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Students, their families try to navigate through experiment to integrate Brooklyn's middle schools

By Laura Meckler
Students, their families try to navigate through experiment to integrate Brooklyn's middle schools
Angel Angon Quiroz, center, speaks with fellow students in the auditorium at M.S. 447 Math & Science Exploratory School in Brooklyn, N.Y. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Yana Paskova

NEW YORK - On the first day of sixth grade, at his new school in a new neighborhood, Angel Angon Quiroz, 11, sat by himself in the corner of the cafeteria, wondering if he had made a mistake.

Students at Angel's old elementary school overwhelmingly come from poor and Hispanic families. Now, a new integration plan in Brooklyn had placed him at a middle school called the Math & Science Exploratory School. It was popular with affluent families, but would he fit in?

"Everyone else knows each other, but I know none of them," he said. "We are all puzzles, and I'm the only puzzle who doesn't fit."

Sophie Rivas, who comes from one of those affluent white families, badly wanted to attend Math & Science or one of her other top choices. Like Angel, she ranked Math & Science first on her school lottery application, but because Angel's family is low-income, he had priority. Sophie did not.

Instead, Sophie traveled to Sunset Park, where Angel lives, to a school she had not heard of until she found out she was placed there. She arrived to find she was one of the only non-Hispanic children in her class.

Better days would follow for Sophie and for Angel, too. But on the first day of school, she came home and collapsed in tears. "It was just overwhelming," she said.

Coast to coast, America's urban schools remain divided by race, 65 years after the Supreme Court declared segregated schools inherently unequal. Schools in many small towns are now more integrated than in most big cities.

New York City, with more than 1 million students, is far and away the nation's largest school district - and one of its most segregated. Resistance to integration dates to the 1950s, when mothers in Queens staged an early demonstration against busing.

Now, in fits and starts, the city is becoming a laboratory of experimentation, examining whether it's possible to tackle the stratification that courses through urban districts.

First, Mayor Bill de Blasio, D, tried - and has so far failed - to overhaul the admissions process for eight elite specialized high schools, which admit few black or Hispanic students. He is now considering a recommendation for a citywide plan to eliminate most gifted and talented programs, which attract a disproportionate number of white and Asian students.

In Lower Manhattan, an integration plan for elementary schools is in its second year, and another diversity plan is under discussion for seven elementary schools in Brooklyn. The schools chancellor says tackling segregation is a priority. And on Thursday, the New York City Council approved a measure requiring every school district in New York City to create an integration plan.

"New York City is really at the forefront of the school integration discussion," said Richard Kahlenberg, an expert on integration at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes integration. Kahlenberg, who serves on a city panel appointed to look at the issue, said the sheer number of ideas under discussion or in development is encouraging. "That's unusual in a country where separate but equal is the primary education strategy."

Now, all eyes are on the middle school plan in Brooklyn and a more modest version that took effect this fall in Manhattan. Success could buoy the chances for other, more ambitious efforts. Failure will surely set them back.

It won't be easy, chiefly because the status quo has worked for the most affluent, powerful families by giving them considerable control over where their children attend school. Changing the rules is a fraught and emotional proposition that pits the societal imperative of giving all children access to high-quality schools against parents who are seeking the best education for their own kids.

Under the old system, criteria set by each school played a big role in deciding who went where. Certain middle schools required high test scores and excellent behavior ratings from elementary school, and affluent families gravitated to them. Over time, various schools won reputations for excellence, and with each passing year, their incoming classes grew whiter and wealthier.

Take Math & Science, the school Angel entered this fall. Last year, 33% of incoming sixth-graders were English-language learners or came from poor families, and it was that high because the school had begun a version of the diversity program two years earlier.

Meanwhile, at Charles O. Dewey Middle School in Sunset Park, where Sophie is enrolled, that figure was 95%.

Last spring, Angel and Sophie were among about 3,700 fifth-graders who entered the middle school lottery and were affected by the new diversity program in District 15, one of 32 districts in the New York City school system. Their situations are very different, though. Both children were allowed to rank their choices for middle school, but Angel's choices were given more weight as the district worked to balance each of the school's populations.

Under the new plan, family preference still matters, but 52% of sixth-grade seats at each school are reserved for children from poor families or for those learning English, reflecting the demographics of the district as a whole. The city's goal is for each school to include 40% to 75% priority-group students by the program's fourth year.

Preliminary enrollment data released Thursday showed that eight of the district's 11 middle schools hit that target this fall. The portion of children from priority groups increased at Math & Science and other schools that have been most popular with affluent families. The portion of priority-group students fell at some other schools, including M.S. 88, which Angel's sister attends. At Dewey and another Sunset Park middle school, the numbers barely changed.

Backers say the change is an improvement for everyone and note that the plan was developed with extensive community input.

In Park Slope, Liz Phillips, principal of the elementary school P.S. 321, said children used to feel enormous anxiety about where they would be admitted. Some parents, she said, spent every parent-teacher conference lobbying for higher grades in hopes of getting their kids into the most selective middle schools.

Her counterpart at Sunset Park School, principal EuJin Tang, said that under the old system, many of her fifth-graders would not even consider applying to the district's highest-ranked schools. Two years ago, Tang said, her school sent 10 students to M.S. 51, which some consider the most elite middle school in the district. This year, she said, 55 were admitted.

"I had families in tears [of joy] when they looked at where their children were going," she said.

This sort of plan is possible only because a significant number of middle-class and wealthy families live in the area covered by the integration plan, Kahlenberg said. If there are too many poor kids, he said, meaningful integration is not possible. By Kahlenberg's calculations, integration is possible in nine of the city's 32 school districts.

Others caution that it won't work anywhere if affluent parents leave the public schools. When Mike Bloomberg was mayor, he worked to attract and keep these families by giving them considerable control over school placement. If you take that power away, these parents may choose private schools or to move, said Joel Klein, schools chancellor under Bloomberg.

"If you look at many urban school districts, you will find they are overwhelmingly minority because the middle class has already moved out," Klein said.

In Brooklyn, many families, affluent and poor, were happy with their placements when they were announced last spring. But 45 children were assigned to Charles O. Dewey, the middle school Sophie is attending, who had not included it anywhere on their ranked list of choices. Enrollment figures indicate most of those students did not show, moving to private or charter schools, or perhaps leaving the district. The percent of kids from priority groups enrolled in Dewey's sixth grade class went from 95% last year to 92% this year.

Anita Skop, the district's superintendent, acknowledged the numbers at Dewey fell well short of the goal, but she said she hopes they will improve. "Do I think it's all going to happen in one year? No, it's not," she said. "That doesn't mean it's not working."

Preliminary enrollment data show the overall racial makeup of District 15's sixth-grade class this year barely changed, with no sign of white flight from the public system. White children made up 31% of all kids last year and this year.

Didier Louvet's son was assigned to Dewey but opted not to go. He had participated in a French immersion program during elementary school, and the family was devastated he was not placed at the middle school with a French program they were expecting him to attend.

Soon after receiving news of his son's placement, Louvet, like all other parents whose children had been unexpectedly placed at Dewey, received a call from Dewey's principal at the time, Eric Sackler. Louvet was not persuaded by the principal's promise to create a French immersion program at Dewey. Rather, based mostly on test scores, he saw Dewey as an unsuccessful school.

His concerns were not related to race or ethnicity, he said. But he said he wanted his son educated with kids more like him in other ways.

"It's not a question of just the color of your skin. Some kids are driven. Some kids are less driven. Some kids are smart. Some kids are less smart. Some kids are going to make the effort, and some kids are not going to make the effort," he said.

Louvet enrolled his son in a private school.

- - -

When she was in fifth grade, Sophie Rivas and her parents debated which of the most popular middle schools to rank first on her application that would be used in the lottery. Sophie, a quiet girl with straight blond hair and braces, really liked M.S. 51, the school many of her friends were ranking first. Her parents preferred New Voices School of Academic & Creative Arts, the school her older sister attended, or Math & Science, where her other sister went.

They considered which schools would best nurture her love of reading and writing, what sports were offered, whether uniforms were required. Sophie visited seven or eight schools before ranking Math & Science as her top choice.

On April 15, Sophie's friends were excitedly texting about where they had matched. Sophie began frantically calling and texting her mom to find out her result. Carolyn Rivas, Sophie's mother, had logged into the system from work and saw her daughter was placed at Dewey, a school they knew almost nothing about.

Carolyn went home to share the news, and when she walked into their Cobble Hill apartment, Sophie burst into tears.

Carolyn then met her husband, Andrew, at a bar to talk through the situation. She feared his emotions might unsettle Sophie even more. They wanted to present a unified front and decided the message to their daughter would be: "You're a great kid, you're a great student and you're going to be fine."

Carolyn was also a mess. A first-grade teacher at Sophie's elementary school, she began calling anybody she could think of to try to get Sophie into a different middle school. She investigated the appeals process. She put Sophie's name on the waiting list for a charter school. Her husband, Andrew Rivas, grew concerned. "You have to stop emailing people, and you have to stop crying," he told her.

Then, Carolyn got a call from Sackler, the principal, who addressed some of her preliminary concerns. Sackler also came to their elementary school and met with the parents of kids who had been placed at Dewey. He told them about Dewey's international travel program and its arts and photography classes. He explained that test scores were low because so many families were juggling complex lives in poverty, often with parents who don't speak English.

As the meeting concluded, Andrew texted his wife: "Maybe we shouldn't appeal." They toured the school and were impressed with the teachers. They still had concerns but decided that unless the city granted their appeal, which seemed unlikely, Sophie was going to Dewey. She had one friend, Anna Leale, going with her.

"We started to think, 'Why are we living in New York City?' " Carolyn said over the summer. "She has an opportunity to have friends who aren't from her neighborhood, whose lives are different from hers. I want her to see not everyone in New York City lives the way she lives."

On the first day of school, Sophie dressed in her black polo with the Charles O. Dewey crest in the corner and a khaki skirt, the required uniform she had dreaded, and waited with Anna for half an hour for the school bus the district had promised. It never came. Anna's mother, Allison Leale, took the girls to school by subway.

That evening, Sophie was unsettled but didn't have specific complaints. She was still anxious about a Spanish immersion program her parents chose, in which science would be taught in Spanish some days. Her class appeared to be filled with native Spanish speakers, but she knew no Spanish.

Sophie said she wasn't sure how she felt about being one of the only non-Hispanic white children in her class. "I think it was a new feeling for you, and that may be why it's hard to name," Carolyn said to her daughter. "New York City is actually majority black and Hispanic."

On the third day of school, the bus still had yet to come. (It came on day four.) Waiting in a drizzly rain, Sophie's stomach was hurting. She didn't want breakfast; she was confused about which bathrooms were open when, and she feared not having one available when needed. Her mom brought her a Tums and an umbrella to the bus stop, and promised to email the guidance counselor to straighten things out. "Have a good day," she said. "I love you so much."

On the subway ride to school that morning, Allison Leale ran into a father from the neighborhood who railed against the diversity program. "How about focusing on making those schools better as opposed to doing a social experiment?" he volunteered.

Like Sophie's mom, Allison had toured Dewey and had come around. After confirming Sophie was attending Dewey, she gave up a last-minute seat she had secured for her daughter at a charter school. "Dewey is a superior school," she said. "I was just blown away by it."

In math class, Sophie shot her hand into the air with the right answer. In science, she seemed as befuddled as everyone else by the question of whether all of them eat plastic every day. (Answer: Yes, inadvertently.)

By lunch, Sophie was sitting with Anna and a small group of other sixth-grade girls, munching and smiling. The guidance counselor, having received Carolyn's email, pulled Sophie aside and made her promise she understood where the bathroom was. "Do you pinkie promise?" the counselor asked Sophie. With a big smile, Sophie nodded yes.

Then, Sophie, Anna and their new friends headed to the playground. They chased each other around in a vigorous game of tag, dodging wayward basketballs along the way.

- - -

When Angel Angon Quiroz was in fifth grade, his father suggested he apply to the same middle school his sister attended, known as M.S. 88. Last year, 8 in 10 sixth-graders at M.S. 88 came from low-income families or were learning English. His sister also wanted him to go there, "so she can take care of me," Angel said.

But Angel had been told there were other schools he might like, and he was determined to learn more. Touring them was hard for his father, Alfonso Angon, 39, who works six days a week for a furniture store and speaks limited English. Angel's mother, who works in food preparation for a restaurant, speaks almost no English. "We don't use the internet too much, you know," his dad said.

He moved to the United States from Mexico around 2002 and met his wife soon after. They decided to stay after two children were born, hoping to give them a better life.

His living quarters grew larger as his family grew. He first lived in one small room, then a larger room. Now, the family rents one half of an apartment in Sunset Park, up a steep staircase. They have two bedrooms - one for the parents, one for the kids - and share the kitchen and bathroom with tenants on the other side of the unit. Money is always tight, he said. "You need to pay for everything over here."

Most Saturday mornings, Alfonso takes Angel to the transit museum in Brooklyn, nourishing his son's granular knowledge of the New York subway system.

As he considered his middle school options, Angel was a little scared to go to M.S. 88, saying his sister's phone had been stolen in elementary school and that he feared the culprits were now at her middle school. He also suggested other far less likely scenarios. "What I'm worried about is people are drug addicts and there's a lot of kidnappers and a lot of kids near schools. I don't want to get kidnapped."

Angel decided his first choice was M.S. 447, the Math & Science Exploratory School, the same school Sophie had ranked first. He was admitted.

Over the summer, Angel said he was most excited about students there getting their own lockers and about learning more math.

"Math is a thing that people use throughout their lives," he said. "When you go to work, everyone will tell you you need to use math to be a cashier, or those tax people who do taxes and all that stuff."

On the first day of school, Angel woke up at 5 a.m. to shower, comb his hair just right and pack his backpack with binder, notebook, pencil case, two pencils, an eraser and keys to the apartment. Clad in new jeans, new navy dress shirt with white polka dots and new sneakers, he bounded out of his apartment and confidently walked to one subway line and then transferred to another.

But as he waited for the teachers to divide incoming students into classes, he could hear his new classmates chatting and laughing, and he realized he didn't know anybody. He wondered if he should have chosen M.S. 88.

Another sixth-grader, a white girl, saw Angel by himself and approached. "Hey, how are you doing?" she asked. He shook his hand to indicate he was shaky but also smiled.

In his classroom, there was evidence the diversity plan was working: 14 of the students appeared to be white, and 14 were students of color, mostly Hispanic and Asian. Angel was quick to raise his hand with answers, and within the first hour was chatting happily with the boy seated next to him.

When a teacher asked the class how they can each ensure a positive experience for everyone, Angel had a ready answer.

"If someone's looking down, I'll go up to them and I'll ask them if they need a friend," he said. "If they say yes, I'll be that friend."

Angel's class filed into the auditorium to listen to the principal address all the new sixth-graders. She talked about the book students were supposed to read over the summer ("The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind") and how there would be group discussions. Angel had missed orientation and had not read the book; he would later catch up.

Then, it was time for lunch. Angel was sitting with a group of boys when suddenly they rearranged seats in a way that left Angel momentarily at a table by himself. Some of these nearby boys had opinions about the new middle-school assignment plan. They mentioned friends from elementary school who didn't get into schools they wanted even though they had worked hard and received top grades.

"You can work hard and it doesn't matter at all," complained Reed Magliano.

Isaac Lazaroff said one of the smartest kids in his fifth-grade class was assigned to Dewey but decided to go to a Catholic school instead. "And she worked really hard," Henry Bardfeld added. "She won the spelling bee in our class."

Others had joined Angel's table, but he was mostly quiet, looking out the window. He had not packed a lunch but said he wasn't hungry.

"Third Avenue is right here," he said, orienting himself to the building. "I'm trying to figure out where we are."

- - -

The Washington Post's Moriah Balingit contributed to this report.

'The Crown' is back with midlife crises, heavy heads and sterling performances

By Hank Stuever
'The Crown' is back with midlife crises, heavy heads and sterling performances
Olivia Colman assumes the mantle of Queen Elizabeth II in

Netflix's "The Crown" returns for a third season in topmost form Sunday after a wait of two years, which is still not as long as the wait for some kind of solution to Brexit. It has a smashingly good new cast (whose performances are equal if not better than their predecessors) and a brisk, almost urgent sense of galloping through the long life story of Queen Elizabeth II.

As before, it's a show to savor - every drop of it. Ten episodes, opening a few months before the death of Winston Churchill in 1965 and ending with the queen's 25th jubilee in 1977, can easily seem like never enough, even when a couple of episodes start to wheeze toward the end.

Played by Oscar winner Olivia Colman ("The Favourite"), this queen becomes the far more recognizable stalwart, the stiffest upper lip in the United Kingdom, so sparing in her interactions that even she wonders whether she might have some sort of social anxiety disorder. She fantasizes about a life in which she has to care only about her racehorses. As envisioned by creator Peter Morgan and his team, "The Crown's" greatest strength is the way it richly imagines those private moments that no one ever saw. We're here because the suffering is so rarefied. Oh, these poor, poor souls who must go their entire lives doubting their God-given right to a cloudy day.

While England grapples with a worsening economy and overall malaise, midlife gloom is the main bugaboo for the occupants of Buckingham Palace, made evident as the first episode opens with Elizabeth's chance to examine the updated profile of her that will grace the new postage stamps.

Despite every assurance from her advisers that her maturity is a thing of beauty, the queen is not convinced. "One just has to get on with it," she says. Inheriting "The Crown" from Claire Foy (who won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for playing the role in Seasons 1 and 2), Colman is convincing in the role from the moment we see her, conveying the queen's deepest worries with just the slightest twitch.

The bigger surprise is Tobias Menzies ("Outlander," "Game of Thrones"), who takes the role of Prince Philip, previously played by Matt Smith, just as the royal husband's story gets a bit deeper and darker. Philip's midlife crisis - triggered in part by his envy of the American astronauts who land on the moon - is a study in the fragility of male ego.

He is also jangled by the sudden presence of his elderly mother, an orthodox nun (scene-stealer Jane Lapotaire) once known as Princess Alice of Battenberg, who found solace from mental illness and emotional demons by devoting her life to charity. After a military coup in Greece, the palace brings an ailing Alice to stay, over Philip's objections. He warms to her once he sees that the press adores her, dubbing her "the Royal Saint."

Public perception becomes a central preoccupation for the Windsors. A day-in-the-royal-life BBC documentary, meant to humanize the family, is generally regarded as a dud by those who watch it, especially the queen herself.

It's Princess Margaret, the queen's increasingly dissatisfied sister (now played by Helena Bonham Carter), who possesses the true gift for limelight. On a trip to the United States, Margaret scores big with the glitterati in San Francisco and L.A. Her celebrity, though greeted with quiet disapproval in the palace, is also seen as an asset - so much so that Margaret is diverted to Washington to charm President Lyndon Johnson (Clancy Brown), who has taken a chillier view of U.S.-Britain relations than President John Kennedy did.

Margaret's messiness continues to be one of "The Crown's" primary fixations: her inebriated tirades; the slow collapse of her marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones (Ben Daniels); the ceaseless ennui of a pampered life at a price point that fuels anti-royal sentiment. Bonham Carter aces the tantrums and the shrewd deployment of iciness, but, after a strong second episode titled "Margaretology" (which includes her American escapade), Margaret's aimlessness becomes tedious. Bonham Carter's performance is capable, but not exactly memorable.

The queen, meanwhile, has one of her earliest reckonings with class and human suffering in the modern era, as she wrestles with an appropriate royal response to the tragic deaths of 144 people, mostly schoolchildren, in the 1966 slurry avalanche at a coal-mining site in Aberfan, Wales. It's a foreshadowing, of sorts, of the delayed royal tears after Princess Diana's death three decades later, depicted so memorably in Morgan's screenplay for the 2006 film "The Queen."

"What precisely would you have me do?" Elizabeth asks, when the left-leaning prime minister, Harold Wilson (Jason Watkins, whose performance is one of this season's highlights), suggests that her majesty visit the site, as bodies are still being recovered.

"Comfort people," Wilson says.

"Put on a show?" the queen says. "The crown doesn't do that."

"I didn't say put on a show," Wilson replies. "I said comfort people."

Attempts to interest us in young Prince Charles' special burden of duty and destiny fall a little flat. Josh O'Connor ("The Durrells in Corfu") tries to help us relate to Charles' dour semester spent learning the native tongue in Wales, in the weeks leading up to his investiture as the Prince of Wales. A patient professor (Mark Lewis Jones) opens the heir-apparent's eyes to class struggle, which Charles views from a perspective that differs from his mother's.

Charles' misery drags on, as he meets and falls in love with Camilla Shand (Emerlad Fennell), only to have the romance thwarted by the family. Obviously "The Crown" is obligated to treat this burgeoning drama as the real meat of the matter, seeing as how the relationship stood the test of time and affected so much else yet to come, but something about the story - the way it's written, the way it's performed - takes a viewer out of whatever spell the series usually casts. It's more like a Lifetime movie.

It helps immensely that Morgan and company, who aren't complete sticklers about the timeline, weave Charles' heartbreak in with the approaching death of David (Derek Jacobi), the former Edward VIII, who gave up the crown to be with the woman he loved.

In his fading, David reminds us: "The crown always finds its way to the right head."

And that's what keeps "The Crown" percolating, as it prepares for the tumult of historical events and tabloid scandals ahead. The show has a subliminal willingness to seed a constant doubt, to undermine age-old concepts of entitlement. It blends fact, fantasy and humanity in a way that allows us to wonder if the crown truly does rest where it ought.

- - -

"The Crown" (10 episodes) returns Sunday on Netflix.

Climate change triggers a chain reaction that threatens the heart of the Pacific

By Simon Denyer and Chris Mooney
Climate change triggers a chain reaction that threatens the heart of the Pacific
Salmon swim upstream of Onnebetsu River to spawn near the Sea of Okhotsk. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Salwan Georges

SHIRETOKO PENINSULA, Japan - Lined up along the side of their boat, the fishermen hauled a huge, heavy net up from swelling waves. At first, a few small jellyfish emerged, then a piece of plastic. Then net, and more net. Finally, all the way at the bottom: a small thrashing mass of silvery salmon.

It was just after dawn at the height of the autumn fishing season, but something was wrong.

"When are the fish coming?" boat captain Teruhiko Miura asked himself.

The salmon catch is collapsing off Japan's northern coast, plummeting by about 70 percent in the past 15 years. The disappearance of the fish coincides with another striking development: the loss of a unique blanket of sea ice that dips far below the Arctic to reach this shore.

The twin impacts - less ice, fewer salmon - are the products of rapid warming in the Sea of Okhotsk, wedged between Siberia and Japan. The area has warmed in some places by as much as 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times, making it one of the fastest-warming spots in the world, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the nonprofit organization Berkeley Earth.

That increase far outstrips the global average and exceeds the limit policymakers set in Paris in 2015 when they aimed to keep Earth's average temperature rise "well below" 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

The rising temperatures are starting to shut down the single most dynamic sea ice factory on Earth. The intensity of ice generation in the northwestern Sea of Okhotsk exceeds that of any single place in the Arctic Ocean or Antarctica, and the sea ice reaches a lower latitude than anywhere else on the planet. Its decline has a cascade of consequences well beyond Japan as climate dominoes begin to fall.

When sea ice forms here, it expels huge amounts of salt into the frigid water below the surface, creating some of the densest ocean water on Earth. That water then sinks and travels east, carrying oxygen, iron and other key nutrients out into the northern Pacific Ocean, where marine life depends on it.

As the ice retreats, that nutrient-rich current is weakening, endangering the biological health of the vast northern Pacific - one of the most startling, and least discussed, effects of climate change so far observed.

"We call the Sea of Okhotsk the heart of the North Pacific," said Kay Ohshima, a polar oceanographer at the Institute of Low Temperature Science at Hokkaido University. "But the Sea of Okhotsk is significantly warming, three times faster than the global mean.

"That causes the power of the heart to weaken," he said.

The cascade starts more than a thousand miles away in a uniquely frigid area of Siberia known as the "Cold Pole," where the coldest temperature ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere (-67.7 degrees Celsius or-89.9 degrees Fahrenheit) was measured in 1933.

The Cold Pole, too, is warming rapidly, by about 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.9 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times in the village of Oymyakon. That means the bitter north wind that blows down onto the Sea of Okhotsk is also warming.

The warmer wind inhibits the formation of sea ice. Across the Sea of Okhotsk, ice cover during the peak months of February and March has shrunk by nearly 30 percent in the past four decades, a vanishing of about 130,000 square miles of ice, an area larger than Arizona.

Masanori Ito, 67, recalls how, during his childhood, the ice would drift down from the sea's northern reaches - a thick, white carpet descending on Abashiri, a city on the northeastern shore of Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost prefecture.

"The drift ice used to arrive with a force, pushed and pushed from behind, from far out at sea," said Ito, senior executive director at the Okhotsk Sightseeing Federation. It would pile up upon itself, forming "mountains over 10 meters high."

Today, those mountains are long gone, and the coast of Hokkaido is hemmed in by ice for fewer than 25 days a year on average, said Arctic scientist Shuhei Takahashi, who runs the Okhotsk Sea Ice Museum of Hokkaido in Mombetsu.

A century ago, the coast typically had ice for more than 50 days each winter, Takahashi said. Based on current trends, he said, the drift ice could disappear entirely by the end of this century.

Meanwhile, the ice itself is also changing. Those who know it well say it sounds different, less intense, no longer an indomitable winter colossus.

"Years ago, our nose hair froze and stuck out. And our eyelashes would get moist and go all white," said Shigeru Yamai, 66, captain of the icebreaker Garinko II. "When we walked on the ice, we heard squeaking sounds. The sound today is different. It hardly gets that severe anymore."

- - -

For fisherman Nobuo Sugimura, 63, the changing climate is evident in his steadily diminishing catch. At home after a fishing trip on Miura's vessel the Hokushin Maru, Sugimura brought out his logbooks and diaries, pulling records for his most recent catch in late September and for the same period seven years ago.

In 2012, Sugimura's records show he and fellow crew members brought in between 21 and 52 metric tons of fish per day. This year, the catch one day was a meager six tons.

"We had a bad time 30 or 40 years ago, and this reminds me of that," he said. "But that only lasted a year or two, not this long."

In the nation that invented sushi, there is no region better known for its seafood than Hokkaido. And there is no fish more synonymous with Hokkaido, more central to its culture, than the salmon.

The relationship stretches back as long as humans have lived here. The indigenous Ainu people had 133 words for salmon and used its skin to make boots. The fish and its orange roe are critical ingredients in Hokkaido's famous seafood sashimi rice bowl, savored by foodie tourists across this gourmet nation. The image of a bear clamping a salmon between its powerful jaws is an iconic symbol of Hokkaido, reproduced on T-shirts and in wood carvings on sale in almost every souvenir shop.

Though Hokkaido's salmon hatcheries are working harder than ever, releasing a billion juvenile fish into the island's rivers every spring, the number of returning chum salmon has declined sharply, from 68 million fish in 2003 to just 28 million in 2018. Nationwide, Japan's annual chum salmon catch has also fallen from 258,000 metric tons in 2003, when a sharp decline began, to 80,000 last year, according to the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission.

Salmon are highly sensitive to changes in water temperature. As they swim into the Sea of Okhotsk at the start of their long migration across the Pacific, the warmer waters act as a force field, pushing them off their ancient track.

Compelled to travel faster and farther to reach cooler northern waters, the young salmon use up stores of energy when they can least afford it. If they delay their departure date, they won't survive at all.

Masahide Kaeriyama, an emeritus professor in the Arctic Research Center at Hokkaido University, said Japanese salmon migrate up what he calls a "ladder" of suitable temperatures. For more than a decade, he has been predicting that climate change would cut Hokkaido's salmon catch in half. Now, he says global warming is happening even faster than he expected.

"As the optimal temperature moves away from Hokkaido, the ladder of migration is being taken away," he said.

Japan's loss has been Russia's gain. Waters near the Siberian coast - once too cold for salmon - are now in the optimum range for the fish. Even as Japan's catch began to decline in 2003, Russia's chum salmon quadrupled to a record high of nearly 144,000 metric tons in 2015. The same phenomenon is happening around the world, as warmer waters cause key species to seek cooler habitats closer to the poles. The lobster population off the Northeast coast in the United States is seeing a similar disruption.

If the Hokkaido salmon survive the first leg of their journey, they move into the Bering Sea, and then on to the Gulf of Alaska for their second winter. By the age of 4 or 5, they return to Japan, to the very same river where they hatched.

The smaller number of returning fish is keenly felt on Hokkaido's Shiretoko Peninsula, home to the largest concentration of brown bears in the world. Each fall, as the salmon amass offshore, the bears are waiting, splashing in the streams at the mouth of every river. Here, the iconic image of a bear catching a salmon comes to life.

Salmon nourish the bears, and the bears' leftovers discarded in the forest nourish birds, insects and plants, creating "one of the richest integrated ecosystems in the world," according to UNESCO, the educational, scientific and cultural agency of the United Nations.

UNESCO made Shiretoko National Park a World Heritage Site in 2005. But as the drift ice recedes and the salmon catch shrinks, UNESCO worries that the park's unique ecosystem will be irrevocably damaged.

"Japanese people see salmon as a source of food," Kaeriyama said. "But salmon is, in fact, the very foundation of the ecosystem where we live."

- - -

The link between sea ice and prosperity is not lost on the towns and cities of northern Hokkaido and the Shiretoko Peninsula, where the ice drives a vital tourism industry.

In the spring, as the ice melts and sunlight hits the water, the sea blooms with phytoplankton, the anchor of marine life and the base of the ocean's food web.

That makes the Sea of Okhotsk a spectacularly bountiful stretch of water, home to whales and dolphins, sea lions and seals, scallop and crabs, and hundreds of species of fish. Its shores provide homes to many migratory and sea birds, from the largest owl in the world - the endangered Blakiston's fish owl - to the heavy Steller's sea eagle.

In Abashiri alone, about 110,000 people, nearly half of them foreigners, took sightseeing cruises last year across the vast expanse of sea ice. On the eastern side of the peninsula, tourist boats set out from the town of Rausu every winter to gaze at eagles perched on the ice and seals bobbing through it, and in the spring, summer and fall to watch humpback, sperm and killer whales splash through the waves.

Meanwhile, key nutrients, especially iron, flow into the Sea of Okhotsk from Russia's Amur River. Undersea currents carry those nutrients into the North Pacific, forming an intermediate layer of water roughly 600 to 2,600 feet below the surface. Eventually, the water rises back up, bringing the iron that is vital for phytoplankton with it.

The Okhotsk sea ice decline jeopardizes that giant convection current. Ohshima, his fellow scientists from Hokkaido University and other institutions in Japan have documented a marked warming in the North Pacific's intermediate layer, much more rapid than the general warming of the ocean - a sign that less cold, dense water is being formed in the Sea of Okhotsk.

Scientists have also documented growing zones in the North Pacific, at depths of about 1,300 and 2,300 feet, where ocean oxygen levels are in fast decline.

In other words, the "heart of the Pacific" is indeed weakening. The scientists don't know all of the consequences yet, but they're worried because of the irreplaceable contribution of the Sea of Okhotsk to a much larger region.

- - -

Back on Hokkaido, the falling salmon catch is triggering cascading economic impacts.

Last year, salmon processors paid high prices for dwindling supplies of Japanese chum salmon, only to find that consumers weren't prepared to pay more. Japanese salmon was soon displaced by cheaper imports from places such as Norway, Chile, Russia and Alaska.

Tetsuya Shinya, head of the Abashiri Fisheries Cooperative, said he is reluctantly considering something once unthinkable: raising salmon on fish farms.

"It's still not the right time to do it," he said. "Even so, I feel we are getting into a pretty tough time."

Wild salmon tend to be hardier and more resistant to changing temperatures than salmon reared in the more-controlled environment of a hatchery. One solution is a campaign to reduce Hokkaido's dependence on salmon hatcheries by encouraging more wild salmon to return to the island's rivers.

Scientists and volunteers are clearing rivers along the Shiretoko Peninsula, where anything from silt to concrete dams can prevent wild salmon from returning to spawn.

Among the volunteers is Yuto Sugimura, 32, the son of the fisherman whose records document the salmon's startling decline.

Yuto said he never used to think much about climate change beyond what he saw on the news. But as he dove into the sea in September to set salmon nets, he didn't need any records to tell him the temperature is rising.

"I've been going under the water for 15 years, but these days it feels quite lukewarm," he said.

"Until you feel it on your skin or experience it in reality, you don't talk about it," Yuto said of climate change.

"Today, with the changes in the water, I am beginning to feel it on my skin, and I am beginning to think about it."

- - -

The Washington Post's Akiko Kashiwagi contributed to this report.

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

Mad Lib: Why I Must Join the Race for President

By alexandra petri
Mad Lib: Why I Must Join the Race for President



(For Petri clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


On a blank sheet of paper or candidacy filing form, complete these 33 prompts. Then, insert them in the announcement that follows. You are too late for New Hampshire, but I am sure that will not stop you.

1.Adjective: How you feel now that yet another person is entering the primary. Be honest.

2.Noun: "Billions of dollars," if you have them. If not, a meaningless noun used in speeches.

3.Adjective: Thing you somehow think you are but Elizabeth Warren isn't.

4.Noun: A time that you feel Joe Biden wants to take us to.

5.Noun: A time that you want to take us to but Joe Biden doesn't.

6.Verb that means "disappear."

7.Verb that means "relax."

8.Adjective that could mean "weird" but you have taken to mean "encouraging."

9.Noun: Either a word that means nothing, or simply the word "nothing."

10.Proper Noun: A failed presidential candidate who lacked charisma.

11.Proper Noun: A person as "authentic" as Al Gore but not more so.

12.Adjective that means "buffoonish."

13.Adjective that also, when you come down to it, means "buffoonish."

14.Verb: What you do at Platform 9 3/4, full speed into a brick wall.

15.Adjective that means laughable, unreal.

16.Proper Noun: Person you should not listen to but many do.

17.Adjective that does not describe climate change.

18.Number greater than the chaotic number of Republican candidates in 2016, from which bedlam Trump emerged.

19.Adjective that describes listening to your friend's child's long-winded story.

20.Noun: Collective term for a group of billionaires.

21.Noun: Safe, warm place.

22.Proper Noun: Name of a place in Real America.

23.Noun: A time of day.

24.Noun in which you record events.

25.Proper Noun: Monosyllabic first name of a man who you'd guess played lacrosse.

26.Proper Noun that sounds like it could be a 1950s Cabinet secretary's surname or an old refrigerator brand.

27.Noun: A good thing a president should have.

28.Noun: A body part.

29.Verb: What a telemarketer call does during the dinner hour.

30.Adjective that describes something that is disappointing but better than nothing.

31.Verb for what gerrymandering does to elections.

32.Verb for "to move forcefully from one place to another."

33.Noun: A bad place no one in their right mind should want to go.

Yes, I am entering the race. You're [1, adjective].

I will bring [2, noun] to the race. Unlike Elizabeth Warren, I am [3, adjective]. Unlike Joe Biden, who will take us to [4, noun], I will take us to [5, noun]. I will not mention Mayor Pete or Cory Booker because what I have just said applies to both of them and if I remember their existence, my whole rationale for this campaign will [6, verb]. When billionaires are out walking with their money and see me, they visibly [7, verb]; also, I had a phone call with President Obama and it was [8, adjective]. I will bring [9, noun] to this race, just by being myself, and I will surely create a coalition. I combine the charisma of [10, proper noun] with the authenticity of [11, proper noun].

After I saw that Tom Steyer was doing this, I thought, "It is a(n) [12, adjective] idea for him, but it will be a(n) [13, adjective] idea for me!"

I am [14, verb]-ing because I received a(n) [15, adjective] letter from [16, proper noun], saying that all I had to do was get into the race and I would surely win. I have always believed that if I ever hinted at becoming president, lots of people would want me to lead them. This is definitely [17, adjective].

I also read somewhere that there needed to be at least [18, number] candidates, or something terrible would happen. No, I am not sure what. It is [19, adjective] that I'm here.

(BEG ITAL)(If the candidate is a billionaire, add the following sentence(END ITAL): I am a billionaire, and I am fighting to protect my [20, noun], and our money-[21, noun].)

I hadn't initially intended to run, but then I read an op-ed in the [22, proper noun] [23, noun] [24, noun] in which [25, proper noun] [26, proper noun] called in ringing terms for me to step forward, and I lack the [27, noun] not to answer.

I believe everything good that is said about me. I believe I am the solution. The siren song of the trail has reached my [28, noun], and I am going in. I am bold enough to believe that I am the right person to [29, verb] America with my [30, adjective] solutions. I alone can [31, verb] it.

I hope that you will [32, verb] me to [33, noun] -- a high honor! It is the least I deserve.

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump has bulldozed over Congress on immigration. Will lawmakers ever act?

By catherine rampell
Trump has bulldozed over Congress on immigration. Will lawmakers ever act?



(For Rampell clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


Republican lawmakers seem to be having self-esteem issues.

The legislature, after all, is an equal branch of government with constitutionally granted powers. Lately, nearly all of those powers have been siphoned off by the president and his team of unelected bureaucrats. Yet, again and again, GOP lawmakers meekly submit to this constitutional castration.

To wit: Congress' power of the purse? Gone. Regardless of how much money Congress appropriates for, say, a border wall or military aid to Ukraine, President Trump has made clear that he'll ignore the number and pencil in his own.

Congress' power to regulate commerce with foreign nations? Hijacked by a president who cites bogus "national security" rationales to impose tariffs whenever he likes.

Congress' duty to "advise and consent" on major appointments? Cabinet and other senior government posts that require Senate confirmation have been atypically littered with "acting" officials instead. In fact, while immigration is ostensibly the president's signature issue, Trump hasn't had a single Senate-confirmed director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BEG ITAL)since he took office(END ITAL). And though Democratic lawmakers may complain, nothing will change as long as Republicans control the Senate.

Which brings me to the most significant power Trump has stripped from Congress: its lawmaking authority. This is best illustrated by the administration's actions basically rewriting immigration law wholesale, with nary a peep from GOP legislators.

Sure, on some immigration matters, Congress has relinquished its responsibilities, effectively giving Trump the ability to contort immigration policy as he sees fit.

Consider the "dreamers," the young immigrants brought here as children who know no other country than the United States. They have long been in a legal limbo. Congress could resolve that limbo swiftly and easily by granting the dreamers permanent legal status and a pathway to citizenship. This would have the support of majorities of voters from both parties, and the Democratic-controlled House has already passed such legislation.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Senate wrung their hands and watched helplessly from the sidelines as Trump announced his decision to kill the Obama-era program that protects the dreamers from deportation. Based on a hearing this week, the Supreme Court appears poised to uphold the president's decision. Yet, despite claiming to care about the issue, Republicans remain unwilling to act.

Similarly, Congress long ago gave the president authority to set the annual cap on refugee admissions. Not surprisingly, if disappointingly, the Trump administration has used that authority to ratchet the ceiling down to a record low of 18,000. For context, during President Barack Obama's last year of office, the ceiling was 110,000.

But there are (BEG ITAL)other(END ITAL) areas of immigration law on which Congress has acted, definitively and clearly, with legislative language that leaves little room for maneuvering by the executive. The Trump administration has flouted these laws anyway.

Take asylum law.

"Refugees" and "asylum seekers" both refer to immigrants fleeing violence or persecution, but, technically, "refugees" apply for sanctuary while still abroad, and asylum seekers apply while in the country of their destination. Unlike with (BEG ITAL)refugee(END ITAL) admissions, there are no legal caps on the number of people who may qualify for and receive (BEG ITAL)asylum(END ITAL). The law does not allow the executive branch to set them, either.

But the Trump administration has effectively set its own limits.

Last year, for instance, the Trump administration tried to ban people from applying for asylum if they crossed between ports of entry -- as most asylum seekers are now forced to do, because the administration has severely throttled (or "metered") the number of people who may apply through a given port of entry per day.

This "asylum ban" was blocked by the courts -- because Congress has explicitly said asylum seekers can apply whether or not they entered the United States "at a designated port of arrival."

"The law is crystal, crystal clear on this," says Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council.

With virtually no pushback from Republicans in Congress, Trump administration then implemented a sort of asylum ban 2.0. This one disqualifies asylum seekers who passed through another country on their way to the United States without first applying for asylum there. A separate legal challenge -- one among many -- is now working its way through the courts.

A host of other changes designed to serve as a backdoor limit on asylee admissions have also been announced in recent weeks.

The Trump administration keeps scolding desperate immigrants to shape up and "follow the law." When will cowardly members of Congress insist that the president do the same?

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

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

We're all conspiracy theorists now

By megan mcardle
We're all conspiracy theorists now



(For McArdle clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


WASHINGTON -- If you are an American right now, odds are that you have recently become a conspiracy theorist -- and no, I'm not referring to the jailhouse death of Jeffrey Epstein. I speak, of course, of the president, and the people who work for him. Almost everyone believes there is a conspiracy centered around the Oval Office. But they don't all believe in the same one.

The first theory is what you might call the "syphilitic emperor" model of the Trump administration, which sees in Donald Trump a corrupt, narcissistic, ignorant, amoral, impulsive, belligerent and possibly off-his-rocker man who nonetheless somehow won the presidency.

Now that he is in office, he is behaving precisely as you'd expect from such a creature: refusing to familiarize himself with the details of any policy issue beyond what he can glean from Fox News; treating the office of the presidency as a personal fiefdom, the main purpose of which is to provide him with opportunities for adulation and enrichment; whimsically making very serious decisions; and when his commands go wrong, or have to be embarrassingly countermanded, insisting, like a 3rd-grader nursing a bump on the head, that he (BEG ITAL)totally meant to do that(END ITAL), while an incredulous nation writhes in vicarious humiliation.

If you believe in this version of Trump, then you believe, too, in a benevolent conspiracy to contain him. The heroes of his government argue as hard as they dare, and if that's not enough, they resort to the time-honored weapons of the bureaucrat to stall him. And when even that fails, they leak to the press in order to force the dangers into the president's media-obsessed consciousness. And when his behavior crosses the line from "bad idea" to "abuse of office," they pay a visit to the inspector general or congressional Democrats.

On the other hand, you might believe in a quite different version of Trump, a "man of the people" who was elected precisely to take on a quite different conspiracy against the public by Washington's insular and self-serving mandarin class. When that elite recoils from Trump and wails about norms and institutional checks, you see the people who write those norms and control those institutional checks as complaining less about a clear threat to the republic than an undeniable threat to their own authority.

Indeed, you probably see Trump's unwillingness to bow to their pieties as a necessary weapon when fighting "the blob." So, the more the swamp protests about Trump's self-dealing and impulsiveness, the more furiously you demand to know why they didn't make similar noises when Bill Clinton was renting out the Lincoln bedroom and selling pardons, or pulling a White House intern into a private hallway.

Our national divide has never been starker than it was on Wednesday, when acting U.S. ambassador William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent came before Congress to testify about events in Ukraine. Adherents of the first theory saw honorable men, reluctantly driven to this point by Trump's abuses of office. Adherents of the second theory saw participants in an ongoing soft coup.

The problem is, both theories are built around at least a grain of truth. The "establishment," broadly defined, is indeed self-interested and self-dealing, in the way that all groups of humans are. And Trump is indeed a loudmouth who doesn't even pay hypocritical lip service to establishment ethics. This much his supporters will even admit -- in many cases, it's what they like about him. Notice that of all the intricate defenses that have been attempted of Trump's Ukrainian adventures, one rarely sees even his most shameless surrogate or heartfelt fan try, "President Trump would never do such a thing." We all seem to agree that, of course, he'd have done it, if it had occurred to him, and he'd thought he could get away with it, and he didn't get distracted by something else.

Both theories fit all the known facts -- facts meaning "things we can all agree happened." Taylor and Kent really did testify in front of Congress. But why, and did they reveal the truth? The answers aren't really facts. They're social judgments about who we trust. And at this point, whenever anyone tries to speak across the divide, to explain why their theory holds the truth of the matter, the other side is apt to hear only the conspiracy theorist's famous cry: "Trust no one."

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump's defenders sink in shifting sands of truthiness

By dana milbank
Trump's defenders sink in shifting sands of truthiness



(For Milbank clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


WASHINGTON -- Rep. Mark Meadows, R-Hullaballoo, sitting in the audience for this week's impeachment proceedings, looked up from his phone with a start when he heard fresh testimony that President Trump was keenly pursuing a Ukrainian investigation of the Bidens.

But he quickly regained his balance. Asked by reporters in the hallway about the revelation, the Trump ally said he was not concerned. "I think what happens is when we start to look at the facts, everybody has their impression of what truth is," he said.

Thus did Meadows, in 2019, join the great epistemologists Rudy Giuliani ("truth isn't truth," 2018) and Kellyanne Conway ("alternative facts," 2017) in their pathbreaking work on the Theory of Subjective Truths.

Meadows's truth-is-in-the-eyes-of-the-beholder defense was the best impeachment defense of Trump since, well, last week, when Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., debuted the incompetence defense: "What I can tell you about the Trump policy toward the Ukraine, it was incoherent, it depends on who you talk to. They seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo." That's quite a reelection slogan.

Before that, the most creative defense had been developed by Conway, who argued that, whatever happened in reality, "there was no quid pro quo intended." What matters, she said, is what was in Trump's "heart, mind or soul."

Even House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., would surely prefer to close down the investigation before issuing a subpoena for Trump's soul.

But if Meadows, Graham and Conway are the finest scholars in the field of truthiness, many others have made worthy contributions. Let us consider some of the finest impeachment defenses of Trump yet proposed, all by current and former Trump advisers and congressional Republicans:

(BEG ITAL)On the quid pro quo(END ITAL):

There is no quid pro quo.

You can't have a quid pro quo with no quo.

We do quid pro quos all the time.

(BEG ITAL)On the value of hearsay(END ITAL):

Testimony from second-hand witnesses is hearsay, which is unreliable.

The anonymous so-called whistleblower had no first-hand knowledge.

The whistleblower must be forced to testify.

(BEG ITAL)On Trump's view of aid to Ukraine(END ITAL):

Trump holds a deep-seated, genuine and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine.

Trump has always been skeptical about foreign aid and doesn't want to give any to Ukraine.

Military aid to Ukraine has substantially improved under Trump.

(BEG ITAL)On the July 25 phone call(END ITAL):

Trump's call with the Ukrainian president was perfect.

Trump's phone call with the Ukrainian president sounds exactly like what Joe Biden did.

What the Bidens did was horribly corrupt and both Joe and Hunter should be forced to testify.

(BEG ITAL)On the significance of the whistleblower(END ITAL):

Whoever gave information to the whistleblower is close to a spy and could be executed for treason.

Almost everything the whistleblower said was "sooo wrong."

You may spot some inconsistencies in these Trump defenses. You may even detect contradictions. This is because, as Meadows says, everybody has his or her own impression of what truth is -- and yours just happens to be wrong.

For example, it is entirely consistent to say that Trump's closest aides are justified in ignoring congressional subpoenas for their testimony -- yet at the same time express amazement that witnesses have had no direct contact with the president. It is perfectly reasonable to assert that there was no direct linkage between military funds and political investigations -- even if another Trump defender had already made such a link and told us to "get over it."

Sometimes Trump may feel that Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, is a really good man and great American. At other times, he may believe that he hardly knows that gentleman. That is Trump's personal truth impression.

Likewise, State Department official George Kent can be, at one moment, the hero who warned of a Biden conflict of interest in Ukraine -- and the next, a Never Trumper and symbol of a politicized bureaucracy.

The Bidens, and Hunter Biden's work for the Ukrainian company Burisma, inspires particular creativity. At times, we hear that Trump knew almost nothing about Burisma or that the Biden son was on its board (one defender explained that Trump was trying to say "Burisma" but inadvertently blurted out "Biden"). At other times we hear that Trump had a solemn duty to look into the corrupt Biden activities at Burisma.

But this much is clear:

Trump has done nothing wrong even though he had every right to. He can't be impeached because the quid pro quo wasn't consummated. And abuse of power is not a crime.

Confused? So are Trump's defenders.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The one that got away

By fareed zakaria
The one that got away


(Advance for Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, and thereafter.)

(For Zakaria clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


NEW YORK -- The phrase "quid pro quo" is usually translated as "something for something." In the case of President Trump's communications with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, it appears the "quo" was supposed to have been a declaration of his commitment to undertake investigations into the 2016 election and Joe Biden. The New York Times has reported that a public announcement was set to be made on my CNN program. So I think I owe readers my best understanding of what actually happened.

Ever since Zelensky was elected president in April, my team and I have been interested in having him appear on the show. He is a fascinating political figure, a total outsider who swept into power. I had visited Ukraine several times and interviewed the previous president of the country three times, so I was familiar with the place and had good contacts.

We began the process of establishing connections with the new administration, which was cordial and efficient throughout. Heads of state often find it useful to give interviews around the time of the annual UN General Assembly in September, and that was our target.

About a week before the main UN gathering, another major conference was taking place in Kyiv, an annual event that brings together Ukrainian elites with Western politicians, diplomats, intellectuals and journalists. Since I was scheduled to participate, I queried as to whether I could meet with Zelensky to secure the televised interview and get him comfortable with me. His office readily agreed.

On Sept. 13, I met with Zelensky in Kyiv, on the sidelines of the conference. He came across as smart, energetic and with a much sharper feel for politics than you might expect from a neophyte. It was a brief conversation, but we did discuss most of the big issues he faces -- Ukraine's relations with Russia and the U.S., economic reform and corruption. We also talked about whether he wanted to do the interview in English -- which he speaks well -- or Ukrainian. I left with the sense that all was well. Zelensky had perhaps seemed a bit distracted, but I assumed this was because of the many challenges he faced.

It's a testament to Zelensky's skill that he did not let on in any way the immense pressure he was under. As we now know, for months the Trump White House had been mounting an intense campaign to force him to publicly announce those investigations. He had tried to resist and put them off in various ways, but ultimately decided he would have to give in, according to the Times. His team apparently concluded that since he was planning an interview with me anyway, that would be the forum in which he would make the announcement, though neither he nor any of his team ever gave us any inkling that this was their plan. However, after my meeting with him in Kyiv, my team began to discuss potential logistics of the interview with his team -- time and place.

But I had not realized how much the ground had already begun to shift before our meeting. On Sept. 5, The Washington Post published an editorial revealing that it had been "reliably told" that Trump was trying to force Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden. On Sept. 9, four days before my visit to Kyiv, House Democrats initiated an investigation into the Post's allegations. That same day, the Intelligence Community Inspector General notified the House and Senate Intelligence Committees of the whistleblower complaint. The next day, Sept. 10, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff sent a letter to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire demanding that he turn over the complaint. That is also the day that Trump announced that he had fired John Bolton as national security adviser. And then, on Sept. 11, aid to Ukraine was unfrozen with no conditions.

Imagine Zelensky's dilemma. By the time I met with him in Kyiv, he knew the aid had been released, but the backstory had not yet broken into public view. Ukrainian officials I spoke to about the release of the aid were delighted but a little surprised and unsure as to what had happened. Zelensky and his team were probably trying to figure out whether they should still do the interview.

A few days later, on Sept. 18 and 19, the Post broke the story wide open. The interview was called off. We are, of course, still trying to get it.

Fareed Zakaria's email address is

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The Truly Trumpian Man

By michael gerson
The Truly Trumpian Man


(Advance for Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, and thereafter.)

(For Gerson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


WASHINGTON -- Across the years of a presidential administration, the churn of politics and policy brings certain men and women to the top of American politics. The last few days have demonstrated the paths to preferment and influence in the Trump years.

First is the case of Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to President Trump and the administration's unofficial liaison to the alt-right world.

Miller is best known as the prime mover behind the Muslim travel ban and the main opponent of any political compromise involving compassion for the DACA dreamers. Now, with the release of a trove of emails sent to Breitbart writers and editors in 2015 and 2016 (soon before Miller became a Trump administration official), we get a glimpse of Miller's inspirations and motivations. In response to the murder of nine black churchgoers by a white nationalist in 2015, Miller was offended that Amazon removed merchandise featuring the Confederate flag and was concerned about the vandalization of Confederate monuments. Miller encouraged attention at Breitbart to a "white genocide" themed novel, featuring sexualized violence by refugees. He focused on crime and terrorism by nonwhites as the basis for draconian immigration restrictions. He complained about the "ridiculous statue of liberty myth" and mocked the "national religion" of "diversity." He recommended and forwarded stories from the range of alt-right sources.

All this is evidence of a man marinated in prejudice. In most presidential administrations, a person with such opinions would be shown the White House exit. But most of Miller's views -- tenderness for the Confederacy, the exaggerated fear of interracial crime, the targeting of refugees for calumny and contempt -- have been embraced publicly by the president. Trump could not fire his alt-right alter ego without indicting himself. Miller is safe in the shelter of his boss's bigotry.

Second, there is Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the tireless, tendentious, often bellowing chief defender of Trump during the impeachment hearings.

Jordan is not, of course, alone in his heroic sycophancy. GOP Reps. Devin Nunes, Mark Meadows and others try to equal him. Together they update Alexander Pope: Fools rush in where Mick Mulvaney and Rudy Giuliani fear to tread.

But Jordan has mastered the art of talking utter rubbish in tones of utter conviction. His version of the events at the heart of the impeachment inquiry? Rather than (BEG ITAL)committing(END ITAL) corruption, Trump was (BEG ITAL)fighting(END ITAL) corruption. Military assistance was suspended, in Jordan's telling, while the president was deciding if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was "legit" in his determination to oppose corruption. When Trump found that Zelensky was the "real deal," the aid was released.

This is a bold but flimsy lie, of the type Trump has made common. Why, in this scenario, would Trump try to secure specific commitments from Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and to examine Trump's conspiracy theory about Ukrainian influence in the 2016 election? Are we supposed to believe that Trump employed these as random, theoretical examples of corruption that a worthy, crime-fighting leader would root out? And was the release of American aid just two days after Congress was notified about the whistleblower report a coincidence as well?

Jordan asks us not to accept additional facts but to live in a substitute reality. Almost everyone who participated in these events -- both professional staff and political appointees -- has affirmed that Trump was employing leverage to secure his political objectives. It is the plain meaning of the reconstructed transcript of Trump's call to Zelensky.

But none of this matters to Jordan and his colleagues. Consistency and coherence are beside the point. Their objective is not to persuade the country; it is to maintain and motivate the base, and thus avoid Trump's conviction in the Senate. The purpose is not to offer and answer arguments but to give partisans an alternative narrative. And the measure of Jordan's success is not even the political health of his party (which is suffering from its association with Trump); it is the demonstrated fidelity to a single man.

The elevation of Trump to the presidency has given prominence to a certain kind of follower and permission for a certain set of social values. Bolsheviks once talked of creating the New Socialist Man. Miller and Jordan are giving us a taste of the Truly Trumpian Man -- guided by bigotry, seized by conspiracy theories, dismissive of facts and truth, indifferent to ethics, contemptuous of institutional norms and ruthlessly dedicated to the success of a demagogue.

Every day of Trump's term continues the moral deconstruction of the Republican Party and brings the further debasement of American politics.

Michael Gerson's email address is

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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