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Heiress in spotlight over Jan. 6 funding

By Beth Reinhard, et al.
Heiress in spotlight over Jan. 6 funding
Supporters of President Donald Trump march down Constitution Avenue, toward the U.S. Capitol, on Jan. 6. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Michael Robinson Chavez

Eight days before the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, a little-known Trump donor living thousands of miles away in the Tuscan countryside quietly wired a total of $650,000 to three organizations that helped stage and promote the event.

The lack of fanfare was typical of Julie Fancelli, the 72-year-old daughter of the founder of the Publix grocery store chain. Even as she has given millions to charity through a family foundation, Fancelli has lived a private life, splitting time between her homes in Florida and Italy, and doting on her grandchildren, according to family members and friends.

Now, Fancelli is facing public scrutiny as the House committee investigating the insurrection seeks to expose the financing for the rally that preceded the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Fancelli is the largest publicly known donor to the rally, support that some concerned relatives and others attributed to her enthusiasm for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

The Washington Post previously reported that on Dec. 29, 2020, Fancelli donated $300,000 to Women for America First, a nonprofit group that helped organize the Jan. 6 rally, and $150,000 to the nonprofit arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association, which paid for a robocall touting a march to "call on Congress to stop the steal."

On the same day, Fancelli gave $200,000 to State Tea Party Express, according to Sal Russo, a top consultant to the conservative group. Russo told The Post last week that he gave the House committee records of Fancelli's donation, which he said was used for radio ads and social media urging supporters of President Donald Trump to attend the rally and subsequent march. He condemned the violence at the Capitol.

On Wednesday, Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington posted on its website tax filings from the group that showed the donation. The tea party group also provided the filing to The Post.

Although much about it remains unknown, the funding of the protests - including travel and hotel expenses for thousands of Trump supporters - has been coming into focus slowly over the past 11 months.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the chairman of the House committee examining the events of Jan. 6, told The Post that he believes Fancelli "played a strong role" in helping to finance the rally. "We're trying to follow the money," he said.

Fancelli has not responded to phone calls and emails from The Post since August. She rarely, if ever, speaks to the media about her campaign donations or charity work. She has not commented on her support for the Jan. 6 rally except for a statement 10 months ago, saying, "I am a proud conservative and have real concerns associated with election integrity, yet I would never support any violence, particularly the tragic and horrific events that unfolded on January 6th."

Her family's fortune comes from the fast-growing Publix supermarket chain, which has tried to distance itself from Fancelli's involvement in the rally. Based in her hometown of Lakeland, Fla., Publix touts its reputation for customer service with a decades-old "where shopping is a pleasure" slogan.

After an initial report a few weeks after the rally that Fancelli had donated about $300,000, Publix released a statement saying that she was not involved in the business and that it could not comment on her actions. Last week, after The Post inquired about Fancelli's contributions totaling $650,000, the company went further, saying it "cannot control the actions of individual stockholders" and issued an unusual rebuke of a member of the founder's family. Because the company is privately held, Fancelli's stake - if any - is not a matter of public record.

"We are deeply troubled by Ms. Fancelli's involvement in the events that led to the tragic attack on the Capitol on January 6," Publix said in a statement to The Post.

In the weeks leading up to the rally, Fancelli frequently emailed to her relatives and friends links to Jones's talk show, according to two people with knowledge of the emails who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private communications. Jones was a leading proponent of false claims that Trump's reelection had been foiled by election fraud and that Congress could refuse to certify Joe Biden's victory.

"I don't want Trump to step down," Jones said during his show streamed on the Infowars platform on Dec. 28, one day before Fancelli donated to the rally. "Either by overturning the election and showing it's a fraud and getting Congress to act on Jan. 6 to not certify for Biden, or whether we end up impeaching Joe Biden or getting him arrested as a Chi-Com agent, one way or another, he will be removed."

Fancelli's donations related to the rally were arranged by Republican fundraiser Caroline Wren, who was listed on the event permit as a "VIP ADVISOR," according to records reviewed by The Post and a Republican with knowledge of the contributions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The House committee has issued a subpoena to Wren seeking records and a deposition.

"The funding behind the First Amendment rally at the White House Ellipse was entirely lawful and consistent with the rights Ms. Fancelli has as an American citizen," Wren said in a statement to The Post.

Fancelli had planned to attend the rally and had a room reserved at the Willard hotel, but she decided not to go because of concerns about traveling during the pandemic, according to the Republican familiar with her donations.

Fancelli was a regular listener to Jones's show and had an assistant make contact with him at his office in Austin to find out how she could support Trump's attempt to undermine Biden's victory, the person said. She and Jones talked by phone at least once between Dec. 27 and Jan. 1, the person said.

"I am not tantalized by that fellow, but apparently she is, and a lot of other people are addicted, to the detriment of the country," Fancelli's brother-in-law Barney Barnett, a retired Publix executive who describes himself as a conservative Republican, said in a recent interview with The Post. "Julie is one of the finest people I know, and I am sorry she got tied up with this guy."

Fancelli's sister Nancy Jenkins said they avoid talking politics and stick to topics like "the grandchildren and the nieces and nephews and how long she's coming to Florida for Christmas."

Of Jones, Jenkins said: "He's kind of a rabble rouser, and I don't listen to that. I listen to the regular news. That guy is crazy. Everybody knows Trump lost."

Jones, who is among dozens of people subpoenaed by the House committee, declined to comment on Fancelli's involvement.

A few weeks after the rally, top executives of the Republican National Committee called to check on Fancelli, according to a person familiar with the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private conversation. Fancelli - who records show had donated roughly $1 million to a joint account for the Trump campaign and Republican Party in 2019 and 2020 - told the RNC executives that she believed the election was stolen and backed the rally "to fight for Trump," the person said. She also said she had no idea there would be violence at the Capitol, according to the person.

Fancelli has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to GOP candidates and party organizations over the past two decades but did not become a top-tier donor until Trump moved into the White House, records show. She worked with Wren as well as Kimberly Guilfoyle, the partner of Trump's son Donald Trump Jr.

Guilfoyle declined to comment for this report.

"We'd never heard of her. . . . She only came into the picture once Trump was president," the person familiar with the RNC call to Fancelli said. "She is basically just a right-winger, smarter than a lot of donors, but has an affinity for Alex Jones and conspiracy theories and that sort of thing."

In 2017, Fancelli met with RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and complained that the national party had not done enough to help Trump in the previous year's election, according to a person familiar with that exchange, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Fancelli also sent party insiders emails supporting conspiracy theories about Trump's political opponents, the person said.

Her political donations this year suggest continued support for the far right. In September, she gave $5,800 to Rep. Matthew Rosendale of Montana, who was among 21 House Republicans who opposed awarding the congressional gold medal to police officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan 6. In July, Fancelli gave $1,000 to an unsuccessful candidate for mayor of Lakeland, Fla., who thanked the right-wing One America News for "correctly" referring to Trump as the president after Biden's inauguration.

"She's a wealthy woman who has lived a quiet life, mostly over in Florence, growing olives and grapes," said Mel Sembler, a longtime Republican fundraiser in Florida who visited Fancelli in Italy when he served as the U.S. ambassador there during the administration of George W. Bush. "A nice lady from a nice family who writes checks for things that she thinks are important. I wonder if she even realized she was writing checks for Jan. 6."

Fancelli is one of seven children of George Jenkins, who as a young man quit his job at the local Piggly Wiggly to open his first grocery store in Central Florida in 1930. Today, Publix has nearly 1,300 stores in the Southeast, with net earnings of $4 billion in 2020. Forbes ranked Jenkins's offspring last year as the 39th richest family in the United States, with an estimated worth of $8.8 billion.

Fancelli owns homes in Lakeland and Longboat Key but has kept a low profile in Florida. Friends and relatives say she spends most of her time in Italy, where she met her husband while studying abroad.

"The bride is a graduate of Mount Vernon Seminary in Washington and the University of Florida," reads the New York Times announcement of her wedding to Mauro Fancelli in 1972. "Mr. Fancelli heads his family's fruit and vegetable wholesale business in Florence, where the couple will live."

In the late 1980s, she hired a longtime friend of her husband's, a Florentine named Italo Casini, to be chef of two Italian restaurants she owned at various times in Florida, Casini recalled in a recent interview. "It was a guarantee of good food when she was in Lakeland," said Casini, who called Fancelli "the sweetest person in the world." Friends and family members in the United States say she sent them olive oil and wine from Italy.

Fancelli's charitable giving is done through the George Jenkins Foundation, named after her father. She serves as president of the foundation, which reported net assets of $27.7 million in 2020 and gave more than $3.3 million that year to about two dozen charities that provide education, health care and social services to poor children and the elderly, records show. Public records also show that she co-owns, with other relatives, a private golf club in Lakeland founded by her father.

Fancelli has been registered as a nonpartisan voter in surrounding Polk County since 2001, but, like several members of her family, she has contributed overwhelmingly to Republicans, records show. On top of her large donations to Trump's reelection campaign in 2020, a company where she was then a director gave $800,000 to a political committee formed by allies of Trump Jr. to support the Republicans in the hotly contested U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia in January.

Fancelli has never served on the Publix board of directors or as a company executive. She previously owned a business that sold millions of dollars worth of food to Publix at a time when family members were running the chain, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Fancelli left that company, Alma Food Imports, Inc., in 2017.

Publix declined to disclose how many shares Fancelli owns in the private company. She does not appear in recent SEC filings that list individuals who own at least 5% of the company's shares. The majority of shares, which are not traded publicly, are owned by employees, from store cashiers to truck drivers.

The company temporarily stopped making campaign donations after survivors of the mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school protested Publix's contributions to the 2018 gubernatorial campaign of Republican Adam Putnam, an outspoken National Rifle Association supporter.

As Fancelli's involvement in the Jan. 6 rally has emerged this year, some Publix shoppers have threatened boycotts on social media. Supermarket analyst David Livingston said Publix's bottom line is unlikely to suffer because the chain is so popular in the Southeast, especially in Florida.

"People love Publix like people in Wisconsin love the Green Bay Packers," Livingston said. "While Publix has made their own controversial donations, they are also the first in line to help after a hurricane."

Russo of State Tea Party Express said he did not solicit the donation from Fancelli but has worked closely in the past with some of the Jan. 6 organizers. The group paid Virginia-based Go BIG Media to promote the rally on social media and bought radio spots targeted at a conservative audience in the D.C. region.

The radio ad did not repeat Trump's false claims of election fraud but did promote the Jan. 6 rally and march as well as a website that featured a "StopTheSteal!" tweet from the president.

Russo said his goal was to "help build the crowd" for Trump, not to try to subvert Biden's victory.

"We did it for the right reasons, so I don't regret that," Russo said. "What I regret the most is that there were people with bad intentions at the Capitol. I am sorry that people got caught up in the emotion."

- - -

The Washington Post's Alice Crites and Andrew Ba Tran contributed to this report.

Some people are actually paying to get 'lost' on vacation

By Hannah Sampson
Some people are actually paying to get 'lost' on vacation
Travelers might encounter this abandoned house in the Westfjords region of Iceland as part of a Get Lost trip. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Black Tomato

Many people travel to get away from it all. A few travel to get away - and then walk their way back.

That's the idea of Get Lost, an "ultimate adventure challenge" that spirits travelers away to a mystery destination and then leaves them alone in the middle of a remote landscape. Depending on the location and duration of the (distantly supervised) trek, the cost can start around $10,000 and veer into six-figure territory.

Luxury travel company Black Tomato introduced the concept - a kind of a blind date for vacations with "Survivor" elements - in 2017. But with its focus on isolation, Get Lost seems tailor-made for covid-era travel.

"During the various lockdowns, unable to travel, I had longed for adventure," New Yorker writer Ed Caesar wrote in a first-person piece about the experience. "Here it was."

Black Tomato co-founder Tom Marchant said that while the company produced a few such trips last year, it was mostly a time when people in lockdown got in touch to plan their post-pandemic adventures.

"It just happened to have struck a chord over the last 18 months," he said.

Marchant, who came up with the idea of getting clients "lost," thought of it as he considered ways to help people truly relax in an age of digital distractions.

"Could we create an experience that requires total mental and physical focus?" he said. "By being totally distracted, it's almost impossible for them to think about the day-to-day, everything at home."

There are plenty of expedition - and even survivalist - options for travelers who want to push themselves. And more companies have started offering "blind" trips in recent years, such as Magical Mystery Tours and the "surprise travel" agency Pack Up + Go.

"This combination of not knowing where you're going but it being a challenge and an earned experience, I think that still is unique to us," Marchant said.

With Black Tomato's experience, travelers can choose how lost they want to feel, and how surprised they want to be by their destination. The company's website offers an array of environments (polar, jungle, coastal, desert or mountain). Extremely laid-back clients can let someone else choose for them.

Destinations have included Iceland, Namibia, Morocco and even the United States. In most cases, travelers don't know where they're going until they receive flight information; if they fly private, Marchant said, they might step off a plane with no clue where they are.

For Esther Spengler, 33, a stay-at-home-mom in a military family, the only requirements she had were going somewhere warm and far away from the United States.

Spengler, who calls Austin, Texas, home but is temporarily stationed in Biloxi, Miss., discovered the service while she searched for an outside-the-box anniversary activity. When her husband offered to stay with their two children so she could go on her own, she realized it was a chance to rekindle a long-dormant adventurous streak.

Over about 18 months, Spengler saved up for the 10-day trip to Morocco, which she said cost roughly $13,000, and made the outdoor outfitter REI her best friend.

She flew to Marrakesh in October and continued by car into the mountains. In the New Yorker article, Caesar described a similar journey as "like a very pleasant kidnapping, with coffee breaks." After a couple of days of training - learning navigation, fire-starting and how to put up her own shelter - Spengler was on her own for three days; at least, she was as "on her own" as someone being tracked by an ex-military guide could be.

"There was a point where he actually did lose me and I was pretty proud of that," she said, after following the wrong trail and actually getting lost. "He said I almost gave him a bloody heart attack."

Despite bloodied toenails and a tricky time setting up her tarp shelter, Spengler was thrilled with the experience.

"It turned out really, really incredible and so much more than I could imagine," she said.

Back in Mississippi, Spengler has put her newfound fire-starting skills to work in the backyard, showing her daughters the steps. She is hoping to turn her affinity for navigating into a career: She is joining the Army National Guard, with plans to focus on imagery intelligence.

Ultimately, she said, she would love to do the kind of work her own guide did during the trip.

"You're going to have the curious rich people who are like, 'Oh I'll do this for fun. I want to see what this is like. I want to have bragging rights,' " she said. "I want to be the real deal."

Marchant said many of the travelers who book these trips are looking for that sense of accomplishment.

"What we're looking for is that people feel challenged," he said. "There's always an angle that we want people to feel like they've achieved something, have that feeling of reward at the end of it."

The Elizabeth Holmes trial is the hottest ticket in Silicon Valley

By Rachel Lerman
The Elizabeth Holmes trial is the hottest ticket in Silicon Valley
One of the tickets given to attendees of the Elizabeth Holmes trial is seen in San Francisco on December 6, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Rachel Lerman

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Cissy Fitzsimmons usually enjoys listening to true-crime podcasts while walking on the beach near her Santa Cruz home. But for the past two weeks, she has been leaving her house at 4 a.m. and driving 40 miles to watch a case play out in real life.

The trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the former CEO of failed blood-testing start-up Theranos, has become a circus of spectators at the Silicon Valley courthouse. Since Holmes began testifying in mid-November, the line to get one of the limited seats in the courtroom often stretches to more than 50 people before 7 a.m., winding past the courthouse gates. Testimony isn't televised or otherwise available for streaming.

Fitzsimmons, who is 64 years old and recently retired, has long been interested in cults and how reasonable people fall under their spells. She said she listened to podcasts about Theranos and saw some common themes.

"I don't think she started off with malice, I think she believed in what she was doing at first," Fitzsimmons said, but she added that Holmes seemed to lose her moral compass.

Holmes skyrocketed to fame as a young female start-up founder promising a more humane way to draw just a few drops of blood and subsequently run hundreds of tests from it. The Stanford dropout touted her "nanotainer," a tiny capsule to hold the blood, and the Edison, a portable machine on which to run the tests.

Sporting a black turtleneck, blond bun, and signature low voice, she made it onto the covers of magazines, gave a popular TedMed Talk and even attended a state dinner at the White House. She eventually raised $900 million from investors including media mogul Rupert Murdoch and the family of former education secretary Betsy DeVos.

But a 2015 investigation by the Wall Street Journal alleging the technology was far from reliable was the beginning of her downfall. Accused of misleading investors and patients while running the start-up, she now faces 11 charges of criminal wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Rather than the hundreds of tests Theranos asserted it could run from a few drops of blood, prosecutors allege, only a dozen were possible, and the results were often inconsistent.

The media coverage - Holmes has been the subject of a book, a podcast and a documentary - has created a specific kind of fan base: people fascinated by the dramatic failure, the massive amounts of money, the health-care implications and most of all the central character, Holmes. She portrays herself differently now: She generally opts for a suit-dress in blue or green, sometimes with a matching mask. Her hair is down in waves. Holmes typically arrives around 8 a.m., holding her mother's hand.

Few people showed up for weeks of questioning by the prosecution narrowing down the details of "assays," or blood tests. Seats in the courtroom were often available even to those who showed up right before the trial began at 9 a.m. The one major surprise witness was an afternoon of testimony on a Wednesday in September from former defense secretary and Theranos board member Jim Mattis.

"It went from very interesting to extremely boring," Marlie Spillane, a retired health-care worker, said of the first day she attended in the middle of the trial. She has traveled nine times from San Rafael, Calif., with her boyfriend, doorbell manufacturer Robert Dobrin, to watch: She remembers talk of Theranos from her health-care days, and when they realized the trial was only an hour or so away, she and Dobrin figured they would go.

That changed when Holmes, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges, took the stand to defend herself on Nov. 19. In the five days of testimony since then, she has alternately cried, smiled and calmly defended herself. She admitted to adding the logos of pharmaceutical firms to the tops of reports Theranos sent to investors and told the prosecution last week that she was responsible for the company.

On Tuesday, the prosecution pushed her to confirm that she knew the company had issues in its lab and that the military was not using its devices. Holmes's own lawyers countered by asking her to again recount that she was relying on the information passed to her from her workers that things were going well.

Holmes also accused her former partner Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani of sexually assaulting and controlling her, down to her daily schedule, what she ate and how much she slept. Balwani, who was also an executive at Theranos, has denied the allegations.

Holmes's testimony will likely finish this week, and the trial is expected to go to the jury by the end of next week.

When dozens of people started lining up to see Holmes, Emily Saul took matters into her own hands.

Saul, a reporter for the podcast "Bad Blood: The Final Chapter," keeps a list of people as they arrive to maintain a semblance of order in the early morning. Sometimes she becomes an enforcer if people try to cut the line or forget their number.

"It helps to have some sort of list created that allows people to be human - to go to the restroom or go get coffee or step out of line," she said.

Saul - who has covered other high-profile trials including those of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, Bill Cosby and Martin Shkreli - said she has never seen a case that has drawn so much public interest from people who want to sit in the courtroom.

"At every trial, there seems to be a good set of 'gavel groupies,' as it's kind of known," said one of the sketch artists, Vicki Behringer, who has been working on trials for 31 years. "This is different because this is both a business story and a health-care/Silicon Valley story, so it's attracted people from different segments of all of those."

Brad Agle was the second person to arrive on the third day of Holmes's testimony. He had flown in from Utah, where he is a business ethics professor at Brigham Young University, and stopped by the courthouse at midnight.

"If I were you, I would stay right now," the night guard told him, noting that people start lining up early. Agle slept for an hour at a nearby hotel, then grabbed his pillow, blanket and bag and came back.

The hours-long line isn't so bad, said Spillane and Dobrin, the couple traveling from San Rafael. People chat and swap stories or predictions for the day. Some read true-crime books or do work on their computers. Others find a quiet place to sit and curl up in their big coats and scarves during the chilly mornings. Some make Starbucks runs for the section of line around them while others hold their place.

Just before the courthouse doors open at 7:30 a.m., retired biotech executive Anne Kopf-Sill walks down the length of the line with a trash bag she brings from home, collecting all the empty coffee cups and yogurt wrappers to take them to the closest garbage can across the street.

After standing in line and passing through a metal detector, a security guard hands each attendee a paper ticket marked with the name of the courtroom.

Some attendees are saving their tickets.

"Maybe someday they'll be worth something," Dobrin said.

The small, drab courtroom on the fifth floor has only 34 seats, for which media members and public attendees have to queue. Since Holmes took the stand, people arriving after 4:30 could get kicked to the windowless overflow room, where the benches can accommodate about 45 people - with cushions - and where the audio is louder. But watching the testimony on a screen, rather than live, doesn't bring the same context.

Fitzsimmons, the Santa Cruz podcast listener, has been in the overflow room twice to watch Holmes testify, once in the front row and once in the back. It's significantly easier to pay attention and get immersed in the front, she said.

On the fifth floor, near the main courtroom, Holmes's family and friends wait outside the door with everyone else, ready to take their reserved seats when the trial starts. Other seats for those with tickets are first come, first served.

Holmes's supporters mostly stick to themselves, but her partner, Billy Evans, with whom she had a baby this summer, is known to joke with those in line and inside the courthouse.

"Questions I won't answer for 100," he joked in response to a journalist in the hallway when asked about his time at Burning Man, an art festival known for self-expression and recreational drugs held in the Nevada desert.

"I've never been in a situation before where space is so shared with the defense team, jurors, etc. on the same floor and using the same restrooms," Saul, the podcast reporter, said.

That also makes for chances to bump into the defendant.

Karin McClung, a retired computer technician at Los Gatos High School, exchanged greetings with Holmes and her mother as they all used the three-stall restroom on the fifth floor, on a day a water main problem shut down trial proceedings.

McClung now takes the elevator down a floor or two to use the bathroom since Holmes started bringing more friends and family members.

"I'm giving them their privacy," she said. "It's not comfortable, certainly not for me, and I'm sure it's uncomfortable for them."

Also attending the trial are Holmes's sorority sisters from her Stanford days, CNBC has reported.

Holmes has "a very straight, almost a regal, posture," said Spillane, the former health-care worker. Holmes sits stick-straight in her chair all day, whether on or off the stand, her back never touching the back of her chair. There are rare moments of connection - Spillane made eye contact with Holmes on the first day she attended, while Holmes was scanning the courtroom.

For many spectators, the trial is a chance to witness a piece of history, a story they have seen play out on screen, in book pages, in newspapers. There's something about really being there in person that can't be replicated, said McClung, who has taken the train to the courthouse nearly every day of the trial with her neighbor.

"This is an incredible experience," McClung said. "It's almost like you couldn't write this kind of thing. It's just unbelievable."

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The democracy summit's challenge for Biden

By e.j. dionne jr.
The democracy summit's challenge for Biden


Advance for release Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, and thereafter

(For Dionne clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

WASHINGTON -- The most important thing about President Joe Biden's Summit for Democracy that opens Thursday is that it is happening.

We will see legitimate critiques (and cheap shots, too) about which countries should and should not have been included, how it became a talkathon rather than a forum for action, and which nations -- including the United States -- are being hypocritical about what.

But it matters that Biden has moved a commitment to democracy to the forefront of U.S. foreign policy, no matter how inconsistent our nation might be in applying its principles.

The world is far better off than it was a year ago because the default position of the president of the United States is to criticize authoritarians and dictators rather than to praise them; to defend human rights rather than to minimize their importance; and to speak of the imperative for democracies to prove their capacity to govern and solve problems.

Yet this last commitment, to showing that our own democracy works, catches Biden in a mesh of contradictions and tensions.

There are two sides to Biden's instinctive worldview that worked reasonably well together a few decades ago but now confront him with stark and unavoidable choices: His yearning for peaceful cooperation and his understanding of the need for social and political change.

He is right that a democracy built on free speech, a free press, freedom of conscience and regular elections requires forms of civic friendship across our lines of disagreement. Words such as "bipartisanship" define the side of Bidenism rooted in a time when our political parties more or less agreed on the basic rules of the game.

They accepted their obligation to what Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein, the shrewd political scientists who are also my friends, called "institutional patriotism." All sides took responsibility for making the mechanisms of self-government work. And they accepted basics we never thought would come into question -- an agreement to abide by the results of free elections and to condemn those who tried to upend the will of the people through force and violence.

One should not, of course, allow a gauzy nostalgia to blind us to the deep conflicts of the post-World War II era. They were reflected in the fierce labor struggles that followed the war, in McCarthyism in the 1950s, and in the often-violent battles for civil rights and voting rights in the 1960s. But it is honorable that Biden longs for a restoration of the norms of mutual respect and graciousness among opponents.

Unfortunately for him and the rest of us, the world Biden longs for has collapsed -- which is one reason the Summit for Democracy is necessary. Trumpism is a species of right-wing authoritarianism that haunts nearly all of the traditional democracies, with autocrats in Russia and China pointing to distemper in democratic nations as a sign of their decay.

The United States is, to put matters charitably, in a very poor position to paint itself as a democratic model. The rest of the world has taken note of Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election, the violence of Jan. 6 aimed at preventing a peaceful transition of power, Republican reticence to confront the anti-democratic cancer in their party, and the ongoing efforts to roll back voting rights in many states.

This means there is no apolitical, nonpartisan approach to advancing democracy and defending it from the threats it now confronts. It means that Biden must fully engage in the Senate battle for voting rights and uncorrupted election administration, including bypassing the filibuster if necessary.

Yes, there is certainly room for cooperation between the democratic left and the democratic right. In fact, the efforts of conservative friends of democracy -- abroad as well as in the United States -- are more important now than ever. For if the most prominent threat to democracy during the Cold War came from communism, the central danger now, as in the 1930s, arises from a far-right preaching nationalism, intolerance and strongman rule.

Conservatives thus need to be especially brave in confronting anti-democratic elements on their side and in supporting economic reforms that respond to the anxieties of those left behind -- apprehensions anti-democracy politicians exploit.

I don't expect Biden to address all of these challenges, but I hope he doesn't duck them entirely. And I certainly expect him to hit back hard against those who claim that democracy is somehow negotiable or secondary to other problems we confront.

One voice I had looked forward to hearing from this week belonged to Fred Hiatt, the longtime Post editorial page editor who died on Monday. Fred's commitment to democracy and human rights was the through line in all his thinking. What he wrote back in 2009 might serve as the inspiration for this summit:

"Every human, no matter how rich or poor, wants and is entitled to a say in his or her government. And very few would willingly accept a delay in enjoying that natural-born right, no matter how well intentioned the reason."

- - -

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

What I never got to say to Fred Hiatt

By dana milbank
What I never got to say to Fred Hiatt


Advance for release Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, and thereafter

(For Milbank clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Dana Milbank

WASHINGTON -- My dad left when I was 9 years old. I grew up and spent my young adulthood without a father figure. Then I met Fred Hiatt.

Fred had three wonderful children of his own and, only 13 years my senior, he surely would have disowned my paternity claims. But calling him my boss doesn't capture it. He was my protector, my teacher, my mentor, my North Star. When my first marriage broke up, I talked to Fred. When I had a health scare, I talked to Fred. Whenever somebody powerful attacked my integrity, I talked to Fred. More times than I care to admit, I went to him seeking his reassurance, his approval. If Fred said it was going to be okay, it was going to be okay.

After we received the terrible news of his death on Monday, Fred's team gathered in stunned grief. The world was then remembering him as a man of towering intellect, unerring judgment and moral courage, and so were we. But what struck me most was how many colleagues spoke of a persistent desire to make Fred proud of us. In a sense, we were all Fred's children. We loved him, and he loved us.

He wrote tender messages to his staff during the pandemic, attaching photos of his baby granddaughter. "As time goes on, it gets more painful, not less, to be working remotely," he wrote a year ago. "I continue to be in awe at the stellar work you are doing under difficult circumstances -- not least those of you caring for and helping teach kids at home while you work from home. . . . I really can't wait until we're back together -- and that time will come."

When I was feeling down, he checked in regularly. "That spam call you got was me," he wrote after I missed one such check-in. "No need to call back -- I was just wondering how you are feeling. Your columns are at 100 percent health."

Oh, how I craved Fred's praise! All I needed was one word atop a draft to feel as if I'd hit a home run: Stunning. Excellent. Great. Smart. Funny. Fabulous. Strong. He sent the same messages to everyone, of course, and occasionally enough that we knew they were genuine. Like others, I saved mine as mementos of Fred's approval. When I was caught in some maelstrom of criticism, he'd send off a simple note of reassurance: "This one will blow over." Other times, he'd correct me with the gentlest touch: "Are you sure you want to say" this? or "I would vote not to say" that. And that was the end of the discussion.

My last communication with Fred was by email the morning of the day he collapsed. I had lodged a whiny complaint about an unimportant matter, but Fred saw it for what it was: one of my routine pleas for his reassurance in stressful times. He asked his editorial staff manager, Nana Efua Mumford, to schedule a meeting for us, and in the meantime he replied to me with some paternal comfort. "You are loved and valued," he wrote.

Fred Hiatt, you were loved and valued. More than I ever got to tell you.

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Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

At Ukrainian border, Putin stands on the edge of a precipice

By david ignatius
At Ukrainian border, Putin stands on the edge of a precipice


Advance for release Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, and thereafter

(For Ignatius clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By David Ignatius

WASHINGTON -- President Vladimir Putin's career of pursuing revenge and redemption for Russia converges on this moment, as the United States presents him with a path off the ledge that he's stepped onto along the border with Ukraine.

The dangerous standoff over Ukraine appears to continue after Tuesday's virtual summit between Putin and President Joe Biden. The initial White House readout was terse and opaque. The statement said Biden had expressed "deep concerns" about Russia's actions, and warned that the United States and its allies "would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation."

Biden also "called for de-escalation and a return to diplomacy." U.S. officials have said that means a new attempt to implement the 2014 and 2015 Minsk protocols, signed after Russia seized Crimea and sponsored a proxy war in eastern Ukraine. This diplomacy will require "follow up" discussions, the White House said.

Will Putin take this path over the next few weeks and months? Or will he continue to threaten invasion if he doesn't achieve his demand for a formal pledge that Ukraine will never join NATO -- something Biden has ruled out? Putin's wisest strategy would be to take a Minsk exit ramp and claim it as a victory. But stubborn, self-infatuated leaders sometimes do stupid things.

Let's imagine that despite Tuesday's phone diplomacy, Putin is reckless enough to press into Ukraine with the 175,000 troops U.S. intelligence says he is ready to bring into the battle. What would happen then?

Putin in the first days would face a messy war in Ukraine itself. Ukraine's military isn't a match for Russia's, but it's a lot more potent than the military he faced when he seized Crimea in 2014. Ukraine has better training, equipment, electronic-warfare skills and battlefield experience than before.

Putin, strangely, has abandoned the stealthy approach that worked for him in 2014. By massing nearly 100,000 troops on the border, he disdained the gray-zone tactics of hybrid war -- the "green men" that swiftly seized key targets in Crimea. He can't play this hybrid game now because U.S. intelligence has outed his secret plans for a full-scale war.

Ukraine also has an aggressive military intelligence service, commanded by Brig. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov. He planned a bold sting operation last year to capture Russian mercenaries who had fought inside Ukraine. Though it failed, it was a taste of what Ukrainian covert operators could do in a real conflict.

Beyond the battle against uniformed troops and intelligence operatives, Putin would probably face a prolonged guerrilla war from Ukrainian militias. Knowledgeable sources estimate that more than 400,000 pro-Kyiv Ukrainians have received at least some training since Russia's 2014 incursion, and that there are at least a million weapons in private hands, including AK-47s and other automatic weapons looted from government stores. As many as 15 militia groups are spread throughout the country -- some virulently right-wing, but all capable of causing havoc for Moscow (and probably Kyiv, too).

"Beyond the response from the U.S. and allies, the Ukrainians will fight fiercely," says William B. Taylor, a former U.S. ambassador to Kyiv. He predicts "guerrilla war for sure if the Russians invade and try to stay."

Putin would face immediate battlefield risks, but the longer-term consequences could be far worse, even if he installed a government subservient to Moscow. If Biden follows through on his threats, Russia's economy would be wrecked. Never strong under Putin, it would become feeble as a united Europe and the United States imposed sanctions that sources tell me might include cutting Russia off from the SWIFT system of international payments -- literally turning it into a pariah state.

A Russia that went to war in Ukraine would have only China as a reliable ally. That might console Putin, but it should panic Chinese President Xi Jinping. The China-Russia axis would cement a "decoupled" world in which the United States and the technologically advanced democracies would have a huge, and probably lasting, advantage over Moscow and Beijing.

And, finally, there is the X-factor: the danger that a war in Ukraine would blow back into Russia and Belarus. Polls conducted by the Levada Center in Moscow show that Putin's campaign to suppress Ukraine doesn't appear to have majority support in Russia. As the casualties mounted, so would the political pressure on Putin and his authoritarian friends.

Going into Tuesday's virtual summit, many commentators saw Putin in the driver's seat against a weakened United States. Biden has his problems, but Putin would be very foolish if he imagined that a Ukraine war would be a cake walk.

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Contact David Ignatius on Twitter @IgnatiusPost

Yes, debt collectors can now contact you on social media. No, they can't post that you owe money.

By michelle singletary
Yes, debt collectors can now contact you on social media. No, they can't post that you owe money.


Advance for release Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, and thereafter

(For Singletary clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Michelle Singletary

WASHINGTON -- With pandemic-related relief either ending or exhausted, debt totals are creeping up for Americans.

Credit card balances jumped by $17 billion to $800 billion for the third quarter of this year, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Center for Microeconomic Data. The rise in credit card debt is reversing the pandemic trend that saw consumers spending less and paying down their balances.

The financial anxiety is particularly pronounced for Generation Z, ages 13 to 24. A new survey found that 37% of these young adults said their own or their family's finances were a major source of stress, according to a recent survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Next year could see more people in debt and being chased by debt collection companies that now have new ways to find debtors. Here's what you need to know about your rights.

- - -

- Is it true that a debt collector can contact me via my social media account?

Yes, that request to connect on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram could very well be from a debt collection company.

New rules adopted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which took effect Nov. 30, lay out how and when debt collectors can contact you about a debt you may owe.

An update to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act allows debt collectors to track down folks on their social media accounts, in addition to using email and text messages.

If you are contacted on one of the social media platforms, the debt collector has to send you a private message and make it clear that they are attempting to collect a debt.

Messages must be sent at a "reasonable time," similar to the 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. limitation for phone calls, said Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for Consumer Action.

- Can the debt collector post something about my debts online?

The rule change is supposed to protect your privacy. The debt collector can't post something that can be seen by the general public, your contacts, friends or followers. For example, the debt collector couldn't comment on your profile page indicating that you owe a debt.

- What proof does a debt collector have to provide me that I owe the debt?

When a debt collector initially communicates with you, or shortly thereafter, the company is generally required to provide certain information about the debt, according to the CFPB.

This "debt collection validation notice" should include enough information to help you figure out if you owe the debt. Included in what they should send you is the following information, the CFPB says:

1. The name of the debt collector and mailing information.

2. Information about the creditor and any account number associated with the debt. It's possible you may not realize you owe money because the notice isn't coming from the original creditor. You should get enough details to help you recognize or verify the debt is accurate. The notice should have a form that you can send back to dispute the debt or take other actions.

3. An itemization of the current amount of the debt, including interest, fees and payments you've made.

- If I don't want to be contacted, is there a way to stop receiving messages?

Under the new rules, the debt collector must give you a "simple way" to opt out of receiving future communications through your social media account, according to the CFPB.

You have the right to tell debt collectors not to contact you by email, text message or any other means of communication, the CFPB points out.

However, this does not mean the debt goes away. The debt collector may still be able to pursue court action.

The CFPB has a sample letter you can use to request a stop to the communication. Go to and search for "What should I do when a debt collector contacts me?"

A debt collector, with limited exceptions, cannot send an email to an email address the company knows is an employer-provided email address, a CFPB spokeswoman said.

- How can I be sure that a message isn't from a scammer?

Here's where things can get tricky and how a scammer can trick you into sending them money or divulging personal information.

"Being able to contact people via social media accounts is very concerning to us," Sherry said. "A lot of spammers and scammers are using text messages, so people need to be very cautious."

Sherry recommends that you don't click on any links in an email, text message or respond to a direct message until you have independently verified the debt collector is legitimate.

- How often can the debt collector call me?

Under the Debt Collection Rule, a debt collector contacting you on the telephone can't call more than seven times within a seven-day period per debt, or within seven days after speaking with you on the telephone. If you don't ask a company to stop communicating with you, the rule doesn't put a limit on the number of emails, text messages or contacts on social media that can be made, Sherry points out.

- How soon can a debt collector send information about a debt to the credit bureaus?

To try to end an unscrupulous and illegal practice of "parking" debts on people's credit reports to pressure them into making payments, debt collectors must disclose debt details before they report any information to a credit bureau, Sherry said.

The rule bans the practice of reporting a debt to a consumer reporting agency without first informing the consumer of the debt's existence, the CFPB said. Often, people don't realize the fake or questionable collection action is on their credit report until they apply for a loan.

The new rule also prohibits debt collectors from suing (and threatening to sue) to collect a time-barred debt, the CFPB points out.

Even if the debt is yours, and the company can prove it, it doesn't give them the right to harass you. So, If you're having an issue with debt collection, submit an online complaint to the CFPB or call 855-411-2372.

- - -

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook ( 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


No, the Constitution is not 'neutral' on abortion

By ruth marcus
No, the Constitution is not 'neutral' on abortion


Advance for release Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, and thereafter

(For Marcus clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Ruth Marcus

WASHINGTON -- The vision of getting the courts out of the abortion-deciding business sounds so reasonable, so alluring.

It is also wrong, misleading and dangerous.

Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart laid out the argument during the oral argument last week -- urging the justices not only to uphold his state's ban on abortion after 15 weeks but to overrule its decisions finding that the Constitution protects a woman's right to choose.

"The Constitution places its trust in the people," Stewart said. "On hard issue after hard issue, the people make this country work. Abortion is a hard issue. It demands the best from all of us, not a judgment by just a few of us. When an issue affects everyone and when the Constitution does not take sides on it, it belongs to the people."

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh amplified Stewart's argument, presenting it as the position of one side but leaving little doubt how much it resonated with him.

The Constitution, Kavanaugh posited, is "neutral" on abortion, "neither pro-life nor pro-choice." Consequently, "this Court should be scrupulously neutral on the question of abortion . . . rather than continuing to pick sides."

How superficially appealing all this is. Who could be against neutrality, especially scrupulous neutrality? Who disagrees with leaving choices to "the people" in a democracy?

The fundamental flaw here is that the Constitution exists in no small part to protect the rights of the individual against the tyranny of the majority. The Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment exist to put some issues off limits for majority rule -- as Justice Robert H. Jackson put it in a 1943 ruling protecting the right of Jehovah's Witness schoolchildren not to be forced to salute the flag, "to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities." The Supreme Court, in protecting abortion rights, isn't telling women what to do: It is preserving space for them to make their own decisions about their own pregnancies.

The Constitution instructs that the majority cannot force its preferred religion on the minority; in fact, it must respect and accommodate individuals' free exercise of their own religious beliefs. The Constitution teaches that the majority cannot choose to shut down or punish speech that it finds disagreeable or even offensive. It means that "the people's" decisions about how to reduce gun violence are limited by the court's interpretation of the Second Amendment.

Conservative justices have had no difficulty taking this disempowering of "the people" to sometimes questionable extremes.

They're happy to second-guess the decisions of elected officials and public health experts about how best to safeguard their communities in the midst of a pandemic when religious institutions claim their rights are being violated. They don't flinch at saying that the core First Amendment protection for political speech places strict limits on Congress's ability to limit corporate spending on elections or enact other campaign finance rules.

Abortion is different from these examples, of course, because it is not mentioned in the Constitution. But that does not make abortion unique among constitutional rights. There are any number of rights that the court has long found fall within the bounds of constitutional protection even though they are not specifically mentioned in the text. The right to travel. The right of parents to educate their children as they choose. The right to contraception. The right to private sexual conduct. The right to marry a person of another race. The right to marry a person of the same gender.

All these derive from the intentionally broad phrases of the 14th Amendment's protections against the deprivation of "liberty" without due process of law. "The full scope of the liberty guaranteed by the Due Process Clause cannot be found in or limited by the precise terms of the specific guarantees elsewhere provided in the Constitution," Justice John Harlan, no liberal, explained in a 1961 dissent, from an early case involving access to contraception.

And so in 1972, extending its ruling protecting married couples' right to obtain contraception to unmarried individuals, Justice William J. Brennan Jr. wrote, "If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child."

Thus, constitutional protection for the right to abortion is not a deviation from the court's jurisprudence, it is a logical extension of it. "Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code," the court plurality noted in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. "The underlying constitutional issue is whether the State can resolve these philosophic questions in such a definitive way that a woman lacks all choice in the matter," except perhaps in "rare circumstances."

Stewart, the Mississippi lawyer, blithely assured the justices that the court's abortion cases are unique, and that its other precedents, on contraception, gay rights or same-sex marriage wouldn't be next in line if Roe and Casey fell. But why not? Maybe conservative activists have no burning desire to overrule Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 same-sex marriage ruling, but as a logical matter the right, without a basis in history or tradition, should be at least as vulnerable as abortion.

"I'm not sure how your answer makes any sense," Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Stewart. "All of those other cases . . . rely on substantive due process. You're saying there's no substantive due process in the Constitution, so they're just as wrong, according to your theory."

To say that the Constitution is "neutral" is another way of saying that women no enjoy no protection, no liberty to decide what to do with their own bodies -- or, more precisely, only so much protection as the state where they live chooses to grant them.

And to withhold protection -- in the current circumstance, to withdraw the protection that has existed for almost 50 years since Roe v. Wade -- is not a neutral choice. It is a thumb on the scale.

- - -

Ruth Marcus' email address is

Beware the real threat: entitled white men with guns

By ruben navarrette jr.
Beware the real threat: entitled white men with guns



(For Navarrette clients)


SAN DIEGO -- Here's A Christmas Carol I didn't expect to be writing this holiday season: White men with guns scare the Dickens out of me.

I don't know why Donald Trump -- when he declared his candidacy for president in June of 2015 -- zeroed in on Mexicans as "people that have lots of problems" who are "bringing drugs" and "bringing crime" and who are "rapists."

I don't understand how President Joe Biden earned the support of working-class White people by authoring the 1994 crime bill and offering himself as a protector of White people who felt threatened by Latinos and African Americans.

Because I'm not afraid of Latinos and African Americans.

I'm afraid of young White men, especially White men with guns. And I'm really terrified of young White men with guns who are emboldened by a sense of entitlement, invincibility and privilege.

Those people take liberties. In fact, they might even take your life, or the life of your child at a high school in Michigan, or a college in Texas, or an elementary school in Connecticut.

We got that message on April 20, 1999. That's when high school seniors Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris -- two White males -- shot and killed 12 of their fellow students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado. Another 21 people were injured in what was, at the time, the deadliest high school shooting in the United States. Klebold and Harris committed suicide.

Since Columbine, there have been more than 300 deadly school shootings. More than 278,000 students have been impacted by gun violence at school.

That includes students at Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan, where 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley last week allegedly shot and killed four classmates and injured seven others. Crumbley now faces a 24-count indictment, including four counts of first-degree murder and one count of terrorism causing death.

County Prosecutor Karen McDonald has also charged Crumbley's parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, with four counts of involuntary manslaughter each.

If James and Jennifer are not the worst parents in the world, I'd hate to see who came in first.

At a news conference last week, McDonald said James Crumbley bought a 9-millimeter Sig Sauer pistol at ACME Shooting Goods in Oxford on Nov. 26. Ethan was with James at the time, according to a store employee. Also, social media posts from Jennifer referred to the gun as an early Christmas present for Ethan. And a post from Ethan's social media included a photo of the weapon with the message, "Just got my new beauty today," along with multiple heart emoji.

What is a civilized society to do? For one thing, law enforcement should be profiling and keeping tabs on White men who stockpile guns. That's the most common sketch of mass shooters.

Mass shooters are almost always men. And according to one survey by Statista Research & Analysis, between 1982 and November 2021, out of 125 mass shootings in the United States, 66 -- or 53% -- were carried out by White shooters.

That's lower than the percentage that White people account for in the U.S. population, which is 61.6%, according to the 2020 Census. But when there is a mass shooting in America, chances are that the shooter is going to be White.

There is no perfect solution to this problem. But greater surveillance of those who fit the profile of a mass shooter is a step in the right direction.

Law enforcement agencies know all about profiling. Are they not looking at White men who stockpile guns because they're too busy profiling Black motorists?

Entitled White men with guns scare me because - as a Mexican American, and the son of a retired cop who was raised to respect law and order - there is a lot about this tribe that I don't understand.

I don't understand how then-17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse could be so bold that he shot three people, killing two, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and then just casually went home.

I don't understand how Travis and Gregory McMichael along with William "Roddie" Bryan could be so brazen that they literally hunted a young Black man named Ahmaud Arbery and gunned him down in the street.

And I don't understand the dangerously dysfunctional Crumbley family, whose hobbies apparently included playing with lethal weapons and who deserve to be locked up for a long, long time.

Frankly I'm not sure I want to understand all that.

But I understand this much: It's time that Americans put White entitlement and reckless gunplay on trial.

In fact, look at a calendar. The proceedings are long overdue.

- - -

Navarrette's email address is His podcast, "Ruben in the Center," is available through every podcast app.

(c) 2021, The Washington Post Writers Group

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