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His uncle ran a polygamist cult. As his town's first sports star, he provides hope for a new life.

By Roman Stubbs
His uncle ran a polygamist cult. As his town's first sports star, he provides hope for a new life.
James Jeffs goes to his room, framed by a Zion sign, at his family's home. Many people still loyal to the FLDS hang Zion placards over their homes. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford.

HILDALE, Utah - His last name for years had evoked memories of backward evil, but the boy known as Slim knew he represented progress as he was introduced during warmups of a Utah state playoff game in February. He couldn't use his nickname in the outside world, so the announcer bellowed James Jeffs! to the gym's rafters, and the 6-foot-8-inch Water Canyon star kept his head high as he jogged onto the court.

He was four hours north of his remote town on the Utah-Arizona border, and it was still always difficult to know how he would be received outside of it. "That's a Jeffs boy," one woman whispered to another in the stands and, after the game began and James took a hard fall, another opposing fan cupped his hands around his lips and yelled, "He flopped!"

James, 18, rose firmly, even though so much of his surroundings could have rattled him. He had heard so many questions over the years about his last name, about how his family members led what many called a polygamist cult for generations, about how his incarcerated uncle - one of the country's most notorious criminals - was still viewed as a prophet by pockets of believers in his community. There were reminders everywhere.

Sometimes he wondered whether any kid would be able to get recruited for sports in his town, let alone one with his last name. He thought about the uncertainty that awaited him when he set off to college in the fall.

But he was James Jeffs, he always reminded himself, the same kid who had escaped that polygamist cult and was now doing everything that was once banned: attend and excel at a public high school, not to mention become its first sports star, and bring together a community of people who had never rooted at a sporting event such as this before. This was just one more chance to pull his community into modern society, and he finished with seven blocks, 13 rebounds and a late dunk to lead his school to victory and a state tournament berth in just the team's fourth year of existence.

He ran off the floor and into a cafeteria, where his team was getting dressed in a makeshift locker room.

"Slim, we did it!" a teammate cried.

"We're going to state!" James replied, over and over again.

- - -

Somewhere in a Texas prison sits James's uncle, Warren Jeffs, who for nearly a decade fashioned himself as prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He ruled Hildale and its twin, Colorado City, Arizona - the area is known as Short Creek - as an oppressive leader, committing horrific crimes against some of his followers, including young women.

The FLDS church traces its roots to the early 20th century, when leaders splintered from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church) after it banned polygamy, or plural marriage. Mormons seeking to break from the church over the ban, which they viewed as violating a key principle of their religion as established by Joseph Smith and continued under Brigham Young, began settling in Short Creek in droves during the 1930s.

The remoteness and rough topography of the region, with its towering vermilion cliffs and proximity to the Grand Canyon, made it an ideal place to practice their faith. They claimed they needed separation from the Mormon Church, which they felt was too conforming with American culture. The leaders of the movement quickly established a purely theocratic society, one that at its height would have an estimated 10,000 members and give rise to a succession of prophets.

Warren Jeffs assumed the prophecy from his deceased father, Rulon Jeffs, in 2002, taking over as ruler of the FLDS. But few could have imagined he would one day end up on the FBI's Most Wanted list alongside Osama bin Laden and a long list of other high-profile criminals, while on the run from authorities. While his father held to polygamist standards that fell more outside of the mainstream each year, Warren Jeffs turned the denomination into something sinister. He used harsh mind-control techniques, set up cameras in all corners of Short Creek and created a security force called the "God Squad" to enforce the town and tail outsiders. The outside world was walled off more than before, and tall fences were erected around most properties. Public education and the internet were banned, as were sports.

By one estimate, he had fathered more than 50 children and taken as many as 80 wives, including scores of underage girls within the church. In 2011, he was convicted of sexually assaulting two underage girls whom he had claimed as his "spiritual wives," and he was sentenced to life in prison.

He continued to influence the town from his jail cell, even as the corrupt networks he built within the town's political and social infrastructure began to crumble. That included during the summer of 2012, when he told a bishop in his church that he had a revelation about his brother, Dale, whom he wrongly accused of murdering unborn children and corrupting the faithful of his church. He ordered Dale Jeffs and two of his three wives to leave the FLDS and not have contact with anyone in the church, including his 16 children, who would remain at a compound in Short Creek.

Dale quickly said his goodbyes, including to young James, and he told one of his oldest daughters to keep close a flip phone he was paying for. She would be punished by the church if it was discovered she was still communicating with her father, but it would prove to be their way out.

- - -

In February 2013, seven months after Dale Jeffs and his two wives were exiled, they hatched a plan to get their kids back. James and his siblings each packed a light bag of clothes, not knowing whether they would be able to get out undetected.

"The only part I was scared about," Dale says, "was that I hoped it went like I planned."

Just after sunrise one morning, around 8:30 when the small town was bustling just enough to provide cover for an escape, two of Dale's older daughters loaded up a van with the 12 kids and drove them six miles outside of town. Their parents were waiting at a drop-off called Cedar Point. They were crying, James says, and later they all stopped for barbecue at a restaurant on their way to a new life in Heber City, Utah.

"A lot of people had their families broken up," James says. "Every day, [I] just look at all my family and just go, 'I don't know what I would've done.' Because it was getting to the point where we were about to be broken up."

James began taking online classes, and on many nights he and his dad watched Utah Jazz games together.

By that point, with Warren Jeffs in prison and losing power, especially on the roughly 85 percent of land he once controlled with his church-backed trust, Hildale was beginning to open a bit to the outside world. A string of high-profile lawsuits were filed, and a federal judge ruled that Short Creek "had engaged in a decades-long . . . practice of police misconduct and housing discrimination." FLDS members began to move out of mansions and compounds lined with walls designed to keep outsiders at bay.

The city's law enforcement was no longer heavily influenced by the FLDS, and Hildale was moving toward electing its first non-FLDS mayor. Water Canyon High School was built and became the first public school in the city in more than a decade, and it inspired Dale Jeffs to move his family back to Hildale in early 2015. James was convinced to join the basketball team, even though he had never played.

"Everybody was just so anti-sports, or anti-social, back then. And sports has allowed me to, yeah, just kind of step out and just say, 'I'm coming over here, where you can actually know people,' " James says. "Sports has allowed me to step out, and I think everyone in this town to step out."

The move was challenging, in part because Dale had little money and was on disability with numbness in his feet, but also because of the reputation the family carried in the town. James and his siblings would get confused watching their father walk into Walmart and either get stared at or snubbed by people he had long considered friends.

Dale still lives with his two wives, he says, and 12 of his children live with him in a 24-room, rose-colored home near the high school in Hildale. He is no longer a member of the FLDS, and although the family has remained together, he says they no longer attend church services on Sunday. He voted for the first time in his life in 2017. He's focused on supporting the new lives of his children. He has watched James go to the movies and include him on homework assignments. He's brought his wives and children to his basketball games.

Polygamy and bigamy are illegal in Utah, but the practice is more or less allowed, with the state rarely prosecuting polygamists unless crimes are being conducted. It is less tolerated socially, even as an estimated 30,000 polygamists remain in the state, including several other families in Hildale. But while Dale and James remain guarded about their privacy, there is a sense that Dale is holding on to his family far more than he is any church traditions or religious beliefs. He says that he supports the next generation of his family, James included, moving forward into a more modern world.

"We were held to things so tight within the box, you might say, that when we started looking at things from a different perspective, we got a different view of things," Dale said. "So we just kind of do the best we can."

Religion is something he has not held "too much" on to, he says, and he tries not to think about his half brother in prison.

"You just realize how he had deceived everybody so severely. It hurts to see him hurt people," Dale said. "That's where you have the hurt, where you see he's deceived so many people, and broke up so many families."

- - -

On the sixth anniversary of their reunion and escape from the FLDS church, the Jeffs cooked barbecue at their home in Hildale, and on the next night, Dale helped James do maintenance on his 1986 Ford Ranger. A billow of smoke rose in the distance as the sun went down; a property owner was burning a tall wood fence that had once been built to keep outsiders away from a house. Down the street was Warren Jeffs's old compound, still sporting the original chimney emblazoned with an iron motto: PRAY AND OBEY.

There are constant reminders around town; just steps from the school is the baptism hall that inside still bears the names of the FLDS prophets, from Joseph Smith to Brigham Young to the Jeffs. Above it sits an abandoned cave once controlled by the FLDS in case the federal government ever raided the town; eight years after Jeffs was convicted, it is still stocked with beans and bags of rice on old shelves.

Down the road lies a baby graveyard, where dozens of small tombstones mark the scores of children the town has lost over the years. In many cases, the FLDS church encouraged cousins to marry to maintain bloodlines, and some reports have speculated so many children have died because of disease from inbreeding.

There are no public signs of Warren Jeffs in Short Creek, although his presence can still be felt. He is considered a martyr to the dwindling FLDS members in the community - some estimate the church still has thousands of total members - and in Short Creek, many hang signs decorated with the word "Zion" above their front doors; the message means "the pure in heart" and for some is a signal for apostates, or outsiders, to stay away.

Down the cliffs in the Water Canyon gym, basketball is helping move the school into a new age. Parents of the players are learning how to root for the first time. Players are warming up to pop music roaring out of speakers, something that would have never been allowed a decade ago, and find individuality simply in the uniforms they wear and the nicknames they give one another.

They won one game their first year and six their second. That climbed to 11 last year and 12 this year. But it's the demeanor of former church members that has changed the most.

"When I first got the job," Coach Brad Garrett says, "a lot of the kids were coming in and meeting me, and they would go to shake my hand and they didn't want to look you in the eye, or they were afraid to. If you would have seen it four or five years ago, it's amazing the change that has taken place."

James has grown close to Garrett, a former Oklahoma State guard who commutes 45 minutes from nearby St. George, Utah, to teach and coach at the school, and a group of teammates he mostly didn't know despite living in the same area when he was younger. When he started high school, he was introverted and painfully shy around outsiders, a product of his time spent in the church, where he learned at an early age to follow orders and do what he was told. (Warren Jeffs had a habit of excommunicating young males for various reasons; they became known as "Lost Boys.") James was not allowed to play sports, go to movies or own a dog, and he spent many of his days waking up at 6 a.m., milking cows until two five-gallon buckets were filled.

"He never talked to anybody. . . . We tease him a lot. That's how we got him out of his shell," says point guard Ben Cooke, whose parents left the FLDS when he was a young child. "And we nicknamed him Slim."

James is now a polished big man who, aside from averaging eight blocks per game, has an array of post moves and a clean shooting stroke. Garrett has worked tirelessly to get several small schools to scout and recruit James. He is trying to become the first one in his family to graduate from college, and he is hoping to become the first player from his high school to play college sports. He wonders whether the town's history has hurt him. He's wondered about his name.

"I am my own self. If the name has something to do with it, then cut that line off," he says. "I'm me. Whoever else has that last name, they're them."

- - -

Water Canyon needed two vehicles to haul players to the state tournament, stopping at Wendy's to eat and checking into a Motel 6 before the game. Outside the hotel, James blared Johnny Cash's "Hurt" on the radio of his coach's rental car. When the team finally arrived at the arena, Garrett realized his school was the only one not to have a banner hanging on the wall.

"Where's our sign?" he sternly asked a tournament official outside the locker room. "We weren't even aware of Water Canyon until today," the official replied, and Garrett stormed into the locker room and used it as part of his pregame speech.

There was a sign outside the locker room that James did notice, a motivational quote from a professional football player. He stared at it. "Do you know what my favorite part of the game is?" the sign read. "The opportunity to play."

James stormed onto the court, where he immediately picked up three quick fouls and watched his team fall into a big hole. James and his teammates would lose by 24 points that night, but just to be at the state tournament, to have the opportunity to participate in a sport they were once banned from playing, felt like enough.

After the game, the players giggled as they ran through the aisles of Walmart and picked out snacks to take back to the Motel 6, where they would teach James how to play a basketball video game before bed. He looked at his phone at one point to see if his dad had texted, and even though he hadn't, James said he could hear him cheering during the game.

Dale had an entire bleacher section to himself, with no other parents choosing to sit near or talk to him. Instead, he sat with two of his children, Ben and Laura, and explained the game to them.

"All right, James! Slam dunk," Dale yelled as the second half began, and he called one of his wives to tell her that James had committed his fourth foul in the third quarter. "He's playing good defense," he said, and by the final minute he hoped that his son might have one more big play in him, to give the announcer one last chance to tell everyone their name.

Are Beto and Amy O'Rourke the future of politics or the past?

By Ben Terris
Are Beto and Amy O'Rourke the future of politics or the past?
Robert Francis

EL PASO, Texas - Beto O'Rourke plonked down on his living room sofa beside his wife, Amy, and promptly removed his shoes and socks. It was a late February morning, weeks before announcing his candidacy for president, and Beto had just returned from his favorite hike in the nearby Franklin Mountains.

His head was still in the clouds.

"I read Amy this passage last night from the best interview I've ever read," he said. "It's about myth and different religions. And it said, much the way your unconscious and subconscience ... sorry ... I'm saying both of these words wrong."

He turned to Amy for help.

"Your subconscious," said Amy, who like Beto is thin and angular but whose tawny hair is not yet streaked with gray.

"OK, yeah, the same way your subconscious is the author of your dreams," Beto said, leaning forward to rub his bare feet - which elicited a slight groan from Amy. "In that same way, your will is the subconscious author of your life."

Beto took a breath. Amy, as if watching her favorite television rerun, offered a flat smile.

"At the end of your life," Beto continued. "You can see a line, and there's a story, a narrative that only makes sense at the end. Somebody had to author that; it's not a series of accidents."

This rumination on fate had come from "The Power of Myth," a book-length interview between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. It was typical reading for Beto. Before he ran for Senate, he reread "The Odyssey," the epic poem about one man's voyage home to his wife. Then, like now, Beto had decided to set out on a journey in the opposite direction, one that would separate him for weeks on end from his family.

For most of history, it's been a given that a man would set out to fulfill his destiny, and that a woman would take care of the home - from Penelope to the last aspiring first lady from Texas, Laura Bush. Today, though, those rigid gender roles and hardened ideas of family life have shifted. Scores of female candidates are running for president, backed by potential first dudes. There's Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who has never been married, and the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, who's married to a man.

Then, there's Amy and Beto. They are at once the most modern and most conventional of the families running for president in 2020. They are pioneers of social media, broadcasting much of their lives in real time; affluent, white and traditional - the political equivalent of "The Truman Show." They captured the hearts and minds of the left in their 2018 run for the Senate, but now, Beto won't call himself a progressive. Amy, before putting her career on the back burner for her husband, ran a charter school.

Critics are asking whether Beto has benefited from having a rich father-in-law, and paint him as "privileged"; the kind of bro-philosopher who would take an emo road trip away from his family to try to decide if he'd like to spend more time with them or run for office; and the kind of presidential candidate who would have his wife sit, silently gazing at him, for the entirety of his 3 1/2-minute announcement video.

In truth, even though Amy is fully on board, this isn't the life she would have chosen.

She recently finished Michelle Obama's "Becoming." Like Michelle, Amy says of being first lady, "I wouldn't put it on the list of things that I've ever aspired to."

Chief among the concerns: The Senate run had been hard on the three children, especially their eldest, Ulysses, who at 12 is old enough to remember a time before Congress, a time when his father was around a lot more often. (By Beto's own admission, while campaigning in Iowa, he is only "sometimes" helping raise the children, a comment that Beto later told reporters Amy had found "flip" and asked that he "treat it seriously.")

In life, there are no choices bigger than who you want to be and who you want to be with. For Beto and Amy, the choice to be together seemed easy. The second choice was harder: Who did they want Beto to be and what would that make him to Amy and their kids?

Democrats, too, have a decision to make about what this would-be first family represents in a crowded field: something old or something new? A vision of the future or a reflection of the past?

---

Before Amy and Beto decided to run for president, before they were married or even born, Amy's dad took Beto's mom out on a date.

It was 1970 when Bill Sanders picked up Melissa Martha Williams in his Porsche and sped 45 minutes from El Paso to Radium Springs, New Mexico, for a double date with one of his friends.

Melissa can't remember the second woman who joined them, but she remembers Bill's friend clearly - his handsome face, large forehead and even larger personality; how he, too, drove a Porsche.

His name was Patrick O'Rourke, and less than a year after that first meeting, Melissa would marry him, and the two would be on their way to having their first child, Robert Francis. They'd call him Beto for short.

"So that's how my parents met," Beto said. "On a date with Amy's dad."

Cosmic coincidence? A parable about the insularity of the moneyed class? Fate? Whatever led to this encounter would eventually lead to Beto and Amy.

Bill Sanders moved out of El Paso, and got married to a woman who raised their five children while he was mostly away making so much money that he'd be called the "Warren Buffett of real estate."

Beto's dad would stick around, climb the local political ladder and make jokes that if Melissa had only played her cards right, Beto could be Bill Sanders' son.

But Beto was stuck with Pat, who for better or worse ended up shaping the man he would become while Amy - nine years younger - would become a "carbon-copy" of her stay-at-home mom.

After a punk-rock sojourn in New York City, Beto returned to El Paso and came to resemble his father: ambitious politician, devoted cyclist, caring but occasionally distracted dad. They hadn't gotten along early in Beto's life - Pat was hard to please, and Beto didn't especially love trying to please him.

Pat's political career had been derailed in the 1980s when cops found a condom filled with white powder in his Toyota Land Cruiser. He claimed it had been planted by his enemies, and though he was never charged, his reputation never fully recovered.

When Beto came back to Texas in 1998 and started an online alternative newspaper, Pat began filing travelogues from long cycling trips. The two were getting along for the first time in a long time.

In 2001, Pat was killed on his bike by a passing car.

"Pat O'Rourke is dead," Beto said at his funeral, "but he's alive in me." Two years later, the man who had never wanted to be a politician growing up decided to run for El Paso city council.

Around the same time, Amy came to live in El Paso.

She was born in Chicago but grew up on a ranch outside of Santa Fe. Her father was often gone, traveling for work, leaving her mother to look after Amy and her four siblings. She had high expectations for her children, which Amy met in the classroom and on the tennis courts.

Amy was a born competitor, playing to win in everything she did, from varsity tennis, to family board games, to bobbing for apples at a college party. (Later in life, on the heels of Beto's defeat in the Senate race, even friends who knew she didn't care for political life weren't surprised to see her jump back in; she hated losing that much.)

She went to Williams College with dreams of working in education and raising a family; moved with a boyfriend to Guatemala for a year to teach English, break up and move back to the states.

Amy's family had relocated to El Paso, so she did, too. And her aunt had just the young man, also recently single, to set her up with.

---

Amy and Beto crossed the border, to Juarez, and ended up at a bar called Martino's, where they drank martinis and laughed about how they both had big noses. A Mexican crew filming a commercial in the bar tried to get the couple to kiss on camera, and Beto got them out of it by saying Amy was his sister.

He proposed on April Fools' Day, four months after they'd first met. It seemed appropriate. That's how Amy knew him then and even now - impulsive and puckish: He told her on one of their first dates that he planned to name his first son Ulysses (which they did, about a year after marrying, followed by a Molly and a Henry). He dubbed their dog Roosevelt before realizing that the dog was a girl (who now goes by Rosie).

And then there were the pranks: the remote-controlled cockroach in the kitchen, the "Psycho"-style scares in the shower. One time, according to a friend, Beto collected an especially verdant turd from one of their kids' diapers and put it in a bowl, telling Amy it was avocado. (Neither would confirm this, though Beto did allow it sounded like something he'd do.)

They had big ambitions, but they were local. Amy helped start and run a charter school in El Paso, and Beto made a name for himself as an up-and-comer on the city council. Politics and family didn't always mix. Beto got in hot water for supporting a real estate development proposal that may have benefited his father-in-law - later, Bill and some of his associates became some of Beto's earliest boosters, despite their conservative bent - and Amy initially shot down Beto's national political aspirations. It wasn't what she'd signed up for.

"I want you to like going to sleep with me, waking up, walking the dogs, cruising the city on cruiser bikes," Beto had written to Amy on the day she first moved in with him 14 years ago. "Listening to music, making dinner for friends, sitting in the backyard with the dogs, reading books on the roof, drinking wine on the front porch. ..."

How does the life they envisioned then compare to the life they're choosing now as Beto runs for president?

"Well," Amy laughed. "It's completely contrary to it."

---

The O'Rourkes live in a spacious, hacienda-style house in El Paso's Sunset Heights. In 1915, shortly before Pancho Villa invaded New Mexico in the Battle of Columbus, the Mexican revolutionary general is believed to have met with American forces in this very house for what amounted to failed peace talks.

Amy and Beto bought the house in a state of disrepair and restored it under Amy's direction. Today, it's filled with children's sneakers, bicycles and basketballs; shelves of vinyl records and books; and a rotating cast of characters who have helped take care of the kids in Beto's absence.

"I think Ulysses is more sensitive and doesn't necessarily get along with Molly and Henry, and so he needs that person to look up to," Amy said. "And if Beto is not here, we know some high school kids that he just idolizes."

"Like Bobby," Beto said.

The first time Beto suggested to Amy that he'd like to run for Congress, she cried. She didn't want him to become some kind of D.C. jerk. The morning after the most recent election, the one he lost to Sen. Ted Cruz, R, she cried.

She'd surprised her friends from high school and college, the people who knew her as quiet, as someone who shunned the spotlight, by becoming a regular character on the campaign's viral Facebook Live feed. She was there on split screen, often calling Beto for a video chat from the house with the children, or riding shotgun in Beto's truck, or sometimes even headlining a fundraiser on Beto's behalf.

Behind the scenes, Amy saw the pain in her kids' eyes when their calls kept going to voice mail. (Eventually, she suggested they write their dad letters.) And the chats between Amy and Beto often felt performative, especially when they were recorded and broadcast live.

On Amy's birthday last year, Beto called from the road, patching her in to the live stream from the living room. But connecting was hard: Beto's voice kept echoing through the car speakers, and at times he couldn't hear Amy over his own voice. When it came time to end the call, Amy looked into the camera and laughed.

"I don't know how to get out," she said.

"It's OK," Beto shouted back. "Stay with us!"

---

After losing to Cruz, Beto made Amy an offer: If she wanted, he would be a stay-at-home dad, and she could go back to work full time. She declined.

"I have figured out a way to fulfill my purpose and be the mom that I want," she said. "And I in no way wanted him to sacrifice that sense of purpose."

Whatever post-defeat sadness Amy felt, she was able to kick quickly; she's always been the stable one. Beto, on the other hand, more prone to higher highs and lower lows, was in a "funk." In January, Beto hit the road, much as his father had done before him, and drew energy from the people he met, and - on one stop in New Mexico he didn't write about in his blog - by eating New Mexican dirt said to have regenerative powers. (He brought some home for the family to eat, too.)

Beto got dinged in the press for seeming rootless and self-indulgent.

"Absolutely, as a white man, there is so much privilege built into that," Beto said. "But to the question of whether only Beto O'Rourke could take this road trip. ... I just knew I needed to do it."

The coverage also bothered Amy.

"People were saying, 'Why can't he get a job to support his family,' and I was like, 'Why can't I be the one? I'm working,' " she said, noting that she still does part-time work as a consultant on education issues.

Beto had promised his family, and the country, that he wouldn't run for president, but he felt the pull. He'd just spent the longest stretch of time with his family than he had in seven years. And while he loved taking Ulysses to baseball practice, Henry to basketball games and Molly to "destination imagination competition," he said he could anticipate them, when they were older, asking him and Amy "what we did when we had the chance." Maybe, he thought, another run wouldn't be so bad.

Back in his living room after that February hike, Beto said: "It's nuts to me that people want to take a picture with me or want to tell me a story about their family. If they want to give it to me, I'll always take it. It's never intrusive."

He glanced at Amy who arched an eyebrow.

"It's rarely intrusive," he said. The eyebrow remained unmoved.

"Every now and then ..." he offered, pausing to let Amy fill the silence with more silence. "You have a different opinion."

Amy's moderate temperament had always made political life less appealing to her than it had been to her grandiose husband. Now, she used her moderating influence (and her political sensibilities - also moderate, according to friends) to help make Beto more appealing to voters. She's quick to remind him how his casual profanity might rankle Texas conservatives, not least his in-laws. She's the one who tells him to stop doing push-ups before bed because it's keeping him awake at night and the one who Beto's sister Charlotte said is "a good girl" and "keeps him grounded." When Beto publicly suggested tearing down El Paso's border wall, for example, she was the first to suggest he rein in the rhetoric.

But Amy was never going to rein him in on presidential aspirations. Not because she longed for this lifestyle but because she didn't have a good answer when her friends asked her what had changed since 2018; if she thought it was important to get in the fight then, then why not now?

And so, Beto and Amy enter the 2020 race as something of an inkblot test.

They represent generational change but a return to the way things have been forever. They join a field of bold progressives, of women, of people of color.

Amy said she'd wondered whether the country needed another white, male president; and whether Beto's candidacy might require her to play a bigger role on the campaign.

"I'm not interested in doing that," she said. "It would be the political thing to do."

But it's all political now.

Saudi-Russia oil alliance shows signs of strain

By Grant Smith, et al.
Saudi-Russia oil alliance shows signs of strain
Oil pumping jacks, also known as

The partnership at the heart of the OPEC+ alliance showed further signs of strain after Russia pressured the Saudi-led group to delay a decision on the future of their production cuts.

The unusual recommendation to cancel next month's scheduled meeting means the group probably won't decide whether to prolong its supply curbs until late June, just days before they expire.

At talks in Baku, Azerbaijan, on Monday, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak convinced the committee overseeing the output cuts that the scheduled April meeting would be too soon to agree to an extension. Khalid Al-Falih, the Saudi energy minister who had initially been in favor of making a decision at that time, acquiesced, saying "April will be premature."

For now, the supply curbs that have buoyed Brent crude by 25 percent this year are secure, and the nations present in the Azeri capital said they will go beyond their pledged cuts in the coming months. Still, the cancellation is the latest in a number of disagreements between the two largest and most powerful members of the 24-nation coalition.

While there's general backing within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries for an extension, with members including Iraq voicing support behind closed doors, Novak remains opposed, according to one delegate, who asked not to be named because the talks were private.

If that difference can't be resolved in the coming months, it sets up a high-stakes meeting in Vienna on June 25 to 26 that could give oil traders very little time to adjust to a major shift in supply.

"The need for close ties between Saudi and Russia has diminished," said Andrew Dodson, founder of commodity hedge fund Philipp Oil. "The delay of the OPEC meeting seems to point to a Russia reticence to commit to more cuts and to leave any decision as late as possible before committing further."

Since OPEC ended decades of rivalry by forging an alliance with Russia in late 2016, the cordial relationship between Novak and Al-Falih has been one of its defining features. The two men ushered in an unprecedented period of cooperation that re-shaped the global oil market and created the beginnings of a new geopolitical partnership that's extended to cooperation over Syria and mutual investments.

Yet there's an imbalance at the heart of the alliance. Saudi Arabia needs its oil to sell for $95 a barrel to cover government spending this year in an economy that relies almost entirely on petroleum. Russia is more resilient, with a more diversified industrial base and a less bloated state that means it based its 2019 budget on $40 crude.

Since the OPEC+ production cuts entered their third year -- having originally been slated to last for six months -- Moscow has shown less enthusiasm. It's drawn criticism from Saudi Arabia for making slow progress toward its output target. By March 12, Russian producers had implemented half their pledged cuts, giving them just a couple of weeks to go the rest of the way.

Russia will take a wait-and-see approach on whether to extend the OPEC+ deal because the market has achieved a fragile balance, Novak said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Sunday.

"Currently, the price is acceptable to all the parties, both to consumers and producers," Novak said. Uncertainties, including fluctuations in Venezuelan production amid a political and economic crisis, make it difficult to say what steps the group should take in the second half, he said.

That contrasted with the message from Al-Falih, who said at a news conference in Baku that the job of rebalancing the oil market was nowhere near done because U.S. inventories remain significantly above normal levels. The kingdom will continue to cut deeper than required under the deal through to the end of April, he said.

OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo sought on Tuesday to play down uncertainties arising from supply issues in Venezuela as well as Iran.

Venezuelan Oil Minister Manuel Quevedo assured him in Baku that Venezuela is addressing the impact of power blackouts on the country's oil industry, Barkindo said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. In spite of U.S. sanctions on Iran's energy industry, it's "practically impossible" to completely halt Iranian oil exports, he said.

"The Saudis do have a preference to keep the cuts going and just come out and announce it straight away," Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd., said in a Bloomberg Television interview. The kingdom "is not going to do anything unilaterally and Russia does represent the biggest of the non-OPEC countries."

Events in Baku certainly don't signal the end of the OPEC+ deal or the Saudi-Russia partnership, "but there are a lot of uncertainties right now" and everyone in the group is buying time, Sen said.

- - -

Bloomberg's Zulfugar Agayev, Javier Blas and Alix Steel contributed.

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

Too rich to run in 2020

By kathleen parker
Too rich to run in 2020

KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

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

(For Parker clients only)

WRITETHRU: 4th to last graf, last sentence: "workers, including" sted "everyone, including"

By KATHLEEN PARKER

WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump has given success a bad name.

That is, the president's much-boasted-about wealth has soured many Americans' taste for even the Horatio Alger bootstrapping stories. These days, as income inequality has become a leitmotif of Democratic politics, being rich is a liability.

So, who's too rich for democracy these days? Billionaires, obviously. Millionaires are such dimes-a-dozen, they hardly count anymore. Even Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who has proposed increasing marginal tax rates on the very rich to as high as 70 percent, set the baseline at $10 million.

Decamillionaires, beware.

This caveat might even extend to former Vice President Joe Biden, whose 2017 purchase of a $2.7 million beach house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, is inspiring fresh speculation about his middle-class bona fides. "Middle-Class Joe rakes in millions," read a recent Politico headline.

Of course, calling Biden's everyday-Joe-ness into question is ridiculous. Despite his yachtsman's appearance, he has forever been the workingman's champion. But, apparently, you can't have grown up in a middle-class family only to distinguish yourself as an adult and monetize your success. (BEG ITAL)Isn't that the point of being an American,(END ITAL) (she jested)?

The fact that Biden now earns $100,000 per speech and landed a handsome, multimillion-dollar book deal hardly negates his lifetime in the Senate advocating causes that benefited minorities, women and working-class Americans. Besides, this one's for you "Jeopardy" players, he's from -- (BEG ITAL)Scranton!(END ITAL) Yes, he is.

As Biden accidentally said recently, he has "the most progressive record of anybody running," except that he isn't running -- yet. Ol' Joe and his tongue have been wrangling for decades, which is why we love him. He's the guy who can't tell a lie -- or keep his own secrets.

Another wealthy possible candidate, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, recently has been the focus of skepticism -- and not just because he proposes running as a centrist independent. Schultz, on book tour the past couple of months, has spoken of his childhood growing up in a Brooklyn housing project and his family's dire circumstances. In his book "From the Ground Up," he describes a noisy, smoke-and-alcohol-infused household often filled with poker players who kept him up late and his family afloat during destitute times.

The Washington Post tracked down other contemporaries of Schultz's who grew up in the same housing project to report that it was actually a very nice, state-of-the-art complex. This may be so, but Schultz's experience can't be disproved or discredited. When your parents can't make the $96 monthly rent, you're not living in paradise.

By the strange political calculus of the income equalizers, Schultz was first too rich and then not poor enough. It would seem that there's no satisfying the left until everyone is equally miserable.

Even Beto O'Rourke ran into a bit of trouble when he-of-the-barrio (but not really) was revealed to be a prep-school alumnus with a near-billionaire father-in-law. Uh-oh. Can an upper-middle-class guy relate to the poor and lower-class Americans?

Of course, he can. As can Schultz and Biden, and other wealthy people, many of whom share their good fortune through philanthropy, without which millions of the world's most impoverished would suffer or die.

One problem with this wealth-as-liability perspective is that we risk losing the considerable contributions of the uber-successful. What would this crowd say today to Democrats John Kennedy or Franklin Roosevelt, both of whom enjoyed inherited wealth? You don't have to be poor to want to improve opportunities for the less fortunate.

Nor do you always need a government program to create those opportunities. As head of Starbucks, Schultz accomplished through free enterprise what some Democrats want to do through government -- for "free." He made sure workers, including part-time staffers, had health insurance; he paid college tuition for those who wanted to go; and he made it possible for every employee to be a shareholder in the company.

Once upon a time, Americans celebrated others' success and aspired through grit and sacrifice to improve their own circumstances. No more, apparently. The way some Democrats have reacted to candidates running-for-office-while-being-rich merely illustrates the poverty of their ideas.

The anti-wealth sentiment currently in vogue isn't, of course, a rational response to challenges. It's an emotional reaction to politicians' barnstorming about inequality that, they say, can only be resolved by punishing the wealthy and subsidizing the rest. If you hear enough times that you deserve to have more, you begin to believe it. Inevitably, this means that others must have less.

Thusly, my friends, is socialism born.

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

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

College-admissions scam reveals real scandal: take-the-wheel parents

By ruben navarrette jr.
College-admissions scam reveals real scandal: take-the-wheel parents

RUBEN NAVARRETTE COLUMN

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

(For Navarrette clients only)

By RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.

SAN DIEGO -- I learned some important life lessons in Harvard Yard. And so, three years ago, when I found myself back there with my then 11-year-old daughter, I gave her one.

We were touring the college, and my daughter expressed interest -- even though only about 5 percent of applicants to Harvard get accepted.

"But do you think you're prepared to work hard enough to get in here?" I asked her.

That's when she broke my heart.

"They have to let me in here," she said.

"Really? Why is that?" I asked incredulously.

"Because of you," she said. "I'm part of you."

She (BEG ITAL)is(END ITAL) part of me. I'm proud of her and I love her to the moon and back. But I don't want her to feel entitled, even though children of alumni do sometimes get preferential treatment in admissions.

So, right there, between Memorial Church and Widener Library, I decided to set her straight.

This memory comes to mind as I think about the college-admissions scandal.

When the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston announced 50 indictments in a $25 million bribery case that accuses wealthy parents of paying "enormous sums" to guarantee their children admission to elite universities, what was exposed was a sophisticated criminal enterprise.

The mastermind -- William Rick Singer -- pitched his Newport Beach, California-based consulting firm as the answer to the prayers of parents who wanted to get their kids into the best colleges. Singer told investigators that he created a "side door" into the admissions process. Prosecutors claim that Singer passed off non-athletes as athletic prospects and bribed exam proctors to allow ringers to take tests on applicants' behalf.

There's a lot to be outraged about in this story: the fact that the rich and privileged play by different rules or no rules at all; the myth of merit, where the best and brightest have given way to the wealthiest and most connected; the fact that the admissions process is already corrupt because donors can get their kids in; the sad reality that these parents didn't believe in their kids' abilities to get into these schools on their own steam; the fact that high-achieving minority students have for decades had to put up with the "impostor syndrome" because of doubts that they deserved to be admitted to elite schools while the real impostors were being sneaked in through a secret passageway.

My kids will have to enter through the front door. And, while visiting my alma mater, I drove that point home to my daughter.

"Look, (BEG ITAL)mija(END ITAL)," I told her, "If you want to go here, you'll have to work your way in just like I did. You already have a head start, but what you do with it is up to you. Both your parents have master's degrees. My dad, your grandpa, was a cop, and my grandpa, your great-grandpa, was a farmworker. If I could get to this spot from where I started, you can get here from where you are now -- which is much further down the road. Either way, it's on you."

She scowled. But, she knew, this was not up for discussion.

Soon thereafter, I made a parenting decision. I decided that it is not my job to get my kids into college -- any college.

I'll feed them, give them shelter, check homework, pay registration fees, drive to theater practice and cheer at soccer games. But when it's time for them -- in junior and senior year -- to research colleges, take entrance exams, juggle deadlines, write essays, sit for interviews, fill out applications and all the rest, I'm out.

It's their responsibility to claw through that jungle. Just like I did, more than 30 years ago.

Which brings me back to the worst part of the college admissions scandal: It revealed another group of people who failed Parenting 101.

Some call these folks lawnmower parents, because they try to mow down their children's challenges and obstacles.

But we're beyond that. We now have take-the-wheel parents, who go from back-seat driving to actual driving because they climb into the front seat and step on the gas pedal.

It's tempting to want to make our children happy, spare them pain, and give them opportunities. But it's not always helpful. And, taken too far, it can be lethal.

By protecting our kids from failure, mistakes and disappointment, we cheat them out of something we should all, at some point, get the chance to experience: the value of struggle.

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

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

Trump's unrealistic promises to the Rust Belt may haunt him

By david ignatius
Trump's unrealistic promises to the Rust Belt may haunt him

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

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

(For Ignatius clients only)

By DAVID IGNATIUS

WASHINGTON -- When General Motors idled its auto plant in Lordstown, Ohio, this month, President Trump adopted a familiar strategy: He issued a nasty string of tweets blaming other people and promised, in effect, that he would restore the past.

Trump's angry, backward-looking approach may still appeal to some Rust Belt voters. But in the Ohio and Pennsylvania towns that helped win the presidency for Trump in 2016, his vow to turn back the clock hasn't worked out very well, and there are signs the Rust Belt may be corroding for him politically.

Lordstown's struggles, like those of other nearby mill towns, illustrate the harsh fact that manufacturing is a dynamic process. Old jobs are disappearing because of changes in technology or consumer preferences; trying to resist change is usually a fool's game. Rust Belt communities that are succeeding are the ones that have adapted by embracing new technologies and innovation.

Presidential leadership in this period of technological transition should focus on the future, rather than the past. But Trump seems almost a technophobe. Axios reported this week that he thinks driverless cars are "crazy." He tweeted March 12, after the crash of a high-tech Boeing jetliner: "Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly ... I see it all the time in many products. Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further, when often old and simpler is far better."

Trump's response to Lordstown was to attack David Green, the UAW local president, implying that he was at fault along with GM, and demanding that he "get his act together and produce." Green had sent letters to Trump in July 2018 and February 2019 warning about threats to the plant. Trump didn't respond.

After Trump's Twitter tirade, Rep. Tim Ryan, the Ohio Democrat who represents the Lordstown area, fired back: "The President's tweet ... is offensive and does nothing to help bring back the manufacturing jobs he promised to my district."

Ryan argued that "the best thing is to help" GM renovate Lordstown and perhaps build electric vehicles there. Local residents said much the same thing to the Youngstown Vindicator this month: GM or a new owner should focus on new technology and making products people want to buy, rather than restore production of the low-selling Chevrolet Cruze.

Trump is vulnerable in the Rust Belt because he made such extravagant promises when he successfully wooed voters in 2016. "He won this area -- a largely Democratic area -- and he has not said a word yet, and that's just pathetic," warned Jim Graham a former UAW leader at Lordstown, in an interview with the Vindicator back in November, when GM said it planned to halt Cruze production there.

Local residents remember Trump's proclamation at a July 2017 rally in nearby Youngstown: "Those jobs [that] have left Ohio, they're all coming back ... Don't sell your house." Tommy Wolikow, a Lordstown worker, told the Vindicator: "I kind of turned into a Trump supporter at that time. I believed what he said. ... Almost two years later, I'm seeing nothing but job losses."

Homeowners in Youngstown certainly haven't seen a boom. According to Zillow, the online realty broker, the median price for a house in Youngstown is $39,900. The national median price of homes currently listed is $279,000. Browse the real estate ads for mill towns across Ohio and Pennsylvania and you'll see just how tough it is to be a Rust Belt resident, trapped in a downward cycle.

What's the right answer for Rust Belt towns where the old manufacturing base has disappeared? An interesting example is Erie, Pennsylvania. Most big factories there have closed in recent years, but the city is rebuilding itself around its local universities and a big insurance company. Profits from a big gambling casino in Erie County are funneled partly to "innovation spaces" at four local campuses.

Erie may have lost manufacturing jobs, but it's above the state average in advanced industries, says Ben Speggen, a local journalist who helps run a think tank in Erie called the Jefferson Educational Society. "There has been a real shift in understanding that our Rust Belt economy is not solely tied to manufacturing," he says.

Another key to success is welcoming foreigners. About 10 percent of Erie's population is refugees, according to James and Deborah Fallows in their recent book, "Our Towns." One of the 10 characteristics they found in successful local communities adapting to change is that "they make themselves open."

One more lesson from Erie County, in the heart of the Rust Belt: Trump won there in the 2016 presidential election, but in the 2018 midterm congressional election, the county voted Democratic.

David Ignatius' email address is davidignatius@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Not rich enough to bribe your child's way into college? Here's some help to appeal for more financial aid.

By michelle singletary
Not rich enough to bribe your child's way into college? Here's some help to appeal for more financial aid.

THE COLOR OF MONEY COLUMN

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

(For Singletary clients only)

By MICHELLE SINGLETARY

WASHINGTON -- In contrast to the reports that super-wealthy parents have paid six-figure bribes to get their children into the best universities, many families struggle to find the cash to pay for their children's education.

Part of the outrage over the college-admissions scandal -- in which the FBI claims uber-rich parents spent a total of $25 million to get their children into elite colleges -- is the amount of money that (BEG ITAL)didn't(END ITAL) go to pay for tuition, room and board. It's astounding how much these folks allegedly spent in illegal payments -- in one case as much as $500,000.

In just a few weeks, families across the country will find out how much their children will receive in financial aid from the colleges where they were legitimately accepted. Immediately after these letters arrive, there will be shock and dismay, because, for many, it won't be enough. This will send students and their parents into a frenzy over how to persuade the colleges to give them more assistance.

Negotiating for additional financial aid isn't easy. Colleges are besieged with requests from financially strapped families with equally qualified students. Complain and you'll be jumping in line with other parents also furious that their children didn't get generous enough financial-aid packages.

But if you want to plead your case for more money, there's a way to strengthen your argument, according to Mark Kantrowitz, a leading expert on the college-finance process and publisher and vice president for SavingForCollege.com, which provides information about 529 plans.

For this month's Color of Money Book Club, I've chosen Kantrowitz's new book, "How to Appeal for More College Financial Aid."

Yes, of course, your child is brilliant, played basketball and ranked high in his or her class -- or has other similarly impressive items on his or her resume. However, reiterating such accomplishments isn't likely to make your case for more money. The appeals process is much more formulaic, Kantrowitz says.

"College financial aid is not like negotiating with a car dealership, where bluff and bluster will get you a bigger, better deal," Kantrowitz writes. "Negotiation for more financial aid depends on presenting a college financial aid office with documentation of special circumstances that affect the family's ability to pay."

And, by the way, better stay away from even using the word "negotiation." Financial-aid administrators might even find it offensive.

Here's the reality: Most demands for more money fail -- miserably. Although appeals are seldom successful, you have a slightly better chance at private nonprofit schools and high-cost colleges, which often have a policy of providing more aid to needy students.

"Only about 1 percent of students nationwide receive adjustments to their financial-aid awards or packages each year as a result of a professional judgment review," Kantrowitz writes.

If, however, your financial circumstances have changed, it's worthwhile to submit an appeal. There are a number of special circumstances that can affect a family's ability to pay. These include a recent job loss or salary reduction, unusually high childcare expenses, or medical costs not covered by health insurance.

Kantrowitz provides very useful suggestions on writing an appeal letter, including the do's and don'ts. For example, don't ask for a specific amount of money. Do detail a significant financial hardship.

One thing families can do to make sure they get the most aid is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) correctly. Kantrowitz's book covers a lot of the common errors made on the FAFSA.

Given the recent admissions scandal, here's a good tip from Kantrowitz: Avoid paid financial-aid consultants who encourage you to submit inaccurate information on the FAFSA.

And how do you know the person might not be legit? If the consultant argues that he or she shouldn't sign the FAFSA because it might subject you to more scrutiny.

"Paid preparers are subject to the same penalties for fraud as a family," Kantrowitz writes. "Refusing to sign the FAFSA can be a red flag of unethical or illegal behavior."

What I found especially helpful in this book were Kantrowitz's meticulous explanations of why families might not get an adjustment to a financial-aid offer. What many families see as unfair might not be in fact unjust.

I'm hosting an online chat about "How to Appeal for More College Financial Aid" at noon Eastern time March 28 at washingtonpost.com/discussions. Kantrowitz will join me to answer your financial-aid questions.

College can be frighteningly expensive. So, it pays to learn all you can about the financial-aid process.

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

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

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The losers running for the Democratic nomination

By marc a. thiessen
The losers running for the Democratic nomination

MARC A. THIESSEN COLUMN

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

(For Thiessen clients only)

By MARC A. THIESSEN

WASHINGTON -- Look at the losers running, or considering a run, for the Democratic presidential nomination.

I don't mean that pejoratively. I mean it literally.

Beto O'Rourke's presidential candidacy is the ultimate expression of the participation trophy culture on the left. It used to be you had to win on the state level before taking the national stage. Barack Obama won a Senate seat from Illinois before immediately declaring his intention to run for president. At the time, that was considered pretty audacious. He hadn't accomplished anything in the Senate before he decided on a presidential run. But at least he won. O'Rourke lost his race to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., last year. He got a participation trophy. Apparently, he thinks that qualifies him to be the leader of the free world.

Well, he must have some accomplishments other than almost winning a Senate seat, right? Not really. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was flummoxed when asked what O'Rourke had accomplished in Congress, saying he "brought a great deal of vitality" to his work "preserving our planet and protecting our people." (In fact, O'Rourke passed a single bill, H.R. 5873, which renamed a courthouse in his hometown of El Paso.) Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa was questioned by Ed Henry on Fox News, "What would you say is Beto O'Rourke's top accomplishment that he brings to the table?" Hinojosa could not name a single one. "I'm not even talking about Congress," Henry said. "What has he done in his life?" "Your question is meaningless," Hinojosa replied.

So, if O'Rourke hasn't accomplished anything, he must at least have some clear ideas of what he wants to accomplish in the Oval Office, right? Nope. The Post reports that "unlike candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who launched their campaigns with clearly articulated policy platforms, O'Rourke focuses more on sweeping calls for unity and pitching himself as the best antidote to the country's toxic politics." The motivation for his run, apparently, is him. As Vanity Fair's Joe Hagan explains in a recent profile, O'Rourke "can't deny the pull of his own gifts." He tells a reporter, "Man, I'm just born to be in it."

He's not the only statewide loser taking the national stage. Stacey Abrams lost the governor's race in Georgia in 2018, yet national Democrats tapped her to deliver the official rebuttal to the State of the Union -- a task normally given to those who actually won their races. And now, The Post reports, she is considering a race for president as well. "I think that I am a skilled communicator," she said. "I think I'm a very good thinker. No, I know I'm a good thinker. I know I have policy chops. I have foreign policy experience."

Foreign policy experience? She served as minority leader of the state House of Representatives. Her official bio lists her as "former term member of the Council on Foreign Relations" (a temporary membership for young people) as well as "a Council on Italy Fellow, a British-American Project Fellow, a Salzburg Seminar-Freeman Fellow on U.S.-East Asian Relations, a Salzburg Seminar Fellow on youth and civic engagement and a Yukos Fellow for U.S.-Russian Relations." That might qualify her for an entry-level job at a left-wing think tank, but it hardly qualifies her to be commander in chief. Even O'Rourke can claim experience on the House Armed Services Committee.

Democrats point out that President Trump had never won statewide office before running for president. That's true. But he also had not run for state office and lost. He ran as a successful outsider, not as a failed insider. And unlike O'Rourke, he had actual accomplishments -- including a multibillion-dollar real estate empire.

This is not to dismiss O'Rourke's chances. He raised a whopping $6.1 million in his first 24 hours as a candidate, just edging out Sanders's first day haul of almost $6 million. That is the best of any Democrat running for president so far. As the New York Times noted, "In a single day online, he raised nearly a quarter of what Barack Obama, then a senator, did in the entire first quarter of 2007."

Apparently, Democrats like losers. We'll soon see if one can win the presidency.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

How to fix the college admissions scandal (warning: you may hate it)

By robert j. samuelson
How to fix the college admissions scandal (warning: you may hate it)

ROBERT J. SAMUELSON COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE. Normally for Wednesday, March 20, 2019.)

(For Samuelson clients only)

By ROBERT J. SAMUELSON

WASHINGTON -- We all know that "getting into the right college" is as traumatic for parents -- or more so -- as it is for their children. But who thought the admissions craze had become so powerful that it had morphed into outright fraud and corruption? Not me.

The recent allegations are surprising, disgraceful and sometimes amusing. According to the FBI, parents or admissions "consultants" falsified SAT scores, made "charitable" contributions that were bribes, and had athletic coaches classify ordinary students as stars worthy of recruiting.

But you might say: They did it all for a worthy cause -- their children's welfare. Gulp, the real lesson is that you get ahead by cheating, exploiting privilege and covering it up. That's just the opposite of what we should be teaching.

Fortunately, there's a morally acceptable and practical exit from this ethical swamp: Auction off some of those scarce spots. To the highest bidder go the admissions places.

Most people are bound to react: Are you nuts? We don't want a system that rewards wealth. True, but that's what we have now, and human nature being what it is, we won't eliminate the effects of parental wealth and influence. The best we can do is to force the wealthy to pay more for their good fortune.

In this light, an auction doesn't look so bad. Everyone, or almost everyone, wins. Colleges say they need more revenues; this supplies it. Parents want their kids to go to the "best" school; some get their wish. Most important, the process is an open one with publicized rules that are in stark contrast to today's system, which encourages deceit, unfairness and illegality.

Here's how such a system might work.

First, it would apply only to schools with dramatic gaps between applicants and open spots. Harvard and Stanford reject 95 percent of their applicants, Columbia 94 percent and MIT 93 percent. These huge rates imply that many of the rejected are equally qualified with those who were accepted. But for many colleges, the problem is not too many applicants; it's too few. My proposal doesn't apply to them.

Second, the auction of admissions slots would cover only a small part of the student body -- say, 10 percent to 15 percent. Colleges want to raise revenues, but it's not their only interest. Limiting the auction spots suggests there would be little or no erosion in the quality of students (see above). Just because some students have wealthy parents doesn't mean they're stupid -- often an unspoken assumption.

Third, to ensure student quality, applicants would be pre-screened. Only those who meet the school's high academic standards would be included in the auction pool. Suppose that College A has an incoming class of 1,000 and wants 100 of those spots filled by auction. Assume also that 400 students apply for the auction spots, but the admissions office determines that only 300 are suitable for the school. The bottom 100 would not be eligible for auction, no matter how high their prospective bid. Altogether, 300 students would not get into College A.

Fourth, there would be no bargaining. The award of admissions spots would be strictly determined by the price offered. This would eliminate one potential source of corruption. "Legacy" admissions preferences for the children of alumni would also be eliminated. All winning bids would be required to pay. Assume that an applicant applies to Yale, Stanford, Harvard and MIT -- and gets into all four. She picks MIT. But Mom and Dad would still have to foot the bill for Yale, Stanford and Harvard. The reason for this requirement is that, without it, the system would be flooded with strategically placed bids that would corrode public confidence. However, students would be free to apply for regular admissions to other schools.

Finally, if the auction revenues went to scholarships for the poor and the middle class, the result could be more, not less, equality. Every effort should be made to keep the recipients of these auction awards confidential, though this would be difficult. There would also be other problems: Some alumni would surely continue to operate outside the process. My system is hardly ideal. To improve matters, colleges and universities would be required to publish information about their auctions -- the number of applicants, the median and average bids and the distribution of bids.

We have the opportunity to replace a corrupt and confusing system with something a little less corrupt and confusing. But of course we won't take it. The optics are all wrong. It seems to favor the rich when, in reality, it does just the opposite.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

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