record high in the third quarter

By michelle singletary
The number of 401(k) millionaires hit a record high in the third quarter

THE COLOR OF MONEY COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, and thereafter.

(For Singletary clients only)

By MICHELLE SINGLETARY

WASHINGTON -- It's still a relatively small group, but it's growing.

The number of 401(k) participants who had $1 million or more in workplace retirement plans managed by Fidelity Investments hit 200,000 in the third quarter of this year, up from 196,000 in the previous quarter.

"We highlight the growing number of people hitting this milestone to help illustrate that it's possible to reach $1 million in your 401(k)," said Katie Taylor, a Fidelity vice president. "This is not an analysis or a survey, these are actual dollars in real 401(k) accounts."

The average millionaire at Fidelity has been contributing to his or her plan for close to three decades, according to the company, which is the country's largest administrator of 401(k) plans. And since many of these millionaires tend to contribute the maximum amount allowed, they will no doubt be happy to hear annual limits are increasing.

The IRS recently announced that the maximum contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans and the federal government's Thrift Savings Plan will be bumped up by $500 to $19,500 for 2020. If you're older than 50, there's a retirement catch-up provision, allowing you to save even more. Next year, this limit is also getting a $500 increase, to $6,500.

While Fidelity has seen a continuing increase in the amounts that people are contributing to 401(k) plans, only about 9% of 401(k) savers hit the IRS' annual contribution limit. But among baby boomers, 16% contributed the maximum. About 13% of people who max out their 401(k) also make catch-up contributions.

Why do these trends matter?

Because the numbers can inspire. Fidelity does a quarterly deep dive into the 30 million retirement accounts it manages to highlight contribution and saving behaviors.

Whatever your retirement savings goal, Taylor says to follow the lead of the 401(k) millionaires: Start early, save 15% throughout your career, and be sure your asset allocation aligns with your age and time horizon.

Fidelity recommends that people have 10 times their ending salary in retirement savings. For many, this means they don't have to feel as if they're a failure if they can't accumulate $1 million or more in a pre-tax 401(k) account.

Fidelity analysis shows that consistency pays off. Longtime 401(k) savers are breaking records. Those workers who have been saving in their 401(k) plans for 10 years straight had an average balance of $306,500. Among workers saving for at least 10 consecutive years in a 403(b) account, the average balance is $179,000, which is more than four times what the average balance was for this group in the third quarter of 2009.

Although the stock market has risen over the past year, it's been a rocky ride. Such volatility can be frightening. But despite the downward swings, only 5.1% of 401(k) savers made a change to the investments within their 401(k), Fidelity reported.

"Most retirement savers are beginning to understand the market volatility is normal, and they understand that they should take a long-term approach to retirement savings and not make changes to their account based on short-term market events," Taylor said.

More employees are investing in target-date funds, which is a "set-it-and-forget-it" way for people to invest for retirement. Target-date funds automatically rebalance to reduce an investor's risk as he or she nears a target retirement date.

As of the third quarter, 53% of 401(k) savers held all of their plan money in a target-date fund, up from 37% five years ago. And among millennials, the percentage saving in a target-date fund was 70%.

But here's a trend that has Fidelity concerned: Many 401(k) participants may be positioned too aggressively based on recommended stock allocations for their age group.

Fidelity compared average asset allocations to an age-based target-date fund and found that 23.1% of 401(k) savers have a higher share of equities than might be wise.

"We were concerned that many people may not have realized that they had more stock than suggested in their 401(k), which may have happened due to the market growth we've seen over the last few years," Taylor said. "Having more stock than suggested in your 401(k) could expose your savings to unnecessary risk if the market drops, and this could be especially damaging to baby boomers who are nearing retirement. We're encouraging people to review the stock allocation in their retirement account to make sure it's at a level they feel comfortable with."

When they were small, my children loved to play follow the leader. It's a simple game. You just do what the leader does.

Although the data suggests that most employees won't ever join the ranks of the 401(k) millionaires, following their lead is still a winning move.

--0-- --0-- --0--

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

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The sharpest pens in the industry serve up points of view to chew on.

Bury your dead-tired strips and grab something fresh, meaningful and hilarious.

Serious therapy and serious fun to give readers a break from breaking news.