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Meet the avalanche dogs who save skiers' lives

By Natalie B. Compton
Meet the avalanche dogs who save skiers' lives
Ski patroller Pete Linn plays with his dog Sparrow. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Amber Baesler

It is quiet in the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort's staff locker room at noon. Most of the ski instructors, chairlift operators and patrol team members are in the field. Then, a whistle blows, sending a bounding two-year-old Dutch shepherd, Cache, sprinting down the aisle and around the corner.

Just like the other staff at the busy Wyoming ski resort, Cache keeps the mountain running safely. She is one of the six members of the Jackson Hole Patrol Dogs team, which aids the ski patrol in lifesaving efforts after an avalanche. If a person is buried beneath the snow, highly skilled dogs such as Cache pinpoint their location so a rescue can begin.

At the end of the aisle in the locker room, Cache reunites with the source of the whistle: her owner, Chris Brindisi, a certified search-dog handler who has been with the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol since 2000. The pair leave the locker room and head out into the snow.

Outside, Cache leaps and runs laps around Brindisi, begging him to play tug of war with a chew toy in her mouth. Playing tug is fun for her. It's also part of her lifesaving training.

"When they're playing tug like that, it's like they're ripping off the leg of an elk they just killed and they're fighting over the biggest piece," says Scott Stolte, the assistant director of the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol. "It fires them up."

Stolte and Brindisi and other avalanche rescue dog trainers incorporate tug as a reward in training, in addition to ample praise. Over years of training, avalanche dogs learn that finding someone buried in the snow means getting rewards.

"Even avalanche rescue at the highest level, for the dog it's a game," Stolte says. "The game is: I'm going to go find the person buried in the snow . . . the reward is they're going to find somebody and they're going to play tug with me."

Avalanche dogs are said to date back to the 1700s, when St. Bernards accompanied Swiss monks between monasteries. Today, avalanche dogs help search-and-rescue teams around the world - from the Alpine villages in France to the Annapurna mountains of Nepal. Across the United States, they are mainly employed by ski resorts and nonprofits. The dogs' stories are heroic, such as in the rescue of a ski lift operator in 1982 who survived five days buried under tons of snow.

An avalanche dog's job is to find a person buried in the snow. Their digging is a signal to rescue patrol as to where the victim is buried. Then a patrol member begins the process of extrication, which Stolte describes as one of the most difficult physical tasks. You may think of snow as light and fluffy, "but after it's been through an avalanche and it's been worked, hardened by the friction and the movement and the fluidity, it sets up like concrete," Brindisi explains.

Some of the Jackson Hole Patrol Dogs include Ziggy, an American Upland Labrador; Sparrow, an Airedale terrier; Scout, an American Labrador retriever; and Sable, a Boykin spaniel. There isn't one breed for an avalanche dog, but most are female and on the smaller side, about 50 pounds so they can be easily transported on the shoulders of a ski patroller. But many types of dogs can fit if they can handle the cold.

Brindisi looks for working breed dogs. "Dogs that basically really want to please. They want a job," he says. "We want a dog that'll work for more work."

They need to have an insatiable enthusiasm and to "go nuts" when it is time to put on the vest and head into danger. The dogs will learn to ride on snowmobiles and toboggans, stay calm on the shoulders of a patroller while they ski down a mountain, get on chairlifts, and of course, use their noses to find people. That can be detecting the smell of a person's dead skin cells, their stress or their breath.

The dogs also have to be extremely gentle with strangers, particularly children. They will spend days roaming the resort and stopping by ski schools where students may topple over the dogs. There can't be a risk of the dog biting; they have to love people.

"The more that they get to figure out that people are super fun and wonderful and awesome, then the more reason that they want to find you," Brindisi says.

Not every dog will make it through avalanche rescue training. Brindisi recently had the painful experience of moving a dog out of the training program and finding her a new home. After spending three years together, it wasn't easy for him.

"As a handler and a trainer, you want to think you can troubleshoot and problem-solve, and to some degree you can," he says. "But it was a square peg in a round hole. It didn't work."

With devices like avalanche beacons and probes, using dogs to find people buried in snow may seem archaic. But despite all of the new technology at a patrol's disposal, Stolte says, dogs still remain an industry standard.

They are particularly essential when there's an unwitnessed avalanche and it's unknown if anyone is trapped. A dog like Cache could run through acres of an avalanche path and quickly determine if anyone is buried.

"The alternative would be 23 patrollers lined up single file with probes pushing through the snow to see if we find anybody, which can take hours and hours and hours and is extremely difficult and not awesome," Stolte says.

Avalanche dogs won't be out of work any time soon. If anything, they may be in higher demand in years to come if avalanche statistics continue in their upward trajectory. According to Avalanche.org, which collects data from forecast centers, there have been eight avalanche deaths in the United States so far this season. In the 2020-2021 season, the site reported 37 fatalities, up from 23 the season before.

But protecting skiers and snowboarders and mountain employees from avalanche risks starts long before the rescue dogs are called.

The night before the resort opens, avalanche hazard forecasters assess how much snow, wind and precipitation the mountain might get. Next, they will come up with a plan of action for the ski patrol to tackle in the morning. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has hundreds of different avalanche paths that are broken down into 10 different routes that link together.

"It's a very intricate dance, really, how it works. It's very complicated," Stolte says.

Depending on the forecast, avalanche hazard reduction may involve using explosives to trigger avalanches, putting ski tracks in the snow or just going out to evaluate potential risks in person.

"But when we do know that we're getting a lot of snow and wind, then we'll use explosives," Brindisi says.

A crew will come in early to prepare the demilitarized explosives, getting them out of their secure magazines and readying them to test slopes and break up any dangerous slabs that have formed overnight. If everything goes according to plan, the team can get the mountain open for guests by 9 a.m.

It can be a challenging and hostile work environment.

"We can go up in the morning and shove off the top in near-darkness with 70-miles-an-hour winds, and you're working your way down [the mountain] with explosives trying to trigger avalanches," Stolte says.

For patrollers like Stolte and Brindisi, there is also the added complication of bringing their dogs.

"It's like bringing a two-year-old to work every day," Brindisi says.

Cache's original life plan was to go to the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, where she would train for a career in one of many different disciplines, from law enforcement work to cancer detection. Her brother is a police dog in Philadelphia, and her sister is an accelerant detection dog for the New York City Fire Department who helps determine whether a fire was an accident or arson.

When the pandemic hit, Penn Vet closed, and Cache was suddenly a free agent. Brindisi was looking for a dog to start training when he heard about the available Dutch shepherd. He reached out to her owner, a veterinarian in Michigan, at the perfect time.

Brindisi drove from Wyoming to Michigan to pick Cache up, sleeping in his minivan along the way. Now, Brindisi has been housing, caring for and training Cache for about two years in Jackson. Living and working together, their bond goes beyond their professional relationship.

"She's my family dog," Brindisi says.

As the omicron semester starts, online or in person, colleges are tense

By Nick Anderson and Lauren Lumpkin
As the omicron semester starts, online or in person, colleges are tense
Eric Monday teaches a class at the University of Kentucky in Lexington this month. Administrators decided to remain in-person despite the omicron wave of the pandemic. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Luke Sharrett.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - By 9 a.m. on the first day of the spring term, 15 or so students in the University of Kentucky's honors college had settled into their seats here for a seminar on knowledge and society. Eric Welch, their instructor, mused about how to pronounce omicron - with a short or long "o" in the first syllable? - and lamented that he couldn't see more than half of their masked faces. He told them it would be an easy A if they show up and do the work.

"Your presence in this class matters," Welch said.

That same morning, Jason Mollica greeted roughly a dozen American University students in his communication course on digital analytics. They were not meeting on the D.C. campus. Students, scattered near and far, logged in through video links from bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms. Mollica spoke from his home in Rockville, Md.

"Sorry that we're seeing each other again on Zoom," Mollica said. "But this will, hopefully, be temporary."

College is resuming this month across America in a tense and bumpy sequence of openings - in person here, remote there - and shadowed everywhere by the threat of the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus. The upheaval began in December with a flurry of shifts to online final exams and canceled campus events.

What this surge will mean for campuses in coming weeks remains unclear. Students and professors worry about the public health risks of staying open and the educational risks of pausing.

Yet for all the unknowns, the initial data on this omicron semester suggests that most colleges and universities are sticking with face-to-face instruction. As of this week, about 10% to 15% of 500 prominent schools tracked by the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College had announced plans to start the spring term remotely. A smaller share, perhaps 5 percent, delayed openings.

"A lot of campuses are thinking, 'Hey, we can weather this. It's going to be all right,'" said Chris Marsicano, an assistant professor of educational studies at Davidson, who leads the initiative. The success of vaccination and mask-wearing campaigns, and signs that the latest variant may not be not as lethal as earlier ones, are driving a new cost-benefit calculus for higher education leaders who earlier in the pandemic were forced to shutter or curtail operations.

The state flagship university here in Lexington enrolls more than 31,000 students. Many come from families of modest means, with parents who have little or no college education. University President Eli Capilouto contends that the health risk of pushing through the omicron surge - on a campus where nearly 90% of students are vaccinated against the coronavirus - is minimal compared to the downsides of educational disruption. He worries, too, about student mental health.

"We thought an in-person residential experience was something we could do safely," Capilouto said. "We had made a commitment to do so to these families and students. If I ever think there's a day that we can't do it safely, then we'll turn in another direction."

Kentucky has a Democratic governor but a Republican-led legislature. Donald Trump carried the state in the 2020 presidential election by a huge margin. There tends to be more pressure in Republican-dominated states to keep public universities fully open. But Capilouto said he would make any operational changes, if necessary, regardless of politics. "I have not had an elected official insert his or her self into our decision-making," he said.

Among schools starting remotely are several University of California campuses, as well as Duke, Emory, Georgetown, Northwestern and Stanford universities, all of which, unlike Kentucky, require students to be vaccinated. Officials at these and other schools planned to resume in-person teaching after a precautionary online period of several days or a couple weeks.

Policies can vary within states. At Michigan State University, the semester that started Jan. 10 will be online for at least the first three weeks. But the University of Michigan opened in person on Jan. 5 despite deep divisions in the campus community over the risks involved.

"We're adapting to the fact that the disease is going to be around for a while, and we're trying to give up as little as we can," Michigan President Mark Schlissel told the Michigan Daily student newspaper.

In the Washington D.C. region, George Washington University plans to resume in-person classes on Tuesday after teaching for a week online. Howard University pushed its start back to Tuesday but will hold classes in person. Georgetown will be virtual through Jan. 30. George Mason University in Northern Virginia and the University of Maryland at College Park will start in person, as planned, on Jan. 24.

At American University, with about 14,000 students, classes will be online until Jan. 31. Officials are concerned about strained hospital capacity and potential staff shortages. "One thing is just basic functionality," said AU President Sylvia M. Burwell. "Do we have shuttle drivers? Do we have the dining services? Can we clean rooms?"

Some AU students fear virtual learning may last longer. Keighly Butler, 20, a junior from Robbinsville, N.J., is having flashbacks to the remote pivots of 2020 because of the pandemic. At a university where tuition exceeds $50,000 a year, not counting room and board, Butler said it is frustrating to be forced online.

"It's really hard to pay attention, and mental health is something that we discuss quite often because Zoom fatigue is real," Butler said. She and her friends crave normalcy. "We've come to terms with our university experience being completely warped."

Despite the remote classes, the AU campus in Northwest Washington was not devoid of life when the semester opened on Monday. A trio of students who live off campus came to use the fitness center. A handful ate lunch in the student center. Two young women seeking coffee found a popular cafe closed.

Victor Vernick, 19, a freshman from Philadelphia, was one of about 1,900 students who returned to dorms this month as scheduled. Some of his friends have also decided to move back, making the relative emptiness of the campus more manageable. "I just didn't feel like being at home," he said. "I'd just like to continue feeling independent."

Laura Purkey, 26, a graduate student from Pittsburgh, was the sole student in a third-floor laboratory in a science building. She is researching squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. In the fall, the lab had as many as 18 people working on various projects, though not necessarily all at the same time.

Katie DeCicco-Skinner, an associate professor and chair of the biology department, said seven will be in the lab this month, assuming they test negative for the coronavirus. "They need to still collect data so they can graduate on time," DeCicco-Skinner said.

Back in Lexington, the campus was abuzz with students at a time of year when attention turns to their beloved Wildcats basketball.

On Jan. 8, two days before classes opened, the men's team had beaten Southeastern Conference rival Georgia 92-77 in front of a boisterous home crowd at Rupp Arena. Fans are supposed to wear masks at games, following the indoor mask rule on campus, but Capilouto acknowledged many do not. "It is not ideal," he said. "We have more work to do there."

In classrooms, though, compliance with mask-wearing rules appears to be the norm. The university has ordered 300,000 KN95 face masks and plans to distribute them to staff and students to increase protection from the airborne virus. It also plans to offer cash and other prizes in lottery-style drawings to encourage students to get vaccine booster shots. The "please do it" policy is a far cry from schools where boosters are required.

Jessica Lee, 20, a sophomore from Port St. Lucie, Fla., popped into a vaccine clinic in the student center to get a Pfizer booster on the day classes started. She didn't need any monetary incentive. Lee said the booster gave her and her mother peace of mind. And she wants to do everything possible to avoid classroom shutdowns. "I don't want to go back to online learning," she said.

Much is riding on the booster campaign. The university, in line with the conservative politics of the state, spurned faculty demands last year for a vaccine mandate. But it has managed through persuasion to get 88% of students and 91% of the total university community vaccinated with at least one dose. Unvaccinated students must submit to regular viral testing. Some have been suspended for not following the protocols.

The state as a whole is far less protected: Slightly less than 55% of Kentucky's population was fully vaccinated as of Thursday, according to a Washington Post tracker, placing the state among the bottom 20 nationwide. The national average was just under 63%.

As of Monday, the university's coronavirus dashboard showed 363 active cases of infection among students and 83 among employees. Those numbers are likely to rise, officials say, as the virus spreads at the outset of the semester.

But the university said it had plenty of isolation quarters available. Officials were closely monitoring rising virus cases within their hospital system, which serves the region and the state, but they said beds were available if needed.

Faculty credit the university's public health record. More than 96% of them are vaccinated. But they worry about what will happen if a critical mass of teaching assistants fall sick. Or students, or staff, or family members. Or themselves.

Aaron Cramer, 40, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, who chairs the university Senate Council, barely made it to his first day of class. He caught a mild case of covid-19 during winter break and had to isolate at home until just before teaching duties started. His wife and two of their four children also tested positive, Cramer said. The illness could also disrupt their child care. Cramer wonders what will happen if such situations multiply around the campus in coming days. He is urging the university to be patient and flexible with individual professors.

"Omicron's going to change things," he said. "The disruptions are going to be real." Cramer said many faculty members are skeptical of starting in person. "I think it's going to be rough waters," he said. "I don't know whether it's the right call or not."

Kimberly Parker, 49, an associate professor of integrated strategic communication, is nervous. She is fully vaccinated and boosted but also immunocompromised. She double-masks and tries to keep her distance. "I prefer to be in person," she said during a Tuesday afternoon seminar with graduate students. "I think I'm a better teacher. I think we have a better experience. I think I can teach them more. It's better for everyone. But I'm not going to deny that I think it's terrifying every day when I walk on the campus."

Her students were grateful to be with Parker. But Samantha Pfeiffer, 24, of Allen Park, Mich., said the university should have pivoted to virtual teaching for at least a little while. "I don't like being online, but I like having covid less," Pfeiffer said. "Honestly, I'm not like super scared of having covid myself. I have had it. It was miserable, but I got over it. But for me, what I'm most afraid of is sharing that with other people around me who are more vulnerable."

Nursing instructor Tricia Rogers, 49, said she caught the virus last year in between her first and second shots of vaccine. At the time, she also tended to her father as he was dying of covid. "I'm glad '21 is gone," Rogers said.

On Tuesday she was leading a laboratory class on measuring vital signs - pulse, blood pressure, breathing rate, temperature - although the pandemic prevented students from practicing with thermometers. "We are thankful to be live and in person the entire time," Rogers said. "We want to be here. This is really the foundation of the practice."

Camryn Deaton, 19, a sophomore from London, Ky., sat upright on an exam table as classmate Allyson Barcaskey placed a cuff around her upper left arm, inflated it, listened to blood flow sounds with a stethoscope and noted her blood pressure. Barcaskey, 20, is a sophomore from Pittsburgh. The two also belong to a sorority here, Alpha Delta Pi, and they were thrilled to be back in class. They can't imagine learning this through Zoom.

"It's one thing reading about it and watching a video," Barcaskey said. "It's another thing doing it with your own two hands. You can't be a nurse if you don't know how to work with people."

Even as they celebrated the return to class, students were mindful of the possibility of the dreaded pandemic pivot.

Marshall Royce, 21, a junior from Goshen, Ky., majoring in computer science, said many classmates feel a sense of gloom because the pandemic situation seems precarious. Remote learning could be around the corner. "There's always the threat of they can just drop it on you at any moment, like they did when it first broke out," Royce said. "And yeah, we know we'd be able to move online because we've done it before."

- - -

Lumpkin reported from Washington.

Still looking for a 'Black mecca,' the new Great Migration

By Emmanuel Felton, et al.
Still looking for a 'Black mecca,' the new Great Migration
Dallas-Fort Worth is seeing its Black population surpass 1 million people for the first time. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Joshua Lott.

DALLAS - In the late 1940s, Thomas Johnson had a choice to make. After a stint in the military, he could either pursue his dream of becoming a doctor, an impossible aspiration for a Black man in Texas at the time, or return to his beloved family in Crockett, a town dripping with history surrounded by the pecan and pine trees of deep East Texas, where thousands were once enslaved on cotton plantations.

While Crockett's Black residents largely escaped the worst of the Jim Crow era's reign of terror, Johnson was raised in a divided town. Black people lived west of Fourth Street, White people east, and what one could achieve in life was defined by that color line, even for a proud military veteran like Johnson.

He had been a bright student. In 1933, Johnson graduated from high school at 15. By 19, he had a degree from Wiley College, a private historically Black college in nearby Marshall, Texas. African Americans were barred from attending any of the state's medical schools, however, the doctrine of "separate, but equal" meant the state had to offer Black students something. So the state made Johnson a deal: It would pay for him to go to medical school as long as it wasn't in Texas. And with that offer in hand, Johnson joined millions of African Americans, who together formed the Great Migration, leaving the South looking for opportunities and hope not afforded to them under Jim Crow.

Johnson settled in the Twin Cities and attended the University of Minnesota. But while he would find success in Minnesota, nearly 70 years later his granddaughter D'Ivoire Johnson looked around her native Minneapolis and, like her grandfather, concluded that there were better opportunities for her elsewhere. In 2007, she made a journey that almost exactly mirrored the one he had made - moving with her two sons from Minneapolis to Dallas. She is part of what some are calling the new Great Migration, African Americans moving out of the cities that their parents and grandparents fled to during Jim Crow and into the South's booming metropolises.

The percentage of Black Americans who live in the South has been increasing since 1990, and the biggest gains have been in the region's large urban areas, according to census data. The Black population of metro Atlanta more than doubled between 1990 and 2020, surpassing 2 million in the most recent census, with the city overtaking Chicago as the second-largest concentration of African Americans in the country after metropolitan New York. The Black population also more than doubled in metro Charlotte while greater Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth both saw their Black populations surpass 1 million for the first time. Several smaller metro areas also saw sizable gains, including San Antonio; Raleigh and Greensboro, N.C.; Orlando and Little Rock.

Meanwhile, the Black population shrank in a number of Northern and Western cities. For the second census in a row, Chicago and its suburbs lost Black population, and has decreased by 130,000 since 1990. In Michigan, both the Detroit and Flint metropolitan areas lost Black population in absolute terms. The metropolitan areas of St. Louis, Cleveland and Milwaukee recorded their first declines in Black population since African Americans started arriving in large numbers during the Great Migration. This trend extended far beyond the Midwest. Metro New York recorded its second consecutive loss in Black population, losing about 110,000 Black residents since 2000. In California, metro Los Angeles has lost 160,000 Black residents since 1990, while metro San Francisco has lost 90,000.

To understand the reasons behind this new Great Migration, The Washington Post interviewed Black Americans across three Southern states - Georgia, North Carolina and Texas - who had moved to the South in recent decades. Like many of those who moved during the original Great Migration, the primary driver of their decisions to leave home was economic. They moved South either with a new job already in hand or with hope that they could find work in some of the nation's fastest-growing cities. Many also moved in search of affordable housing that could help their families build the kind of generational wealth their parents and grandparents in the North were locked out of because of redlining and other discriminatory housing policies. Some were hesitant about moving South, recalling the horror stories of racial terror told to them by their elders. They all found that racism existed in both the North and South, but for some, the larger concentrations of Black people in the South provided additional safety. In all cases, they moved in search of something better, but looking back, none felt like they'd found the promised land - at least not yet.

- - -

While Thomas Johnson was free to attend medical school in Minnesota, he quickly learned that the color line he knew so well as a child had not completely disappeared during his 1,000-mile journey North. After graduating from medical school in 1955, the only job he could get was at the nearby Stillwater State Prison. Two years later, he started his own clinic in South Minneapolis, eventually moving to North Minneapolis, which by the 1960s was home to most of the city's poor Black residents. He set up shop on the corner of Plymouth and Queen avenues North in 1966, opening a medical office and then expanded to take over the entire block, adding a dental office, pharmacy and beauty salon.

"That's where I grew up," said D'Ivoire Johnson, 47. "At 10 years old, I had a little punch card where I would clock in, and I would go around all the offices and pick up the files and put them in alphabetical order."

As one of just a few Black doctors, Johnson was able to tap an underserved market, eventually making enough money to buy a home in an affluent and virtually all-White neighborhood along the city's Lake of the Isles Park. He became a pillar of the city's Black community and an outspoken advocate for civil rights and Black advancement. D'Ivoire Johnson said that it was only at his funeral that she learned how many Black Minnesotans her grandfather helped pay college tuition.

But as fast as the money was coming in, it was going out. And when Minnesota moved toward HMOs and their complex rules and regulation, D'Ivoire Johnson says, her grandfather's days were numbered. After years of legal fights and audits, Johnson closed his clinic in 1988 and quickly lost his real estate, too. D'Ivoire Johnson thinks her grandfather's legal problems were part of a much larger issue facing the city's Black leaders.

"My friend Stacey would joke there's something going on in Minnesota. The moment you make $149,999, there's some White person somewhere in some office that comes to find you," she said.

"Every Black person in Minnesota that I've seen try to have some independence and do very well, I've watched them get dismantled for minor technicalities," she added. "I've been working in financial institutions since the foreclosure crisis in audit and compliance positions, so I've actually seen the things that they do and Black folks just could never . . . I now sit in these institutions that are constantly under the consent order and they get to survive. We don't. If a Black business is audited, it's going to close."

When D'Ivoire Johnson decided to leave Minneapolis, it was in hopes of not having her two sons grow up in what's been called the "Minnesota paradox." The phrase was coined by labor economist Samuel L. Myers Jr. in reference to how while Minnesotans enjoy some of the highest living standards in the country, they also suffer from some of the widest racial gaps in employment and income.

"I wanted my kids to grow up and see Black people thriving," she said. "Minneapolis is great, but not for Black folks. If you ever really want to participate in the economy in a way that's going to create growth, you can't do that in Minneapolis.

"Minneapolis has a nonprofit mind-set, especially for Black people," Johnson said. "So if you want to be a nonprofit, meaning nonprofitable, live in Minneapolis."

In 2007, things were going well for Johnson. She owned her own mortgage processing company and was working for a wholesale mortgage company. She also was originating her own mortgages.

"I was in full hustle mode," Johnson said. "And just knew if I came here to Dallas, I could do even better."

Her mother and sister had already moved to Dallas for business opportunities, so Johnson was hopeful. But soon, the bottom fell out.

"I moved here because there was opportunity here and then there wasn't," she said. "But I was already here, and I had my children here. My sister and my mother lived here. So I decided to stay to try to make it work."

Even with her family's help, her first few years in Dallas were devastating.

"It was still really horrible," she said. "I worked tons of short-term jobs that I was way overqualified for."

Things only stabilized when her dad moved down to help keep a roof over her and her sons' heads. It wasn't until 2011 that she found a good job, she said.

"Here's the difference: Minneapolis has a wonderful social safety net. So if you fall on hard times you are not going to struggle like you struggle here," she said. "This struggle here is something I've never seen before. I don't understand it. It is demoralizing. It is dehumanizing. And it really does remind you of modernized slavery."

- - -

As far as Sherri Lucas-Hall, 57, knew, her family had been on Chicago's South Side forever. Her Granny Ida, her dad's grandmother, didn't like to talk about what happened to her in the South, but Lucas-Hall got curious after reading Isabel Wilkerson's tome, "The Warmth of Other Suns," about the Great Migration.

"She told everybody about a sister she had, but nobody else knew anything else," Lucas-Hall said. "But I got curious after I read Isabel Wilkerson's book, so I started doing my homework."

What Lucas-Hall was able to piece together is that Granny Ida was actually one of six children. There had been four boys and two girls. Granny Ida's parents were enslaved people, and as best Lucas-Hall can work out, her great-grandmother's parents were sold from Virginia to Tennessee. After emancipation, the family moved to Arkansas.

"What we know is my Granny Ida, she was pregnant with my grandfather when she got to Chicago, but we don't know where she conceived him," Lucas-Hall said. "What I also found out was that she lost a brother in Arkansas. . . . All I can figure is something traumatic happened to her."

When Granny Ida and her husband arrived in Chicago, they quickly got to work, cooking for White families. Ida's only child, Lucas-Hall's grandfather, worked as a porter on the railroads. Her grandfather was always working, and he died while working on the railroad in Kentucky. Her dad was raised in the historic Bronzeville neighborhood at the tail end of Chicago's Black Renaissance, which produced such greats as Richard Wright, Lorraine Hansberry and Katherine Dunham. Harold Lucas, her dad, spent decades working in the steel mills until they closed. He then tried his hand at running restaurants and clubs, but those didn't work out, she said. Since then he's become a self-taught historian and community organizer, fighting to get Bronzeville recognized for its importance and to make sure South Side children know the rich legacy of their community.

Lucas-Hall loved her childhood in Chicago. After her parents split up, she and her mom settled not far from Rainbow Beach, on 80th Street and Escanaba Avenue, where she and her friends would play baseball on the corner. She also frequently made trips to Bronzeville to soak up the history her dad was fighting to preserve. But despite coming from three generations of hard-working Chicagoans, Lucas-Hall's family, like much of the South Side, was still mostly fighting to survive, not thriving.

"On the South Side, everybody's still in survival mode trying to figure out how to get by," she said.

After graduating from Hyde Park High School in 1982 and watching the neighborhood's steady decline, she and her husband moved to the suburbs, but they struggled to afford to live in a neighborhood where they felt safe.

"I had a bachelor's degree. He hadn't finished college," she said. "And it was still a struggle for us financially, always trying to make ends meet."

In 1999, Lucas-Hall's then-husband wanted to move to Georgia, following his sister, but she took some convincing.

"I grew up with a historian as a father and . . . I read a lot, and so I knew about all of the happenings in the South," Lucas-Hall said. "So my first thought when we were moving here was, 'They kill Black people down there, I don't want to go down there.' "

Lucas-Hall had just had a baby and her sister-in-law was selling Atlanta - hard. Lucas-Hall said she was open to the idea because she needed a change.

"His sister was telling him there were a lot of opportunities," Lucas-Hall said. "She had her own business and she convinced him that he too could potentially start his own business. It was the Black mecca. That's what Georgia was. And so for us, we saw opportunity and the hope that things would improve if we came this way."

At first, life was indeed better. The couple initially lived with her husband's family. Eventually her husband's entire family moved to Georgia. Lucas-Hall went back to school, earning a master's degree and started a 14-year career teaching in the DeKalb County School District. In 2006, they were able to buy a house.

"My grandparents never owned a home," she said. "My mom never owned a home, so when I finally was able to buy one with the man I married, that meant a lot for me."

But things started to unravel for Lucas-Hall. First she and her husband divorced, and he got to keep the house. And in 2019, she lost her job.

Lucas-Hall was fired after what she says was an accident involving a first-grader trying to lock himself in a bathroom stall. Lucas-Hall said she was trying to keep the child from locking himself in, when the stall door hit him in the head. Later, she was contacted by an investigator from the district's department of public safety, and eventually placed on administrative leave. She was among a number of district teachers who say their constitutional rights were violated during hasty district investigations, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

It took Lucas-Hall two years to clear her name to be able to return to a classroom. She worked as a Walmart cashier and as an Uber driver. After she was cleared to return to teaching, she worked as a substitute teacher in the local public schools. But she struggled to stay afloat financially. A strong believer in the power of education, she went back to school, this time to learn new and better ways to teach her Black students to read.

"I've spent the last four years studying the science of reading and now I have this small tutoring business," she said. "But I'm not surviving well. The people that need my help can't afford my services, and I can't grow my business because I don't have access to funds that will allow me to support myself while I'm trying to grow this business. That's the space I'm in now - where I have this small business and I have all this information and I know how to do education better, but I have no access and no finances to affect any change."

So far, 2022 has been a mixed bag for Lucas-Hall. She was offered a full-time job by the organization that trained her in the new reading techniques, but her landlord evicted her. She said the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office has refused to tell her when it plans to resume executing evictions amid the coronavirus's omicron variant surge, so every time she leaves home for a substitute teaching gig, she wonders if she'll return to find all of her and her youngest daughter's possessions out on the curb. Earlier this month, she drove around the suburb of Lawrenceville, job offer in hand, looking for a landlord who would rent to her.

But even though Georgia didn't turn out to be the Black mecca she was promised, more of her family are still taking that leap.

"My sister left and came down to Georgia about four years ago because she was trying to keep her boys from being murdered," Lucas-Hall said. "She had three boys, and she moved from Chicago to come down here because she said she didn't think her boys would survive if she didn't get them out of there."

As for whether moving to Georgia was the right decision for her, Lucas-Hall says there's at least one clear advantage to moving south.

"It's prettier," Lucas-Hall said with a deep laugh.

"I know that's crazy. But it's not cold. I don't have the snow to deal with, and I am five hours from the ocean, which I love," she said. "And when things are good for me, I hop in my car and I will drive to Savannah just to see the ocean. So my struggle didn't necessarily change, it's just prettier here, and sometimes I can not think about it. I can stand back and get perspective as I sit there and wonder, am I going to be okay? Will I ever own my own home? Will my business be successful? What can I hold on to?"

- - -

When Darren James moved to Dallas in 2002, he was already working as an architect at Kai Enterprises, a national design firm where he is now president. But Dallas was still a breath of fresh air for the St. Louis native.

"St. Louis was just a small, insular city," he said. "When I was growing up, you didn't go south of Forest Park," he said, referring to the city's grandest park located just south of Delmar Boulevard, which divides Black and White St. Louis.

"And what I noticed, even as a kid, was the disinvestment," he said. "When you drive down the hill to get some good Italian food, the houses look nice, the streets look good, but when you go back up to North St. Louis, where all my grandparents and relatives lived, you asked yourself, 'How come these neighborhoods don't look the same?' They were built at the same time, there was the same amount of middle-class income. . . . So that's how I got into architecture. There was a planned disinvestment. . . . My grandfather would take us on these family trips, I could see it was like this across the entire country."

James came from a successful St. Louis family. His family traces their roots to Arkansas and Tennessee, but has been in St. Louis for four generations. His mom was an educator; his dad was on the school board. But still it was hard to break out of the city's informal caste system, he said.

"The first question they ask in St. Louis is what high school did you go to," James said. "And the reason they ask that question is because it tells you everything. They can tell where your parents came from, they can tell everything about your socioeconomic background. And if you're from there, you just think it's kind of a colloquialism. You think it's very nice and easy, but it's not. It's a way to put you in place."

In Dallas, he found people who didn't care what high school he went to but instead what he knew.

"Here in Dallas, if people can make money, they'll work with you," he said. "St. Louis is a little bit different. They're not really willing to share in that pie, and they're going to do everything they can to hoard that pie. And so you start to see that there's no future opportunities there unless you happen to be one of the few people that broke through. There's just not a lot of upward mobility for the next generation, so people like me leave. . . . Don't get me wrong, Dallas's racial norms are very strong, but this city is economically driven. There's an entrepreneurial spirit to it."

It's that entrepreneurial spirit that makes Dallas a place of opportunity for Black people, said James, who has been running the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce since 2016. He has spent that time trying to provide information to Black businesses that want to learn how to take advantage of Dallas as a global city. The Black Chamber's membership shows what is possible for Black people to build in Dallas, James said.

"We've got lawyers, we've got spirit distillers, we've got supply chain firms. We've got architects, public relations people, you've got manufacturers. We've got IT professionals, we've got graphic designers, website managers, and even during the pandemic, our membership has grown over this last year," James said. "There's always been lawyers, there's always been educators, there's always been accountants. But here in Dallas, we're now in professions that were not traditionally Black."

While James is working to change the South economically, Leslie Mac, a Brooklyn-born Black Lives Matter activist and community organizer, is working to change it politically. Before moving to Charlotte last year, Mac lived all over the North. She went to college in Chicago and spent time in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. She lived in Philadelphia for nearly a decade.

Mac started her career working on criminal justice reform legislation, such as getting state legislatures to pass bail reform. She switched to grass-roots organizing after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. When she moved to North Carolina, she started working to support groups like Charlotte Uprising, a coalition of community members and organizers fighting for police accountability and racial equality.

Mac, who is Jamaican, grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn where many of New York's Caribbean immigrants settled.

"Everybody was from a different island, and we were all kind of strangers in a strange land trying to find our way," Mac said. "It was a really close-knit community of people that cared about one another. I knew I couldn't do bad stuff because somebody's mom was going to see me, and my mother was going to find out about it. I knew that when the ice cream truck pulled up, somebody's mom was going to buy everybody ice cream. Some of my favorite memories are stupid little things like the ConEd man coming and us begging him for some rope to do double Dutch with."

Her sister is hanging on in Flatbush in the rent-stabilized apartment they grew up in, but they are watching what they loved disappear to gentrification.

"It's happening in a lot of cities in the North - they are just becoming less inviting for Black people, and less of a place where Black people can thrive and raise their families," Mac said. "And so they're looking for places where they can build community and have that same feeling that I had when I grew up in Flatbush. And it just isn't there anymore."

For Mac, Charlotte was like a homecoming.

"I love Charlotte as a city," Mac said. "It's been a really great place to live, and it's a place where I can be what I like to refer to as inconspicuously Black. That's been a revelation for me, and it's something that I haven't really felt since I was growing up in Flatbush, where everybody looked like me."

Mac says to be inconspicuously Black means that she can count on other Black people being wherever she goes. In a city as Black as Charlotte, she says every business has to cater to Black folks. "These are really fundamental things that I know I would never have had in Grand Rapids. I wouldn't have even really had it in Philadelphia."

"It just feels freeing. There's a thing where I feel like my shoulders relax more here," Mac said. "We go out to a fancy restaurant or like this little speakeasy that you have to have a membership to, and I think, that sounds like a place where there won't be a lot of Black people. Sure enough, we walk in, and it's like 70% Black people up in there having their fancy drinks. . . . I can feel comfortable wherever I go here in a way that I've never experienced before, even in New York City. There are so many places I would go and be like, I have to really watch myself here. I've got to shrink myself a little bit. I've got to make sure I'm not too angry or too loud or too whatever. Peeling those pieces away from myself has been really a freeing endeavor."

"So much of my mind was taken up by thinking about how I needed to interact around White people before I moved here," Mac said. "It's a thing you don't recognize until it's gone. I really hadn't realized how much of my psyche was taken up with that constant kind of drone in my head, and moving here really opened me up in a new way."

- - -

The Fivee Bistro & Bar, located on Dallas's Botham Jean Boulevard and named for the 26-year-old unarmed Black accountant who was shot and killed in his apartment by neighbor and former police officer Amber Guyger, is one of those places where one can be "inconspicuously Black."

On a warm late November afternoon, D'Ivoire Johnson took a friend visiting from Martha's Vineyard to the restaurant, where a private party had taken over the bar's patio. Partygoers were doing a line dance in the beautiful fall weather, and inside, a live band was covering R&B classics. Fivee is a special place for Johnson. It was founded by the sister of Omar Jahwar, a larger-than-life pastor and racial justice activist, who died in March after developing covid-19 while on a national tour with his organization, Heal America, which works to curb gang violence. A huge painting of Jahwar in a cowboy hat hangs on the wall next to the bar. Fivee was Jahwar's dream, a place where Black Dallas could come together. It's now a place where Black professionals and families rub shoulders, enjoying perfectly executed soul food like chicken and waffles.

Before he died, Jahwar and Johnson, who speaks with the confidence of a Black woman who has spent most of her career in a field dominated by White men, would spend hours discussing their visions for Black uplift, and she would advise him on potential business opportunities. The past year has been one of Johnson's hardest since she got her life back on track after the financial crisis. Jahwar was one of two close friends Johnson lost to covid-19. But Fivee helps her remain connected to her friend. During lunch, two of Jahwar's family members came up to greet Johnson while she ate.

That Sunday, Johnson was feeling reflective on her time in Texas. After years of struggling, she lives with her 14-year-old son in an upscale Dallas suburb called Las Colinas, where large homes encircle a golf course. She knows that she has achieved a lot in Texas, but she still worries what will come next for her family.

"This progress is illusive. It's not real," she said. "Now, does that mean that I'm not doing well? No, I'm fine. My family's fine. I live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. But I still get anxiety attacks when my son walks out the door to walk our dog. So really, I'm not fine, because I'm not safe. If January 6 didn't tell you nothing, it told you, you were not safe. Because the most unstable element, the most uninformed and misinformed - and they don't know the difference between the two - are armed and dangerous. That is a national security issue, and it's not being treated as such. Joe Biden is going to do nothing. That's the reality."

Her message for her two sons: The promised land might still be out there even if not here in America.

"Many of us are still looking for a U.S.-based Black mecca, but I tell my sons, 'Go find your place in the world.' Don't limit yourself to America. There is a place in the world that's good for you. You might have a smaller home. It may not be as easy to get to this place or that place, but there is a place in the world that's going to be less stressful than this one for you. And you need to travel and figure out where it is."

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

Venmo and Paypal have to tell IRS about your side hustle if you make more than $600 a year

By michelle singletary
Venmo and Paypal have to tell IRS about your side hustle if you make more than $600 a year

MICHELLE SINGLETARY COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, and thereafter

(For Singletary clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Michelle Singletary

WASHINGTON -- The sign on the door for the hairdresser read "Cash only, please!"

I wasn't sure, but I suspected the reason behind the change in the accepted form of payments might have had something to do with new income-reporting requirements. In the past, payment options had included apps such as Venmo, PayPal and Cash App.

To help identify tax cheats, the IRS as of Jan. 1 started requiring all third-party payment processors in the United States to report payments received for goods and services of $600 or more a year.

This is going to be a jarring change for some self-employed gig workers and people with side hustles.

For others who use such payment platforms for personal transactions, there's nothing to worry about.

"The government has been looking for ways to close that tax gap by making more transactions reportable to the IRS," said Eric Bronnenkant, head of tax for the online financial adviser Betterment. "The ultimate goal is laudable, which is to make it harder for people to underreport their taxable income."

Let's walk through what you need to know about the new IRS reporting rule.

- Will I be taxed on money I send to friends if we split the cost of a meal?

There's a lot of confusion about the new rule.

You can still use the payment applications to split the restaurant tab with friends or send birthday money to relatives without triggering a tax bill. The taxing agency is trying to track income received, not the transfer of funds between family and friends.

Under the pandemic-related American Rescue Plan, changes were made to the tax code relating to what are called "third-party settlement organizations." These include such companies as PayPal, Venmo and Cash App, which accept payments for the sale of goods and services.

"Third party information reporting has been shown to increase voluntary tax compliance and improve collections and assessments within IRS," the agency says in an FAQ about third-party-network transactions.

In the past, the threshold for reporting peer-to-peer (P2P) payments for goods-and-services transactions was quite high. The companies were required to send IRS Form 1099-K for gross payments exceeding $20,000 and more than 200 transactions within a calendar year.

This threshold has now been substantially lowered.

If your business enterprise receives $600 or more in payments, regardless of the total number of transactions for the calendar year, then the payment processors must send a 1099-K. This is the tax form used to report payments received by a business or individual for the sale of goods and services that were paid via a third-party network.

So yes, this includes the income you receive for T-shirts you make and sell on Etsy or the house you rent out on Airbnb.

By the way, Zelle says on its website that it's not subject to the new requirement, writing, "The law requiring certain payment networks to provide forms 1099K for information reporting does not apply to the Zelle Network."

Early Warning Services, the network operator behind Zelle, said in an emailed statement, "Payments between friends and family, and eligible small businesses sent through the Zelle Network are not subject to this law because Zelle facilitates messaging between financial institutions, but does not hold accounts or handle settlement of funds."

Why is the IRS coming after my small side-hustle income?

This isn't a new tax. It's a new reporting requirement.

Even if you hadn't been receiving a 1099-K, you were still required to report any taxable income received through these platforms on your income tax return.

The change won't affect the reporting requirement for 2021 tax returns. But gig workers or people with side hustles should expect to start getting 1099-K forms for the 2022 tax year early next year.

How will the platforms know the money I'm receiving isn't business income?

The various platforms have been sending notices to people who use the payment applications to accept business income that they need to accurately report their income and confirm their tax information.

Many payment apps have a way to differentiate between commercial payments and money sent as a gift or reimbursement.

Cash App said on its website that business accounts with $600 or more in gross sales in the 2022 tax year will qualify for a Form 1099-K. But it does not apply to personal Cash App accounts.

In its own FAQ, PayPal, which also owns Venmo, pointed out it offers users an opportunity to tag their P2P transactions as personal or business-related.

"Users should select Goods and Services whenever they are sending money to another user to purchase an item," PayPal said.

It's still possible that you might mistakenly receive a 1099-K, which would require you to explain to the IRS that the money wasn't taxable, Bronnenkant said.

Will I be taxed on money I make from selling used items in my home?

Unless you are in the business of selling secondhand items, you will not be taxed for offloading that old living room furniture or the bed you've had since college.

If you're selling personal items at a loss, the reporting doesn't affect you, Bronnenkant said.

For instance, if you purchased a dining-room table for $1,000 and sold it for $600, this amount would not be subject to income tax or result in PayPal sending you a 1099-K.

Why shouldn't I just go back to accepting cash only?

Will people find a way around the new reporting rules? Probably.

But there are several reasons you should report all your income.

It's the law, and failure to report it could land you in big trouble with the IRS. Yes, the agency is overwhelmed, but woe to the person who finally gets caught.

There are some other short-term and long-term advantages to reporting all your income.

Your income is used to qualify for loans.

You might be shutting yourself out of qualifying for some tax breaks, such as the earned-income tax credit, Bronnenkant pointed out. The EITC helps low-to-moderate-income workers, and families get a tax break. For 2021, a married couple with three children could qualify for the EITC if their earned income was under $57,414.

Long-term, underreporting or not reporting your income can affect the amount of Social Security benefits you receive.

I understand that if you're working hard to just make ends meet, you feel it's not cheating to skirt the IRS reporting requirements. But keep in mind that underreporting what you owe could negatively affect your financial future.

- - -

Call Michelle Singletary at 1-800-Ask-Post. Readers can also 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

Putin has carefully calculated the odds. Right now, they're in his favor.

By fareed zakaria
Putin has carefully calculated the odds. Right now, they're in his favor.

FAREED ZAKARIA COLUMN

Advance for release Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, and thereafter

(For Zakaria clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Fareed Zakaria

What does Vladimir Putin want? It's a question Washington finds hard to answer because we Americans rarely put ourselves in other people's shoes. Two important essays, by Dmitri Trenin in Foreign Affairs and Eugene Chausovsky in Foreign Policy, provide some clues. Both suggest that the Russian president has stayed in power since 1999 not by being a reckless gambler but rather by being careful, even rational.

Trenin points out that Putin has watched four waves of NATO expansionism since he took power. His military incursions have usually been reactions to events rather than grand initiatives of his own. In 2008, the response followed Georgia's decision to retake the separatist province of South Ossetia. In 2014, it came on the heels of the Maidan uprising in Ukraine that drove President Viktor Yanukovych out of office. Putin's one significant military intervention in an area that is not historically part of Russia's core security sphere -- Syria -- has been limited, mostly using Russian air power.

In the case of the invasion of Ukraine, Putin's first effort was to bribe Ukraine with an offer of $15 billion in loans and lower prices for gas after it rejected an association agreement with the European Union. Yanukovych accepted the deal, igniting the Maidan protests, and then fled his country. Putin then annexed Crimea. In recent years, he has tried to get the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, to make a deal on the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, home to the highest proportion of Russian-speakers in the country and where Russian army irregulars have been fomenting an insurgency. He tried to get the Germans to push Zelensky to accept a referendum in eastern Ukraine on secession.

From the arch-conservative Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to the liberal reformer Mikhail Gorbachev, Russian leaders have regarded Ukraine as fundamentally tied to Moscow. Ukraine's first two presidents, while asserting the country's newfound independence, were careful not to break too sharply with Moscow. According to a census conducted in 2001, almost 30 percent of the country's population spoke Russian as their first language.

Putin's dilemma is that Ukraine is, in slow motion, escaping Russia's grasp. In the past decade, the country has become more independent, democratic and pro-Western. The West, in turn, has been cooperating and assisting Kyiv in ever-greater measure. But Putin is probably also conscious of the reality that an outright Russian invasion would create what he fears most -- a permanently anti-Russia Ukraine. His goal, then, is to get the Americans and Europeans to recognize that Ukrainian membership in NATO is a step too far. He also wants for Kyiv to recognize that, in the long run, it has to have good (by which he means respectful, even subservient) relations with Russia.

For the West, Ukraine is a good cause but not central to its grand strategy. For Putin, it is a key Russian national interest. Russia is next door and has deep ties to the country. Ukrainians have told me that Russian spies are active in every part of the country, including the government. Putin can find many ways to keep Ukraine crippled, weak and dysfunctional. Trenin speculates that, if Moscow's negotiations with NATO were to fail, Russia might recognize the two eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, where separatists have proclaimed "people's republics." Moscow has already used the same approach with Georgia, where Russia has recognized the two Russian-dominated parts of the country, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as independent states.

But why is Putin doing this now? Partly, he sees NATO creating a de facto alliance with Kyiv. At the same time, Putin must be aware that this is a moment of Russian strength. At a time when there is a growing energy crisis around the world, Russia has consolidated its position as an energy superpower.

Energy prices are rising across the globe but perhaps nowhere as sharply as in Europe. The price of natural gas -- used by most Europeans to heat their homes -- rose more than 400 percent in 2021. And yet, in recent years, most European countries have been shutting down their gas production even as they have been unable to ramp up renewables to completely take their place. The result: They are critically dependent on Russian gas.

Meanwhile, Ukraine, which has received about $2.5 billion annually to allow Russian gas to travel through its country, could see that revenue plummet if Nord Stream 2, a pipeline designed to transit more Russian gas directly to Germany and Europe, is certified. In these circumstances, sanctions against Russia could trigger an energy crisis in Europe on the scale of the 1970s oil crisis, which no European government would want.

Putin is not engaging in reckless adventurism. He takes risks, but he has calculated the odds carefully. Right now, they're in his favor.

- - -

Fareed Zakaria's email address is fareed.zakaria.gps@turner.com.

A year into his presidency, Biden has kept some of Trump's worst immigration policies in place. Why?

By catherine rampell
A year into his presidency, Biden has kept some of Trump's worst immigration policies in place. Why?

CATHERINE RAMPELL COLUMN

Advance for release Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, and thereafter

(For Rampell clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Catherine Rampell

Heading into the November midterms, Republicans plan to use President Joe Biden's immigration record against him. So declared former Trump administration official and infamous xenophobe Stephen Miller in a recent CNN interview. Republican politicians nationwide have already begun running against Biden's alleged "open borders" policies to bolster their campaigns and careers.

It all raises a question: What, exactly, are these nativists unhappy with? In many respects, Biden is doing exactly what the Stephen Millers of the world want him to do -- keeping Donald Trump's worst border policies in place.

A year into his presidency, Biden has made relatively little progress rebuilding the U.S. immigration system, particularly when one considers his soaring pro-immigrant campaign rhetoric. In fairness, Biden had his work cut out for him: Miller and other Trump officials effectively sabotaged the immigration system on their way out the door. They erected arbitrary new hurdles for immigrants, drove out qualified public servants and generally mismanaged government resources.

So it was always going to be a heavy lift to make the nation's immigration infrastructure more functional, or at least get it sufficiently funded and staffed.

To their credit, Biden officials have reversed some of the cruel -- and stupid -- bureaucratic obstacles that Miller and Trump littered across the system. These often Kafkaesque changes to paperwork and eligibility requirements were intended to slow down processing of visas and work permits and entangle law-abiding immigrants in red tape.Such policies, which Trump heightened during the pandemic, are among the reasons immigration inflows have fallen by roughly two-thirds since 2017, according to Census Bureau estimates.

Also to his credit, Biden raised the ceiling on refugee admissions and evacuated many of our Afghan allies, albeit after some initial foot-dragging on both. He has backed immigration reforms that would require new legislation, which his party currently lacks the votes to pass.

If you think our immigration system should be fairer, more transparent and more aligned with U.S. economic and strategic interests, these presidential choices are worth celebrating.

But these are, mostly, obscure policy changes or unrealized proposals. When Miller et al. condemn Biden's "immigration record," they zero in on his decisions at the Southern border.

Which is, frankly, odd. You'd never know it from the right-wing hysteria about Biden's supposedly "open borders," or Biden's own campaign promise to "end Trump's detrimental asylum policies." But Biden has continued Trump's most restrictionist, inhumane and possibly illegal border policies.

In some cases Biden has even expanded them.

As evidence of Biden's supposedly lax border policies, Republicans sometimes cite his attempt, on Day One of his presidency, to end the program informally known as "Remain in Mexico." This Trump-created program forced asylum seekers to wait in dangerous camps in Mexico while their U.S. cases were processed; there, vulnerable immigrants have been frequent targets for rape, kidnappings, torture and murder.

If Biden had terminated the program, that would have been a good thing, from a human rights perspective (not a Republican priority, apparently). But Biden did not succeed. After a legal challenge, a federal judge ordered the program to be resurrected -- and the Biden administration not only obeyed but also expanded the program's scope to cover even more categories of immigrants.

Worse, Biden has maintained Trump's Title 42 order. This likely illegal order involves automatically expelling hundreds of thousands of people encountered at the border without ever allowing them to apply for asylum, in contravention of rights guaranteed under both U.S. and international law. Both Trump and Biden have cited a little-used public health provision as pretext for this policy, even though legions of public health experts have argued that it doesn't protect public health.

Perversely, continuing this Trump policy has also given ammunition to the hard-right nativists, because it has the unintended consequence of inflating the count of U.S. border crossings. Many of those expelled immediately turn around and attempt another crossing; in fiscal 2021, 27 percent of individuals were apprehended multiple times by Border Patrol, nearly quadruple the share in 2019.

The disconnect between GOP claims about "open borders" and Biden's actually-quite-Trumpy border policies, is enormous. Two of Biden's own political appointees who resigned last fall lambasted his actions as "inhumane" on their way out the door; six other high-level immigration officials have recently announced they were leaving the administration, without much public explanation.

It's unclear why Biden has maintained his predecessor's policies. One possibility is politics -- that these choices were intended to stave off right-wing attacks about lax enforcement. If that was the motivation, though, it failed. Instead, Biden has delivered the worst of all worlds: inhumane, immoral, potentially illegal policy -- and bad-faith political blowback about "open borders" all the same.

- - -

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

9 questions I have about the new, more 'inclusive' M&M mascots

By alexandra petri
9 questions I have about the new, more 'inclusive' M&M mascots

ALEXANDRA PETRI COLUMN

Advance for release Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, and thereafter

(For Petri clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Alexandra Petri

1. Am I still allowed to eat them? So Mars has decided to rebrand the M&M candy mascots to create a "sense of belonging and community." The green lady M&M will be less defined by her sexuality (a phrase I can't believe I just typed). The orange M&M will embrace his anxiety; he will also tie his shoelaces now. And the red M&M will bully less. They will also, generally, be defined by "personalities, rather than their gender." (I'm sorry, I just noticed myself writing the phrase "the mascots for M&Ms, lentil-shaped chocolate candies, will be less defined by their gender" and it is all I can do not to jump into the sea.) But they are still for eating, though? They are more accepting of one another and their own issues, but at the end of the day, they are still for eating, right? I can still eat them?

2. Who wanted this? Who, looking at the troubles that beset us in the Year of Our Lord 2022, said, "What needs to be fixed is that the M&M candy mascots are not well-rounded enough, except in the strictest, most literal sense. I demand that someone fix this, or I will never . . . eat them again?" What life is this person leading? Can I have this person's life?

3. Are they still cannibals, though? I thought one of the traits of the M&Ms was that they ate other M&Ms. Is this still a trait, or now that they are "throwing shine" rather than "shade," is that gone, too? On the one hand, cannibalism doesn't seem like a very "throwing shine" thing to do, but on the other hand, I don't understand any of this.

4. Do they not want me to eat them?

5. Sorry to keep harping on this, but usually when you're about to eat someone, and then that someone interrupts to tell you a detailed backstory about himself and how he's finally coming to terms with his anxiety or he's realizing the impact his bullying had on other people, it's not so that you still feel good about your decision to eat him. I think the response that usually evokes is "No, no, you are way too anthropomorphic now, and I could not possibly eat you any longer." But then again, I do not even like reading the tag on the free-range turkey explaining how nice his life was before he was handed to me, and that is supposed to make me feel better about eating him.

6. There is always something suspicious about mascots who are the very thing they are trying to convince you to eat. What special dispensation have they received? What hideous sacrifice have they made in order to be spared?

7. Do these personalities still apply when they have peanuts inside them?

8. How is designing M&Ms that better reflect the world before I eat them supposed to be a sign of progress? Isn't there something kind of quietly devastating about the fact that the anthropomorphic chocolate I just devoured had a rich inner life and feelings and was the sort of entity a corporation thought might relate to Gen Z? Is it good that, before I devoured them, I knew that they had made huge strides toward self-acceptance? Does it improve the flavor?

9. But they are still for eating, though?

- - -

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

It's time for Biden to execute a hard reset on his presidency

By michael gerson
It's time for Biden to execute a hard reset on his presidency

MICHAEL GERSON COLUMN

Advance for release Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, and thereafter

(For Gerson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- At year one, it must be deeply frustrating for President Joe Biden to take stock of his underappreciated successes. His economic performance is being trashed after the creation of 6 million jobs. His economic stewardship is being questioned in a country with 3.9% unemployment. His pandemic response is being broadly criticized even though more than 75% of American adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine (compared with fewer than 20% 10 months ago).

These claims are Biden administration talking points. They have the added virtue of being true. Yet the most obvious and emotionally satisfying presidential response -- taking Americans by their lapels and shaking them until they concede the glorious excellence of his achievements -- is generally bad communications strategy.

Not a small portion of Biden's recent press availability was dedicated to self-vindication. "I have probably outperformed what anybody thought would happen," he insisted. But when a president gains a negative public impression through a series of perceived failures, the impression is not uncreated by addressing each charge in turn.

American voters often make distinctions broader than policy or ideology. Is the president strong or weak? On our cultural side or not? Following the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle, the rise in murder rates, the return of inflation, and a bundle of (often unfair) educational and cultural complaints, Biden has developed a reputation for weakness. And the process of appeasing his party's radical left has led to a series of certain legislative defeats, which have demonstrated not Biden's purity but his impotence.

At a moment such as this, the temptation is to relitigate -- but the task is to relaunch. Deliverance from this type of public judgment requires a circuit breaker. The president needs to show he has heard public criticism and is reacting to it. This might take the form of a new initiative or a staff shake-up. But it needs to be more than symbolic. It must involve a significantly new way of doing business.

The idea of a staff shake-up in Biden world is difficult for an outsider to imagine. One gets the feeling that in Chief of Staff Ron Klain, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Biden has found his all-star team. But this creates some dangers of its own. A president needs loyal staffers. He also needs peers in high positions who are willing to dispute him as equals. The Biden team seems short on the latter. An administration reset might be wise to address this need.

Any Biden administration retooling should include an upbeat, forward-looking version of his agenda. But in presidential communication, the choice between positive and negative is usually a false one. Biden's responsible management of the nation's affairs should be regularly contrasted with the House Republican parade of insanity. GOP control would necessarily involve the further elevation of people such as Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.; Paul A. Gosar, R-Ariz.; and Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., as spokespeople and power brokers within their party. The election of now-Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as speaker would hardly matter. Religious bigotry, conspiracy thinking and the ready embrace of political violence would be the public agenda of the House GOP.

Those helping with the Biden relaunch (if it comes) will spend significant time considering what settings fit their boss best. For Biden, the determination is not complicated. Both of his political strengths -- his empathy and his skill at negotiations -- are most evident in small groups. Revealing Biden at his best requires the amplification of his intimacy.

In his press availability, Biden admitted that his Build Back Better agenda would pass only in smaller, more digestible parts. That is realism. But Biden and his staff should not lose sight of the fact that a presidential agenda can include other initiatives that allow for great and lasting good. In the policy process leading up to the 2003 State of the Union, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was assembled. Rather than fitting a political need, it involved a moral imperative.

Those involved in shaping Biden's agenda have a similar opportunity to push for transformative ideas that don't fit immediate political needs. Someone should be fighting internally to pursue a revision of the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which invites confusion and anarchic mischief. Someone should be pushing for a more ambitious stage in the international fight against covid, in which America would convene a global pledging conference and lead a push to get shots into arms in the developing world. Someone should be advocating for the repair and reform of the United States' broken asylum system.

At some point, arresting a downward spiral must involve a break with the past. This is one of the hardest maneuvers in politics because it involves a modicum of humility.

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

In Year Two, Biden needs to be The Boss

By eugene robinson
In Year Two, Biden needs to be The Boss

EUGENE ROBINSON COLUMN

Advance for release Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, and thereafter

(For Robnson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON -- Anyone who is surprised that President Biden can talk for two straight hours doesn't know President Biden. The notable thing about his marathon news conference Wednesday was not its length but its impact: He made news, stated his case forcefully and laid out an agenda for everyone else to follow.

More of the same, please.

His most important words about Year Two of his presidency came at the very end, in response to a question about whether he would reach out to Republicans on reforming the Electoral Count Act. He gave a clear answer -- yes, he will -- and then rambled at some length, but in a telling way. Here is what he said:

"And one of the things that I do think that has been made clear to me -- speaking of polling -- is the public doesn't want me to be the 'President Senator.' They want me to be the president and let senators be senators. And so, if I've made -- and I've made many mistakes, I'm sure. If I made a mistake, I'm used to negotiating to get things done, and I've been, in the past, relatively successful at it in the United States Senate, even as vice president. But I think that role as President is -- is a different role."

That sounded like an accurate self-assessment. And it sounded, encouragingly, like a plan.

I happen to believe that Biden had a successful and hugely consequential Year One. His biggest accomplishment, in my view, came in the battle against the covid-19 pandemic. When Biden took office, a small fraction of the country was vaccinated against the coronavirus. Today, more than 200 million Americans are "fully vaccinated" and more than 80 million have also had booster shots. Basically, everyone who is eligible -- and who has not been brainwashed by anti-vaccine conspiracy theories -- now has lifesaving protection against covid-19.

This monumental logistical achievement has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens. If the first duty of any president is to protect the American people, Biden has done his job.

Has the administration's messaging on covid-19 been consistent? Of course not. Covid-19 is caused by a novel pathogen that is constantly hitting us with new variants. Yes, the White House, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration should better coordinate their pronouncements. But the message inevitably has to change as scientists' understanding of the virus deepens. Critics who say otherwise are being disingenuous or just plain dumb.

The Biden administration also got Congress to pass a $1.9 trillion covid rescue bill and a $1.2 trillion bill to revamp and modernize the nation's infrastructure. Biden also persuaded the Senate to pass a $250 billion bill to improve technological competitiveness with China and got a record 41 federal judges confirmed in his first year. Only the most strident GOP partisans could call these achievements some kind of legislative failure.

No, Biden couldn't muster the votes for his transformational Build Back Better package or for much-needed legislation to protect voting rights -- because Republicans opposed these measures as a solid bloc. The president, finally, appears to have given up on his quixotic hope that GOP senators, some of whom he considers close friends, will ever have an "epiphany" that breaks the spell Donald Trump cast upon them and brings them back to their senses.

So now, one hopes, no more illusions. And no more letting others -- opponents or allies -- set the agenda.

Biden can and should give the nation more of what we saw this week, holding more formal news conferences and also dropping by the White House briefing room to make announcements and take questions. The news cycle is his to command whenever he wants, and doing so is part of his job.

As for legislation, Biden can split his Build Back Better package into smaller, focused bills, as he suggested Wednesday. He can dare Republicans to vote against lowering the price of insulin, or making child care and elder care more accessible, or guaranteeing universal pre-kindergarten. And on voting rights, Biden may be able to pick off enough Senate Republicans to fix the Electoral Count Act -- and perhaps even to pass a version of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Progressive Democrats, who thus far have been supremely patient and pragmatic, would once again be asked to swallow hard and accept what they see as relative crumbs. Moderates, meanwhile, will be increasingly anxious about the coming midterm elections.

As he holds his party together, Biden should stop going to the Capitol to meet with legislators and instead have them go to him, at the White House. He needs to keep reminding them -- and maybe himself -- that he's not their colleague anymore. In Year Two, he needs to be The Boss.

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Follow Eugene Robinson on Twitter: @Eugene_Robinson

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