Get the best stories to your readers as they happen. The Washington Post News Service streams breaking news, enterprise and features with photos, graphics and video directly to you.

How 3,000 very good golden retrievers could help all dogs live longer

By Karin Brulliard
How 3,000 very good golden retrievers could help all dogs live longer
Charley is a golden retriever photographed at Union 206 Studio in Alexandria, Virginia in September; he is enrolled in an ambitious, $32 million research project that researchers hope will yield insights into the causes of cancers and other diseases common to goldens, other breeds and maybe even humans. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Marvin Joseph.

Most dogs get poked and prodded at the veterinarian's office. Piper, a 4-year-old golden retriever in Chicago, gets far more scrutiny than that.

Her annual checkup this month took three hours. Her flaxen hair was trimmed and bagged, her toenails clipped and kept, her bodily fluids collected. Everything was destined for a biorepository in the Washington suburbs that holds similar samples from more than 3,000 other purebred golden retrievers from across the country. The dogs, though they do not know it, are participating in an ambitious, $32 million research project that researchers hope will yield insights into the causes of cancers and other diseases common to goldens, other breeds and maybe even humans.

All the dogs were enrolled in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study before they turned 2, and all will be closely tracked for their entire lives. The researchers, from Colorado State University and the Morris Animal Foundation, are not just analyzing biological matter. They're also compiling exhaustive data, recorded and reported each year by the dogs' owners, on every aspect of the pooches' lives: What they eat, where they sleep, whether their lawns are treated with pesticides, whether their teeth get brushed and more.

Longitudinal studies like this - with information gathered in real time - help researchers detect causes and effects that might be missed in other kinds of studies. Some focused on humans who have tracked thousands of babies born in the United Kingdom during one week in 1970 and monitored the cardiovascular health of residents of Framingham, Massachusetts. But this is the first and largest lifetime longitudinal study of pets, and the hope is that it will shed light on links between golden retrievers' health and their genetics, diets, environments and lifestyles.

Some of "these dogs will get cancer as they age . . . but in the meantime, they are doing everything that dogs do," said principal investigator Rodney Page, a veterinary oncologist who directs Colorado State's Flint Animal Cancer Center. As for tracking the minutiae of participants' lives, "some of these things seem kind of silly, but you never know what you're going to identify as a significant risk factor with an outcome that you could easily change."

That information, by extension, could be useful for other breeds, as well as people, who develop cancer and respond to treatments in similar ways to dogs.

At its core, the study is about cancer - what Page calls "the No. 1 concern among dog owners." The disease is the leading cause of death in dogs over age 2 and something diagnosed in half of dogs older than 10. The prevalence is believed to be slightly higher in golden retrievers, which most often succumb to mast cell tumors, bone cancer, lymphoma or hemangiosarcoma (originating in the lining of blood vessels).

But that is not the only reason the bouncy, amiable breed is the study's focus. Goldens are the third-most popular dogs in the United States, which made it easier for researchers to find 3,000 subjects; they also tend to have besotted owners who pay close attention to their health - an important criteria for a project that demands years of owner commitment.

Golden retrievers "are right beside us when we're running, when we're having dinner, when we're out traveling. They basically reflect a lot of the same exposures and activities that we have," Page said.

The study began in 2012. It has produced no major revelations yet; its oldest participants are 7 and not widely afflicted with cancer or other ills. But annual surveys have yielded interesting tidbits about the dogs' lives. One in five sleeps with its owner. Forty percent swim at least once a week. Twenty-two percent drink or eat from a plastic bowl, and about one in four eats grass.

And the researchers' prediction - that the breed's owners would be an enthusiastic study group - has been validated. They have an incredibly active private Facebook group, plus local meetups with their "hero" pets.

"We have a really passionate cohort, is the best way to describe it," study veterinarian Sharon Albright said.

When a Chicago golden named Piper briefly fell ill last year, her owner, Joe Brennan, posted a photo of her wrapped in blankets to the Facebook group. More than 100 well-wishers quickly responded, he said.

Brennan and his wife had enrolled Piper in the study shortly after they purchased her from a breeder. Brennan's mother had two golden retrievers that died of cancer, and he said he wanted "to give back and maybe play some tiny part" in reducing the breed's risk for the disease.

And one of the conditions as Kelly Hinkle adopted Maizie in 2016 was that she keep the 2 1/2-year-old dog in the study. "I'm like, 'Of course I'd continue!' " said Hinkle, a Silver Spring, Maryland, veterinarian who was especially excited by the project's emphasis on exposure to both inside and outside environmental factors.

"A lot of common things, like hip dysplasia, that's the way they're bred," she said. "But getting tumors or cancer - is that a genetic thing or something we've done throughout their lifetimes to cause that?"

Although cancer rates may be higher among golden retrievers, they're not necessarily increasing. Cancer is a disease of older age, and today's dogs, which mostly stay indoors and see vets more often than their ancestors, are living longer. Experts say the prevalence in goldens may be partly explained by their sheer abundance.

"Do you see a lot of goldens that have skin diseases? Do you see a lot of goldens that have flea allergies? Yes," said Jaime Modiano, a canine cancer researcher at the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine who is not involved in the study. "Golden owners as a group tend to be very attentive and attached to their dogs," and so they seek out care when they suspect a problem.

The project's focus on golden retrievers might be an inherent limitation, said Modiano, whose lab has done multi-breed studies that found certain genetic markers create a higher level of risk in some kinds of dogs. "If you look at a single breed, you're going to lose part of the picture," Modiano said. Still, the study's large sample size and systematic, controlled approach will yield data that could fuel research on questions that go well beyond cancer, he said - such as whether goldens in some geographic regions or with certain traits, like size or coat color, are more or less likely to have particular conditions.

"Being able to discriminate random chance becomes a lot easier when you have large numbers," he explained. "It really is ambitious, and the treasure trove of material that they are going to get will be remarkable."

Gathering all this data depends on owners, whose vet visits are subsidized. One is Matt Morley, a lawyer in Chevy Chase, Maryland, whose retriever, Hayley, had lymphoma and died in 2013. He enrolled her successor, Nellie, in hopes of helping other dogs as well as people.

"Whatever they learn in this study could have real human applications," Morley said. "All the drugs my original dog was taking, they're all drugs that people who have cancer take."

Owners commit to spending a few hours for the study every year. They say goldens are well worth it.

"They're the smartest dogs ever," Brennan gushed. "They're the most loyal things you'll ever meet in your life."

Piper was found to have a bit of hip dysplasia but no other issues at her recent exam, where Brennan snapped a photo of her. It shows her sitting proudly, wearing a green bandanna printed with a yellow silhouette of a golden retriever and the words "Study Enrolled Dog."

Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russian threat unchecked

By Greg Miller, et al.
Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russian threat unchecked
President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump Tower in New York on Jan. 11. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford; photo illustration by Nick Kirkpatrick, The Washington Post.

WASHINGTON - In the final days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of his inner circle pleaded with him to acknowledge publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies had already concluded - that Russia's interference in the 2016 election was real.

Holding impromptu interventions in Trump's 26th-floor corner office at Trump Tower, advisers - including Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and designated chief of staff, Reince Priebus - prodded the president-elect to accept the findings that the nation's spy chiefs had personally presented to him on Jan. 6.

They sought to convince Trump that he could affirm the validity of the intelligence without diminishing his electoral win, according to three officials involved in the sessions. More important, they said that doing so was the only way to put the matter behind him politically and free him to pursue his goal of closer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"This was part of the normalization process," one participant said. "There was a big effort to get him to be a standard president."

But as aides persisted, Trump became agitated. He railed that the intelligence couldn't be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma.

Told that members of his incoming Cabinet had already publicly backed the intelligence report on Russia, Trump shot back, "So what?" Admitting that the Kremlin had hacked Democratic Party emails, he said, was a "trap."

As Trump addressed journalists on Jan. 11 in the lobby of Trump Tower, he came as close as he ever would to grudging acceptance. "As far as hacking, I think it was Russia," he said, adding that "we also get hacked by other countries and other people."

As hedged as those words were, Trump regretted them almost immediately. "It's not me," he said to aides afterward. "It wasn't right."

Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House.

The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president - and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality - have impaired the government's response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.

Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account.

His administration has moved to undo at least some of the sanctions the previous administration imposed on Russia for its election interference, exploring the return of two Russian compounds in the United States that President Barack Obama had seized - the measure that had most galled Moscow. Months later, when Congress moved to impose additional penalties on Moscow, Trump opposed the measures fiercely.

Intelligence officials who brief the president play down information about Russia they fear might displease him, current and former officials said. Plans for the State Department to counter Russian propaganda remain stalled. And while Trump has formed a commission to investigate widely discredited claims of U.S. voter fraud, there is no task force focused on the election peril that security officials regard as a certainty - future Russian attacks.

Trump has never convened a Cabinet-level meeting on Russian interference or what to do about it, administration officials said. Although the issue has been discussed at lower levels at the National Security Council, one former high-ranking Trump administration official said there is an unspoken understanding within the NSC that to raise the matter is to acknowledge its validity, which the president would see as an affront.

Trump's stance on the election is part of a broader entanglement with Moscow that has defined the first year of his presidency. He continues to pursue an elusive bond with Putin, which he sees as critical to dealing with North Korea, Iran and other issues. "Having Russia in a friendly posture," he said last month, "is an asset to the world and an asset to our country."

His position has alienated close American allies and often undercut members of his Cabinet - all against the backdrop of a criminal probe into possible ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

This account of the Trump administration's reaction to Russia's interference and policies toward Moscow is based on interviews with more than 50 current and former U.S. officials, many of whom had senior roles in the Trump campaign and transition team or have been in high-level positions at the White House or at national security agencies. Most agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the subject.

Trump administration officials defended the approach with Russia, insisting that their policies and actions have been tougher than those pursued by Obama but without unnecessarily combative language or posture. "Our approach is that we don't irritate Russia, we deter Russia," a senior administration official said. "The last administration had it exactly backwards."

White House officials cast the president's refusal to acknowledge Russian interference in the election as an understandably human reaction. "The president obviously feels . . . that the idea that he's been put into office by Vladimir Putin is pretty insulting," said a second senior administration official. But his views are "not a constraint" on the government's ability to respond to future election threats, the official said. "Our first order in dealing with Russia is trying to counter a lot of the destabilizing activity that Russia engages in."

Others questioned how such an effort could succeed when the rationale for that objective is routinely rejected by the president. Michael V. Hayden, who served as CIA director under President George W. Bush, has described the Russian interference as the political equivalent of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, an event that exposed a previously unimagined vulnerability and required a unified American response.

"What the president has to say is, 'We know the Russians did it, they know they did it, I know they did it, and we will not rest until we learn everything there is to know about how and do everything possible to prevent it from happening again,' " Hayden said in an interview. Trump "has never said anything close to that and will never say anything close to that."

---

The feeble American response has registered with the Kremlin.

U.S. officials said that a stream of intelligence from sources inside the Russian government indicates that Putin and his lieutenants regard the 2016 "active measures" campaign - as the Russians describe such covert propaganda operations - as a resounding, if incomplete, success.

Moscow has not achieved some its most narrow and immediate goals. The annexation of Crimea from Ukraine has not been recognized. Sanctions imposed for Russian intervention in Ukraine remain in place. Additional penalties have been mandated by Congress. And a wave of diplomatic retaliation has cost Russia access to additional diplomatic facilities, including its San Francisco consulate.

But overall, U.S. officials said, the Kremlin believes it got a staggering return on an operation that by some estimates cost less than $500,000 to execute and was organized around two main objectives - destabilizing U.S. democracy and preventing Hillary Clinton, who is despised by Putin, from reaching the White House.

The bottom line for Putin, said one U.S. official briefed on the stream of post-election intelligence, is that the operation was "more than worth the effort."

The Russian operation seemed intended to aggravate political polarization and racial tensions and to diminish U.S. influence abroad. The United States' closest alliances are frayed, and the Oval Office is occupied by a disruptive politician who frequently praises his counterpart in Russia.

"Putin has to believe this was the most successful intelligence operation in the history of Russian or Soviet intelligence," said Andrew Weiss, a former adviser on Russia in the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations who is now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It has driven the American political system into a crisis that will last years."

U.S. officials declined to discuss whether the stream of recent intelligence on Russia has been shared with Trump. Current and former officials said that his daily intelligence update - known as the president's daily brief, or PDB - is often structured to avoid upsetting him.

Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump's ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment and not raised orally, said a former senior intelligence official familiar with the matter. In other cases, Trump's main briefer - a veteran CIA analyst - adjusts the order of his presentation and text, aiming to soften the impact.

"If you talk about Russia, meddling, interference - that takes the PDB off the rails," said a second former senior U.S. intelligence official.

Brian Hale, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said the briefing is "written by senior-level, career intelligence officers," and that the intelligence community "always provides objective intelligence - including on Russia - to the president and his staff."

Trump's aversion to the intelligence, and the dilemma that poses for top spies, has created a confusing dissonance on issues related to Russia. The CIA continues to stand by its conclusions about the election, for example, even as the agency's director, Mike Pompeo, frequently makes comments that seem to diminish or distort those findings.

In October, Pompeo declared the intelligence community had concluded that Russia's meddling "did not affect the outcome of the election." In fact, spy agencies intentionally steered clear of addressing that question.

On Jan. 6, two weeks before Trump was sworn in as president, the nation's top intelligence officials boarded an aircraft at Joint Base Andrews on the outskirts of Washington to travel to New York for one of the most delicate briefings they would deliver in their decades-long careers.

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., CIA Director John Brennan and National Security Agency chief Michael S. Rogers flew together aboard an Air Force 737. FBI Director James B. Comey traveled separately on an FBI Gulfstream aircraft, planning to extend his stay for meetings with bureau officials.

The mood was heavy. The four men had convened a virtual meeting the previous evening, speaking by secure videoconference to plan their presentation to the incoming president of a classified report on Russia's election interference and its pro-Trump objective.

During the campaign, Trump had alternately dismissed the idea of Russian involvement - saying a hack of the Democratic National Committee was just as likely carried out by "somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds" - and prodded the Kremlin to double down on its operation and unearth additional Clinton emails.

The officials had already briefed Obama and members of Congress. As they made their way across Manhattan in separate convoys of black SUVs, they braced for a blowup.

"We were prepared to be thrown out," Clapper said in an interview.

Instead, the session was oddly serene.

The officials were escorted into a spacious conference room on the 14th floor of Trump Tower. Trump took a seat at one end of a large table, with Vice President-elect Mike Pence at the other. Among the others present were Priebus, Pompeo and designated national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Following a rehearsed plan, Clapper functioned as moderator, yielding to Brennan and others on key points in the briefing, which covered the most highly classified information U.S. spy agencies had assembled, including an extraordinary CIA stream of intelligence that had captured Putin's specific instructions on the operation.

Trump seemed, at least for the moment, to acquiesce.

"He was affable, courteous, complimentary," Clapper said. "He didn't bring up the 400-pound guy."

A copy of the report was left with Trump's designated intelligence briefer. But there was another, more sensitive matter left to cover.

Clapper and Comey had initially planned to remain together with Trump while discussing an infamous dossier that included salacious allegations about the incoming president.

It had been commissioned by an opposition research firm in Washington that had enlisted a former British intelligence officer to gather material. As The Washington Post reported in October, the research was paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC.

But in the end, Comey felt he should handle the matter with Trump alone, saying that the dossier was being scrutinized exclusively by the FBI. After the room emptied, Comey explained that the dossier had not been corroborated and that its contents had not influenced the intelligence community's findings - but that the president needed to know it was in wide circulation in Washington.

Senior officials would subsequently wonder whether the decision to leave that conversation to Comey helped poison his relationship with the incoming president. When the dossier was posted online four days later by the news site BuzzFeed, Trump lashed out the next morning in a 4:48 a.m. Twitter blast.

"Intelligence agencies never should have allowed this fake news to 'leak' into the public," Trump said. "One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?" The Post was one of several news organizations that had received the dossier months earlier, had been attempting to verify its claims and had not published it.

After leaving the Jan. 6 meeting at Trump Tower, Comey had climbed into his car and began composing a memo.

"I knew there might come a day when I would need a record of what happened, not just to defend myself but to defend the FBI and our integrity as an institution," he testified to Congress in June. It was the first of multiple memos he would write documenting his interactions with Trump.

Clapper's office released an abbreviated public version of the intelligence report later that day. Trump issued a statement saying that "Russia, China" and "other countries" had sought to penetrate the cyberdefenses of U.S. institutions, including the DNC.

In their Trump Tower interventions, senior aides had sought to cement his seeming acceptance of the intelligence. But as the first year of his presidency progressed, Trump became only more adamant in his rejections of it.

In November, during a 12-day trip to Asia, Trump signaled that he believed Putin's word over that of U.S. intelligence.

"He said he didn't meddle," Trump said to reporters aboard Air Force One after he and Putin spoke on the sidelines of a summit in Vietnam. "Every time he sees me, he says, 'I didn't do that,' and I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it."

As those remarks roiled Washington, Trump sought to calm the controversy without fully conceding the accuracy of the intelligence on Russia. He also aimed a parting shot at the spy chiefs who had visited him in January in New York.

"As to whether I believe it or not," he said the next day, "I'm with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership."

---

In the early days of his presidency, Trump surrounded himself with aides and advisers who reinforced his affinity for Russia and Putin, though for disparate reasons not always connected to the views of the president.

Flynn, the national security adviser, saw Russia as an unfairly maligned world power and believed that the United States should set aside its differences with Moscow so the two could focus on higher priorities, including battling Islamist terrorism.

Some on the NSC, including Middle East adviser Derek Harvey, urged pursuing a "grand bargain" with Russia in Syria as part of an effort to drive a wedge into Moscow's relationship with Iran. Harvey is no longer in the administration.

Others had more idiosyncratic impulses. Kevin Harrington, a former associate of Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel brought in to shape national security strategy, saw close ties with oil- and gas-rich Russia as critical to surviving an energy apocalypse - a fate that officials who worked with him said he discussed frequently and depicted as inevitable.

The tilt of the staff began to change when Flynn was forced to resign after just 24 days on the job for falsehoods about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. His replacement, Army Gen. H.R. McMaster, had more conventional foreign policy views that included significant skepticism of Moscow.

The change helped ease the turmoil that had characterized the NSC but set up internal conflicts on Russia-related issues that seemed to interfere with Trump's pursuit of a friendship with Putin. Among them was the administration's position on NATO.

The alliance, built around a pledge of mutual defense against Soviet or Russian aggression among the United States and its European allies, became a flash point in internal White House battles. McMaster, an ardent NATO supporter, struggled to fend off attacks on the alliance and its members by Trump's political advisers.

The president's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, moved to undermine support for NATO within weeks of arriving at the White House. After securing a position on the NSC, Bannon ordered officials to compile a table of arrears - alleged deficits on defense spending by every NATO member going back 67 years. Officials protested that such a calculation was impractical, and they persuaded Bannon to accept a partial list documenting underspending dating from 2007.

Bannon and McMaster clashed in front of Trump during an Oval Office discussion about NATO in the spring, officials said. Trump, sitting behind his desk, was voicing frustration that NATO member states were not meeting their defense spending obligations under the treaty. Bannon went further, describing Europe as "nothing more than a glorified protectorate."

McMaster, an ardent supporter of NATO, snapped at Bannon. "Why are you such an apologist for Russia?" he asked, according to two officials with knowledge of the exchange. Bannon shot back that his position had "nothing to do with Russians" and later told colleagues how much he relished such confrontations with McMaster, saying, "I love living rent-free in his head."

Bannon and his allies also maneuvered to sabotage displays of unity with the alliance. As NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrived for an April visit at the White House, McMaster's team prepared remarks for Trump that included an endorsement of Article 5 - the core NATO provision calling for members to come to one another's defense.

But the language was stripped out at the last minute by NATO critics inside the administration who argued that "it didn't sound presidential enough," one senior U.S. official said. A month later, Stephen Miller, a White House adviser close to Bannon, carried out a similar editing operation in Brussels where Trump spoke at a dedication ceremony for NATO's gleaming new headquarters.

Standing before twisted steel wreckage from the World Trade Center that memorialized NATO's commitment to defend the United States after the 9/11 attacks, Trump made no mention of any U.S. commitment to mutual defense.

Trump finally did so in June during a meeting with the president of Romania. Officials said that in that case, McMaster clung to the president's side until a joint news conference was underway, blocking Miller from Trump and the text. A senior White House official said that Trump has developed a good relationship with Stoltenberg and often praises him in private.

On sensitive matters related to Russia, senior advisers have at times adopted what one official described as a policy of "don't walk that last 5½feet" - meaning to avoid entering the Oval Office and giving Trump a chance to erupt or overrule on issues that can be resolved by subordinates.

Another former U.S. official described being enlisted to contact the German government before Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit at the White House in March. The outreach had two aims, the official said - to warn Merkel that her encounter with Trump would probably be acrimonious because of their diverging views on refugees, trade and other issues, but also to urge her to press Trump on U.S. support for NATO.

The signature moment of the trip came during a brief photo appearance in which Trump wore a dour expression and appeared to spurn Merkel's effort to shake his hand, though Trump later said he had not noticed the gesture.

His demeanor with the German leader was in striking contrast with his encounters with Putin and other authoritarian figures. "Who are the three guys in the world he most admires? President Xi [Jinping] of China, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and Putin," one Trump adviser said. "They're all the same guy."

Merkel has never fit into that Trump pantheon. Before her arrival, senior White House aides witnessed an odd scene that some saw as an omen for the visit. As McMaster and a dozen other top aides met with Trump in the Oval Office to outline issues Merkel was likely to raise, the president grew impatient, stood up and walked into an adjoining bathroom.

Trump left the bathroom door open, according to officials familiar with the incident, instructing McMaster to raise his voice and keep talking. A senior White House official said the president entered the restroom and merely "took a glance in the mirror, as this was before a public event."

McMaster gained an internal ally on Russia in March with the hiring of Fiona Hill as the top Russia adviser on the NSC. A frequent critic of the Kremlin, Hill was best known as the author of a respected biography of Putin and was seen as a reassuring selection among Russia hard-liners.

Her relationship with Trump, however, was strained from the start.

In one of her first encounters with the president, an Oval Office meeting in preparation for a call with Putin on Syria, Trump appeared to mistake Hill for a member of the clerical staff, handing her a memo he had marked up and instructing her to rewrite it.

When Hill responded with a perplexed look, Trump became irritated with what he interpreted as insubordination, according to officials who witnessed the exchange. As she walked away in confusion, Trump exploded and motioned for McMaster to intervene.

McMaster followed Hill out the door and scolded her, officials said. Later he and a few close staffers met to explore ways to repair Hill's damaged relationship with the president.

Hill's standing was further damaged when she was forced to defend members of her staff suspected of disloyalty after details about Trump's Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak - in which the president revealed highly classified information to his Russian guests - were leaked to The Post.

The White House subsequently tightened the circle of aides involved in meetings with Russian officials. Trump was accompanied only by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a meeting with Putin at a July summit of Group of 20 nations in Hamburg. In prior administrations, the president's top aide on Russia was typically present for such encounters, but Hill has frequently been excluded.

A senior administration official said that the NSC "was not sidelined as a result" of Hill's difficult encounters with Trump, that Hill is regularly included in briefings with the president and that she and her staff "continue to play an important role on Russia policy."

---

White House officials insist that the Trump administration has adopted a tougher stance toward Moscow than the Obama administration on important fronts.

They point to Trump's decision, after a chemical weapons attack in Syria, to approve a U.S. military strike on a base where Russian personnel and equipment were present. They cite Trump's decision in early August to sign legislation imposing additional economic sanctions on Moscow and steps taken by the State Department at the end of that month ordering three Russian diplomatic facilities - two trade offices and the consulate in San Francisco - closed. They also said that the NSC is preparing options for the president to deal with the threat of Russian interference in American elections.

"Look at our actions," a senior administration official said in an interview. "We're pushing back against the Russians."

Senior Trump officials have struggled to explain how. In congressional testimony in October, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pressed on whether the administration had done enough to prevent Russian interference in the future. "Probably not," Sessions said. "And the matter is so complex that for most of us we are not able to fully grasp the technical dangers that are out there."

The administration's accomplishments are to a large measure offset by complicating factors - Trump had little choice but to sign the sanctions - and competing examples. Among them is the administration's persistent exploration of proposals to lift one of the most effective penalties that Obama imposed for Russia's election interference - the seizure of two Russian compounds.

Russia used those sprawling estates in Maryland and New York as retreats for its spies and diplomats but also - according to CIA and FBI officials - as platforms for espionage. The loss of those sites became a major grievance for Moscow.

Lavrov has raised the confiscation of those properties in nearly every meeting with his American counterparts, officials said, accusing the United States of having "stolen our dachas," using the Russian word for country houses.

Putin may have had reason to expect that Russia would soon regain access to the compounds after Trump took office. In his recent guilty plea, Flynn admitted lying to the FBI about a conversation with the Russian ambassador in late December. During the call, which came as Obama was announcing sanctions on Russia, Flynn urged the ambassador not to overreact, suggesting the penalties would be short-lived.

After a report in late May by The Post that the administration was considering returning the compounds, hard-liners in the administration mobilized to head off any formal offer.

Several weeks later, the FBI organized an elaborate briefing for Trump in the Oval Office, officials said. E.W. "Bill" Priestap, the assistant director of the counterintelligence division at the FBI, brought three-dimensional models of the properties, as well as maps showing their proximity to sensitive U.S. military or intelligence installations.

Appealing to Trump's "America first" impulse, officials made the case that Russia had used the facilities to steal U.S. secrets. Trump seemed convinced, officials said.

"I told Rex we're not giving the real estate back to the Russians," Trump said at one point, referring to Tillerson, according to participants. Later, Trump marveled at the potential of the two sites and asked, "Should we sell this off and keep the money?"

But on July 6, Tillerson sent an informal communication to the Kremlin proposing the return of the two compounds, a gesture that he hoped would help the two sides pull out of a diplomatic tailspin. Under the proposed terms, Russia would regain access to the compounds but without diplomatic status that for years had rendered them outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement.

The FBI and some White House officials, including Hill, were livid when they learned that the plan had been communicated to Russia through a "non-paper" - an informal, nonbinding format. But "Tillerson never does anything without Trump's approval," a senior U.S. official said, making clear that the president knew in advance.

Administration officials provided conflicting accounts of what came next. Two officials indicated that there were additional communications with the Kremlin about the plan. One senior official said that Tillerson made a last-minute change in the terms, proposing that the Maryland site be returned "status quo ante," meaning with full diplomatic protections. It would again be off-limits to law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.

State Department officials disputed that account, however, saying that no such offer was ever contemplated and that the final proposal shared with the Kremlin was the non-paper sent on July 6 - one day before Trump met with Putin in Hamburg.

Tillerson "never directed anyone to draft" a revised proposal to the Kremlin, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a written statement. "We considered possible options for restoring Russian access for recreational purposes in a way that would meet the security concerns of the U.S. government." By the end of July, Congress had passed a new sanctions bill that "imposed specific conditions for the return of the dachas," she said, "and the Russians have so far not been willing to meet them."

Moscow made clear through Lavrov and others in mid-July that it regarded the overture, and the idea that any conditions would be placed on the return of the sites, as an insult. State Department officials interpreted that response as evidence that Russia's real purpose was the resumption of espionage.

---

With no deal on the dachas, U.S.-Russia relations plunged into diplomatic free fall.

Even before Trump was sworn in, a group of senators including John McCain, R-Ariz., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., had begun drafting legislation to impose further sanctions on Russia.

In the ensuing months, McCain's office began getting private warnings from a White House insider. "We were told that a big announcement was coming regarding Russia sanctions," a senior congressional aide said. "We all kind of assumed the worst."

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had blocked the sanctions bill from moving forward at the behest of Tillerson, who kept appealing for more time to negotiate with Moscow.

But after Comey's firing in early May, and months of damaging headlines about Trump and Russia, an alarmed Senate approved new sanctions on Russia in a 98-to-2 vote.

Trump at times seemed not to understand how his actions and behavior intensified congressional concern. After he emerged from a meeting in Hamburg with Putin, Trump said he and the Russian leader had agreed upon the outlines of a cooperative cybersecurity plan.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., described the proposed pact as "pretty close" to "the dumbest idea I've ever heard" and introduced additional provisions to the sanctions bill that would strip Trump of much of his power to undo them - a remarkable slap at presidential prerogative.

Then, in late July, new information surfaced about the extent of Trump's interactions with Putin in Hamburg that sent another wave of anxiety across Capitol Hill.

At the end of a lavish banquet for world leaders, Trump wandered away from his assigned seat for a private conversation with the Russian leader - without a single U.S. witness, only a Kremlin interpreter.

A Trump administration official described the reaction to the encounter as overblown, saying that Trump had merely left his seat to join the first lady, Melania Trump, who had been seated for the dinner next to Putin. Whatever the reason, little over a week later both chambers of Congress passed the sanctions measure with overwhelming margins that would withstand any Trump veto.

Trump's frustration had been building as the measure approached a final vote. He saw the bill as validation of the case that Russia had interfered, as an encroachment on his executive authority and as a potentially fatal blow to his aspirations for friendship with Putin, according to his advisers.

In the final days before passage, Trump watched MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program and stewed as hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski declared that the bill would be a slap in the face to the president.

"He was raging," one adviser said. "He was raging mad."

After final passage, Trump was "apoplectic," the adviser recalled. It took four days for aides to persuade him to sign the bill, arguing that if he vetoed it and Congress overturned that veto, his standing would be permanently weakened.

"Hey, here are the votes," aides told the president, according to a second Trump adviser. "If you veto it, they'll override you and then you're f---ed and you look like you're weak."

Trump signed but made his displeasure known. His signing statement asserted that the measure included "clearly unconstitutional provisions." Trump had routinely made a show of bill signings, but in this case no media was allowed to attend.

The reaction from Russia was withering. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev taunted the president in a Facebook post that echoed Trump's style, saying that the president had shown "complete impotence, in the most humiliating manner, transferring executive power to Congress."

Putin, who had shown such restraint in late December 2016, reacted to the new sanctions with fury, ordering the United States to close two diplomatic properties and slash 755 people from its staff - most of them Russian nationals working for the United States.

Rather than voice any support for the dozens of State Department and CIA employees being forced back to Washington, Trump expressed gratitude to Putin.

"I want to thank him because we're trying to cut down on payroll," Trump told reporters during an outing at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey - remarks his aides would later claim were meant as a joke. "We'll save a lot of money."

---

Trump has never explained why he so frequently seems to side with Putin.

To critics, the answer is assumed to exist in the unproven allegations of coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, or the claim that Putin has some compromising information about the American president.

Aides attribute Trump's affection for Putin to the president's tendency to personalize matters of foreign policy and his unshakable belief that his bond with Putin is the key to fixing world problems.

"When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing," Trump tweeted last month. "There always playing politics - bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!"

White House officials present Trump as the latest in a long line of presidents who began their tenures seeking better relations with Moscow, and they argue that the persistent questions about Russia and the election only advance the Kremlin's aims and damage the president. "This makes me pissed because we're letting these guys win," a senior administration official said of the Russians. Referring to the disputed Florida tallies in the 2000 presidential election, the official said: "What if the Russians had created the hanging chads? How would that have been for George Bush?"

The allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, which the president has denied categorically, also contribute to his resistance to endorse the intelligence, another senior White House official said. Acknowledging Russian interference, Trump believes, would give ammunition to his critics.

Still others close to Trump explain his aversion to the intelligence findings in more psychological terms. The president, who burns with resentment over perceived disrespect from the Washington establishment, sees the Russia inquiry as a conspiracy to undermine his election accomplishment - "a witch hunt," as he often calls it.

"If you say 'Russian interference,' to him it's all about him," said a senior Republican strategist who has discussed the matter with Trump's confidants. "He judges everything as about him."

Recent months have been marked by further erosion of the U.S.-Russia relationship and troubling developments for the White House, including the indictment of Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort and the guilty plea of Flynn.

Trump remains defiant about the special counsel's probe, maintaining that he will be cleared of any wrongdoing and describing the matter as a "hoax" and a "hit job."

Some of Trump's most senior advisers support that view. One senior official said that Trump is right to portray the investigations and news reports as politically motivated attacks that have hurt the United States' ability to work with Russia on real problems.

"We were looking to create some kind of bargain that would help us negotiate a very dangerous world," said a senior White House official. "But if we do anything, Congress and the media will scream bloody murder."

Putin expressed his own exasperation in early September, responding to a question about Trump with a quip that mocked the idea of a Trump-Putin bond while aiming a gender-related taunt at the American president. Trump "is not my bride," Putin said, "and I am not his groom."

The remark underscored the frustration and disenchantment that have taken hold on both sides amid the failure to achieve the breakthrough in U.S.-Russian relations that Trump and Putin both envisioned a year ago.

As a result, rather than shaping U.S. policy toward Russia, Trump at times appears to function as an outlier in his own administration, unable to pursue the relationship with Putin he envisioned but unwilling to embrace tougher policies favored by some in his Cabinet.

A Pentagon proposal that would pose a direct challenge to Moscow - a plan to deliver lethal arms to Ukrainian forces battling Russia-backed separatists - has languished in internal debates for months.

The plan is backed by senior members of Trump's Cabinet, including Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who voiced support for arming Ukrainian forces in meetings with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in August. Mattis "believes that you should help people who are fighting our potential adversaries," said a senior U.S. official involved in the deliberations.

A decision to send arms has to be made by the president, and officials said Trump has been reluctant even to engage.

"Every conversation I've had with people on this subject has been logical," the senior U.S. official said. "But there's no logical conclusion to the process, and that tells me the bottleneck is in the White House."

In July, the administration appointed former NATO ambassador Kurt Volker to serve as special envoy to Ukraine, putting him in charge of the delicate U.S. relationship with a former Soviet republic eager for closer ties with the West.

Putin has taken extraordinary measures to block that path, sending Russian commandos and arms into Ukraine to support pro-Russian separatists. And Putin is bitter about U.S. and European sanctions imposed on Russia for its aggression. A decision by Trump to send arms would probably rupture U.S.-Russian relations beyond immediate repair.

Trump was forced to grapple with these complexities in September, when he met with Poroshenko at the United Nations. Volker met with Trump to prepare him for the encounter. Tillerson, McMaster and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who had replaced Priebus, were also on hand.

Trump pressed Volker on why it was in the United States' interests to support Ukraine and why U.S. taxpayers' money should be spent doing so, Volker said in an interview. "Why is it worth it?" Volker said Trump asked. As Volker outlined the rationale for U.S. involvement, Trump seemed satisfied.

"I believe that what he wants is to settle the issue, he wants a better, more constructive U.S.-Russia relationship," Volker said. "I think he would like [the Ukraine conflict] to be solved . . . get this fixed so we can get to a better place."

The conversation was about Ukraine but seemed to capture Trump's frustration on so many Russia-related fronts - the election, the investigations, the complications that had undermined his relationship with Putin.

Volker said that the president repeated a single phrase at least five times, saying, "I want peace."

---

The Washington Post's Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

---

Video Embed Code

Video: The Washington Post examines how, nearly a year into his presidency, President Trump continues to reject evidence that Russia supported his run for the White House as part of an unprecedented assault on a pillar of American democracy.(Dalton Bennett,Thomas LeGro,John Parks,Jesse Mesner-Hage/The Washington Post)

Embed code: <iframe src="https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/9064945a-e052-11e7-b2e9-8c636f076c76?ptvads=block&playthrough=false" width="480" height="290" data-aspect-ratio="0.5621" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

Ex-NFL player Larry Johnson grapples with violent urges and memory loss. He thinks it's CTE.

By Kent Babb
Ex-NFL player Larry Johnson grapples with violent urges and memory loss. He thinks it's CTE.
Former NFL running back Larry Johnson poses for this photograph in his Fort Lauderdale, Florida, home in early November. Johnson is convinced he's living with CTE and battling self-destructive impulses. Must credit: Photo by Andrew Innerarity for The Washington Post

MIAMI - He inches forward, with jets overhead and the ground 50 stories below. Larry Johnson can feel it happening: the arrival, he calls it, of the demons.

They push him toward the barrier of a rooftop deck of an apartment building where he sometimes comes to visit a friend and, in moments like these, there's a strengthening urge - an almost overwhelming curiosity, he describes it - to jump.

"One is telling you to do it; one is telling you don't," says Johnson, a former NFL running back. "One is telling you it'd be fun."

It is early November, less than two weeks before his 38th birthday. He played his last game in 2011, and he now believes he suffers from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disorder linked to more than 100 former football players. For now, CTE can be confirmed only after death, but Johnson says his symptoms - anxiety, paranoia, the occasional self-destructive impulse - are consistent with those of past victims.

On this afternoon, he shuffles closer to the ledge, past the drainage fixture a foot or so from the glass barrier. His body is tingling, he says; his thoughts are filled with static.

"They say when you die," Johnson says, looking down toward Southeast 1st Avenue, "you feel that euphoric feeling."

Closer now. He's frightened, less of the fall than the direction of his own mind.

"What would it be like," he says, "for this to be the day for people to find out you're not here?"

- - -

At a red light back on terra firma, Johnson glances into the back seat. "Let me see the homework," he tells Jaylen, his 7-year-old daughter. He flips through the stapled pages: math problems and reading comprehension about bicycles and roller coasters. The light changes, and Johnson hands the papers back and hits the gas on his Porsche SUV. For the next half-hour, Johnson - prone to fits of volatility, jarring mood swings, extreme periods of silence - will say almost nothing.

Johnson says father and daughter have many things in common, including a quiet personality and a running stride that made Johnson a 2002 Heisman Trophy finalist at Penn State and a two-time Pro Bowler. He was a rusher so durable and fierce that, while playing for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006, he set an NFL record with 416 carries. That same year, groundbreaking neurologist Bennet Omalu published additional concussion research that linked football-related head injuries with degenerative brain trauma, the beginning of an NFL crisis that still rages and one of the reasons Johnson's carries record likely will never be broken.

Jaylen doesn't know much about that part of her Papi's life, in part because Johnson thinks his daughter is too young to understand how football brought him both glory and ruin. But it's also because there are widening chunks of his career that he can't remember: Two full NFL seasons have disappeared from his memory, he says, and even some of his most memorable plays have grown hazy.

Which is why, in the past few years, Johnson has begun making video compilations of his football highlights, in part as reminders to himself that he was involved in them - but also, when she's ready, as a time capsule for Jaylen.

Johnson fears that, by the time he's 50, he won't remember his own name. If that proves to be the case, Johnson is taking steps for Jaylen to watch her Papi run, to learn who he was, to maybe understand why he was so unpredictable - even, on occasion, with her.

"If I can't remember who I was, I've got YouTube; I've got music videos that I'm making for myself, so when I watch these things I can remember," he says. "I'm trying to get these things in order so she knows who I am and what I came from."

The project became urgent a few months ago, after a particularly severe case of CTE was discovered in the brain of Aaron Hernandez. The former New England Patriots tight end, with a history of erratic and explosive behavior, was convicted of first-degree murder in 2015 before hanging himself in his prison cell in April.

"I could be Aaron Hernandez," Johnson says, and indeed he sees the former Patriots star as a kindred spirit as much as a cautionary tale.

Like Hernandez, Johnson has a history of erratic behavior and violence: He has been arrested six times, and several of the incidents involved Johnson physically assaulting women. The ex-running back says his decision to publicly describe his darkest thoughts is meant not as a way to excuse his past but rather a way to begin a conversation with other former players who Johnson suspects are experiencing many of the same symptoms.

Johnson says he frequently gets brief but intense headaches, often triggered by bright lights or noise, and is increasingly jittery and forgetful. He has no idea how the Porsche's passenger-side mirror got smashed, nor can he remember the full sequence that led to the cluster of dents in the vehicle's rear hatch.

"Blank spots" are what Johnson calls the empty spaces in his memory, and there are seemingly more of them every year. But there's another similarity with Hernandez that scares him most.

Johnson says he has considered violence toward others and himself, and perhaps the only reason he hasn't acted on these impulses is sitting quietly in the back seat, looking out the window at the South Florida flatlands.

"Chicken, steak or spaghetti?" Johnson asks, and Jaylen chooses spaghetti. Her voice is soft as a whisper. Her father believes it's also the only one, when the demons push him to the edge, strong enough to pull him back.

- - -

Almost three decades ago, on a youth field in Oxon Hill, a 9-year-old kick returner caught the ball and sped toward the sideline.

Hoping he'd be tackled quickly and painlessly, young Larry kept running and tried to get out of bounds - but then an opponent crashed into him from the side, spinning his helmet sideways.

The boy got up, dizzy and with no idea where he was, and spent the rest of the game on the sideline with a headache. Though it was never diagnosed as a concussion - Johnson says, in 23 years of football, he was never diagnosed with one - he now suspects this was his first of many.

But more than the impact, he now says, he felt then that he had let his father down. Larry Johnson Sr., at the time a well-known high school coach in Maryland, was in the bleachers, and the boy felt he had shown everyone that the coach's son was soft.

"I didn't know how to redeem myself," Johnson says, though soon he was going into the family's basement for extra blocking drills, studying footage of prodigious NFL hitters Ronnie Lott and Mike Singletary, looking for any chance to prove his toughness.

He grew, and by middle school he was researching which opponents came from broken homes; those were the kids he'd taunt before plays and, for an extra psychological advantage, the ones he'd tackle from behind. If Johnson was benched, he'd blow up at coaches; if an opponent or teammate challenged him, Johnson wasn't above the cheap shot.

Then he'd look to the bleachers.

"I'd be like: 'Dad, you saw that?' It was a point of pride," he says now, and he came to believe, in an era that glamorized masculinity and intimidation, that "this is what tough means."

Larry Johnson Sr., now an assistant head coach at Ohio State, says that wasn't exactly the intention.

"He ran with rage, and it was just his way of saying, 'I'm not going to let this opportunity get away,' " the coach says. "It might have taken him to places he didn't think he would go."

Some of those places, as Johnson became a college player and eventually a pro, included the backs of police cars or disciplinary meetings with coaches. He says he began experiencing symptoms of depression in college, and he sought to prove his toughness in nightclubs and fights with women. He tried to numb himself with alcohol, which took him deeper into the shadows.

Months after Kansas City selected him in the first round of the 2003 draft, Johnson was arrested for aggravated assault and domestic battery for an incident involving a woman. A misunderstanding, Johnson would say. Less than two years later, he was arrested again for shoving a different woman to the floor of a bar. An overly aggressive local law, he'd say.

"There's always a reason" for Johnson's mistakes, says Tony Johnson, the ex-player's brother and his day-to-day manager during his NFL career. "And sometimes he was the reason."

Johnson could be cheerful and social at times, sullen and isolated at others. He collected slights and bad habits, to say nothing of the guns he kept strapped to his shoulders at high-end restaurants or under the seat of his white Bentley. Some nights he'd fire rounds into strangers' lawns or palm a pistol at a gas station, he says, hoping someone would challenge him for a late-night lesson in toughness.

"Me against everybody," he says, and on and off the field that became his code, driving him to rush for a combined 3,539 yards in 2005 and '06. His dominance and persona made him an A-list celebrity and opened doors to a friendship with Jay-Z and dates with R&B singer Mýa.

Whether it was brain injuries, immaturity, celebrity or some combination, Johnson says aggression became "a switch I couldn't shut off," and after a while Jay-Z cut him off via email for being arrested so often, Johnson says, and Mýa once stopped him from jumping from a window.

After two more arrests and a suspension, the Chiefs released Johnson in 2009 after he insulted his head coach on Twitter and for using gay slurs toward a fan and reporters. Years after trying to adapt his personality to an unforgiving game, Johnson found himself too volatile for the NFL. Over his final two seasons, with Washington and Miami, he carried the ball six times.

"Those two combinations, of being angry and not being able to shut that switch off, started to disrupt who I really was," he says. "And it was just waiting to eat me up."

- - -

They're in the living room now, Papi and Jaylen, surrounded by walls undecorated but for the blotchy spackling compound behind them. That's where, a few years ago, Johnson punched through the drywall.

Jaylen was there, and Johnson says he sent her upstairs before making the hole. The way he describes it, the best he can do sometimes is to shield her view.

"Did you think it was something that you did?" Johnson recalls asking Jaylen afterward, and the girl nodded. "I had to explain it: It's never your fault."

But her little mind is expanding quickly, and he worries that these will be some of her earliest memories. And so he tries. It might not seem like it, he admits, but he tries.

On this afternoon, father and daughter play a racing game on Xbox - bright colors, loud sound effects, rapid movement - and after a few minutes, Johnson pauses the game and walks onto his balcony. He stands alone for a minute or two, hands clasped behind his head; he'll say later he felt the onset of a headache and needed to step away.

He returns, and now it's homework time. Johnson has high expectations for Jaylen, and he believes the universe was making a point when it gave him a daughter. How better to punish him for shoving or choking women than to assign him a girl to shepherd through a world filled with Larry Johnsons?

"My greatest fear is my daughter falling in love with somebody who's me," he'll say, and he believes if he's honest and tough with Jaylen, she'll never accept anyone treating her the way her father treated women.

With the sun filtering between the blinds, Johnson plays with her curly hair as she slides a finger across her sentences.

"All people," Jaylen reads aloud, and her father interrupts.

"No," he says. "Why would it say 'all people?' It . . ."

He stops, sighs and presses two fingers into his eyelids. She looks back at him, and he tells her to keep reading. He rubs his hands, massages his forehead, checks his watch. He'll say he sometimes forgets she's only in second grade.

They move on to her page of math problems: twenty-seven plus seven.

"How many tens?" he asks her.

"Two."

"And how many ones?"

"Seven."

"No," he says, visibly frustrated until Jaylen reaches the answer. Next: fifty-seven plus seven. She stares at the page.

"So count," he says. "Count!"

Thirteen plus eight. Again staring at the numbers. Johnson's worst subject was math, another trait Jaylen inherited. But his empathy is sometimes drowned out by more dominant emotions.

"You start at thirteen and count eight ones," he tells her, and in the kitchen, a watch alarm begins to beep. Jaylen counts her fingers.

"No," her dad tells her, again rubbing his face. The beeping continues in the next room. "No!"

Abruptly, he stands and stomps out of the room without saying anything. Jaylen's eyes follow him, eyebrows raised, and listens as her father swipes the beeping watch from a table, swings open the back door and throws it into the courtyard.

In the minds of both father and daughter, it is impossible to know what's happening. Will she remember this, or has Johnson shielded her from something worse? Is he managing his impulses as well as he can, and even if he is, will Jaylen someday come to view moments such as these as emotional milestones?

For now, when her Papi returns, Jaylen's eyes dart back to the page.

"So what's the answer?" he says.

- - -

Nighttime now, and Johnson takes a pull off his Stella longneck and hits play on the remote.

There he is, or more precisely there he was: a wrecking ball in Penn State blue, highlights of Johnson overpowering defenders interspersed with pictures of Jaylen. The background music, which he selected, is the Imagine Dragons song "I'm So Sorry."

"This is who I really am," he says is the intended message of his self-produced video. "I can't change who I am, regardless of who you are."

He points the remote again, and next is a video of some of his best moments in the NFL: cheers and chants and line-of-scrimmage assaults that, in this era of increased awareness, are both exciting and devastating. The background song is "War Pigs" by Black Sabbath.

In the fields the bodies burning

As the war machine keeps turning.

Death and hatred to mankind

Poisoning their brainwashed minds.

Johnson lifts the remote again. "This may . . ." he says, choking up. "I get emotional."

He hits play.

"I did this for her," he says, and a moment later the piano begins.

A few years ago, Johnson woke into a hangover and felt drawn to his computer, spending hours navigating a video-editing program. What emerged was more than a gift for Jaylen's second birthday, Johnson says; these next 5 minutes 17 seconds were meant to say goodbye.

Back then, the demons could be overpowering. Johnson, drifting in the months and years after his NFL career ended, went searching for a new identity. He was arrested again for an incident with an ex-girlfriend, and he cycled among peddling bootleg makeup kits on South Beach, being turned down for a job stocking shelves, researching how to join the military. Usually it was just easier to go to a nightclub and chase salvation down the neck of a tequila bottle.

Trying to spend his way into new friends or purpose, Johnson says he sometimes dropped $50,000 in a night, torching his savings. In 2007, he signed a contract with the Chiefs that included $19 million in guaranteed money, but now, he says, he has enough for Jaylen's college and for himself to get by, and not much more.

Then, he says, he sometimes began evenings with the intention of starting trouble. Other times, he could feel himself losing control - an approaching cloud, he says, impossible to stop. Alcohol and noise were kerosene on his smoldering patience, and friends became used to Johnson turning into, as one friend put it, the Incredible Hulk.

"You could see the mood swings, and they were drastic," says Chantel Cohen, who has known Johnson for most of the past decade. "He could be super happy one moment, and an hour later, he's just ready to blow up. You're like: What just went wrong?"

Once, Johnson says, he sat with a group at a crowded table, and a man he'd just met was being loud. Johnson says he asked, profanely, for the man to shut up; a second later they both stood, and Johnson says he experienced one of his blank spots.

"When I came to, he was already on the ground, like, leaned over, and I'm kind of like: 'Damn, I must have did that,' " he says. As Johnson tried to get away, the man went after him with a chair, and that's where the dents in the back of his Porsche came from.

He would call his parents at all hours, cursing and making strange accusations. Tony Johnson woke to so many worried texts from his brother's friends that he stopped checking his phone in the morning and made peace with how his brother's story might end.

And so did Johnson himself. Working on that video for Jaylen years ago, he was aware he was about to go destroy himself. Like the time he punched through the wall, he explains, he could delay the explosion, but he couldn't avoid it.

Now re-watching the video in his living room, he says he wasn't exactly considering suicide but that he was preparing to go away to stay. Prison was a possibility, and so were a few others, considering he'd decided that if he did something to get himself arrested, he wasn't planning on going quietly.

There was, he recalls, something calming about it.

"A bittersweet thing: I'm going to be free of everything that's holding me down," Johnson says now, and he wonders whether Hernandez experienced similarly intense feelings in his final days. "The same way Aaron thought: I'm going to be gone from this world, but I'm still going to be able to take care of my child, because that's all I care about."

A moment later, he continues. His voice cracks.

"When you're that down deep in it," he says, "you don't want to be talked out of it."

And so that day a few years ago, he worked on the video until it was perfect, the music and images and sequence just right. A text banner - "I will always Love you," it reads - flutters past near the beginning, and with the Christina Perri song "A Thousand Years" in the background, it closes with a photograph of Johnson kissing Jaylen. It pans out before fading.

Then he posted the video on Instagram before loading his pockets with painkillers and ecstasy, he says, and set off into the space beneath a dropping curtain.

- - -

A few weekends ago, friends invited Johnson to join them at a bar, have a few drinks, meet a woman he might like.

He agreed, and indeed he was drawn to her. They talked, and so did the friends - a little too much, maybe - and after a while Johnson could feel the shadow falling. The Hulk was coming, so at one point he excused himself and, without explanation, just left.

Distrustful of his own mind, Johnson says now that he wasn't just annoyed by his chatty friends. He noticed himself staring at one of them, feeling a growing urge to punch him. Almost in a heartbeat, Johnson went from sociable and joyful to deeply angry and potentially violent - frightening, at least this time, only himself.

"Something so easily dismissed," he says. "But it's just - once I get in that mood, I can't stop it. And it comes out of nowhere."

Even so, is this truly a look at CTE's corrosive effects in real time? Or has Johnson, with his history of blame deflection and self-validating reasons, simply found an unimpeachable - and unprovable - excuse?

"Do I think he's a special breed? Yes," says Tony Johnson, who suggests the family will consider donating Larry's brain for study after his death. "Do I think he might have CTE? I just can't say."

Others, who point out the brain's frontal lobe is the portion that regulates judgment and behavior - and the region most under attack during on-field collisions - see it more Johnson's way.

"I'm pretty sure that he definitely has something going on," says longtime friend Cohen, who claims she knew Junior Seau, the Hall of Fame linebacker who in 2012 shot himself in the chest so that his brain could be studied; indeed, CTE was discovered in Seau's brain. Cohen sees some similarities in the behavior of Johnson and Seau.

Johnson says years ago he was diagnosed him with type-1 bipolar disorder, a condition he blames on head injuries. Though this cannot be confirmed in Johnson's case, brain injury experts have found possible links between bipolar symptoms and mid-life behavior issues and CTE.

"Certain things happen in your life," he says, "that you just can't come back from."

After making the video for Jaylen a few years back, Johnson says he spent the next 72 hours cycling from one party to the next, daring bar patrons or police or even death to bring him down. When nothing did, he kept going.

At one point he sat on a sidewalk, exhausted and struggling to breathe, and thought of his daughter. She was living with her mother at the time; Jaylen's parents now share custody.

Johnson went home, slept it off, and not long afterward, he says, he sold his ownership stake in a club on South Beach and reduced his intake of hard liquor. He still found trouble sometimes, including a 2014 arrest for aggravated battery involving another man, and Johnson says he has since made more changes.

He moved out of a trendy high-rise in Miami and into a quiet townhouse in Fort Lauderdale, got rid of his guns, took a job with a nonprofit that uses the arts to mentor disadvantaged children. Johnson also quit therapy and refused to take his prescribed medication; he says it's because he's better equipped to manage his impulses himself. All these years later, it's still Johnson against everybody - even himself.

He has, more recently, filled his bookshelf not with reminders of his playing career but with photographs of Jaylen and her paintings. If friends invite him out, more and more he turns them down.

"You kind of create your own prison," Johnson says. "I've kind of barricaded myself in my surroundings [with] certain things that I can handle. That's kind of how I beat it."

That's easy when his daughter is here - Jaylen spends most weekends with her father and weekdays with her mother in a nearby town - and a challenge when she's not. On the nights he's alone, Johnson is more likely to sulk or drink or venture into the depths of his restless mind. If she's here, bedtime is at 8:30, and they play games or watch television or draw.

"She's, like, a good distraction I have," he says. "She sees something in me that most people will never see."

Occasionally they watch football together, Jaylen in her Penn State or Kansas City jersey, and she asks why the announcers sometimes say his name. He explains some of it, and very carefully he has begun to explain some of the rest.

"Papi," he says he tells her, "used to be really bad."

He doesn't offer much more, and though he's uncertain what the future will bring, Johnson says he wants to tell her his whole story eventually.

Johnson figures that in seven more years, or when she's 14 or so, Jaylen will be old enough to absorb the paradoxical nature of her father: the life of the party and the introvert, a man capable of violence and tenderness, the person he actually is and the one he wants to be.

He wants his mind to hang out at least that long. Jaylen might not like what she learns, but he wants to be present for those conversations.

His biggest fear, if he were to disappear now, is that Jaylen wouldn't remember him; his second-biggest is that she would.

"That scares me more than anything," he says. "Sometimes it scares me to tears."

- - -

He's driving again, steering the Porsche south on a highway not long after sunrise. Jaylen, who like her Papi is not a morning person, is dozing off in the back seat.

Earlier, the vehicle's back latch wouldn't close, and in the 20 or so minutes since, Johnson hasn't said a word. He weaves through traffic, occasionally touching 90 mph, and a radio commercial plays a doorbell sound. The tone repeats again. And again. Johnson jabs his finger into the preset button to change the station.

He cracks his knuckles, sighs loudly, checks his phone.

He looks behind him occasionally, Jaylen napping or drawing imaginary circles on the glass. She's spending the next few days with her mother, and Johnson is already nervous about the upcoming time by himself. What if friends call and ask him to go drinking? Or if someone crosses him at the wrong moment?

How will he react this time if the demons come?

For now, she's with him a few more minutes, so Johnson parks the Porsche and lifts her from the back seat. He carries her toward the elementary school and kisses her cheek as they cross the driveway and fall into a line of students.

The line starts moving, and he tucks in her shirt and kisses her again. "I'll see you this weekend, okay?" he says, and then he turns toward the crosswalk.

He's alone again, left to face the next few days - and whichever emotions and impulses are waiting - with his mind as his only company. He looks behind him to see Jaylen toddling toward the entrance, and with little more than uncertainty ahead, Johnson stands on the curb and waits for her to drift out of sight before stepping, finally, off the edge.

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

Using The Force to spread the love of ballet

By esther j. cepeda
Using The Force to spread the love of ballet

CHICAGO -- On Friday, I will be subjected to several hours of inscrutable “pew-pew”-ing when I flock, reluctantly, with my husband, my son and a substantial portion of America to the new “Star Wars” movie, “The Last Jedi.”

Enduring another installment of a movie franchise that seems to have no end in sight (especially now that it has mastered the art of re-creating deceased actors in beloved roles) has somehow become a new Christmastime tradition in America. And it has gone far beyond getting on my nerves.

The holidays are busy enough as it is. Having to shoehorn in an annual two-and-a-half-hour space opera leaves even less precious time for other holiday traditions.

Yes, I recognize I’m coming across as some sort of sociopath for not loving “Star Wars” as much as the next light-saber rattling guy or cinnamon-roll-hair-wearing gal. What can I say? My aunt took all the kids to see “The Empire Strikes Back” when I was but a wee 6-year-old and I was bored nearly to tears. I fell asleep.

However, I’ve negotiated a 2017 Christmastime accord: I swore to show up to the theater with love and joy in my heart for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and to not fall asleep. In exchange, I get something similar from my husband and son the next day.

I’m dragging them to a big-screen presentation of the Bolshoi Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” (In movie theaters across the country on Dec. 17 only.) Don’t miss it -- no one does “The Nutcracker” like the Russians. There are no cute kids cast for the family party scenes at the beginning like in American productions -- professionals play all the roles to ensure the top level of perfection at each performance.

They’ll enjoy “The Nutcracker” as much as I will enjoy “The Last Jedi” -- and this isn’t sarcasm or mere wishful thinking.

The truth is that you’d have to be practically dead not to feel a full load of adrenaline drop into your bloodstream once the endless movie trailers and sundry in-house ads for gourmet nachos finally fade to black and a full orchestral score comes up under the iconic opening crawl, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ... “

But there is just as much ritual, pomp and majesty in the choreography and costuming of the sci-fi blockbuster as there is in the classic ballet.

Plus, both offer sinister, magical guys in long, billowing black capes.

Of course, I’m referring to Herr Drosselmeyer, the shadowy godfather figure who brings young Clara the titular nutcracker in the famous ballet, and “The Last Jedi’s” Kylo Ren, the film’s stand-in for Darth Vader.

I really like Darth Vader -- not as much I liked the totally underrated Darth Maul, who was too short-lived for the taste of this non-true “Star Wars” fan. But still, Vader’s the undisputed top dog of the franchise. He’s the moneymaker.

I’m not alone in thinking this. For as many people who love the “Star Wars” lore for the plucky upstarts, organized under the banner of “The Resistance,” who stage never-ending rebellions against the “Empire,” far more people dress up as Darth Vader for Halloween.

Sure, crowds like to cheer on The Resistance because it represents the underdog fighting for justice. For instance, the main government of the universe, the “New Republic,” considers this Resistance a bunch of “dead-enders with an unfortunate fixation on the past,” according to the StarWars.com database.

But just as many revel in the dark side.

The dark side is seductive, passionate and just plain fun.

And this is why “Star Wars” has been such an enduring, beloved hit -- it plays to the human experience of embodying both darkness and light.

It’s no coincidence that the big to-do going into the premier of “The Last Jedi” is that Luke Skywalker, who is a Jedi, and the putative good guy, appears on both the “light side” and “dark side” movie posters promoting the upcoming movie. It seems like shadows are always hanging over “the force.”

In the end, it’s all good, because when it comes to our entertainment, we can have it both ways -- we can be slightly frightened of Herr Drosselmeyer and beguiled by his magic just as we can revile, but savor, the raw power of the Sith.

And if you’re doing your family a favor this holiday season by indulging them in one of your less-than-favorite favorite traditions, bless you -- and may the force be with you.

Esther Cepeda’s email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Tell me more about Steve Bannon’s genius

By alexandra petri
Tell me more about Steve Bannon’s genius

Uncle Henry, you’ve been telling me for months that Steve Bannon was a strategic genius. Can you remind me again why?

“Oh, yes, he is, absolutely. The man gets results. He has 2040 vision. Not bad vision -- I realize that sounds like bad vision -- but I mean it in the sense that he is thinking 23 years down the road, to the year 2040.”

Oh.

“He has thrown away the chessboard and is playing the whole game using only his mind! Which is sharp as a Bic pen.”

Is that, like, very sharp?

“He went to Harvard! As he is continually reminding people, the way a smart man who people can tell immediately is smart is forced to do, just constantly name-drop all the places he went to school.”

Peter King has said he “looks like a disheveled drunk who wandered onto the political stage.”

“That’s all noise.”

So what happened in Alabama?

“Well, he picked a candidate who was a true conservative, Judge Roy Moore, to run against Luther Strange, Jeff Sessions’s hand-picked successor.”

Strange.

“Yes, that was the name of the man he ran against.”

Is Judge Roy Moore a real judge?

“Well, he used to be before they removed him twice for being a true conservative.”

Conservative how?

“Well, he [starts winking a lot] believed America was greatest in the past.”

That’s -- is that what a conservative does now . . . ?

“Yes, the past [wink wink] was where it was at.”

This doesn’t seem like a good way of appealing to voters from a historically disadvantaged demographic.

“It seems to work on white women just fine.”

But are there not also black women in Alabama?

“Let’s table that for now. Anyway, Steve Bannon, in his wisdom, selected Judge Roy Moore, a man who believed America was greatest in the 1790s, when there were no malls to ban you, and everyone was trying to court 14-year-olds before dying from the complications of a surgery performed with no anesthesia or sterilization whatsoever, and also slavery.”

Wait, are these good things or bad things about Moore?

“I am just telling you the genius of Steve Bannon’s strategy.”

Well, was Moore a good candidate?

“Before the race ended, he was credibly accused of molesting teenage girls.”

And how did Steve Bannon respond?

“He kept him in the race and tried to discredit his accusers using the website Breitbart.com.”

I see.

“This was his brilliant strategy.”

Did it work?

“It almost did, is the thing.”

I assume people denounced Roy Moore and said they did not want to be associated with him?

“Well, that is complicated. They did at first, but then it looked like he was going to win, and then they came back and said, “Oh, never mind, we’ve evolved on this whole ‘maybe don’t go after children’ issue.” President Donald Trump supported him.”

It seems like it would be a serious problem for the party to do something like that.

“You might think so.”

Does Steve Bannon think so?

“Steve Bannon has a plan that is bigger than any one of us.”

Was it Steve Bannon’s plan that Roy Moore ride to the polls on a horse but, like, very badly?

“That horse did look very uncomfortable.”

If I had to carry a man credibly accused of preying on teenagers to the polls on my back, I would look uncomfortable, too.

“We are getting derailed here from Steve Bannon’s genius.”

He is one?

“Oh yes, if you ignore all evidence to the contrary.”

There is a lot of evidence to the contrary. And now the Republican Party will have a margin in the Senate of . . . one vote?

“Look, what would you rather believe: that you were snookered into rebuilding your whole party by a man much dumber and more evil than you realized, or that there are levels at play here we cannot possibly comprehend? I know which I’d prefer.”

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

The true tax gap: How about $12 trillion!

By robert j. samuelson
The true tax gap: How about $12 trillion!

WASHINGTON -- When historians examine President Trump’s tax program, they will surely be struck by a large and momentous contradiction. Although the nation faces endless budget deficits -- and although the president purports to speak about the future -- his tax program does little or nothing to curb long-term deficits and, arguably, might make them worse.

It is said that the tax gap of the Trump-Republican program -- the net amount of the tax cut -- is somewhere between zero (the administration’s position -- the tax cut will pay for itself through stronger economic growth) and $1.5 trillion over a decade (the position of many economists who doubt much of a boost to economic growth).

Wrong, on both counts. A more realistic estimate of the tax gap is somewhere between $7 trillion and $12 trillion, again over a decade.

How do I get these fantastic figures? The answer is that I ignore Trump’s program altogether and simply deal with existing deficits, as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). It’s not that I believe that Trump’s program will work as promised. I don’t. My real point is that, in many ways, it’s too small to matter.

Even if it works, it won’t cure chronic deficits. And neither party is pretending it will. Both find it more convenient to argue over the plan’s distributional effects -- are the rich and well-to-do unfairly favored? -- than to close the gaping deficits.

Here’s some basic arithmetic that reinforces my point. Although it’s a bit tricky, stick with me.

Our economy -- the annual production of goods and services, or gross domestic product (GDP) -- is now approaching $20 trillion. So every 1 percent of GDP is worth about $200 billion. In fiscal 2017, the deficit was 3.5 percent of GDP, or almost $700 billion. Over a decade, and assuming unrealistically that the deficit doesn’t rise, taxes would need to increase by $7 trillion in today’s dollars to balance the budget.

But what if the deficit does rise? By the late 2030s, the CBO estimates that annual deficits will reach 6 percent of GDP, almost doubling from their present level. The increase mainly reflects the growing number of elderly drawing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, in addition to swelling interest payments on the existing debt. To balance the budget would require annual tax increases averaging $1.2 trillion, or $12 trillion over a decade, both in today’s dollars.

Either way, the required tax increase would be enormous, ranging from about a fifth of today’s tax burden to about a third. If instead Congress tried to balance the budget by cutting spending, the reductions -- including defense -- would be huge.

Some tentative conclusions emerge from this exercise:

-- Plausible rates of economic growth aren’t fast enough to eliminate massive deficits, though they would help. The required growth to do more than Trump has already proposed is simply too high. The present and estimated-future deficits are so large that they can only be reduced through the politically painful process of raising taxes or cutting spending.

-- The presumption of politicians of both parties, despite some loud rhetoric to the contrary, is that large deficits and growing federal debt do not now pose a serious threat to the economy. It’s easier to defer major changes -- to hope that something will come along to cope with the deficits -- rather than wade into the quagmire of substantially higher taxes or lower spending.

-- If this optimistic assumption about deficits -- call it “benign neglect” of deficits -- turns out to be wrong, the U.S. economy faces a serious jolt somewhere in the future.

What’s clear is that, regardless of the fate of Trump’s tax program, it’s not the be-all and end-all in economic policy that both friend and foe suppose it to be.

(c) 2017, The Washington Post Writers Group

Women’s rage unleashed

By kathleen parker
Women’s rage unleashed

WASHINGTON -- That special place in hell everyone keeps talking about is getting mighty crowded.

The ball got rolling in 2016 when former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright quipped that there was a “special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” At the time, she was introducing Hillary Clinton at a New Hampshire campaign event.

More recently, Ivanka Trump said the special place was reserved for “people who prey on children.” She was referring to allegations against then-Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore that he had pursued and/or made sexual advances toward teenage girls when he was in his early 30s.

Next came Steve Bannon, former Trump adviser-turned-freelance-provocateur who seemed to be mocking the first daughter when he said during a pro-Moore rally that hell’s special spot was reserved for Republicans “who should know better” but weren’t supporting the former judge in the special election.

Whew. Is it just me, or is it getting humid down here?

Bannon referred specifically to native Alabaman Condoleezza Rice, another former secretary of state, who had written of the election: “These critical times require us to come together to reject bigotry, sexism and intolerance.” Without naming anyone, she urged voters to seek leaders who “are dignified, decent and respectful of the values we hold dear.”

This would seem to have disqualified a raft of current and aspiring officeholders but was clearly aimed at Moore, who has said that the country was better off before the last 17 constitutional amendments, which, among other things, gave women and African-Americans the right to vote.

While Bannon railed, and Alabamans voted, the president tweeted. This time, Trump even outdid himself by insulting a female U.S. senator with sexual innuendo. Apparently miffed that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., had called for his resignation because of the multiple charges of sexual misconduct leveled against him, Trump tweeted that Gillibrand “would do anything” when she previously had come to him “begging” for campaign contributions.

One doesn’t need a translator or a dirty mind to understand that he was suggesting that Gillibrand would have exchanged sexual services for cash. It was, as we say, a cultural moment.

The tweet heard ‘round a world already agog about events in Alabama launched yet another cultural moment at least along the Washington-New York corridor. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” a female guest said the tweet made her “blood boil,” while co-anchor Mika Brzezinski wagged her finger at the screen and launched a soliloquy of scold at Ivanka Trump and other White House women.

It was her own version of a special place in hell for women, even a daughter, who persist in supporting Donald Trump.

(BEG ITAL)It wasn’t always thus(END ITAL), Mr. Irony interrupts. For months during the campaign, Bzrezinski and her now-fiance, Joe Scarborough, gave Trump free rein on their show. “Morning Trump,” some dubbed it. In recent months, perhaps in penance for helping Trump get elected with free airtime, the couple has become his morning nightmare.

Perhaps, too, Trump’s personal insults of Brzezinski have turned her into a feminist avenger. On Tuesday, she peered piercingly into the camera, singeing the cameraman with her gaze, and schooled press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“Today is your day” (to stop supporting the president), she told Sanders, who wasn’t present or anywhere listening, as far as anyone knew. “This has got to stop. Do the right thing.” Whereupon, Trump chortled with the glee of a schoolyard bully who delights in making the girls cry.

Brzezinski’s moment wasn’t quite Walter Cronkite’s “mired in stalemate” declaration of U.S. failure in Vietnam, but she clearly decided to part with journalistic tradition and make Trump’s takedown her personal mission. As her message intensified, her male guests remained stoic while Scarborough had the look of a boy trying not to do anything that would attract Momma’s attention.

If Trump in his strange way had hoped for such a reaction, Alabamans likely enjoyed the distraction after months under the microscope. Media attention has been so intense not only because of the tawdriness of the campaign but because the stakes were so high. Would Alabama go backward or forward?

This shouldn’t have been a tough choice, but Team Bannon, Trump and Moore have effectively convinced voters that what is true is false and what is false is true. There is surely a special place in hell for such as these.

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

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

The GOP’s mad dash to pass a tax bill proves that haste makes waste

By david ignatius
The GOP’s mad dash to pass a tax bill proves that haste makes waste

WASHINGTON -- Of all the follies of 2017, the most tawdry may be the GOP’s headlong rush to pass a tax bill that even its proponents don’t understand. What’s especially sad is that otherwise sensible Republicans seem to be capitulating to the tax-cut frenzy.

Political desperation is the mother of this legislation. Despite Republican control of both houses of Congress, the Trump administration has failed in its first year to enact legislation that deals with major problems, such as health care and immigration. So at year end, we have the spectacle of Trump & Co. bellowing a populist message about lower taxes, even as special-interest lobbyists drive the legislation toward a chaotic conference and final passage.

The tax bill is a Rubik’s Cube of potential problems, but the difficulties begin with the fact that it has been pushed through Congress in two months without hearings or careful analysis. The provisions were crafted in secret and passed on party-line votes, without a chance for assessment or analysis.

This haste guarantees confusion later. Without a clear legislative history, tax lawyers at the Internal Revenue Service won’t have adequate guidance when they try to write regulations implementing the law. Courts won’t have a record of congressional intent, other than press conferences, tweets and hurried floor and committee statements.

The centerpiece of the legislation is a big cut in corporate taxes, down from 35 percent to roughly 20 percent. The theory is that this will encourage companies to invest in job-creating plants and equipment. But there’s little evidence to support this assumption, and lots to challenge it. Companies may instead use the windfall to buy back their own stock, boosting stock prices and inflating executives’ personal compensation, as Steve Clifford explains in his recent book, “The CEO Pay Machine.”

The premise is that by stimulating growth, the tax cuts will pay for themselves. But there’s no good evidence for this claim, either. Congress’ bookkeeper, the Joint Committee on Taxation, predicts that over 10 years, the tax law would balloon the deficit by roughly $1 trillion, even assuming that it stimulates new growth. An even more pessimistic estimate was issued Tuesday by the Wharton School, which President Trump is always bragging about having attended.

The Treasury Department on Monday offered a one-page rebuttal asserting that Trump administration policies, including the tax cuts, would grow the economy by 2.9 percent over the next 10 years (much higher than most other forecasters have projected) and reduce the deficit by $300 billion. Take a bow, Rosy Scenario.

The capricious effects of the bill are becoming clearer as Congress races to marry the House and Senate versions. Tech companies are howling that they will lose the benefits of research credits if they have to pay an alternative minimum tax (as in the Senate version). Homeowners will be hurt by new limits on the deductibility of interest payments; but landlords, meanwhile, will benefit from new breaks for pass-through companies, argues a Bloomberg analysis. How is that fair?

An analysis by 13 law professors last week warned that the legislation will produce “tax games, roadblocks and glitches” as companies, individuals and state and local governments try to manipulate the new system. “Congress should immediately reconsider its approach,” the tax lawyers pleaded.

One of the trickiest games ahead was explained in a research report published Tuesday by Goldman Sachs. The tax bill implicitly punishes high-tax “blue states” by limiting the deductibility of state and local taxes. But Goldman analyst Alec Phillips noted that affected states might “change their own tax systems to reflect the new federal system,” by reducing personal income taxes and adding more state-level value-added taxes or property taxes. That could reduce federal revenue.

One more hidden danger: Existing tax law is mildly counter-cyclical (in that tax receipts increase when times are good and decline when they’re bad). But the Goldman analyst notes that provisions in the new law “look likely to move the tax code in a more procyclical direction.” That’s dumb economics.

Robert Crandall, the former CEO of American Airlines and one of the smartest business executives around, described the tax bill last week as “particularly stupid because there is a broad consensus of bipartisan agencies and economists who agree it cannot increase growth by anywhere near enough to offset the revenue losses.” He’s right.

Responsible Republicans seem to have adopted a fatalistic view that it’s too late to clean up this mess. They’re wrong. Voters will remember who tried to slow the rush toward passage of this ill-considered legislation and who jumped onto the bandwagon.

David Ignatius can be reached via Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Sweet home of progress

By e.j. dionne jr.
Sweet home of progress

Alabama.

Who knew it would become one of the most beautiful words in American politics?

It turns out there could have been no better place to test the limits of indecency, the limits of Trumpism, the limits of Republican partisanship and, yes, the limits of racial subjugation. If the angry ideology of the far right cannot make it in one of our most loyally conservative states that was a center of resistance to civil rights, it cannot make it anywhere.

First, let us pay tribute to the new Alabama busy being born. There were many reasons why Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore, but younger voters who insisted that the old ways are not their ways were decisive.

Jones overwhelmed Moore among Alabamians under 45, taking over 60 percent of their ballots, according to the media exit poll. Moore took about three-fifths of those 65 and over. This augurs poorly for Republicans, and President Trump is deepening this generation gap. The GOP is throwing away its future.

And its present isn’t so hot either. In 2016, Trump took 62 percent in Alabama. But with those who voted on Tuesday, his approval rating was 48 percent. Such numbers -- in, let’s repeat, (BEG ITAL)Alabama(END ITAL) -- demonstrate that Trump is hemorrhaging support everywhere.

This electorate may well have been more anti-Trump than the state as a whole, but that is the point: In combination with the results of November’s elections in Virginia and elsewhere, Tuesday revealed that the Democratic base has an energy unseen since Barack Obama’s election in 2008, while Republicans are demobilized and demoralized. If the 2010 Senate special election victory in Massachusetts by Republican Scott Brown warned Democrats how much trouble they were in, Jones’ victory ought to do the same for the GOP.

African-Americans were a central part of the uprising. Remember the news stories (plainly created out of nothing but tired preconceptions) that the black vote was not mobilized? Oops. In fact, black voters in large numbers were ready to make a statement in a place where so many fought, and even died, for the right to cast ballots. As MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki noted, turnout in heavily African-American counties was more than 70 percent of what it had been in the presidential election of 2016. In core white Republican counties, those figures were in the 50 percent-plus range.

This was also a vote against a deep cynicism that assumes the right wing’s skill at bamboozling rank-and-file citizens. Many expected that Moore would succeed in persuading enough voters either to overlook or disbelieve allegations about his abuse of young teenagers when he was in his 30s.

But mothers were not distracted. In one of the most extraordinary exit poll findings ever, 66 percent of mothers with children in their households under 18 voted for Jones; only 41 percent of fathers in such households did. This 25-point parental gender gap is powerful evidence that a rebellion led by women has become one of the most formidable forces in our politics.

Yes, whites in Alabama are still loyal Republicans, but loyalty had its limits on Tuesday -- particularly for women. Jones got 26 percent of the votes cast by white men, but 34 percent from white women.

Richard Shelby, Alabama’s senior Republican senator, also played a key role by announcing that he could not vote for Moore and that he had written in an alternative candidate. He was joined by some 23,000 voters, probably most of them Republicans, helping to build Jones’ margin.

Will Republicans learn from what happened? News that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell intends to move the GOP’s tax monstrosity through before Jones is seated is not encouraging. The bill should be delayed until Jones can have his say.

In the meantime, the pathetic quality of Trump’s leadership was underscored on Wednesday morning. The president, a double loser in Alabama having endorsed Moore’s unsuccessful primary opponent Luther Strange and then battled aggressively for Moore, could think only about self-justification. Trump claimed he had backed Strange because he knew that Moore would “not be able to win the General Election.” Tossing allies under the bus without a backward glance is one thing Trump is really good at.

A president who is both weak and megalomaniacal is very, very dangerous. Republican congressional leaders should be afraid for their skins, and for the country, but there is little reason to believe they will have the fortitude to act.

Alabama voters, at least, showed us what courage looks like.

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

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

The sharpest pens in the industry serve up points of view to chew on.

Bury your dead-tired strips and grab something fresh, meaningful and hilarious.

Serious therapy and serious fun to give readers a break from breaking news.

Ofrecemos artículos de los columnistas más destacados del Washington Post Writers Group en español.