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No gloves, no water bottles: Baseball as it was in the 19th century

By Terrence McCoy
No gloves, no water bottles: Baseball as it was in the 19th century
Steve Scharff, 36, of the Lewes Base Ball Club takes part in the National 19th Century Base Ball Festival on Saturday in Gettysburg, Pa. The game is played by 1863 rules: players wear vintage uniforms and catch the ball with their bare hands. The tournament was supposed to continue Sunday but was rained out. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Matt McClain

The cable news hosts are screaming, and the iPhones are going off, and things are moving faster and faster - so fast that what began as a quaint idea to rewind life to a 19th century baseball game has now ballooned into an annual attraction drawing hundreds, if not thousands, of spectators.

Every third week of July, fans and players descend on Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, from as far away as Colorado and Maine, to get a glimpse of life in a slower time. There, says organizer Bruce Lieth, they see how baseball was played before all of the ego and money that have become part of the modern game.

Fewer fans got the chance this year - only a few hundred - because of five inches of rain that blanketed the region on Saturday, unleashing reports of flash floods and emergency responders, and leading to soaked players, sloppy fields and ultimately the cancellation of Sunday's final games.

"It was a mudbath," said Tom Duffy, who started the annual re-enactment along with Lieth nearly a decade ago.

But for one day, at least, the world slowed out on Schroeder Farm, and about 20 teams trotted out onto sodden earth in uniforms plucked from another time. Their tools of the day: wooden bats, balls with rubber centers that give out by the end of the game, and, if circumstances permit, mustaches with the ends turned up.

Baseball in the 19th century is at once both immediately familiar and disorientingly strange. Yes, players swing at a ball and there are pitchers. But the ball is thrown underhanded. And the heart of the game isn't a contest between pitchers and hitters, like it is today, but simply putting the ball in play. Out there in the "garden" - not to be confused with the "outfield" - players don't have to catch the ball in the air to force a batter out, but can field it off a single bounce.

The other huge difference? No gloves.

"A lot of broken fingers," said Lieth.

People started reviving the old-fashioned game in the 1980s, in New York, Lieth said, and it has caught on since. Today there are thousands of adults playing on 400 throwback teams across the country, dozens of them in the mid-Atlantic region. Many of the players came to the sport by way of softball and are baseball historians, like Leith.

He's not only the manager of concession development for the Philadelphia Phillies, but also studies baseball arcana. He knows baseball started as a pastime in the 1800s, when technology suddenly created more free time, and most folks couldn't believe the sight of it.

"People had never seen people exercise who weren't working," he said.

And he also knows what baseball can be at times today: "Million-dollar contracts and big egos and traveling budgets."

Stripping all of that away, and focusing on what makes baseball baseball, has resonated with fans and players, Leith said.

The area around the dugout is known as the "19th century zone." Teams don't use plastic water bottles or modern chairs, and some even bring barrels of water with them.

"If you take a picture of one of our games, it looks like it's a throwback to 150 years ago," Leith said.

How a 50-year-old photo mystery was solved - well, at least half of it

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
How a 50-year-old photo mystery was solved - well, at least half of it
Michele Leimomi Sing Holzman at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Holzman was the subject of a photograph taken by Richard Bensinger at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in 1968. She is holding a copy of the original photo. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Matt McClain

WASHINGTON - Late one night inside an art-filled home on a tranquil parkway in Silver Spring, Maryland, a woman decided to take her laptop to bed with her. She clicked on a story about an old picture. Her eyes widened.

"No," Michele Holzman thought to herself. "That couldn't be me. Could it?"

The article, published in late May in The Washington Post, told the story of a remarkable photograph taken by a teenager at the Poor People's Campaign demonstration that took over the National Mall in the summer of 1968. The image - depicting a young African-American man and a young white woman splashing through the Lincoln Memorial's Reflecting Pool - had never been published.

But it had hung on a wall at the home of the photographer, Richard Bensinger, who would go on to become a nationally known labor leader, as well as in the homes of his sister and brother-in-law, both prominent law professors. For decades, visitors to their homes - activists, labor leaders, law students, attorneys - had been transfixed by the scene. The image had been an inspiration to Bensinger, a source of solace during the most demoralizing days of his battles on behalf of workers. He had spent years trying, to no avail, to identify the photo's subjects.

The Post article about Bensinger's photo triggered an outpouring of interest. Hundreds of people posted it on the internet and sent in guesses. For some, the photo evoked the climactic scene in the film "Forrest Gump," when the title character played by Tom Hanks splashes into the pool to embrace his dear friend Jenny, portrayed by Robin Wright.

A college professor scoured old Southern Poverty Law Center publications and wondered whether the woman might be prominent '60s-era activist Lisa Cusumano. Others scrutinized ancient photos and guessed the woman is civil rights activist Heather Booth or feminist writer Kate Millett.

Still others hoped that the photo would remain a mystery. A commenter on The Post's website drew a comparison to the Tomb of the Unknowns. Few speculated about the identity of the man, whose face was somewhat more obscured by shadows.

None of this registered with Holzman as she sat reading the article in Silver Spring. She lives in a kind of blissfully retro information universe. Holzman reads the newspaper and has NPR playing all day, but she has no television or social-media accounts.

She mulled the image, turning it over and over in her head. She dug through old photographs. Her mind swarmed with the emotions and memories of that day.

She waited awhile; she is not one to rush. But on the Fourth of July, right after returning home from a gun-control demonstration, infused with the spirit of that bygone day on the Mall, she picked up the phone and called Bensinger's house.

After 50 years, Holzman's recollections of that day and that remarkable time in American history are flecked with crystalline detail. The skirt she wore. The blouse. That watch. The song they were singing.

In interviews, Holzman - now 73 - recounted how she had grown up in Hawaii, the daughter of a French woman and a Chinese-Hawaiian man, who was raised by her Chinese grandparents. She moved to the Washington area in the 1960s with her then-husband.

They abhorred the conflict in Vietnam, and often attended antiwar rallies. Once, she said, they were tear-gassed in Lafayette Square, across from the White House.

In spring 1968, the Poor People's Campaign settled onto the Mall for a weeks-long encampment, realizing the dream of the recently assassinated Martin Luther King Jr., who had envisioned the demonstration as a way of pressuring the government to do more to end poverty. Holzman was working for a government contractor involved with anti-poverty programs for the Office of Economic Opportunity. Postmarked letters from 1968, stored in an old trunk, confirmed Holzman's addresses in the months before and after the demonstration. Contemporaneous photos leave little doubt that she is the woman in Bensinger's picture.

During the demonstration, volunteers were asked to bring meals to the protesters, who were living in tents on the Mall. One blistering hot day, Holzman said, she and several co-workers gathered food and made their way to the Lincoln Memorial from their downtown office on 19th Street NW.

After she arrived, Holzman said, she suddenly noticed a commotion. Hundreds of people were jumping into the Reflecting Pool. Her friends told her she would be crazy to join them. She had just bought a pair of leather sandals at a shop in Georgetown. They told her she'd ruin them.

But Holzman - then and now - is the sort of person who is open to experience; her reminiscences are sprinkled with references to "lost weekends" at a friend's place in France's Languedoc and the elaborate costumes she would wear for her ritual trips to celebrate Mardi Gras. Back then, she thought to herself: "When am I ever going to get to go into the pool?"

She plunged in. Within moments a young man came splashing over to her. At first, she recalled, she felt awkward. But when people started singing the gospel hymn "Amen," she was put at ease, and went splashing down the length of the shallow pool. She doesn't remember exchanging more than a word or two with the young man. If she got his name, she long ago forgot it.

For her, that day was a joyous, spontaneous moment. Yet, at the time, nothing about the experience made her think it was so remarkable that she would be talking about it half a century later. She hadn't even noticed the skinny kid from Louisville standing there in the pool with a camera when she went by.

She went on with her life.

Over most of the next 50 years, Holzman and Bensinger, now 67, would live just a few miles from each other. He in the Northern Virginia suburbs; she in Silver Spring in between stints living abroad with her husband, who became a Foreign Service officer, and after her divorce, with her then-domestic partner in Switzerland. On the walls of her home, lush original oil paintings by prominent artists share space with her own creations.

In the ensuing years, Bensinger became one of the nation's most significant labor leaders, founding the AFL-CIO's Organizing Institute. Holzman had an entrepreneurial bent, owning a pharmacy in Pennsylvania and, in the early 1990s, co-owning a natural cosmetics store in D.C.'s Foggy Bottom neighborhood. She sometimes hosted political fundraisers.

Bensinger and Holzman had traveled on parallel paths, attending the same sorts of demonstrations, supporting the same sorts of candidates. They might have passed each other on the street a dozen times. How could they have known they were linked?

At The Post's invitation, Holzman and Bensinger met on a recent afternoon, almost precisely 50 years after the day that Bensinger took her photo. Outside The Post's downtown offices, Holzman pulled up in her hybrid four-seater and waited for the man she had been inspiring without knowing it.

When Bensinger walked up, Holzman was smiling - the same, unmistakable, utterly infectious expression that she has in that long-ago photo. No longer the longhair, 5-foot-5 kid who snapped the picture, Bensinger stands 6 feet tall. He's graying now, his long 1960s locks gone, having ceded territory to time. He leaned down, swallowing the diminutive Holzman in a long embrace. He was meeting his mystery.

"It's surreal," he kept saying, his heart racing. "Crazy, crazy, crazy."

He had sometimes worried that the people in the photo would have drifted from the ideals embodied on that day on the Mall, that they would have grown cynical about the prospects for racial equality and economic justice. Meeting Holzman erased those worries.

Like that day long ago, the sun beat down unrelentingly. The temperature rose to 98 - the highest of the year. Still, they returned to the Mall, where their lives had unwittingly intertwined, if only for an instant.

At the Reflecting Pool, they found themselves talking as much about the future as the past. Bensinger resolved to find the young man in the photo, hoping to fill in another blank in his mystery. Holzman remarked how she had resolved to play a role in shaping the world around her - but to do so with a sense of optimism and joy, not in anger.

"I think the important thing is to be part of the world," Holzman said.

She spoke of her intentions to push for environmental protections to preserve the planet - not so much for herself but for her grandchildren. Bensinger raved about the activism of young people these days.

"I've never seen more interest in social justice in my career," he said. "It's a moment again."

Holzman interjected, finishing his sentence for him: "Like the '60s!"

In conservative Oklahoma, a Republican raises taxes - and many voters like it

By Tim Craig
In conservative Oklahoma, a Republican raises taxes - and many voters like it
A group traverses the rapids at a white-water rafting and kayaking center that was paid for by a 1-cent sales tax increase in Oklahoma City. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Nick Oxford

OKLAHOMA CITY - Helen Swope considers herself a traditional Republican, skittish about paying higher taxes for what can seem like the ever-growing role of government.

But after Oklahoma City spent hundreds of millions of dollars building new parks, bicycle trails, elite recreational facilities and a soon-to-be-completed streetcar network, Swope thinks maybe the state government can learn something from the city's former four-term mayor, Mick Cornett, a leading Republican candidate for governor.

"The whole city has been transformed," said Swope, who lives in the suburbs but now travels into the city each weekend to new indoor tennis courts paid for by city taxpayers. "You get a lot of promises a lot of the time and nothing happens, but now there were a lot of promises and things happened."

Even as Republican voters nationwide continue to lurch to the right, Swope's assessment of Cornett reflects a surprising trend in Oklahoma politics this year: The pro-government Republican is making a comeback, as GOP voters at least in some places reject hard-line anti-tax policies.

After years of upheaval in state government, including chronic budget shortfalls and this year's teacher walkout over low pay, Oklahoma Republicans veered toward moderation when they selected two candidates from the state's urban centers - Cornett and Tulsa businessman Kevin Stitt - to advance to an Aug. 28 runoff.

The election was a setback for the state's tea party and Christian conservative movements, as Cornett and Stitt defeated eight other GOP candidates, including Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, who had sought to align himself with President Donald Trump.

The results were widely interpreted as a repudiation of Gov. Mary Fallin, R, who pushed for income tax cuts even as teachers and advocates decried cuts to state education funding. Fallin is barred from seeking a third term.

Analysts and Oklahoma residents say the outcome also reflected a more fundamental disenchantment with the direction of a state that is becoming more diverse and under the sway of comparatively moderate voters in metropolitan areas.

"I think I have a lot of the same sentiments that a lot of other people in Oklahoma do - our senators, legislators and governor have been so strong fighting against each other, nothing is really getting done," Ryan Codding, a 42-year-old Republican, said as he and his children were selling 100 bushels of corn last week at a roadside stand in suburban Oklahoma City. "Sometimes you just need change."

Cornett, the top vote getter, at just under 30 percent, prevailed even though as mayor he pushed for higher taxes, questioned congressional efforts to hastily overturn the Affordable Care Act, supported a local gay rights ordinance and co-wrote a letter with liberal New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio urging the federal government to spend more money on transportation and public works projects. He also backed state tax increases to pay for teacher pay raises.

Stitt, a political newcomer who founded a large mortgage company, campaigned as a pragmatic conservative and won just less than a quarter of the vote. He secured a spot in the GOP runoff even though the Tulsa World reported he had failed to vote in any gubernatorial election dating back to at least 1999. His support for broad criminal justice restructuring, including freeing some nonviolent offenders from Oklahoma prisons, also didn't seriously hamper him in the GOP primary.

The two will probably emphasize conservative positions as the runoff nears, since it is expected to draw fewer voters, who lean more conservative, than the June primary, but voters' attraction to some level of moderation overall seemed clear.

The primary attracted more than 450,000 Republican voters - nearly double the turnout from four years ago - as Oklahoma also decided a state referendum to legalize medical marijuana. It passed with 56 percent of the vote, even though a coalition of religious conservatives and local sheriffs vigorously opposed it.

GOP primary voters also ousted two Tulsa-area state legislators who voted against tax hikes to fund teacher pay raises. Seven other anti-tax GOP legislators were forced into runoffs against more moderate challengers.

The dynamic in Oklahoma echoes ongoing GOP battles in neighboring Kansas, another heavily Republican state where conservatives have faced backlash over their refusal to raise taxes.

In Oklahoma, the growth of the state's two largest cities, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, have strengthened the moderate hand.

According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Oklahoma Policy Institute, almost half of Oklahoma's 77 counties have lost population over the past century. The state's growth is now centered in urban areas, where two-thirds of residents reside.

The population of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area increased 10 percent to 1.3 million residents over the past decade. In areas closest to downtown, well-educated millennials and Hispanics - who now make up more than half of the students in Oklahoma City public schools - are responsible for much of the population growth, according to city officials.

Cornett, who was a popular television sports anchor before being elected mayor in 2004, worked to diversify an economy once heavily dependent on oil and natural gas industries.

In 2009, he campaigned aggressively for a 1-cent increase in the sales tax to fund $771 million in economic development and wellness projects. (He also made headlines for inspiring a citywide diet, in which he claims 47,000 residents lost a combined 1 million pounds.)

The sales tax revenue has paid for a $228 million downtown convention center and nearby 70-acre park, and a seven-mile streetcar system that connects downtown with neighborhoods transformed with new apartments and condominiums.

Another $45 million was spent constructing a man-made white-water rafting and kayaking center along the waterfront, which is billed as the first facility of its kind in the heart of an American city.

That sort of public works spending traditionally hasn't been associated with Republicans, but in last month's primary, Cornett racked up big margins throughout the 34-county Oklahoma City television media market, which makes up about half the state's population.

"Historically, we were dominated by very conservative, rural voters. But now our urban areas are changing, and Mayor Cornett represents that," said Roy Williams, president of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. "It's a much more moderate, and not much of a my-way-or-the-highway approach."

In a western Oklahoma City neighborhood, 83-year-old Mary Perdue lives a few hundred yards from a new eight-mile bicycle and walking trail that connects several vehicle-centric neighborhoods of single-family homes, strip malls, automobile dealerships and fast-food restaurants.

Although she considers herself to be a committed conservative, Perdue said she is supporting Cornett because "he's creative" and has a vision that will draw "young people" to the state.

"He has done an excellent job as far as building downtown, and he did what he set out to do," said Perdue, a retired schoolteacher.

In an interview, Cornett said Oklahoma voters view spending on public education and health care, among other things, as an "investment."

"You cannot wait for someone from the outside to save your city, and state. You have to do it yourself," Cornett said.

Stitt hopes to distinguish himself from Cornett by opposing tax increases, which he thinks still resonates with rural voters who could prove decisive in the runoff.

"The typical politicians and guys I am running against, their first move is raising taxes without any kind of reforms or efficiencies," said Stitt, who easily carried the 20-county Tulsa media market in the primary.

But Bill Shapard, Oklahoma's preeminent pollster, said recent surveys showed the state's Republicans have adopted a very nuanced view of taxes. Even though a plurality of Oklahoma Republicans said taxes are too high, nearly two-thirds of them supported tax increases to pay teachers, Shapard said.

Oklahoma Democratic leaders appear to be rooting for Stitt, believing Cornett's base in Oklahoma City would put the Democratic nominee, former attorney general Drew Edmondson, at a disadvantage in November. Many GOP strategists think Edmondson, who repeatedly challenged the tobacco industry and other corporations when he was attorney general, will make the general election highly competitive.

At Oklahoma City's botanical garden, Michael Dotson, 66, and his wife, Victoria, 65, said they remain undecided in the GOP runoff. The Republican couple also isn't ruling out voting for Edmondson in November.

After retiring, the couple recently sold their house in the suburbs and moved into a condominium in downtown Oklahoma City. Although they are no fans of taxes, what they want most of all, they said, is a government that works.

"We are just weary of doing nothing in our state," said Michael Dotson. "And we think we have the possibility of doing incredible things."

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

Born to fly, bound to run

By kathleen parker
Born to fly, bound to run

KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, July 22, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, July 21, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Parker clients only)

WRITETHRU: 3rd graf, 1st sentence: "Rep. John J. Duncan Jr." sted "Rep. John D. Duncan"

By KATHLEEN PARKER

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. -- Republican Ashley Nickloes is the only woman in a seven-way primary race to fill a congressional seat held by one family for five decades. She's also the only military pilot in the race, running against a litany of odds, including the strong possibility that she'll lose to a popular career politician who hunts Bigfoot and made it easier for Tennesseans to eat their roadkill.

Not. Kidding.

Nickloes and I sat down Wednesday at the Yee-Haw Brewing Co. and talked about her decision to seek the 2nd Congressional District seat long held by retiring Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (and before that, his father). Last December, she was in Washington on her daughter's 7th-grade class trip, during which the group visited one of her state representatives (she won't say which one). Nickloes asked a question and got an answer that made her mad.

Her query: "In light of Congress' inability to pass a budget and its detrimental effect on our military, do you think you'll be able to pass a budget before the continuing resolution ends?"

His reply was that the military has everything it needs and that the Pentagon has sold the American people a bill of goods. He might as well have said, (BEG ITAL)Don't you worry your pretty head, young lady(END ITAL). At this, Nickloes stepped forward, extended her right hand, and said, "I'm Lt. Col. Ashley Nickloes. I fly a 1957 aircraft, and some of our enlisted men and women live below poverty. Yes or no, can you pass a continuing resolution?"

It was a moment.

For our meeting, Nickloes arrived punctually with two unpaid staff members. Wearing a navy-blue dress, a single strand of white pearls and medium heels, she resembled the flight attendant she once was en route to becoming a military pilot. Already a trained pilot, and having initially been turned down by the Tennessee National Air Guard because they felt she couldn't handle the physical demands, she took the airline job at her father's urging. Also a pilot, he told her to get to know the pilots, who often also serve in the Guard, and take any Guard pilot job she could get.

When the New York National Air Guard had an opening, Nickloes applied. "Yeah, we need a chick," she says she was told. "You'd be a quota." Finally, an officer said: "Go to the bar tonight, drink, don't make an ass of yourself, and we'll hire you in the morning."

#Done.

Nickloes is preternaturally calm as she describes these and other made-for-Hollywood episodes in a life that begs for a biographer. When I used the word "serene" to describe her, she laughed. "I doubt my children or my husband would agree with that assessment."

That is, four children, ages 8 to 15, and a fifth, Gabriel, who died after being born prematurely. I asked how she manages a family, including her surgeon/professor husband; her career as a commander in the Tennessee Air National Guard and the U.S. Air Force; eight deployments since 9/11, including five times to the Middle East, flying a KC-135 Stratotanker -- she refuels aircraft in flight -- while also (are you kidding?) pursuing a master's degree in the "operational art of war."

Faith and family, she answered. "I am blessed to serve. If my family and faith are strong, my service is stronger."

Thus far, Nickloes lags behind her fellow GOP contenders in fundraising and, therefore, exposure, mostly because she's had only about 100 days to build a campaign after returning in April from her most recent deployment. Her toughest opponent, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, is a former member of both the state House and Senate and has never lost an election.

His popularity is unrivaled, perhaps, because as a legislator, he eliminated red tape for people who want to quickly scoop up their roadkill. He's also well-known as an avid Bigfoot hunter, which prompted Nickloes to wonder aloud: "If I kill Sasquatch, does that mean he's mine?"

Nickloes, meanwhile, has won the endorsement of the Knoxville News Sentinel, and a fundraising group in Washington, "Defending Main Street," just released a six-figure ad about Nickloes for the Knoxville market.

Should Nickloes beat the odds and win the Aug. 2 primary and ultimately is elected, she'll continue serving in the Guard and hopes to apply her experiences to tackling defense and health care, as well as term limits. Serving in Congress, she says, should be like any other mission. You do the job, and then you go home.

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

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump hears from the dead. And they like his tax policy.

By dana milbank
Trump hears from the dead. And they like his tax policy.

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, July 22, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, July 21, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Milbank clients only)

By DANA MILBANK

(NOTE: Dana Milbank is taking a one-week vacation next week. His next column will move Tuesday, July 31, for immediate release.)

The next time you are about to ridicule something seemingly foolish that President Trump has said or done -- and there were many instances in the past week -- be forewarned: He has supernatural powers.

He sees dead people.

He doesn't just see them. He talks to them and relays their thoughts back to the living. This president may do things large, but I've been noticing with increasing frequency that he is also a medium.

A few weeks ago, while posthumously honoring a World War II hero, Trump gave the man's family a report on their departed loved one. He was "looking down from Heaven, proud of this incredible honor, but even prouder of the legacy that lives on in each of you. So true."

A few weeks before that, at what was billed as a celebration of patriotism at the White House, Trump reported to the crowd that fallen soldiers are pleased with his economic policies and increases in the stock market. "Many of them are looking down right now at our country, and they are proud," he said.

Sometimes, Trump pinpoints the location of the deceased, using some psychic GPS. At an outdoor Medal of Honor ceremony in May for soldiers lost at a battle in Afghanistan, Trump pointed at a location in the sky and said, "They are looking down right now." A week before that, outside the Capitol, Trump pointed to a point in the sky over his head and told the family of a slain police detective: "So she's right now, right there. And she's looking down."

Occasionally, something must get lost in the cloud and Trump receives a heavenly miscommunication. Speaking to a steelworker at the White House in March, Trump informed the man: "Your father, Herman, he's looking down, and he's very proud of you right now."

"Oh, he's still alive," the steelworker said.

"Then he's even more proud of you," Trump said.

Hillary Clinton communed with Eleanor Roosevelt under the auspices of a woman who studied the psychic experience. Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer after her husband was shot in 1981.

But now we have the president himself talking directly with dead people -- and even, on occasion, God. After his inauguration, Trump announced that "God looked down and he said, 'We're not going to let it rain on your speech.'?" (There must have been some miscommunication over the celestial transom, because it rained.)

After a column of mine mentioned one of Trump's conversations with the dead, I was contacted by Karen Park, a professor of theology and religious studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis. "My sense is that this is what passes for spirituality for Trump -- a world where imaginary dead white people take an elevator to a heavenly penthouse where they look down on him with approval," she told me.

Many of us believe in an afterlife or at least take comfort in thinking our departed loved ones are, in some form, still with us. But Park is suspicious of Trump's self-serving "fantasies about happy dead people blessing his presidency and this country." Such fantasies "make us feel good and require nothing from us at all," argued Park, who specializes in American religious history.

In fairness, Trump does allow that some people may not land in that gauzy heaven. In 2016 in Iowa, he threw a group of farmers a theological curveball after telling them they would be looking down happily after death. "We hope you're looking down, anyway," he amended.

Occasionally, Trump's conversations with the departed have been strikingly detailed. In May 2017, Fox News's Jeanine Pirro asked Trump what his late brother Fred is "telling you now."

"He's telling me just keep doing what you're doing," Trump replied. Fred Trump, in his brother's view, had particular interest in the border, trade, jobs and North Korea.

Trump's mother, the president has said on more than one occasion, "is looking down," particularly around Mother's Day. His father looks down, too, though seemingly less often.

Trump informed Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, that his father "is looking down on you right now and he is proud." Same with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's mom. And golfer Justin Rose's father.

This communion across the Great Divide didn't just come up when Trump ran for president. At a 1984 game of the doomed USFL football league, he told a sportscaster that "I suspect that Bear Bryant might be looking down on the stadium right now."

Over time, Trump has honed the medium message. Addressing Congress last year, Trump honored the widow of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, who died in a controversial raid that Trump approved. Lawmakers applauded for more than two minutes.

"Ryan is looking down right now," Trump reported to the chamber. "And he's very happy, because I think he just broke a record."

Was Owens looking down happily? Did he care if he posthumously broke an applause record?

God knows. And the president.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

We knew who Trump was

By e.j. dionne jr.
We knew who Trump was

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

(Advance for Monday, July 23, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Sunday, July 22, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Dionne clients only)

By E.J. DIONNE JR.

WASHINGTON -- The most frustrating aspect of the backlash against President Trump's servility to Russian President Vladimir Putin is that nothing that happened last week in Helsinki should have surprised us.

What's changed is that so many who insisted in 2016 that Trump was not as bad as he looked, that he was a pragmatist at heart, and that we should take him "seriously but not literally" have been forced to face the truth.

The truth is that Trump really does have what you might call a special relationship with Putin and Russia, for reasons still not fully known. He views foreign policy not as a way of protecting the nation but as an extension of his own narrow, personal interests.

He has no respect for our basic liberties, which is why he entertained turning over our country's former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, and other Putin critics to the Russian dictator's mercies until widespread revulsion required Trump to back off.

The focus and discipline necessary to run a government are so alien to him that most of his top lieutenants were left in the dark about what Vlad and Don were cooking up.

Thus was Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, sandbagged on Thursday. He was in the middle of a televised interview at an Aspen Institute event with NBC's Andrea Mitchell when Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, tweeted word that Putin had been invited to visit Washington in the fall.

Coats did not try to pretend he either knew of the decision or approved of it. "That's going to be special," he said to laughter from the Aspen crowd. His insouciance infuriated the White House and led one senior official to tell The Washington Post that Coats had "gone rogue." In fact, it's the president who has "gone rogue" on the nation's values, its traditional alliances and the integrity of our electoral system.

In 2016 and for much of 2017, those warning that Trump was exactly the dangerous scoundrel he appeared to be were accused of missing his fundamental genius and his deep connection with discounted Americans. Trump's detractors were said to be "out of touch" and "elitist," as if only those with exquisitely elevated tastes in society's upper reaches could possibly worry about his indifference to truth, his contempt for women and immigrants, his disdain for a free press, and his flouting of the expectations we have of those on whom we confer power.

Was it only an elite thing to be concerned that Trump might be hiding something in those tax returns that he refuses to release? Was it out of touch to wonder why he praised Putin again and again, at one point saying that Putin was far more of "a leader" than President Obama?

One person who was (BEG ITAL)listening closely(END ITAL)? Vladimir Putin.

At the Helsinki news conference that will live in infamy, Jeff Mason of Reuters asked Putin: "Did you want President Trump to win the election? And did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?"

Putin replied: "Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal."

Interestingly, both the White House and Kremlin transcripts make it appear as if Putin had not offered this startling admission. Whether or not the White House intentionally manipulated the transcript (Transcriptgateski?) and whether or not Putin intended to answer "yes" to both questions, he made it clear that Trump was his pick in 2016. That's why Russian agents did so much to get him elected.

The vindication of those who saw Trump for who he is (a majority of the 2016 electorate, it's worth noting) provides little satisfaction because of the peril his presidency poses.

But we can learn from this experience. Trump's longstanding Republican apologists have lost all credibility. The party needs to be rebuilt, and that task should fall to the handful of GOP dissenters who resolutely refuse to peddle Trump's propaganda.

We should never again take seriously all those who tell us that paying attention to what a politician says and does blinds us to some deeper (and nonexistent) wisdom he is supposedly conveying.

And we should develop a permanent immunity to a fake and manipulative populism that casts upholding standards and defending decency as the preoccupations of rarified social and intellectual circles.

This is a condescending view because it underestimates the basic decency of the vast majority. It also gives license to the indecent. Trump and Putin have shown us where this leads.

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

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Economic nostalgia's false promise

By robert j. samuelson
Economic nostalgia's false promise

ROBERT J. SAMUELSON COLUMN

(Advance for Monday, July 23, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Sunday, July 22, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Samuelson clients only)

By ROBERT J. SAMUELSON

WASHINGTON -- We Americans have long been obsessed with economic growth -- "prosperity" in everyday lingo. The idea that we have some sort of special aptitude for invention, wealth creation and economic self-improvement is part of our imagined national character. It's who we are. Not only that, but prosperity plays a crucial political role. It enables us to raise living standards and construct a society with greater economic and social justice.

We're not just good at this; we're better than everyone else. Or so we thought. President Trump's popular appeal rests heavily on our loss of confidence in this vision. And it's not only Trump. Though critics reject his remedies (high trade tariffs, huge budget deficits, tax cuts for the wealthy), they share his worry that America is apparently losing its economic vitality.

The change is real. If you examine the basic indicator of the economy's size -- gross domestic product, or GDP -- there clearly has been a break from the rapid growth of the early post-World War II decades. From 1950 to 1973, the economy grew at an average annual rate of 4 percent, reports the Congressional Budget Office. More recently, growth from 2008 to 2017 -- the Great Recession and the recovery -- averaged only 1.5 percent.

When Trump pledges to "make America great again," he is widely thought to be referring to the 1950s and 1960s. There is an understandable urge to retrieve these decades, but the prospect that this is a cure is a mirage. Much of the postwar boom was driven by three economic advantages for the United States that were fated to fade.

First, there was a backlog of new technologies (television, jet aircraft, synthetic fibers, antibiotics, air-conditioning) that boosted both consumer spending and business investment. In 1940, U.S. airlines carried 3.5 million passengers; by 1970, that was 154 million.

Second, the wartime destruction of Europe and Japan left U.S. firms with few serious international competitors. The trade balance was routinely in surplus; the first deficit didn't occur until 1971.

And third, economists seemed to have made progress in stabilizing the economy. Postwar Americans feared resumption of the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate hit an annual peak of 25 percent. In the first decades after the war, the highest annual rate was 6.8 percent in 1958.

But these favorable forces could not -- and did not -- continue indefinitely. Japan, Germany and other nations rebuilt; the markets for new products (TVs and the like) became saturated. And most of all, economists discovered the limits of their powers. The crusade to sustain "full employment" led to disastrous double-digit inflation, 13 percent by 1979.

The trouble is that the explosive prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s has left a legacy. It created lofty expectations that, despite repeated disappointments, increasingly go unmet.

During these early postwar decades, an informal division of labor emerged between government and business. Government would eliminate or mute the business cycle, through the manipulation of the federal budget and interest rates. Influenced by John Maynard Keynes, most economists thought this was mainly a technical matter.

Meanwhile, big corporations (the IBMs of the day) would dominate the global economy and generate innovations. For Americans, these firms would provide stable jobs, rising wages and more fringe benefits (health insurance, pensions). Almost everyone else could still get a job in the "full employment" economy. The very poor, disabled and old would be protected by a generous "safety net."

Quite probably, this is the way that many, possibly most, Americans think the economy still should run. But of course, it doesn't.

The Great Recession and 2008-09 financial crisis remind us that the problem of the business cycle hasn't been solved and may never be. The invincible U.S. corporations turn out to be vulnerable to upstart firms, here and abroad, and to new technologies. The constant specter of new competition casts an anxious pall over many workers. The skewing of income toward those at the top compounds the effect.

The gap between how the economy actually works and how we'd like it to work is a breeding ground for discontent and desperate policy agendas. For our economic ills, Trump blames foreigners -- immigrants and imports -- along with the American officials who, over the years and according to Trump, engineered disastrous policies.

This is mostly wrong, as perhaps Trump is learning. His various tariff proposals seem to be causing as much or more grief among the U.S. firms that they're supposed to help as among the foreign firms that they're supposed to hurt. But in fairness, many other policy agendas from the left and right aren't much better.

What we all should be learning is that there's a big difference between economic nostalgia and economic policy.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

Should you solicit contributions to your child's 529 plan?

By michelle singletary
Should you solicit contributions to your child's 529 plan?

THE COLOR OF MONEY COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, July 22, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, July 21, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Singletary clients only)

WRITETHRU: New 10th graf.

By MICHELLE SINGLETARY

WASHINGTON -- Consider this: Putting a child through four years of school at a top-rated state university could easily end up costing more than $80,000, including tuition, fees and room and board. For a private college, you're looking at well over six figures.

Many students will get some financial assistance that brings the cost down. A very small percentage will get a full ride.

But when students don't get enough need-based or merit scholarships and grants, they turn to debt to get a degree. Outstanding student-loan debt was $1.4 trillion as of the first quarter of 2018, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

One way families can reduce the need to borrow is to save in a 529 plan. Earnings are not taxed as long as withdrawals are used for qualified educational expenses. Additionally, many states offer tax deductions for residents who make contributions to a 529.

Maryland residents Jasmine and Herbert Ruffin Jr. are expecting twins this month (a boy and a girl!). They've already set up two 529 plans, one for each baby. For now, the couple has put the accounts in their own names, because a beneficiary has to have a Social Security number. Once the twins are born, the Ruffins plan to switch out their names for their children's.

"I feel like it has been a blessing having the accounts set up," Herbert Ruffin said. "Just thinking that we started these accounts with our children's future in mind and this may be able to help them toward their college education."

The Ruffins have also created contribution pages for the twins through Maryland's 529 plan administered by T. Rowe Price.

Like most other states and the District of Columbia, T. Rowe Price has made it easy for people to make gift donations to a 529.

The company's "GoTuition" gifting portal allows family and friends to make electronic contributions. Accountholders can set up a profile page and then they can share a custom URL through various social-media channels or by sending an email or text message.

Instead of buying a toy that may soon be broken or clothes they will eventually outgrow, contributions to a college fund can have a long-term impact. I asked T. Rowe Price to punch in some numbers to see how much an annual cash gift to a 529 might grow. If you gave just $25 every year and it was invested for 18 years with a 6 percent return, that's potentially $775 (not adjusted for inflation). This assumes the contribution is invested in an enrollment-based portfolio. That's enough to help pay for some college books, reducing the need to borrow.

For very generous relatives and friends, here are the approximate ending values for 18 years of the following (BEG ITAL)monthly(END ITAL) contributions, again assuming a 6 percent return, according to estimates by T. Rowe Price:

-- $100: $39,000

-- $125: $48,000

-- $150: $58,000

-- $200: $77,000

-- $250: $97,000

I'm generally not a fan of how gift giving has evolved. I loathe seeing a note in a wedding invitation telling invitees that cash is the couple's preferred present. The same goes for monetary requests for a baby shower. Your life events should not be treated as fundraising opportunities.

Having said that, I'm not opposed to a 529-plan gift page when the purpose is to address the one question close friends and family often ask: "What do they need?"

Here's my one guideline for letting people know that you've set up a college savings plan: Don't (BEG ITAL)ask(END ITAL) them to contribute.

Don't put a note in a party invitation asking for money for your child's college fund. Don't universally share the gift page's URL. If pressed by those closest to you -- a grandparent, aunt, uncle or longtime family friend -- then, yes, you can pass on the college fund information.

Syndicated etiquette columnist Judith Martin, also known as "Miss Manners," does not approve of specific gift solicitations.

The "charming custom of exchanging presents is deteriorating into simply paying people by the milestone," Martin wrote in a column. "However, if everyone is happy with the pay-as-they-go system, it is not for Miss Manners to interfere. Goodness knows it is entirely outside the realm of etiquette."

It wasn't the Ruffins' idea to set up a gift page for the twins. The couple was part of a marriage and money course I teach with my husband at our church. After spending 12 weeks together learning how to be money-smart, their classmates wanted to give them something meaningful for the babies. They ended up collecting $240 ($120 for each baby), which the Ruffins used to open the 529 accounts.

"I'm all for being practical with gifts that will benefit in the long run," Jasmine Ruffin said.

With the cost of college so financially crippling for many families, it's OK to want to help. Just don't turn your need into a panhandling situation.

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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) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Donald Trump sees dead people

By dana milbank
Donald Trump sees dead people

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, July 22, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, July 21, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Milbank clients only)

By DANA MILBANK

(NOTE: Dana Milbank will be on vacation next week. His next column will move Tuesday, July 31, for immediate release.)

Donald Trump sees dead people.

He doesn't just see them. He talks to them and relays their thoughts back to the living. This president may do things large, but he is also a medium.

A few weeks ago, while posthumously honoring a World War II hero, Trump gave the man's family a report on their departed loved one. He was "looking down from Heaven, proud of this incredible honor, but even prouder of the legacy that lives on in each of you. So true."

A few weeks before that, at what was billed as a celebration of patriotism at the White House, Trump reported to the crowd that fallen soldiers are pleased with his economic policies and increases in the stock market. "Many of them are looking down right now at our country, and they are proud," he said.

Sometimes, Trump pinpoints the location of the deceased, using some psychic GPS. At an outdoor Medal of Honor ceremony in May for soldiers lost at a battle in Afghanistan, Trump pointed at a location in the sky and said "they are looking down right now." A week before that, outside the Capitol, Trump pointed to a point in the sky over his head and told the family of a slain police detective: "So she's right now, right there. And she's looking down."

Occasionally, something must get lost in the cloud and Trump receives a heavenly miscommunication. Speaking to a steelworker at the White House in March, Trump informed the man: "Your father, Herman, he's looking down, and he's very proud of you right now."

"Oh, he's still alive," the steelworker said.

"Then he's even more proud of you," Trump said.

Hillary Clinton communed with Eleanor Roosevelt under the auspices of a woman who studied the psychic experience. Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer after her husband was shot in 1981. Both first ladies were ridiculed for performing "seances."

But now we have the president himself talking directly with dead people -- and even, on occasion, God. After his inauguration, Trump announced that "God looked down and he said, 'we're not going to let it rain on your speech'." (There was some miscommunication over the celestial transom, because it rained.)

Trump's frequent channeling of the dead caught the attention of Karen Park, a professor of religious history at St. Norbert College. "My sense is that this is what passes for spirituality for Trump -- a world where imaginary dead white people take an elevator to a heavenly penthouse where they look down on him with approval," she tells me.

This is pop theology, a view of heaven as an entitlement. Millions buy books and watch movies about such a simple, Hallmark heaven, and they like it when Trump devises "fantasies about happy dead people blessing his presidency and this country because these fantasies make us feel good and require nothing from us at all," Park argues, calling this "something rotten at the core of American religious life."

In fairness, Trump does allow that some people may not land in the happy heaven. In, 2016, he threw Iowans a theological curveball after telling them they would be looking down happily after death. "We hope you're looking down, anyway," he added.

Trump has had strikingly detailed conversations with the departed. In May, 2017, Fox News's Jeanine Pirro asked Trump what his late brother Fred is "telling you now."

"He's telling me just keep doing what you're doing," Trump replied. "And I would tell you if it were different." Fred Trump, in his brother's view, had particular interest in the border, trade, jobs and North Korea.

Trump's mother, the president has said on more than one occasion, "is looking down," particularly around Mother's Day. His father looks down, too, though seemingly less often.

Trump informed Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, that his father "is looking down on you right now and he is proud." Same with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's mom. And golfer Justin Rose's father.

Trump has long communed with the dead. At a 1984 game of the doomed USFL football league, he told a sportscaster that "I suspect that Bear Bryant might be looking down on the stadium right now."

By now, Trump has perfected the medium message. Addressing Congress last year, Trump honored the widow of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, who died in a controversial raid Trump approved. The tearful widow looked heavenward and lawmakers applauded for two full minutes.

"Ryan is looking down right now," Trump reported to the chamber. "And he's very happy, because I think he just broke a record."

Was Owens looking down happily? Did he care if he posthumously broke an applause record?

God knows. And the president.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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