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Just drooling to get into this club

By Peter Jamison
Just drooling to get into this club
John White, at top, watches as several dogs play together in Congressional Cemetery. White checks the tags on dogs entering the grounds. Must credit: Washington Post photo by Toni L. Sandys

WASHINGTON - He had bounded, tongue lolling, past chalk-white headstones and weathered obelisks and poked his snout into the pool of still water on Mausoleum Row. But when he came at twilight to Congressional Cemetery's south end, a lonely bottomland packed with the remains of dead children, even Oliver the dog slowed his gait to a contemplative stroll.

"It just makes me really happy to be able to see him run around like this," said Claudia Rauch, a 36-year-old resident who works in marketing. "My mom's from New Orleans, and there's just sort of a tradition there of cemeteries being really cool places."

Rauch and her brindle lab mix had just been admitted to what in recent years has become one of Washington's most exclusive clubs: Congressional Cemetery's K9 Corps, a group of about 600 people and 770 dogs with privileges to freely roam the cemetery's 35 acres. The pair had come off a waiting list of 500 with an average wait time of three to four years.

Congressional Cemetery was established in 1807 on the west bank of the Anacostia River. Its permanent occupants - including J. Edgar Hoover, Marion Barry and Vice President Elbridge Gerry, namesake of gerrymandering - lack the luster of the presidents and astronauts buried five miles away at Arlington National Cemetery.

But if it is still not a top-tier destination for the dead, Congressional has become fashionable among the dog-loving living to an extent its founders could not have dreamed.

In a city where a booming economy and population have brought demographic changes, it is perhaps a sign of changing tastes that the K9 Corps has instituted a $75 wait-list fee to thin out applicants while some elite social clubs of old Washington are atrophying.

Once admitted, members pay between $285 and $385 annually, depending on how many dogs they own and must periodically volunteer, said Paul Williams, president of the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery.

"I can walk my dog here at 7 o'clock at night, in the dark, and I feel perfectly safe," said Susan Urahn, 60, a member of the K9 Corps who serves on the cemetery's board. "I mean, where can you do that?"

Some of these dog walkers, like parents who apply to ultra-competitive preschools before their children are born, have reserved spots before adopting a dog. Such was the strategy for Brynn Barnett, who anticipated how her neighborhood cemetery would eventually appeal to her Cavachon, Harley.

"I knew I was getting a dog," said Barnett, who joined in 2011. "I didn't want to miss my opportunity, so I went ahead and signed up."

Today, facing extended waits, applicants sometimes opt to repeatedly pay a $10 entrance fee that allows nonmember dogs access for the day.

These hopeful souls can be found wandering in the gloaming at Congressional Cemetery, following the flitting shapes of dogs between the cenotaphs, unsure of how much longer they must dwell in wait-list limbo.

"I get the feeling we didn't make it this year," Wes Ammerman, a 29-year-old employee of a health-care consulting firm, said as Skylla, his Australian Cattle Dog mix, padded into the darkness ahead. "My last hope was that it maybe got sent to our spam filter if they emailed me."

This month, K9 Corps members - including a few fresh off the wait list - were gathering in the cemetery chapel for their annual orientation session.

The crowd, ranging from lower-to-late middle age, was what one might expect at an independent film festival or farm-to-table restaurant; the agenda included vaccination rules and protocols for reporting dogfights.

K9 Corps Committee head Stephen Brennwald, a criminal defense lawyer, admonished the crowd to play it straight on the latter front. "I tell my clients, 'Just tell the truth,' " Brennwald said. "Tell the truth, tell us what you know about it and we will be fair."

The K9 Corps originated in the late 1970s, when a small group of residents began walking their dogs as a kind of informal citizens' patrol in what was then a derelict property owned by Christ Church, Williams said. The church still owns the cemetery, which is managed by the nonprofit.

The group began tending grave sites and donating money for the cemetery's upkeep. But it has only been over the past several years that its popularity exploded.

Other offbeat initiatives have been launched to gin up interest in Congressional Cemetery, such as an on-site beekeeping operation that generates the "Rest in Bees" line of honey and a "Notes from the Crypt" series of chamber music concerts.

But the dog club is the most prominent - and lucrative - component of the cemetery's renaissance. Last year, club dues and wait-list fees totaled $216,000, nearly one-quarter of the cemetery's annual revenue and almost as much as was brought in by the sale of grave plots.

Williams said cemetery caretakers from across the country approach him at industry conferences, perplexed and fascinated by the unusual coexistence of dogs and the dead.

"They're initially very skeptical. They're like, 'We ban dogs. We don't even allow photographs. No way,' " Williams said. "And then they see the finances, and their heads start spinning."

The arrangement at Congressional Cemetery could scarcely have been foreseen by our ancestors, who took a very different view of graveyard propriety, according to Raymond Coppinger, a professor emeritus of biology at Hampshire College who has studied the evolution and history of domestic dogs.

Indeed, some aspects of burial rituals were probably developed to prevent canine scavengers from digging up and feasting on corpses, thus impeding the passage of the deceased into the afterlife, Coppinger said.

"The reason our religious ancestors had us buried six feet underground, and put us in vaults or boxes, is so that dogs couldn't eat us," he said. "They're famous all over the world for eating dead bodies."

The fear of being eaten by dogs is something of a fixation in ancient literature: Priam, king of Troy, spends many lines of the Iliad giving vent in vivid terms to anxieties about being devoured by his pets when his city falls to the Greeks.

"Homer was obsessed with dogs," Coppinger said.

More than 3,000 years later, some still side with the blind bard in disapproving of dogs on the loose near our mortal remains. Even leashed dogs are banned from 300-year-old Rock Creek Cemetery in Petworth, cemetery manager Carlton Carpenter said.

"Do you want somebody's dogs to do their business on the graves of your children or parents? Because that's what's unfortunately happening, or being allowed to happen," said Joe Davis, national spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which last year weighed in on a successful push to ban dogs from Rhode Island's veterans cemetery. "It comes down to judgment. It comes down to character."

Even at dog-friendly Congressional Cemetery, rules are in place to preserve its identity as hallowed ground. Humans must pick up after their pets. Balls and Frisbees are not allowed. Since 2015, when several dogs romped through a memorial service, animals have been barred entry during funerals.

"It's not a dog park. It's a cemetery," Barnett said.

The K9 Corp's four-legged members sometimes seem alert to that reality. As Rauch and Oliver walked past the section of Congressional known informally as "Babyland" - where children who died during the 1918 influenza pandemic were buried - the dog stopped to survey the grave markers, his form silhouetted by the winter skyline's burnt-orange glow.

But memento mori have little hold on the mind of an unleashed canine, and Oliver soon loped into the next field, stopping to lift a hind leg along the way.

How today's visa restrictions might impact tomorrow's America

By Samuel Granados
How today's visa restrictions might impact tomorrow's America
Although the visas issued to countries included in Trump's executive order represent less than 1 percent of total visas, the impact on the U.S. talent force could be significant. MUST CREDIT: The Washington Post.

Many tech companies and scholars have raised their voices against President Trump's Jan. 27 executive order on immigration. The hundreds of researchers and high-skilled workers who could be affected by the travel ban are part of the larger U.S. innovation economy, a community that relies heavily on foreign talent and whose members now worry that legal immigration could be the next target.

We asked three experts on innovation, competitiveness and the workforce on how broad immigration reform could affect the country.

Nearly 100 Silicon Valley companies - including tech giants like Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter - filed an amicus brief opposing Trump's immigration order nearly a week after it was implemented. The brief stated that the order disrupts business operations, threatens investment and "makes it more difficult and expensive for U.S. companies to recruit, hire, and retain some of the world's best employees."

MIT, Harvard and six other universities in Massachusetts filed a request to the federal court of Boston against Trump's executive order.

The state of Washington, backed by other states such as Minnesota, claimed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that the order harms their businesses and universities. The court eventually agreed with the states and temporarily blocked the travel ban.

Although the visas issued to countries included in the executive order represent less than 1 percent of total visas, the impact on the U.S. talent force could be significant. Iran, which is included in the restricted list, ranked 10th in the number of U.S. doctorates awarded to noncitizens in 2015. At MIT alone, more than 100 students and scholars were affected by the travel ban.

"You can't build a border against ideas," said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. "You are always moving along a cutting edge on innovation. The way to win on that is to be very open and competitive with respect to the talent. The fact that [the Trump administration] did this to seven countries raises a fear that it can extend to more countries."

A rising concern

Many in the tech community worry the order could be the first step toward a deeper review of the entire legal immigration system. The reform of visa programs to hire high-skilled workers seems to be gaining momentum after several bills were presented in the past few weeks.

The last of these proposals does not focus on temporary work visas but on permanent residents, individuals who hold green cards. The bill aims to reduce the number of new visa issuances by 41 percent in the first year, and limit them by half in 10 years. In a Fox News interview Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said: "Most of the people coming to our country are coming because they are distant relatives, under the outdated diversity lottery or as refugees. Obviously they don't have the kind of high skills our economy needs."

Although both targets are two separate buckets, temporary visa holders and permanent green card holders are part of the same complex immigration system. High-skilled workers typically obtain green cards after they have held student and work visas.

Where Trump stands on immigration policies

"My administration will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American," Trump said in his inauguration speech. During the 2016 campaign, then-candidate Trump repeatedly defended the need for stricter immigration policies, including those related to highly skilled workers.

"Companies are importing low-wages workers on H1-B visas to take jobs from young, college-trained Americans," Trump said during a rally in Columbus, Ohio, in October. "We will protect these jobs for all Americans." But Trump has contradicted himself on this issue several times: "I'm changing. I'm changing. We need highly skilled people in this country, and if we can't do it, we'll get them in," he said during a Republican debate in March on Fox News.

This back-and-forth suggests Trump and his team might still be weighing the effect a strict "America First" policy may have in the long run.

Traditionally, Republicans and Democrats have agreed on the need to continue welcoming high-skilled foreign workers. In the past two decades, all three U.S. presidents expanded visa caps for students or the highly skilled. Democrats have traditionally been more flexible when it comes to visas for workers' families.

Why are tech companies concerned?

Amid increasing globalization in recent decades, the U.S. economy has relied on foreign labor for innovation. "There is a strong correlation between immigration and innovation," said Manjari Raman, program director and senior researcher at the U.S. Competitiveness Project at Harvard Business School. "Tech companies in Silicon Valley rely on innovation as a competitive advantage, and they want access to large pools of talent."

A study by Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce suggests that by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require postsecondary education and training, an increase from 28 percent in 1973.

"Our undergrads are predominantly U.S.-born but frequently come from families who are first-generation. But our master's and PhD programs are extremely global in nature," said Fiona Murray, associate dean for innovation at MIT. "This is not about excluding American students, but actually recognizing the demand for advanced education - especially PhDs and beyond - is often more global and less local in nature. And so we have an opportunity to educate a very global community of young innovators."

H-1B visas for high-skilled workers, and H-4 visas for their immediate relatives, represent more than a third of the total visas related to employment.

For tech and research industries, these seem essential: The number of these visas is capped - for 2017, the limit is 65,000 plus an extra 20,000 for those with a master's. Demand has exceeded the cap in most recent years, so a lottery system decides who receives a visa.

The Office of Foreign Labor Certification is responsible for deciding if there are any qualified and available U.S. workers in the area of intended employment. It also must ensure that the admission of a foreign worker will not impact on the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers. These certifications, while they don't reflect the final number of visas, provide the best indicator of the needs for different companies. Most of these jobs are in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), according to a 2015 report from the certification office.

But experts like Raman also note the need for these companies to do more.

"In areas like STEM there is a shortage of high skill talent within the country," she said. "Immigration is a great way to fill a gap, but there is an opportunity here for these companies to see what they can do more to create a pipeline of talent within the U.S." At the same time, she said, "we should encourage students who come to the U.S. for higher studies, to stay back in the U.S. rather than send them back to their own countries. You need both."

It could impact U.S. competitiveness

Some of the international economies where these researchers and workers are coming from are among U.S. competitors, although Raman clarified: "Competitiveness is not a win-lose game. When the U.S. becomes more competitive, everyone benefits. When China becomes more competitive, everyone benefits." The four largest feeder countries for American companies are also among the top contributors to U.S. invention and research.

Since 2008, more U.S. patents have been registered by non-U.S. citizens than those registered by Americans. Murray confirmed this trend: "In our MIT alumni survey, the rate of patenting is higher for foreign-born students (34 percent) than for U.S.-born students (30 percent)."

Need for an open debate

In a recent report, experts from the Harvard Business School said one of the ways to keep the U.S. economy competitive is to allow the influx of more high-skilled workers.

However, the country doesn't necessarily agree. The study notes that only 29 percent of the public supports high-skilled immigration, compared to 77 percent from the business community.

"Many more jobs have been lost due to automation rather than immigration," Raman said, adding that the latter is often the focus of the blame.

To ensure the country's ability to compete, Raman encouraged politicians to inform the public and keep an open dialogue including business leaders' perspective, but also the needs of U.S. citizens. "The United States is competitive if its companies are able to compete successfully across the globe and, at the same time, the average American is able to aspire to rising living standards," Raman said.

"If a policy decision serves only U.S. companies or if it serves only the average American, that might not always serve the country best in the long run. It may seem a good policy in the short term, but in the long term it may have unintended consequences that could harm the country's ability to compete globally."

Merkel rival Schulz risks winning Europe and losing Germany

By Birgit Jennen and Rainer Buergin
Merkel rival Schulz risks winning Europe and losing Germany
Martin Schulz, Social Democrat Party (SPD) candidate for German Chancellor, speaks during a SPD labour conference in Bielefeld, Germany, on Feb. 20, 2017. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Krisztian Bocsi.

Martin Schulz's two decades in Brussels and Strasbourg gave him a reputation as a straight-talking champion of Europe who favored doing more to support struggling euro-area countries. Back home, that's a hard sell.

Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament, has hauled his Social Democratic Party into contention since saying he'll run against Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany's Sept. 24 election, yet without articulating much detail of his campaign themes.

The new SPD leader's dilemma is that while his record in favor of shared euro-area debt and easing up on Greece is a clear break from Merkel's stance, polls suggest it clashes with the broader public mood in Germany. On the issue of greatest concern to voters and where the chancellor is vulnerable -- the refugee crisis -- his position is aligned with her's.

As his party works on a platform, the upshot is that Schulz may have to tread gingerly on some of the policies he's most passionate about if he's to have any chance of winning.

There will be "no revolution," said Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank. "To avoid a popular backlash, even Schulz would have to limit the risks Germany may incur."

It's an opening that Merkel allies are already trying to exploit. Peter Altmaier, her chief of staff, told Bild newspaper he's "just as pro-European as Martin Schulz," but has always viewed shared euro debt as "wrong." Merkel told reporters on Thursday she still says "no to euro bonds."

A European Union survey in November found that Germany has the least public backing for so-called euro bonds among EU countries, with just 24 percent saying they were in favor. That compared with 55 percent support in Portugal and 50 percent in Greece. While Merkel and Schulz both insist that Greece must be kept in the euro, 52 percent of Germans said they wouldn't care if it left, according to a Forsa survey published Wednesday.

Schulz, 61, has also pressed EU governments to introduce a European deposit-insurance system. It's the sort of solidarity that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, Merkel's trusted lieutenant for euro matters, has resisted as putting taxpayers at excessive risk -- helping to make him one of Germany's most popular politicians.

Schulz's arrival back in Germany to assume the helm of his party, the junior partner in Merkel's coalition, has energized the race. Polls that showed the SPD trailing Merkel's Christian Democratic Union-led bloc by as many as 18 percentage points over the past year now show it with between 29-33 percent support to 31.5-34 percent for her CDU/CSU.

A Schulz ascendancy to the chancellery would help dispel concern about a breakup of the euro, Erik Nielsen, chief economist at UniCredit in London, said in an interview.

"The first thing you would see is a narrowing of spreads," he said. "The risk that Germany would be the policeman -- as they've done in periods of times of fiscal austerity -- is going to be less," signaling "an implicit stronger underwriting" of the currency union.

And yet getting there is the hardest part.

Schulz may represent a more inclusive German approach toward Europe than a Merkel government, but "little is known about his vision on domestic affairs," UBS economists Ricardo Garcia and Christoph Buxtorf said in a note on Jan. 25.

Fleshing that program out beyond social justice and solidarity, "will be an important driver of his popularity," they said. "We therefore caution against reading too much into current polls until more clarity emerges on Schulz's detailed positions."

Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING-Diba in Frankfurt sees Schulz's European convictions as an electoral strength, even if some of his positions are unlikely to win over voters.

On the domestic front, 48 percent said the SPD was the party most likely to deliver social justice, an FG Wahlen poll for ZDF television's Politbarometer this month showed. Just 24 percent said it had most economic competence, compared with 35 percent for Merkel's bloc.

"Laying out political positions is a risk for Schulz," Manfred Guellner, head of Berlin-based polling company Forsa, said in an interview. "Making social justice your central campaign theme isn't enough to win an election."


Schulz in his own words:

- On euro-area bonds

Schulz told Der Spiegel magazine in 2014 that he favors jointly-issued bonds by euro countries, while conceding "that there will be no majorities for that in the foreseeable future."

- Pooling debt

In March 2013, Schulz welcomed a proposal to bundle euro members' government debt exceeding 60 percent of gross domestic product into a mutually guaranteed redemption fund. It would "relieve the crisis countries of some of their interest burden," he told Handelsblatt.

- European deposit insurance

Schulz called on Merkel's government in November 2015 to stop delaying the introduction of a European deposit-insurance system, which Germany's banks reject. Schulz argued that the scheme is needed quickly "to break the vicious circle between bank and state debts."

- Greece

Schulz has supported giving Greece more time to meet bailout terms. While he hasn't advocated forgiving Greek debt, a decision that's mostly in the hands of euro-area governments, he welcomed talks on debt relief that were held for the first time in 2016.

- Russia sanctions

Schulz, like Merkel, opposes easing economic sanctions against Russia until President Vladimir Putin fully complies with a 2015 peace accord for eastern Ukraine. That contrasts with other senior Social Democrats, who have suggested lifting sanctions step-by-step in response to Russian concessions.

- Austerity vs investment

Schulz has backed EU stimulus programs and opposed sovereign-rescue plans that tilt toward deficit reduction over promoting growth, arguing that bailouts hit a wall when voters rebel against austerity. Like Greece, France and other euro countries that have missed deficit reduction goals should be granted more time, he's said. In his parting short as European Parliament head, he criticized German-led austerity in the euro area, saying it isn't a cure-all for weak economies and ignores "people's desperation."

- Manager pay

In his nomination speech in January, he took aim at managers who "rake in millions in bonuses" while checkout cashiers, he said, are fired for minor lapses.

- Refugees

Schulz is perhaps even more liberal on refugees than Merkel, whose open-borders policy has eroded her popularity and fueled the rise of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party. "It's good that Germany fulfilled its humanitarian obligation during the refugee crisis," Schulz said in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine this month.

- Trump

He wants Merkel to call out President Donald Trump for "launching a wrecking ball at our values" and respond with "a real strengthening of the EU," according to Der Spiegel.

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

Trump’s takeover of conservatism is complete

By dana milbank
Trump’s takeover of conservatism is complete

WASHINGTON -- President Trump, addressing the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, reminisced about the “very exciting” moment several years ago when he had his coming out as a conservative.

I was there when Trump spoke at that 2011 CPAC gathering, at its former site in the Marriott ballroom in Washington’s Woodley Park neighborhood. Then, as now, Trump was angry. But he didn’t utter a peep that day about immigration or the border wall, terrorism, or Iran or Iraq -- the issues that motivate him now.

What made him mad then was gas prices. He had just seen gas selling for $4.54 a gallon. “It’s going to go much higher,” he said, predicting prices of $7 to $9 a gallon. “Believe me, in a year or two from now you’re going to be paying that, as sure as you’re sitting there.”

A year and two later, average gas prices were, respectively, $3.55 and $3.65, on the way down to $1.70 in 2016 -- and Trump dropped that crusade.

Rewatching the 2011 CPAC video was instructive. Trump already had fragments of what would become campaign lines: The United States is “the laughingstock of the world.” Other countries “are screwing us.” “Our country will be great again.” But other than issues such as China, he was animated by different subjects (Somali pirates!). Trump had little interest in conservative ideology then or now, instead exploiting the public passion of the moment.

What’s changed is not Trump but the conservative movement. When he spoke at CPAC in 2011, conservatism was an ideology. By this year’s conference, conservatism had become a collection of grievances. It had become Trumpism.

In 2011, the Reagan principles still held sway: free trade, limited government, U.S. leadership overseas, and plans to reform entitlement programs at home to balance the government’s finances. Now, to judge from the adulation for Trump and his agenda at CPAC this week, conservatism is about: ripping up trade deals, expanding executive police powers, retreating from foreign engagement, and declaring Medicare and Social Security inviolate.

How did this happen?

At CPAC this week, Trump employed his usual knack for alternative facts when he said he “had very little notes” at his 2011 speech, yet “everybody was thrilled.” In fact, he read closely from his speech. And, though most did swoon for the reality-TV star, he was booed lustily by the Ron Paul supporters, while many laughed at his now-characteristic boasts (”I graduated from ... the best business school”) while some social conservatives were wary. He was invited by a gay Republican group, and he had previously favored abortion rights and universal health care.

When he returned to the conference in 2013, he positioned himself (BEG ITAL)against(END ITAL) conservatives. “The Republican Party is in serious trouble,” he told them, and the going “is going to be a little bit tougher, and especially as you get more and more conservative. They get nasty. They don’t like to hear what we have to say. ... We have to get the momentum back.”

By then, he had discovered immigration as an issue, but not because he was worried about Mexican rapists and killers. If illegal immigrants were made citizens, he said, “every one of those 11 million people will be voting Democratic.”

As recently as last year, the CPAC crowd was still resisting Trump, who canceled his appearance.

Some movement conservatives remain never-Trump, but as this week’s gathering shows, they are no longer a visible part of the conservative movement. Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway correctly told the crowd CPAC was becoming “TPAC.”

CPAC even winked at the unsavory element of conservatism that rose with Trump. Although it officially denounces the racist alt-right and evicted a prominent white-nationalist from the conference, the group gave a prominent speaking role to Trump senior strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who had boasted that the company he ran, Breitbart News, was “the platform for the alt-right.” Breitbart in years past held a counter-conference outside of CPAC called “The Uninvited” for those CPAC shunned because of their views.

“I want to thank you for finally inviting me to CPAC,” Bannon said onstage, noting there were “many alumni” of The Uninvited in the house.

They were. And they applauded Trump’s denunciation of the “fake news” media as “the enemy of the people,” his condemnation of free-trade deals and his talk about deporting “bad dudes” and building a wall.

The Uninvited are now on the dais at CPAC and in Trump’s America.

May conservatism rest in peace.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Adjectively speaking

By kathleen parker
Adjectively speaking

WASHINGTON -- White House press secretary Sean Spicer might owe Melissa McCarthy a thank-you note.

The actress who mocked Spicer in her “Saturday Night Live” caricature of his angry, anti-media persona seems to have breathed new life into the man -- as only a woman could do?

To his credit, Spicer didn’t curl up in a fetal ball, as one might have expected after McCarthy’s hilarious takedown of him as a humorless human meltdown. Nor has he been fired, as many predicted after a shaky start.

Rather he seems to have reinvented himself -- more confident, better versed, more likable and even at times jocular. No longer the lectern-driving avenger, he seems to be enjoying himself as reporters find humor in the occasional riposte. (Note to Sean: Riposting is good.)

Sure, he still tries to dodge or finesse questions. And he’s still a scold, telling reporters Thursday to raise their hands “like big boys and girls,” if they want to be recognized. A little rubbing alcohol with that paper cut?

The highlight, however, was when Spicer tried to interpret Donald Trump’s remarks about recent immigration raids, which the president referred to as “a military operation.”

Except, not really. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told reporters in Mexico City that no military would be used to deport illegal immigrants.

Then it was Spicer’s turn. Actually, he said, the president was using the word “military” as an “adjective” to mean with military precision. He was speaking adjectively, not noun-ly.

In the annals of spin, this one merits top billing. Might we expect more such adjustments in tweaking Trump’s unique speech patterns? Such as:

Spicer: The president didn’t mean that ALL undocumented workers are “bad dudes.” He was speaking, um, well, diabolically, I mean, hyperbolically. He meant that bad dudes, where and to the extent they exist, will be exported to Mexico, where bad dudes obviously belong.

Reporter: Even if they’re not Mexican?

Spicer: Yes, we’re working with Mexico on that and will have a plan soon.

Reporter: Soon?

Spicer Ish. Suffix-ly.

Whatever Trump may have meant by “military operation,” thus far the raids and arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents certainly have had the look and feel of a military op by any other name.

Spicer is also correct that these detentions and deportations appear to have been performed with military precision. To a fault, one might observe.

While a majority of Americans support greater immigration enforcement, as well as major reforms aimed at greater security, the visual effect of raids that don’t always target “bad dudes” is discomfiting. President Obama, who deported more than 2.5 million people during his term, was no slouch but also no showman.

Therein lies a key distinction. Whereas Obama made concessions to people who weren’t bad dudes, Trump’s net is wider and has fewer holes.

In one Arizona case, a woman who faked her identity more than a decade ago to get a job as an amusement-park janitor was allowed to stay under Obama. When she showed up recently for her usual ICE review, she was put on a bus to Mexico.

Not exactly a “bad dude,” though some drug dealers and gang members have also reportedly been rounded up since Trump took office.

Military operation or something else?

If you’re a Trump supporter, you don’t care. If you’re an immigration advocate, you see Gestapo tactics and human rights violations.

And then there are the rest -- people who simply want straight talk, honest answers and law enforcement with compassion, especially toward undocumented workers who are here in good faith.

One might even concede that this discussion about words and meaning is much ado about nothing, a distraction for the sake of distraction. To give Spicer the benefit of the doubt, his job must be the hardest in the history of press secretaries. Explaining Trump is a relentless, thankless task for which he will be punished one way or the other.

Unlike most press secretaries, who typically come from the reporting world, Spicer is a veteran flak with a flak’s contempt for the media. What’s missing -- and also a missed opportunity -- is the camaraderie and mutual respect that often develop in the media briefing room.

Spicer would do well -- and would be well served -- if he’d treat all reporters with the same respect he wishes for himself. They’re a loathsome bunch, to be sure (she said proudly). But they’re also suckers for pros who are self-aware enough to not take themselves or this business too seriously.

Adjectively, speaking.

Kathleen Parker’s email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump’s preposterous rationale for revoking transgender bathroom rights

By ruth marcus
Trump’s preposterous rationale for revoking transgender bathroom rights

WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration’s move to rescind bathroom access protections for transgender students rests on the idea that school bathroom policies are “a states’ rights issue,” as White House press secretary Sean Spicer has explained, and that, in any event, it is “preposterous on its face” that the authors of the federal law barring sex discrimination in schools imagined it would cover transgender students.

On the states’ rights question, the administration is both wrong and offensive. On the issue of what the authors of Title IX contemplated in 1972, it is correct but irrelevant. The issue isn’t what the authors intended but what discrimination “on the basis of sex” means.

For Gavin Grimm, the 17-year-old high school student whose case is now before the Supreme Court, it means that he is a boy -- he has an amended birth certificate saying so -- who, alone among the boys at his rural Virginia school, is barred from using the boys’ room. Tell him that’s not discriminating on the basis of sex.

The states’ rights argument, redolent of 1960s resistance to civil rights protections for African-Americans is, to repeat Spicer’s language, “preposterous on its face.” Of course, education is traditionally a state and local issue. But the federal government provides billions of dollars every year to local schools -- and attaches a host of conditions to the receipt of that funding. Among those conditions: that they not discriminate on the basis of sex.

It was the authors of Title IX -- the very legislators whose intentions Spicer is so solicitous of -- who determined that sex discrimination in educational institutions was not a states’ rights issue but a matter of federal concern. If treating transgender students differently is discriminating on the basis of sex, the Trump administration’s argument is with Title IX itself. Why should a transgender student in Gloucester County, where Grimm lives, be treated differently, and enjoy fewer protections, than a transgender student elsewhere?

So the relevant question remains: Are transgender students protected under Title IX? Here, Spicer is undoubtedly correct that the authors of Title IX didn’t have transgender students in mind. That’s not the point, nor is it the way that the court interprets statutes. Back in 1972, no one imagined that sexual harassment was a form of sex discrimination. The legal theory didn’t exist. That has not stopped the Supreme Court from recognizing that sexual harassment constitutes impermissible discrimination, including under Title IX.

Dismissing legislative intent in interpreting statutory meaning in favor of focusing on the language of the statute itself is not some rogue liberal method of judging -- it’s what the late Justice Antonin Scalia advocated. Thus Grimm’s lawyers, in their just-filed brief at the Supreme Court, cite Scalia from 1998: “Statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils, and it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed.”

That case involved male-on-male sexual harassment in the workplace, clearly not what the authors of the 1964 Civil Rights Act had in mind when they made it illegal to discriminate in employment on the basis of sex.

Similarly, as the Justice Department under President Obama argued in a lower court brief in Grimm’s case, “Treating a student differently from other students because his birth-assigned sex diverges from his gender identity constitutes differential treatment on the basis of sex under Title IX.” Forcing Grimm, and Grimm alone, to use a separate, single-stall restroom, the Justice Department said, “singles him out in a way that is humiliating and stigmatizing.”

This, the Trump administration notwithstanding, is not a wacky legal interpretation. The majority of lower courts that have considered the issue have agreed that discriminating against a transgender individual is sex discrimination under federal civil rights laws and the Equal Protection Clause.

The Trump administration is making a big fuss over the Obama administration’s decision to express its position through a guidance letter to school districts rather than by passing a new regulation. Don’t let that distract you. What really matters is whether transgender students are protected by the law and the Constitution.

On that question, it might help to consider what Gavin Grimm had to tell the Gloucester County School Board when his legal odyssey began three years ago: “All I want to do is be a normal child and use the restroom in peace, and I have had no problems from students to do that -- only from adults.”

Ruth Marcus’ email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Racism and the Trump effect at the high school where I teach

By esther j. cepeda
Racism and the Trump effect at the high school where I teach

CHICAGO -- My two sons used to come home from a day at high school complaining that ludicrous accusations of racism were as common as the desks in the classrooms. I chalked it up to adolescent exaggeration.

After having spent the current academic year as a teacher surrounded by rowdy high-schoolers, I can attest that they were right.

In the hallways, at assemblies, in my classroom, “That’s racist!” was a common refrain for most of the early fall.

Usually it was a punch line: Making a reference to the wipe-able board at the front of the classroom, aka a “whiteboard”? “That’s racist!”

When I asked a Latina student if her mother was broken up about the recent death of Mexican balladeer Juan Gabriel, a non-Hispanic pupil jokingly suggested it was “racist” of me to single out this Mexican-descended student for her opinion.

During a class in which we analyzed “the Lennie standard” -- a shorthand term for the legal decision barring the death penalty for persons with intellectual disabilities -- I posted a picture of Bobby J. Moore, the defendant in the Supreme Court case. And boom: Someone shouted, for a laugh, that showing the picture of the subject of our investigation was “racist!”

Other times it was clear that the person lobbing the term was simply misunderstanding the charge of racism. One day, a student, who was herself an immigrant, described hearing a peer’s voice in a training video. “Oh, I think this boy speaking is Asian,” she said. Another pupil chimed in: “That’s racist!” My co-teacher said, “No. That student was, in fact, born and raised in China. Noticing this is not racist, it is a factual observation.”

As recently as October, I had not heard “That’s racist!” in relation to a genuine race-fueled confrontation or slight. It seemed to be a throwaway line that was injected into nearly any conversation for ironic or humorous effect, even sometimes by students of color.

This all changed in November.

After the presidential election, the concept of racism got real and played itself out in classrooms, hallways, playgrounds and on school buses. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights advocacy organization, after the election, K-12 teachers across the country reported an upswing in verbal harassment, the use of slurs and derogatory language, and disturbing incidents involving swastikas, Nazi salutes and Confederate flags.

All of a sudden, students were no longer toying with the term “racism.” After the president’s inauguration, there were the realities of Muslim-country bans, an uptick in high-profile deportations and the associated racial profiling that accompanies both.

At least in classrooms I’ve observed, instead of being used as a laugh line, students are now using the term “racism” with more reverence. Because of the spike in race-fueled graffiti, bullying and actual assaults of minority students in schools, racism is now typically discussed as part of larger conversations about how student communities get roiled when peers act out in what can sometimes be politically tense school climates.

Though due to a negative circumstance -- the normalization of anti-immigrant and anti-minority bigotry -- it’s a good thing that young people (and even some adults) are refocused on the painful reality of everyday racism.

The truth of the matter is that, regardless of our race, ethnicity, gender or religion, we all have prejudices and biases that have been passed on to us by family, friends, institutions and society at large. It’s time to understand which of these views we each hold and why.

For eight years, Americans got to pretend that racism was over because, after all, the nation had come together to elect, and then re-elect, our first African-American president.

However, it’s pretty obvious that none of us is as enlightened and free of bias as we had wished -- whether we’re white people harboring bias toward minorities, or people of color who have decided that all white people are supremacists.

Last week, responding to pressure from Jewish groups who had criticized him for not speaking out against a national rash of anti-Semitism, President Trump finally uttered the words so many of us had been waiting for since election night when he promised to unite our country: “We have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms.”

Let’s hope this isn’t just a throwaway line. The nation needs our president to really mean it and start acting like the “least racist” person he believes himself to be.

Esther Cepeda’s email address is Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

A civets lesson

By gene weingarten
A civets lesson

WASHINGTON -- My friend Rachel and I are about to sample some coffee. The beans from which this coffee was brewed were purchased by an American lawyer at a street market in Vietnam. They found their way to my home through a circuitous process I choose not to disclose.

The beans are packaged in an airtight container featuring Wicovalve technology, advertised as the world’s best freshness sealant. (The seal looks way more complicated than it has to be, substantially over-engineered for its purpose, like the convoluted mass of veiny flesh under our tongues.) The bag is metallic and as thick as wedding-invitation stationery. Clearly, this packet transports something of value.

The beans inside, and variants of them, are said to sell for as much as $350 a pound in Europe and the United States -- and, because of their scarcity, even more on the black market. I ground them and dripped them into coffee. It smells faintly of dark chocolate, molasses and/or mahogany. In short, it definitely smells ... brown. Under the circumstances, this is a little disturbing.

“OK,” says Rachel, assessing her still unsampled mug. “This smells like when teenagers are on a camping trip and they don’t like coffee yet but have to drink it to seem mature, so they add Swiss Miss. It’s exactly the sort of ... “

I accuse her of stalling for time. She denies it.

“I am not at all worried.”

She looks at the cup.

“I mean, they must wash it, right?”

I shrugged. Who knows?

“Well, they must (BEG ITAL)rinse(END ITAL) it at least, right?”

The package doesn’t identify exactly what type of coffee it is, but judging from the accompanying photograph, which is of a ratlike animal looking hungrily at some yummy beans on a vine, what we are about to drink is civet coffee. It’s famous. To put it bluntly, the beans are fed to these nocturnal Asian mammals and then re-harvested from their poop. Supposedly the coffee has been chemically altered by the civet’s digestive processes in some salubrious and flavor-enhancing way.

I decide to start with a palate cleanser of tap water.

“Are you stalling for time?” Rachel asks, archly.

We sip. It’s delicious, in a sort of biologically complex way. A few minutes elapse.

Rachel takes a refill. She has decided that these beans (BEG ITAL)must(END ITAL) be pristine, so there is nothing to worry about.

“If you are farming these things, you’re not feeding them anything other than beans, so that’s all there is in their system. No bugs or berries, no real pooplike material to contaminate it.”

“What? Why?”

She rolls her eyes. Clearly, I am an idiot. “Because if you are farming civets for their coffee-bean poop, if that is the whole enterprise, you are losing money if you feed them anything but the coffee beans. It’s about a rudimentary principle of business called ‘opportunity loss.’”

I accuse her of inventing nonsense terminology to distract attention from a disagreeable truth, like that guy inventing “Vorshtein” on “Seinfeld.” She Googles “opportunity loss” and proves she is right.

Fueled by coffee, we get more philosophical. So what if these were not cleaned beans? Life itself is dirty. We are forever ingesting horrible things. The FDA actually (BEG ITAL)permits(END ITAL) a certain amount of beetle eggs in asparagus, maggots in maraschino cherries, and insect heads in figs. It is simply a fact that we inhale, with every breath, molecules that have been expelled as gas from a stranger’s colon.

This is a bracing logic, but we are still feeling a little bit queasy.

Just then, I get an email from the lawyer who had purchased the beans. He said that he’d had an elaborate conversation with the street vendor, and as far as he understood, despite the image on the label, these were (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) civet poop coffee beans at all.

Thank goodness!

They were (BEG ITAL)weasel(END ITAL) poop coffee beans.

Gene Weingarten can be reached at Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten. Chat with him online Tuesday, Feb. 28, at noon Eastern at

(c) 2017, The Washington Post Writers Group

‘Big government’ is ever growing, on the sly

By george f. will
‘Big government’ is ever growing, on the sly

WASHINGTON -- In 1960, when John Kennedy was elected president, America’s population was 180 million and it had approximately 1.8 million federal bureaucrats (not counting uniformed military personnel and postal workers). Fifty-seven years later, with seven new Cabinet agencies, and myriad new sub-Cabinet agencies (e.g., the Environmental Protection Agency), and a slew of matters on the federal policy agenda that were virtually absent in 1960 (health care insurance, primary and secondary school quality, crime, drug abuse, campaign finance, gun control, occupational safety, etc.), and with a population of 324 million, there are only about 2 million federal bureaucrats.

So, since 1960, federal spending, adjusted for inflation, has quintupled and federal undertakings have multiplied like dandelions, but the federal civilian workforce has expanded only negligibly, to approximately what it was when Dwight Eisenhower was elected in 1952. Does this mean that “big government” is not really big? And that by doing much more with not many more employees it has accomplished prodigies of per-worker productivity? John J. DiIulio Jr., of the University of Pennsylvania and the Brookings Institution, says: Hardly.

In his 2014 book “Bring Back the Bureaucrats,” he argued that because the public is, at least philosophically, against “big government,” government has prudently become stealthy about how it becomes ever bigger. In a new Brookings paper, he demonstrates that government expands by indirection, using three kinds of “administrative proxies” -- state and local government, for-profit businesses, and nonprofit organizations.

Since 1960, the number of state and local government employees has tripled to more than 18 million, a growth driven by federal money: Between the early 1960s and early 2010s, the inflation-adjusted value of federal grants for the states increased more than tenfold. For example, the EPA has fewer than 20,000 employees, but 90 percent of EPA programs are completely administered by thousands of state government employees, largely funded by Washington.

A quarter of the federal budget is administered by the fewer than 5,000 employees of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) -- and by the states, at least half of whose administrative costs are paid by CMS. Various federal crime and homeland security bills help fund local police departments. “By conservative estimates,” DiIulio writes, “there are about 3 million state and local government workers” -- about 50 percent more than the number of federal workers -- “funded via federal grants and contracts.”

Then there are for-profit contractors, used, DiIulio says, “by every federal department, bureau and agency.” For almost a decade, the Defense Department’s full-time equivalent of 700,000 to 800,000 civilian workers were supplemented by the full-time equivalent of 620,000 to 770,000 for-profit contract employees. “During the first Gulf War in 1991,” DiIulio says, “American soldiers outnumbered private contractors in the region by about 60-to-1; but, by 2006, there were nearly as many private contractors as soldiers in Iraq -- about 100,000 contract employees, not counting subcontractor employees, versus 140,000 troops.” Today, the government spends more (about $350 billion) on defense contractors than on all official federal bureaucrats ($250 billion).

Finally, “employment in the tax-exempt or independent sector more than doubled between 1977 and 2012 to more than 11 million.” Approximately a third of the revenues to nonprofits (e.g., Planned Parenthood) flow in one way or another from government. “If,” DiIulio calculates, “only one-fifth of the 11 million nonprofit sector employees owe their jobs to federal or intergovernmental grant, contract or fee funding, that’s 2.2 million workers” -- slightly more than the official federal workforce.

To which add the estimated 7.5 million for-profit contractors. Plus the conservative estimate of 3 million federally funded employees of state and local governments. To this total of more than 12 million, add the approximately 2 million actual federal employees. This 14 million is about 10 million more than the estimated 4 million federal employees and contractors during the Eisenhower administration.

So, today’s government is indeed big (3.5 times bigger than five and a half decades ago), but dispersed to disguise its size. This government is, DiIulio says, “both debt-financed (BEG ITAL)and(END ITAL) proxy-administered.” It spends more just on Medicare benefits than on the official federal civilian workforce, and this is just a fraction of the de facto federal workforce.

Many Americans are rhetorically conservative but behaviorally liberal. So, they are given government that is not limited but overleveraged -- debt-financed, meaning partially paid for by future generations -- and administered by proxies. The government/for-profit contractor/non-profit complex consumes 40 percent of GDP. Just don’t upset anyone by calling it “big government.”

George Will’s email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

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