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'Serial' returns to a saturated industry

By Sonia Rao
'Serial' returns to a saturated industry
The team behind season three of

During the year Sarah Koenig spent embedded in Cleveland's Justice Center Complex for the upcoming season of "Serial," a few employees on separate occasions mistook her for a student journalist and asked what school she attended.

"School? I'm pushing 50 - I barely remember where I went to school," the host recalls thinking. And then: "Oh, I look sloppy. I'm by myself. I'm this random creature walking around your place of work."

Even the bellwether of the criminal-justice podcasting world doesn't get recognized in a courthouse. But maybe a close listener would have recognized Koenig by her voice. After all, "Serial" has been downloaded more than 340 million times since it launched in late 2014 with Koenig and her steady inflection leading its serialized exploration of whether Baltimore County high-schooler Adnan Syed was rightfully convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend. The podcast electrified the medium and ushered it into the mainstream, becoming the first to ever win a Peabody Award.

Perhaps just as important, it also exposed an appetite for true crime stories that has since been satiated by a growing number of podcasts: "S-Town" and "Crimetown," "Missing and Murdered" and "My Favorite Murder," "Wine and Crime" and "White Wine True Crime!" The craze even stretches across media, to which those who have binged HBO's "The Jinx" or Netflix's "Making a Murderer" can attest.

"Serial's" second season, while still popular, didn't generate nearly as much buzz as the first. And, on Thursday, it is in this saturated true-crime environment - partially of "Serial's" own making - that the show releases Season 3, which heads in a decidedly different direction than its predecessors. Koenig and fellow reporter Emmanuel Dzotsi tackle the criminal justice system as a whole by presenting multiple Cleveland cases, each allotted between one and three episodes.

But will the podcast's newest endeavor be heard above the noise?

"There are a lot of reporters, there are a lot of researchers, there are a lot of people who have been banging this drum for a while, wanting to talk about the criminal justice system," co-creator Julie Snyder says. "I felt, like, let's talk about that."

Nicholas Quah, who monitors the podcast industry through his trade newsletter Hot Pod, isn't too worried about the future of "Serial." The team operates at a level that Quah says few have been able to match - "It's night and day" - as Koenig and Snyder spent decades fine-tuning their catchy, empathetic brand of storytelling on public radio programs such as "This American Life."

"I'm excited to see how they challenge themselves," Quah says of the third season. "Even if it doesn't rise up to the pop culture phenomenon of the first season, it feels like David Simon coming back with a new show to HBO."

Before "Serial" launched, podcasts were such a niche interest that Snyder once spent a family wedding trying to explain what they were to her relatives. After its launch, they infiltrated water-cooler chat. Phoebe Judge, host and co-creator of "Criminal," says that as a curious person drawn to the taboo nature of crime stories, her head gets "flipped around" by everything she wants to listen to.

Multiple true crime festivals have popped up around the country, including Washington's upcoming Death Becomes Us on Nov. 3 and 4. Jenn Tisdale, co-producing it through the company Brightest Young Things, wants it to be a haven for fanatics who, like her, often find themselves in spaces where people "don't want to talk about murder."

The deluge of true crime programming parallels the recent spike in the number of TV series that led FX chief John Landgraf to coin the term "Peak TV" a few years ago. It brought on an existential crisis of sorts: Is it humanly possible to keep up with this much television? Will quantity mean a sacrifice in quality?

Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier are familiar with these concerns, having made the switch from television to podcasting after working together on "The Jinx." That HBO miniseries, along with Netflix's "Making a Murderer," generated such fervent conversation that the streaming service eventually satirized the genre with "American Vandal" (which released its second season on Friday). The duo launched their Gimlet podcast "Crimetown" in 2016, examining how organized crime shapes American cities.

Podcasting won them over with the promise of creative freedom - no studio executives - and the ability to transport listeners to "wherever the person is telling you about," Stuart-Pontier says. "Serial's" acclaim convinced them to adopt a serialized approach, and Smerling adds that "crime stories are heightened drama, so there's a sort of natural place for people to go as storytellers."

But even "Serial" will have to work harder. Its 2016 second season - about Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier imprisoned by the Taliban and later charged with deserting his base in Afghanistan - attracted an average of 10.6 million listeners per episode versus the first season's 17.3 million.

Koenig says she doesn't worry about that. Instead, she works to ensure that the end result captures what she cares about, what her team has questions about - what can be revealed by cases as sensational as Syed's murder conviction or as small as weed possession (or as strange as the death in "S-Town," which the "Serial" team helped produce). This season promises to take readers into every corner of the courthouse, from one attorney seeking advice from another in the middle of a hallway to Koenig's conference-room tete-a-tetes with the defense.

Snyder adds that "Serial" might benefit from the fact that its focus is quite different from other true crime shows. Especially in this third season, the show is more concerned with the aftermath and implications of crimes than the actual actions: "A lot of times, you need to move past the idea of innocent and guilt and who did it," Snyder says. "I want to talk about the people who are actually affected by it."

Koenig notes that one of the "magical things about podcasting" is its ability to form a unique connection between the storytellers and listeners - especially when it involves a podcast as intimately narrated as this one. Despite the meticulous reporting process and its prestigious standing, "Serial" is quite informal - Koenig frequently articulates her uncertainties and anxieties.

"We did not invent murder stories or crime stories or true crime, obviously," Koenig says. "People feel like they know me, and they want me to tell them a story, which is a weird thing for me, but there is definitely a segment of our audience that will just tune in for that ... because it's 'Serial.'"

Scientists thought they had created the perfect tree. But it became a nightmare.

By Adrian Higgins
Scientists thought they had created the perfect tree. But it became a nightmare.
Bradford Pear trees line the street of Watkins Meadow Dr. in Germantown, Maryland. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Jennifer Heffner

Carole Bergmann pulls her small parks department SUV into an aging 1980s subdivision in Germantown, Maryland, and takes me to the edge of an expansive meadow. A dense screen of charcoal-gray trees stands between the open ground and the backyards of several houses. The trees are callery pears, the escaped offspring of landscape specimens and street trees from the neighborhood. With no gardener to guide them, the spindly wildlings form an impenetrable thicket of dark twigs with three-inch thorns.

Bergmann, a field botanist for the Montgomery County Parks Department, extricates herself from the thicket and in the meadow shows me that what I take to be blades of grass are actually shoots of trees, mowed to a few inches high. There are countless thousands, hiding in plain sight in Great Seneca Stream Valley Park. If it were not cut back once a year, the meadow would become like the adjacent screen, wall upon wall, acre upon acre of black-limbed, armored trees worthy of Sleeping Beauty's castle.

"You can't mow this once and walk away," said Bergmann, who began her 25-year career in the department as a forest ecologist but has been consumed by an ever-pressing need to address the escape of the Bradford pear and other variants of callery pear, a species that originated in China, along with other invasive exotics.

The U.S. Agriculture Department scientists who gave us the Bradford pear thought they were improving our world. Instead, they left an environmental time bomb that has now exploded.

- - -

From the 1960s to the 1990s, the callery pear was the urban planner's gift from above. A seedling selection named Bradford was cloned by the gazillion to become the ubiquitous street tree of America's postwar suburban expansion.

The Bradford pear seemed to leap from an architect's idealized rendering. But in this case, reality outshone the artist's vision. It was upright and symmetric in silhouette. It exploded with white flowers when we most needed it, in early spring. Its glossy green leaves shimmered coolly in the summer heat, and in the fall, its foliage turned crimson, maroon and orange - a perfect New England study in autumnal color almost everywhere it grew. And it grew everywhere. It flourished in poor soil, wet or dry, acidic or alkaline. It shrugged off pests and diseases, it didn't drop messy fruit like mulberries or crab apples. Millions of Bradford pears would be planted from California to Massachusetts and would come to signal the dream and aspirations of postwar suburbia. Like the cookie-cutter suburbs themselves, the Bradford pear would embody that quintessentially American idea of the goodness of mass-produced uniformity.

But like a comic book supervillain who had started off good, the Bradford pear crossed over to something darker. It turned from thornless to spiky, limber to brittle, chaste to promiscuous, tame to feral. Most of all, it became invasive. It is now an ecological marauder destined to continue its spread for decades, long after those suburban tract houses have faded away. Generations yet to be born will come to know this tree and learn to hate it.

It is at its most conspicuous in early spring, when it bursts into flower. Suddenly whole rural landscapes - meadows, old pastures, woodland edges, ditches, the sides of highways and railroads - are lit up by its blossoms. From early March to mid-April, you can now track the arrival and progression of spring in the United States not as amber waves of grain but as a frothing tide of Bradford pear.

You might even enjoy its beauty, until you realize that it is squeezing out native flora and reducing biodiversity. As eye-catching as the flowers are, they are simply the start of the seasonal march of this invader. Six months after the blooms appear, clusters of seedy berries invite birds to fatten up for winter. In the bird's droppings, the seeds will germinate and advance, becoming ever more genetically diverse in the process and making the pear ever more adapted to its own spread.

Its invasive tendencies became widely noticed by the late 1990s, and by the mid-2000s, it had become a weed in the District and 19 states, from Texas to New York. "While callery pear was introduced with the best of intentions, it now seems that a plague is truly upon us," botanist Michael Vincent wrote at the time. It has now spread to 29 states.

- - -

The roots of the Bradford pear fiasco go back more than a century, and had nothing to do with decorating suburbia. By the turn of the 20th century, Northern California and southern Oregon had become the centers of pear production in the United States. The common or European pear was a high-value fruit; in one Oregon county alone, Jackson, the pear industry in 1916 was worth a mind-boggling $10 million.

But the orchards were threatened by a new disease called fire blight. George Roeding, a nurseryman in Fresno, California, wrote in 1916 that "in the San Joaquin Valley, which sixteen years ago was one of the great pear producing sections of California, the pear has been absolutely wiped out of existence."

In Talent, Oregon, a plant scientist named Frank Reimer was using a test orchard to work on fire-blight control and found that the callery pear, first brought to the States in 1908, was highly resistant to fire blight and might be used as a rootstock onto which varieties of the European pear could be grafted. The much smaller callery fruit is used to make tea in China but is considered inedible.

But to take his research further, Reimer needed lots of genetically rich wild seed from China. He turned to David Fairchild, a dynamic young botanist in Washington. Fairchild is best remembered as the guy who helped bring the Japanese cherry blossoms to the capital, by first growing 125 imported trees on his estate in Chevy Chase, Md.

Fairchild headed the Agriculture Department's Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction. He traveled far during his career in search of new plants, but he relied on another explorer, Frank Meyer, in the quest for a super-pear. Meyer, an emigre from the Netherlands, had already explored extensively in northern and central China when Fairchild tapped him, in 1916, to go to southern China. (Meyer is best known for giving Americans the lemon variety named after him.)

In an age before passenger jets and digital communication, the quest for the callery pear would be no quick or easy excursion. A century ago, plant explorers needed an extraordinary set of skills to complete their missions and survive a range of perils.

A haunting image of Meyer in China is captured in a 1908 photo. With a big black beard, sheepskin leggings and a staff, he is seen gazing into the distance from a mountainous, arid landscape. All about him, burlapped cuttings rest like tablets brought down from Mount Sinai. He is in his early 30s but seems older.

Meyer left Washington in mid-August of 1916, traveling west to see Reimer's pear trials in Oregon and finally departing Seattle bound for Japan on the last day of summer. Within a couple of months, he had sent six large shipments of seed from Beijing containing pine nuts, walnuts and chestnuts, but no callery pear. Fairchild, exasperated that Meyer was hanging around Beijing, urged him to make his way up the Yangtze River to look for the callery. "You must not leave any stone unturned to secure it," he wrote. The correspondence between Meyer and Fairchild form part of an archive of the Chinese expedition in the National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Md.

Meyer eventually made his way to Yichang, a four-day boat ride from Hankou (now Wuhan) up the Yangtze, and he soon found wild-growing callery pears, if not in the extravagant amounts Reimer was seeking. "Altho' not rare in the hills around here, the trees are very widely scattered, they are often quite small and as such produce individually but little fruit," he wrote.

Many of the trees were stunted in dry, poor sites, but one remarkable aspect of this species soon became apparent. It could grow virtually anywhere. Meyer recorded pear trees on sterile mountain slopes, on the edge of a pond in wet soil, on screes, in bamboo stands and even in running water.

Having made arrangements for locals to collect and process the seed the following fall, he set out to southern China in search of other plants but got only as far as Hankou, where he took to his bed with "nervous prostration."

After several weeks of rest and therapy he was back on his feet, and by late summer, he had made his way to the area around Jingmen, today a large city in Hubei province.

He sent his first shipment of callery pear seed to Fairchild in September, and the following month he teamed up with Reimer and gathered another 25 pounds of seed - enough to grow a small forest of callery pears. Reimer also collected on his own, before the two men went to Yichang in early November.

Another calamity was about to overtake Meyer, however, as China had become gripped by spreading internal strife. Factional warlords fought for dominance. This kept him confined to Yichang while seeds and notes were isolated in Jingmen. "As I am writing," he wrote in February 1918, "we hear the rickety noise of rifle fire."

That spring, he made his way to Jingmen to retrieve his pear seeds and baggage, and then took a steamer down the Yangtze back to Hankou.

On the evening of May 31, 1918, Meyer boarded another ship sailing downriver to Shanghai, where he planned to stay a month to escape the heat of Hankou and to ship his pear seeds to Fairchild.

Meyer had been suffering from a stomach ailment but appeared to be getting better the next day, a Saturday. His mental state may have been getting worse. Meyer told his servant Yao Feng T'ing that his father and some old friends had come to him in a dream, and that he considered this an omen.

That Saturday night, when the boat was about 30 miles upriver from the city of Wuhu, Meyer was seen by a cabin boy making for the deck. The lad thought Meyer was going to the toilet, but he was never seen alive again. His body was fished out of the Yangtze four days later near a settlement named Ti Keng.

Samuel Sokobin, the American vice consul in Shanghai, conducted an investigation and reported that although it seemed Meyer had not been killed, it was "impossible to state" whether Meyer's death was an accident or suicide. Signs point to the latter. After talking to the explorer's servant and fellow passengers, Sokobin wrote: "It appears certain that Mr. Meyer had been depressed for some time." He was 42. Sokobin had Meyer's body moved to the Protestant Cemetery in Shanghai and his seed collections sent to Washington.

Reimer, in his time with Meyer in Jingmen, had come to see just how low he was. "He told me of his life's struggles," he later wrote. "Few people ever realized the tremendous battle that was raging in his soul."

- - -

The seed that Meyer and others would collect ended up in Reimer's test orchard in Oregon and the U.S. Plant Introduction Station in Glenn Dale, then a rural enclave in Maryland's Prince George's County.

In the early 1950s, a horticulturist at Glenn Dale named John Creech began to see the callery pears there not as a rootstock for the common pear but as an extraordinarily handsome and tough street tree in its own right. He latched on to a single specimen that had been grown from seed that was not part of Meyer's shipment but acquired soon afterward in Nanjing as part of Fairchild's same feverish search for callery pear seed.

The tree was 30 years old when Creech first evaluated it, and judging from his later writings, he was besotted by this specimen. He was struck by its vigor, its handsome, mature spread and its evident ornamental qualities. But a plant's value lies too in what it is not. This one tree did not have the thorns of other callery pears; it was free of diseases and pests and held together in storms. In selecting this individual to mass-produce, Creech named it Bradford after the station's former head, F.C. Bradford. This specimen's resilience in storms belied what would become a major problem with its mass-produced Bradford clones: Tight branch-to-trunk angles and congested branching invited the limbs to break apart.

Before releasing the Bradford ornamental pear to the nursery trade, Creech decided to trial it in the nearby Washington suburb of University Park, which was then treeless and had difficult soil - perfect for putting this wondertree to the test. He planted 180 saplings in 1954. He pruned them to keep lower branches out of the way of pedestrians and cars, but also to give each tree a handsome profile. This undoubtedly produced more attractive and useful trees but further hid the Bradford's weak-wooded Achilles' heel.

Happy with its performance in University Park - some of the original Bradfords are still there, as lanky, open shade trees - he officially released the Bradford pear to the nursery trade in January 1960 and invited growers to obtain shoots for grafting onto callery pear seedlings. Each Bradford scion would be genetically identical, but the rootstocks each had their own DNA. This would come back to bite us.

For a few innocent years, the only thing working against the Bradford pear was its ubiquity. It was so golden that every nursery grower wanted to propagate it and every home builder and highway department wanted to plant it.

In 1966, Creech and his colleague William Ackerman wrote that the University Park plantings had displayed very little fruit, in contrast to the situation back at Glenn Dale, where the whole zoo of callery pears - 2,500 seedlings - had produced "abundant fruit development" on similarly aged Bradfords. Their point was that if you kept Bradfords away from other pears, messy fruiting wouldn't be a problem. But they clearly missed the ecological repercussions. And in the University Park planting, they noticed something else that should have raised alarms. On a few grafted trees where the scion had failed, the rootstock had produced suckers that then bloomed. These flowers, with the help of bees, caused the "sterile" street trees to set viable fruit. Creech and Ackerman minimized the problem, saying it was highly localized.

Clues to the callery pear's invasiveness are buried in a journal paper written by Ackerman in 1977, when he announced the introduction of another variety named Whitehouse, chosen because it was more upright than Bradford and better suited to small gardens. But this selection was a fugitive from Glenn Dale, growing as a seed deposited by a bird on aneighboring property; Bradford was one of its parents. The callery pear had escaped the reservation.

Four years later, the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., introduced an even more columnar variety named Capital. Meanwhile, commercial plant breeders were bringing to market other varieties of the callery pear, and by the mid-1980s, a dozen or so were available for planting. Many of these were introduced to get around the Bradford's poor branch structure and propensity to break. Sterile by themselves, any two of these varieties together would produce a heavy fruit set for winter bird dispersal. The stage was set for the callery pear's quiet occupation of the countryside.

Since 2012, Bergmann has led efforts to contain the callery pear on 232 acres, though it has been mapped on 425 acres within the Montgomery park system and may occupy countless more areas, she said. Crews have employed a number of tactics, including felling trees with chain saws, girdling their trunks with a blade and spraying the wound with a systemic herbicide. But the trees are mostly beaten back with an annual cutting by a Bush Hogmower or in woodier areas a beefier machine called a forestry mulcher.

"It's not a fix like building a bridge or putting down a road," she said. "Once you cut down a field of Bradford pears, they're going to try to come back."

It seems that the callery pear has been a curse to those who tried to master it. Wild trees of Pyrus calleryanain China are not invasive or particularly common. It's what we did to the pear that has turned it against us: We brought it to an alien environment, selected one for unnatural propagation and then fused genetically different individuals together. We planted it intensively across the entire continental United States, seeding its eventual spread. Today it is a roving, free-range freak.

In Mary Shelley's epic tale, Victor Frankenstein laments the monster he created. "I must pursue and destroy the being to whom I gave existence," he tells Captain Walton.

If Creech had regrets about introducing the Bradford pear, he kept them to himself. In economic terms for nursery growers, the tree was manna from heaven. By the 1990s, he knew of its structural ailments and the problem with self-seeding. But when these were raised, his response was always the same. "He would say, 'Yes, the tree has had its problems, but it put a lot of kids through college,' " said Lynn Batdorf, the arboretum's retired boxwood expert, who was a young horticulturist under Creech in the 1970s.

A decorated World War II Army veteran who ended the war in a German POW camp, Creech was beloved by the horticulturists who worked for him. He organized scientifically important plant-collecting trips to Japan and presided over a golden period of ornamental tree and shrub development at Glenn Dale and later at the National Arboretum, where he was director from 1973 to 1980. He leveraged his contacts in Japan to establish the world-famous bonsai collection at the arboretum.

I sat down with the current arboretum director, Richard T. Olsen, and asked him to explain how Creech could have gotten the Bradford pear so wrong. Olsen says you can't judge what happened without understanding the historical context. The mission of scientists like Creech and Fairchild was to find and manipulate plants in a way that solved a problem, met an unmet need or simply offered an attractive new plant for the American nursery industry and consumers.

Olsen recites Thomas Jefferson's line: "The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture."

For Creech and his peers working in the 1950s, the potential environmental effects were not part of the decision-making. "These people were pretty smart," Olsen said. "Our values have changed."

In addition, he said, invasive plants have been enabled in their spread by centuries of environmental disturbance. "If we think in our forests we are dealing with a pristine habitat, we are deluding ourselves," he said. Peter Del Tredici, a retired senior research scientist at Harvard's Arnold Arboretum, said the concept of exotic invasive species didn't emerge until 30 years ago, even though European settlers recorded escaped plants as early as 1672.

Only a fraction of nonnative ornamental plants become invasive, but those that do have the capacity to completely transform natural areas. Bergmann has established an army of weed-control volunteers to work in county parks, but the idea of eradicating almost 40 species of key invasives is unrealistic.

"Without thinking much about it, we have globalized our environment in much the same way we have globalized our economy," Del Tredici has written. He lives in the Boston suburb of Watertown, where he is seeing the first wave of callery pear invasion, young plants "in highly disturbed habitats where no maintenance has occurred," he told me.

In the South, the march of the callery is much more evident. "It's definitely starting to really become a prominent invasive in Alabama," said Nancy Loewenstein, an extension specialist at Auburn University. She sees it in disturbed industrialized areas, in the understory of pine plantations and along the banks of the Alabama River and other riparian areas. "There are some areas that are just white in the spring," she said.

Bergmann, who is 67 and looking at the end of her career, says she owes it to future generations to try to contain the Bradford pear and other invasives in the hope that one day scientists can find a way to eradicate them.

It is a problem that Fairchild could not have envisioned a century ago, but the Bradford pear persists as a case study in how even the brightest scientific minds can be blind to what they might be creating long after they have gone. In November 1917, Fairchild wrote to Meyer thanking him for the first batch of callery pear seed. "I believe," he predicted, "these will hardly fail to have in them something of extreme value for this country."

She was only 11, but her mom knew something was terribly wrong

By Jacqueline Dooley
She was only 11, but her mom knew something was terribly wrong
Ana at age 11.

You've had a bad feeling all summer, a nagging in your gut that something's wrong. She looks thinner, but she just turned 11 and kids that age get taller, thin out. Yet . . . why is she so pale in July? Why is she tired all the time? Your husband said it was because she'd been staying up too late on her iPad, so you limited her screen time. That didn't help. She keeps falling asleep smack in the middle of bright summer days.

You notice she isn't enjoying her summer. She's irritable, picking frequent fights with her younger sister. "It's just hormones," you tell yourself. "Eleven is a difficult age."

You take her to the doctor for a rash and fever, and you learn that she has strep. You're relieved. Maybe that's what it was all along. The doctor looks at your daughter's torso - she looks right at the tiny bulge in her abdomen - but she sees only the rash. "It's scarlet fever," the doctor says. She prescribes an antibiotic and sends you home.

A month later, your daughter returns from a five-day trip with your mother-in-law, who insists she was fine on the trip. "I gave her tea to help her stomach," your mother-in-law says.

That night, your daughter admits that she was in a lot of pain during the entire train ride home. "I'll take you to the emergency clinic if it still hurts in the morning," you tell her. You tuck her in, kiss her forehead and go to bed with a terrible feeling of foreboding.

Maybe, on some level, you suspect this is your last normal night.


The stomach pain doesn't go away. By morning, she's walking hunched over, favoring her right side. You Google "appendicitis" and take her to the emergency clinic, concerned her appendix might burst. The doctor looks at her distended stomach, gently touches it and immediately sends you to the emergency room at your local hospital.

You call your husband and tell him to get backup for your younger daughter, who is 8.

"What do they do for appendicitis?" your daughter asks. Her eyes are wide with fear.

"They take your appendix out," you respond. "It's a really common procedure. You'll be okay." Based on your current level of worry, this feels like a lie.

You get to the hospital, and they take her in quickly.

She gets her first IV. She hates needles, but she's been in pain for days and she's desperate for relief, so she submits. You watch as big tears spill down her cheeks. They wheel in an ultrasound machine and slather goo on her stomach. She giggles. You giggle with her.

They can't get a fix on her appendix.

"Her liver is enlarged and blocking her appendix," the attending emergency physician explains. "She'll need a CT scan."

You Google "enlarged liver in a child" and learn that this can be caused by Epstein-Barr, the virus behind mononucleosis. You briefly relax. This would explain the fatigue and some of her other symptoms. This is something you can grasp. You smile and squeeze her hand. "You're so brave," you say. She smiles back.

Four hours pass from the time she gets the CT scan to the time the results come in. They are planning to transfer her to a hospital with a pediatric unit that is two hours away. You go home to pack a bag for both of you.

The ER attending is waiting when you get back to the hospital. White-faced, he pulls you and your husband out of your daughter's room. Your feeling of dread returns.

"She has an enormous tumor in her abdomen," he says, voice shaking. He avoids making eye contact. "It's obscuring all of her organs. It's at least the size of a cantaloupe."

You feel hot and cold at once. "Is it cancer?" you blurt as your husband begins to cry.

"Yes. It's likely malignant."

Your world tilts sideways.


Your daughter is loaded into an ambulance and given morphine to ease her pain. It was a bright August morning when you brought her to the emergency clinic and now it is dark, after 10 p.m. You ride in the front of the ambulance, making phone calls and texting family members about what's going on.

It's past midnight when you get to the new hospital. They take you into a quiet part of the ER, and a pediatric oncologist soon joins you. She orders labs and explains that they're getting a room ready. A technician draws blood from the existing IV. The results come back in less than 30 minutes: She's profoundly anemic. They give her a blood transfusion right then and there.

"It hurts my arm," your daughter says, wincing.

"I'm sorry, sweetie," you say. You watch the foreign blood snake its way into your daughter's IV. That night, as you lie beside your daughter's hospital bed listening to the beep of her monitors, you wish with all your heart that you could change places with her.

You are bombarded with a litany of physicians within the first few days: two additional oncologists, a general surgeon, a liver surgeon, a hepatologist and a pediatric resident.

It takes nearly three weeks, two biopsies and pathology reports from three different hospitals to get a proper diagnosis. Your daughter has something called inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor. The oncologist has no experience with this rare type of tumor, which usually occurs in children and young adults.

The liver surgeon is urging an immediate liver transplant, but the oncologist wants to try shrinking the tumor with chemotherapy. No one can give you her prognosis.

Days pass and your daughter grows depressed. She continues to lose weight. Each time she steps on the scale, she watches your face. If her weight goes down, she says she's sorry. She says it over and over again. Each apology breaks your heart. Finally, they give her prednisone, and she regains her appetite. After 30 days in the hospital, the doctors still can't decide how to treat her.

Your daughter wants to have the transplant.

"Why?" you ask her.

"I don't want to lose my hair."

An oncologist at one of the top cancer centers in the world weighs in on your daughter's treatment. He has little experience with this tumor, but he is an expert on solid tumors. He urges you to try chemotherapy. "I think we can save her liver," he says, but he makes no promises.

This is when it dawns on you that doctors can't fix everything. They're groping in the dark, just like the rest of us.

You decide to try chemotherapy. Your daughter is inconsolable.


About three weeks after the first dose of chemotherapy, your daughter loses most of her waist-length hair in one awful, agonizing night. You sit down to brush it, and it falls out in clumps. When you're done brushing, there's a pile of hair on her bed. Your daughter puts on a knit cap, lays her head in your lap, and sobs.

The chemotherapy fails. After a brief period of dormancy, the tumor starts growing again. You know this even before the CT scan confirms it because her abdomen has begun to swell. She will need a liver transplant after all.

You transfer your daughter's care to a state-of-the art facility in New York City, a two-hour drive from home. She is added to the transplant waiting list in December, and you hold your breath through the holidays, hoping and not hoping that you get the call that a liver is available. The tumor is so large now that your 11-year-old daughter looks six months' pregnant.

On a cold day in February, you finally get the call. A man has been shot. His blood type is a match for your daughter's. After dropping your younger daughter at a relative's house, you, your husband and your older daughter rush to the hospital, terrified and exhilarated. The awful nightmare will be over soon.

The 10-hour surgery is successful, but your daughter needs to be rushed back to the operating room a few hours after her transplant to clear a blood clot. You are sure you're going to lose her. The surgeon has left for the evening, but his surgical fellow is here. You look this young person in the eye and say, as calmly as possible, that he must not let your daughter die.

He doesn't let her die. She makes it through this second, two-hour procedure and is returned to the pediatric intensive care unit.

Your daughter spends 10 days as an inpatient. When they finally discharge her, she is given a cocktail of 23 pills to take daily.

She recovers. She heals. She begins to grow again. She spends her 12th birthday in the hospital because her body tries to reject the liver, but she is dosed with steroids and comes through this event unscathed.

You are blessed. She's in remission.

You feel as if you've gone through hell and back, but your daughter is okay. You take her for her six-month MRI. They find two new spots near the transplanted liver and possible spots near her lungs.

The cancer is back, and it has spread.


You switch her care to one of the best pediatric cancer facilities on the planet. Over the next three years, she manages mostly to stay out of the hospital. She has three more surgeries to remove tumors in her abdomen, pelvis and bowel. She undergoes radiation to shrink tumors in her lungs. She tries multiple targeted chemotherapy drugs - pills that she can take at home.

One of the drugs turns her hair white. After an initial tantrum, she shrugs it off and learns to pencil in her eyebrows.

You scour the Internet for anyone who knows anything about your daughter's rare cancer. There are no experts, no clear protocols for treating it. You get another pathologist to look at her biopsy, paying the $500 fee yourself, but the diagnosis is the same. Every doctor you reach out to says the same thing: Surgery is the most effective treatment. You shake your head at this. It seems so barbaric to keep cutting off different pieces of your child to save her.

She turns 13, then 14, then 15 and then . . . the oral chemotherapy begins wearing her down. She gets sores in her mouth and throat, and the drugs must be stopped until she heals. She has one last major surgery to clean her entire abdomen and pelvis of tumors, but they grow back in four months. The lung tumors begin snowballing. Soon, they threaten to collapse her left lung.

It's been four years since her diagnosis in 2012. She is 15 and in 10th grade now. She knows what she's losing. She writes about it in a journal that she makes you promise to read after she dies.


Nearly four years to the day she was diagnosed, her oncologist tells you there's nothing more he can do.

You take her home and let her live her life. You put your own life on hold so you can drive her to school, to parties and to the performances she loves: She's a musician, and you live to hear her beautiful voice.

She has one final scan. She's been struggling for breath. She's been extremely pale. She's been getting fevers every night that spike as high as 103. You learn that the tumor near her left lung is now the size of a grapefruit. It's close to her heart. The oncologist says he's sorry. He does not schedule any more scans. He does not schedule any more follow-ups.

She lives for three months longer. With the help of hospice and palliative care, she is able to stay home. She goes to a final birthday party, meets her friends for a final lunch date. She texts her best friend the night before she dies: "I'll see you this weekend."

It is March 22, 2017. The outside world is gray and cold, covered with snow. You and your husband sit beside her in her bedroom and listen to her labored breathing. You tell her you love her. You tell her you're proud of her. You tell her you're sorry you couldn't save her. You tell her it's okay to go.

She opens her eyes - those big blue eyes you know better than your own - and sighs one last time. Then she's gone.

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

A high stakes game of "he said, she said" detours Kavanaugh confirmation process

By ruben navarrette jr.
A high stakes game of "he said, she said" detours Kavanaugh confirmation process


(For Immediate Print and Web Release.)

(For Navarrette clients only)


SAN DIEGO -- And to think, up until last week, I would have said that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was painfully boring with a confirmation process to match.

What do I know? Scandals are never boring. Still, as a proud American who hates to see our institutions sullied, give me boring any day.

The Kavanaugh proceedings have taken a detour into the sewer, which explains the stench.

Senate Democrats are trying to take out this nominee, for the unpardonable sin of having been nominated by President Trump. And a lot of what has happened over the last several days does not make their side look pure and wholesome.


-- The fact that the accusation of sexual misconduct was initially made anonymously.

-- The fact that Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California -- who learned of the allegation several weeks ago -- never mentioned it during the hearings or in a private meeting with Kavanaugh.

-- The fact that the man who was reportedly with Kavanaugh during this alleged assault says it never happened, and that he never witnessed the nominee being disrespectful to women.

None of this helps the Democrats in their crusade to kill the Kavanaugh confirmation by any means necessary.

To get here, we took a dark and dangerous road.

But here we are nonetheless. And, just days before the scheduled Senate vote on Kavanaugh's nomination, we're facing a barrage of questions. For instance, do we believe what she said, or what he said?

And: Even if Kavanaugh did -- as a 17-year-old who had too much to drink -- everything that she said, should it doom Kavanaugh's nomination?

And also: What about that article of faith among liberals that says people can change?

Barack Obama admitted to using cocaine. George W. Bush had a drinking problem. Bill Clinton said he smoked marijuana but apparently incompetently since he claims he didn't inhale.

American voters gave them all a second chance -- and, ultimately, two terms in office.

I could list the moral failings of the current president that his supporters -- including on the religious right -- are all too willing to forgive, but I don't have the word space.

Which brings us to this question: Is the moral standard for a Supreme Court justice higher than it is for the leader of the free world?

And this one: What's the standard for a U.S. senator? The late Edward Kennedy left the scene of a car crash off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island in 1969, where a young woman died. Kennedy served for another 40 years.

Why? Because, as they say on the left, people change.

But apparently not Supreme Court nominees put up by Republicans. They aren't people, too?

And yet, at the same time, Kavanaugh has not done himself any favors with the way he has responded to his name being dragged through the mud. How he reacts now, as a grown man, says more about his character than what he may have done as a teenager. So far, not so good.

The accuser is Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychology professor who says that she recently passed a lie-detector test about the incident and that she told a marriage counselor about it in 2012, though she didn't mention Kavanaugh by name back then.

Why would she? How many people knew who Brett Kavanaugh was in 2012?

There is no upside for Ford. Whether the allegation is true or not, her life will never be the same. Ask Anita Hill.

To all this, Kavanaugh says coolly: It never happened. That's it.

His handlers have also released a letter signed by 65 women who claim that they knew the nominee in high school and he never behaved this way.

The letter is a ridiculous tactic that proves absolutely nothing, by the way, except perhaps that Kavanaugh didn't behave badly with any of those 65 women.

The nominee must do better. If you're innocent, you don't parse your words. You holler! It's time for a Clarence Thomas "high-tech lynching" moment where Kavanaugh goes back before the Senate Judiciary Committee - as he is scheduled to do on Monday, along with Ford - and says that, as the father of two young girls, he is outraged that the opposition would sink this low. This is your name, Judge. Let's hear the holler.

Otherwise, I'll be inclined -- along with what I'm sure will be many other Americans -- to discount what he said and believe what she said.

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

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

Losing faith in the future?

By robert j. samuelson
Losing faith in the future?


(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE. Usually for release Sept 19.)

(For Samuelson clients only)


WASHINGTON -- It has long been an accepted axiom in the United States -- and also in many advanced democracies -- that the future would be better than the past. People took it for granted that living standards would rise and that life would be more comfortable and stable. Well, kiss that optimism goodbye.

A new survey of 27 countries finds that confidence in the future is weak, especially in the richest societies. One question asked whether "children will be better off financially" than their parents when they're adults. Only 33 percent of respondents in the United States answered yes; the comparable figures were 37 percent for Germany, 19 percent for Italy, and 15 percent for Japan and France. Among the 18 advanced countries surveyed, only Poland (59 percent) and Russia (51 percent) had majorities who felt the future would be better than the present.

What's curious about the survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center, is that the expectations for the future are much more downbeat than views of the present. These have risen sharply from their low points after the 2008-09 financial crisis and Great Recession. Here are confidence ratings in the same countries when asked whether their "current economic situation is good": the United States, 65 percent; Germany, 78 percent; Japan, 44 percent; France, 43 percent; Poland, 69 percent; and Russia, 42 percent.

The obvious question is: What explains the gap between the present and the future? Unfortunately, Pew -- a nonpartisan think tank -- doesn't have an answer. It started asking about future well-being only in 2013. This means it can't tell whether today's pessimism is long-standing or just recent, says Bruce Stokes, Pew's director of global economic attitudes.

Still, overall trends are suggestive. "The financial crisis had a huge impact on people's psyches," says Stokes. People may compartmentalize their economic views, accepting the reality they see all about them for the present but using the Great Recession as a point of reference for the future.

People -- not just Americans -- may also have unconsciously broadened their definition of well-being to include harsher recessions, reflecting recent experience. In the past, surveys of economic well-being implicitly concerned wages, salaries and household incomes. If these slow, as they recently have, and damaging recessions occur more often, the future might well be worse than the present. This would also be true if economic inequality continues to siphon income from the poor and middle class.

It's also possible that the combination of slow economic growth, social unrest and aging populations will overwhelm post-World War II welfare states, forcing them to raise taxes or cut government benefits. These, too, would almost certainly be regarded as reductions in living standards -- a tomorrow that is worse than today.

Losing faith in the future is a big deal, especially for Americans who believe that life is -- or ought to be -- a constant upward trajectory of economic and social progress. The larger issue concerns the lasting influence of the financial crisis and Great Recession on consumer and business behavior and attitudes. We should hope that the Pew survey simply reflects a passing moment and not a permanent new reality.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

Every man should be worried. At least, I'm worried.

By alexandra petri
Every man should be worried. At least, I'm worried.



(For Petri clients only)


(BEG ITAL)"If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried."(END ITAL)

-- A lawyer close to the White House, speaking to Politico

Look, who among us?

If, apparently, a single alleged assault at a single party decades ago is to be frowned upon, then no man is safe, right?

What's next? You can't harass a colleague and serve on the Supreme Court? You can't pick up high schoolers outside custody hearings and serve in the Senate? You can't have a meat locker full of female femurs and expect to breeze through your confirmation as interior secretary?

How are we going to fill our offices if this is the new rule? I bet you will say I cannot shout at women as they pass on the street before dragging them to a concrete bunker and then still expect to become governor! What next? I'm supposed to make sure everyone I have sex with is (BEG ITAL)willing(END ITAL)?

This isn't just my worry. This isn't just something horrible I am now revealing about myself. This is an every-man problem.

If suddenly, as a country, we decide that violently attempting to assault someone is, like, bad, then that knocks out 98, maybe 99 percent of men, just going off the locker-room talk I've heard.

Look, which of us is 100 percent certain all his sexual encounters are consensual? That isn't most people's baseline, surely? You're telling me I am supposed to encounter dozens, hundreds, thousands of women in my life, some drunk and some sober and some with really good legs and just ... not assault any of them?

That sounds exhausting. A whole life of that would be excruciating. No, there ought to be some kind of punch card -- say, if you treat 65 women with the respect and dignity you would accord any man, you are entitled to one freebie.

I mean, it's not as though they're people, are they? At the moment of conception, yes, but then they come out Daughters, not people! They grow into objects; some become Wives or Mothers, others Hags or Crones. Then they die! If they were people, we would not expect dominion over their bodies, surely; if they were people, we would not feel entitled to their smiles. If they were people, I could read a novel with a female protagonist and not be instantly confused and alarmed.

No. They are an unintelligible something else. They are to be put on pedestals, as John Kelly urges, or groped, as the president urges. They are impervious to cold, capable of wearing a bikini on the most frigid day to please us; they can run great distances in heels without discomfort; they were created for us from a rib and designed as our companion. If they have wants of their own, there is really no way of knowing. They say words people might say (You would be forgiven for thinking them people), but remember, they do not (BEG ITAL)mean(END ITAL) the words they say. If what they said was what they meant, then they have not wanted anything I have ever done to them!

It would just be too terrible if they were people. Then you could not harm them with impunity. Then if you made a mistake (Boys will be boys), you would have harmed a (BEG ITAL)person(END ITAL). Then something else would be at stake (BEG ITAL)in addition(END ITAL) to your career, and that cannot be.

Besides, if this is wrong, if you have to go through life inconveniently believing that the other half of the world is made of people, too, then what will boys do for innocent amusement? Who among us was not once 17 and partook in a little roughhousing? How were we to know there was -- purportedly! -- a person in there? Who cannot, in retrospect, be accused of something dreadful? This isn't just me, I hope.

No, if this is the rule, no man is safe. Not the man who shouts at you as you walk down the sidewalk, or grabs you, or puts something in your drink. As all men do, I think.

If assault renders a man unfit to serve on the Supreme Court, then how are we to discern the Founders' intent? I mean, Jefferson, hello? And what is going to become of the presidency? Who wants to live in that world?

Every man should be worried. If boys cannot be boys, then how can boys be men who rise to the highest offices in the land? If this stops being something you can get away with, then will anyone still be above the law?

Every man should be worried.

At least, I'm worried.

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

We know who Kavanaugh's accuser is. What should happen now?

By ruth marcus
We know who Kavanaugh's accuser is. What should happen now?



(For Marcus clients only)


WASHINGTON -- So what should happen now that the woman who accuses Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her has come -- or, rather, has been dragged -- forward?

The first part is easy: There must be a full investigation, beginning with FBI interviews of both Christine Blasey Ford, who made the accusation, and Kavanaugh himself, likely followed by some form of hearing. Though I would put nothing past the people who stole a Supreme Court seat from Merrick Garland, even this crew of Senate Republicans cannot muscle through the nomination, bleating about the unfairness of 11th-hour complaints.

The urgency is to investigate, not to rush to confirm a lifetime appointment. Surely a few Republican senators retain enough sense of institutional responsibility to insist on that -- if not because it is clearly the right thing to do, because in the era of #MeToo, their female constituents will not tolerate such rug-sweeping.

Then comes the hard -- or what seems to be, right now, the harder -- part: What happens if, as the nation witnessed 27 years ago with Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, the two accounts continue to diametrically diverge? Ford says a "stumbling drunk" Kavanaugh and a friend grabbed her at a high school party, when she was 15 and Kavanaugh 17; that Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and groped her; that he put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream.

These are allegations that, if true, constitute some form of criminal sexual assault, which makes them, as my colleague Jennifer Rubin has pointed out, inherently more serious than the sexual-harassment allegations, which were of course horrifying in their own way, involving Thomas. Yes, it was high school, but if you do something bad enough in high school, it can lose you your seat on the Supreme Court. And this, to me, constitutes bad enough, even if she managed to get away before worse happened.

But. Actually, many buts. One is that Kavanaugh, like Thomas, has vigorously denied the allegations. Not that there was a misunderstanding among inebriated high school students, not that it is a dumb episode he regrets -- as with Thomas and Hill, Kavanaugh's position, or at least his position before Ford went public with her account, is that nothing happened. "I did not do this back in high school or at any time," Kavanaugh said.

Which raises the question of what corroboration exists. I don't doubt that Ford is telling the truth as best she recalls it, but her recollection is fuzzy. She told The Washington Post's Emma Brown that she did not remember where the incident took place or how she got home. How well did she know Kavanaugh? Is it possible that she misidentified him? She told no one about it at the time -- understandable but less than ideal. Hill confided in friends at the time about Thomas's behavior. Ford did not describe the incident to others until 2012, some three decades afterward.

So what to do if Ford tells her story and Kavanaugh sticks to his, with the same ferocity as Thomas? And if the second boy Ford says was present, Mark Judge, continues to back up Kavanaugh's account?

Such a swearing contest would raise questions about both the standard of proof the Senate should require in such a case (preponderance of evidence? Clear and convincing?) and who bears the burden of proof (Ford or Kavanaugh?). How sure should the Senate be before it would take the extraordinary step of denying someone confirmation on these grounds?

Perhaps factual development will make this an easier call. One witness could come off as more credible than the other. Additional evidence could be unearthed that tips the balance.

And, of course, if you think that Kavanaugh should fail on other grounds -- I have suggested that he should be rejected unless he agrees to recuse himself from cases involving President Trump and special counsel Robert S.?Mueller III -- then you are not going to agonize too much over these niceties. But if you are, say, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, or Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska? Either way, there is a risk of fundamental unfairness.

Here, the words of then-Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., are relevant -- and persuasive. Byrd took to the Senate floor in October 1991 to explain why he was withdrawing his initial support for Thomas and would vote against him.

"No individual has a particular right to a Supreme Court seat," Byrd said. "... If we are going to give the benefit of the doubt, let us give it to the court. Let us give it to the country."

As this mess plays out, the Byrd test seems like the right one for honest senators to keep in mind.

Ruth Marcus' email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group


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Video: As Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh faces a sexual misconduct allegation, deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus asks, who's responsible for the burden of proof?(Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

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Climate change is no longer just a theory

By eugene robinson
Climate change is no longer just a theory


(Advance for Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Robinson clients only)


WASHINGTON -- Hurricane Florence has drenched eastern North Carolina with more than 30 inches of rain, an all-time record for the state. Last year, Hurricane Harvey stalled over Houston and dumped more than 60 inches of rain, an all-time record for the whole country. Also last year, Hurricane Maria ravaged the island of Puerto Rico and caused, according to an independent study, nearly 3,000 deaths.

Welcome to the new normal.

Tropical cyclones are nothing new, of course. But climate scientists say that global warming should make such storms wetter, slower and more intense -- which is exactly what seems to be happening. And if we fail to act, these kinds of devastating weather events will likely become even more frequent and more severe.

Climate change is a global phenomenon. Authorities in the Philippines are still trying to assess the damage and death toll from Super Typhoon Mangkhut, a rare Category 5-equivalent storm that struck the archipelago on Saturday with sustained winds of 165 miles per hour. Mangkhut went on to batter Hong Kong, and now, as it weakens, is plowing across southern China.

Every human being on the planet has a stake in what governments do to limit and adapt to climate change, including those who, like President Trump, prefer to believe global warming is some kind of hoax. I doubt the citizens of Wilmington, North Carolina -- a lovely resort town that Monday was turned into an island by widespread flooding -- feel there is anything illusory about the hardship they're going through.

As I noted last month, scientists are now cautiously making the first serious attempts to gauge the impact of climate change on specific weather events such as storms, monsoons, droughts and heat waves.

The most ambitious attempt to quantify the link between climate and weather -- a blue-chip international consortium called World Weather Attribution -- has not yet made an attempt to estimate any possible effect global warming may have had on Florence or Mangkhut. But another group of researchers, the Climate Extremes Modeling Group at the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, estimated Sept. 12 that Florence would produce 50 percent more rainfall than if human-induced global warming had not occurred.

You don't have to be a scientist to understand why that makes sense. We know from direct measurement that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by more than 40 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when humans started burning fossil fuels on a large scale. We know from direct observation that carbon dioxide traps heat. We know from direct measurement that both atmospheric and ocean temperatures have been rising sharply. We know from direct measurement that warmer water takes up more space than cooler water, which is the main reason why ocean levels are rising.

We know that warmer water is more easily evaporated, which means there is more moisture available to fuel a storm like Florence or Harvey -- and to be released by such storms as rainfall.

If humankind suddenly stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, we would still have to adapt to the climatic changes we have already set in motion. The excess carbon dioxide we have pumped into the atmosphere will remain there for thousands of years. We will be coping with massive tropical storms, tragic coastal and riverine flooding, deadly heat waves and unprecedented wildfires for the rest of our lives.

At the very least, we should be trying to reduce carbon emissions and keep global warming to a manageable level. With the landmark Paris Agreement, the nations of the world agreed to try. But Trump foolishly pulled the United States -- the world's second-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, behind only China -- out of the deal.

The administration has already proposed weakening restrictions on carbon emissions from automobiles and coal-fired power plants. And last week, there were reports that the administration also wants to loosen rules governing the release of methane, which traps even more heat than carbon dioxide.

Another news item from earlier this month should be instructive: A cargo ship is presently making the journey from Vladivostok, on Russia's Pacific coast, to the German port of Bremerhaven via the Arctic Ocean, rather than taking the usual southern route through the Suez Canal and the Strait of Gibraltar. Until now, the northern route has always been impassible because it was blocked by polar ice. But because of climate change, a lot of the ice has melted.

Climate change is no longer theoretical. It is real, it is all around us, and it is going to get much worse.

Eugene Robinson's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

The party of Lincoln is about to drown

By richard cohen
The party of Lincoln is about to drown


(Advance for Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Cohen clients only)

WRITETHRU: 2nd graf, 2nd sentence: "They have on" sted "The have on"


In "Fear," Bob Woodward's nonfiction Gothic tale of the haunting of the White House, dread stalks the Oval Office and overcomes anyone who approaches the ironically named Resolute desk. They all but tremble before Donald Trump, fearing his temper, his enormous and unfathomable ignorance, his obsessions and his Category 5 dishonesty but there, on page 248, is the reason the Republican Party may lose control of Congress and sink, deservedly, into political irrelevance. Meet the gutless Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.

The speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader have for the most part set aside their revulsion of Trump and instead heeded the political winds in their own party, swallowing their objections and, thus, their pride. They have on rare occasion spoken up, but the effort so drained their shallow store of integrity that all we can hear now is the sucking sound of two consciences on empty.

This brings us to Aug. 11-12, 2017, when an ecumenical collection of bigots -- anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic -- marched in Charlottesville, Virginia. Counter-demonstrators countered and, in the melee, one of them was fatally run over by a white nationalist. Trump responded by saying one thing and then another and wound up referring to the "very fine people on both sides." The very fine Nazis and very fine white nationalists and very fine members of the KKK were understandably grateful. Much of the rest of the country was just as understandably appalled.

Ryan and McConnell were in the latter group. So were a parcel of esteemed corporate executives. They rebuked the president for being so considerate of Nazis, neo- or otherwise, and the president responded by disbanding the White House advisory board to which the executives belonged -- once they had decided to dissolve it themselves. McConnell and Ryan, their backs up, entered the fray. "Both Republicans called some of the CEOs and (BEG ITAL)privately(END ITAL) praised them," Woodward writes. (The italics are my own.)

There you have it. The CEOs stuck their necks out and the leaders of the Republican Party, who would gladly comment on the opening of a firehouse, could not bring themselves to publicly praise them.

The Republican Party is in bad shape. The prognosis for the midterm elections are not good for it. The economy is booming, unemployment is about as low as it can get, and inflation remains oddly meek. Yet, none of this seems to be enough. For one thing, the tweetaholic in the White House seems intent on diverting attention to himself and his moral and ethical squalor. He cannot stay on message unless the message is himself. For the GOP, this is not good. Trump is the Harvey Weinstein of American politics.

I choose the disgraced Hollywood mogul, ground zero of the #MeToo movement, for a reason. Women are abandoning the Republican Party for its adoration of the piggish Trump, its insistence that a woman's body is not her own and its tolerance of intolerant cultural figures. Blacks, who have a dissenting view of "very fine" Klansmen, and Hispanics who might feel that not all Mexicans are rapists are feeling no different. Among women, Trump has an approval rate of only 29 percent in the latest CNN poll; among nonwhites, it's 19 percent.

Those dismal polling numbers apply to Trump, not to the Republican Party in general. But Trump has become the party. He's replaced Thomas Nast's elephant as its symbol. The president's ugly tics are mirrored by his party. They are now one on immigration, trade, tax benefits for the rich, hostility to minority groups, a grope-friendly approach to women's issues and a weakness for conspiracy theories -- the foreign birth of Barack Obama, the treason of Benghazi or anything to do with the Clintons, clearly the most felonious couple since Bonnie and Clyde.

The leaders of the party know better. But out of fear of repercussions from ideological droolers, they mostly fail to distinguish themselves from Trump. They have allowed Republican principles to atrophy -- free trade, abhorrence of debt, etc. -- possibly thinking they will revive them when Trump is gone.

The Democratic Party once had an analogous dilemma -- a Southern wing so recalcitrant on race that it even refused to make lynching a federal crime. But it did have Northern liberals and Midwestern progressives and so one could remain a Democrat and still retain some pride. The GOP, in contrast, is presenting just one face to the voters -- Trump's. The party is unified -- like lemmings about to hurl themselves into the sea.

Richard Cohen's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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