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

'He hurt people': West Virginia's long-faithful Catholics grapple with news of bishop's misconduct

By Julie Zauzmer
'He hurt people': West Virginia's long-faithful Catholics grapple with news of bishop's misconduct
Archbishop William Lori, of Baltimore, shakes hands with members of the congregation after mass at the Saint Joseph Catholic Church Sunday. Lori's visit followed the disclosure of West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield's mishandling of church funds, in which Bransfield dispersed thousands of dollars to other members of Catholic leadership, including Lori. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Lexi Browning

MARTINSBURG, W. Va.-Nancy Ostrowski knows this state. And she thought she knew her bishop.

Her family has been attending St. Joseph Catholic Church since the Romanesque Revival building was dedicated in 1860, just before West Virginia broke away from Virginia to support the Union. Her ancestors saw the heady years of Martinsburg's heyday, when the mills running day and night here supplied clothing to the world, and the heavy decades of struggle when those mills closed down.

Ostrowski knows West Virginia's isolated Appalachian crannies, pockets of desperate poverty where people like her, people who've kept their Catholic faith for generations, might drive all the way across their county to attend the one shrinking Catholic church around.

She thought Bishop Michael Bransfield, who led the statewide Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston from 2005 until his abrupt retirement under church investigation last year, held those places in his heart. He visited those mountain hamlets. He wrote about their needs in the diocesan newsletter that she always read.

"He seemed to have a real sense of duty and caring to the people of the state. That made it doubly shocking," Ostrowski said on Sunday, as she left Mass at that brick Romanesque temple her forefathers helped build. "For all intents and purposes, he seemed to be a very good bishop. But he was leading a double life."

Rumors had circulated for years about Bransfield. But Ostrowski and many fellow parishioners first learned that he was suspected of misconduct when he retired suddenly last fall, and Pope Francis asked Baltimore's Archbishop William Lori to conduct an investigation. Details were elusive, until a Washington Post investigation earlier this month.

The Post reported Bransfield's extravagant spending: millions on personal travel and renovations to his residence, $182,000 on daily fresh flower deliveries, $350,000 in cash gifts to powerful cardinals as well as to men who had accused him of sexual harassment.

Catholics across the state felt betrayed. Within days, hundreds had signed a petition calling for major reforms from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and even from the Vatican.

The surprise, West Virginians say, is twofold - how Bransfield used the diocese's money, first; and second, that there was ever so much money to begin with, in a state with one of the smallest Catholic populations in the country and in one of the nation's poorest states, with a median household income above only Louisiana and Mississippi in 2017, according to the Census Bureau.

Unbeknownst to parishioners: the Wheeling-Charleston diocese was bequeathed land in Texas in 1904, where oil found later now brings in nearly $15 million a year on average.

"My gosh, this should be enough money to help these people. And they're sitting on it, and spending it in very selfish ways. That was my reaction, my very first reaction," said Suzanne Kenney in Morgantown.

Kenney thought of the families in the southern part of the state, whose homes were washed away by floods years ago and are still living in trailers. She thought of the desperately poor families she saw at the nonprofit in Marion County that she recently retired from, families scrounging for food and diapers.

Kenney and a small group of fellow Catholics, almost all of them active volunteers in their parishes, wrote a petition last week calling for reforms ranging from financial audits, to support for sexual abuse victims, to an audacious demand that a selection committee, instead of the pope, pick the next bishop.

More than 400 people signed in four days.

Those who are still practicing Catholics in West Virginia today, like those who are still Catholic almost anywhere in the United States, are a hardy bunch. They perhaps heard rumors of priests who abused children in the '70s and '80s and '90s, but if they did, they stayed Catholic. Then they learned, along with the rest of the nation, of the staggering extent of the abuse crisis when the Boston Globe exposed the scandal in 2002, and they stayed Catholic. When the scandal roared back to life this year, in the form of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that inspired similar probes across the country, they stayed faithful to a church under criminal investigation.

While many Catholics left - so many that now close to one out of every seven Americans is a former Catholic - these West Virginians stayed steadfast. In a heavily Protestant state, where only 4 percent of the population identifies as Catholic, they kept their churches going, even in the most hardscrabble rural communities where less than 100 people in a far-flung parish might drive to church for Mass.

So this week, West Virginia's Catholics did what they have always done: They kept showing up. On Sunday, in churches across the state, parents brought their children to Mass and watched proudly when they acted as altar servers. Parish volunteers passed baskets for the offering, and members opened their wallets as they do every week, and filled the baskets.

Lori, who is in charge of the West Virginia diocese in the absence of a bishop, received a warm welcome when he came to Martinsburg on Sunday.

On Queen Street, where businesses like a bustling diner and a spiffy pottery shop stave off the fate of the stores around them with "closed" signs in the windows and paint peeling, Lori stood in his episcopal finery on the steps of St. Joseph's church, shaking churchgoers' hands beneath the shade of the grand old Greek portico.

Lori was one of the many bishops who received checks from Bransfield, totaling $10,500. When an initial investigative committee made their report about Bransfield's conduct in February, Lori took out the names of bishops who received the checks - including himself - before he sent the report on to the Vatican.

After the Post's report came out, Lori said he regretted removing the names. In his homily in Martinsburg, he expressed remorse repeatedly - "I acknowledge some of my decisions thus far have not been the right ones" - but he never specified what he was apologizing for.

Ushers collected the offering from the congregation, presenting Lori with the largest basket full of crumpled bills. One mother whispered to a small boy, "You want to see him come down with his staff, the bishop?" and nudged him toward the aisle to watch in awe.

Many parishioners expressed disgust with Bransfield for his deeds, but not with Lori for concealing them.

"He's got a very tough job," said Larry Burkhart, a lifelong West Virginian who came away impressed by Lori's message. "He faced up to it. He's doing the best he can."

In Charles Town, Penny Fuller looked out at the lush green fields of grain surrounding her parish church and recalled her former esteem for Bransfield. She once struck up a conversation, telling him that she was from Philadelphia where he formerly served, and she was impressed by the attention he paid her. "He seemed a very cultured, refined, intelligent man. I was shocked," she said.

But others said that Bransfield's taste for the high life was an open secret among many parishioners.

"Oh, there were so many signals. He wore a lot of regalia. He talked a lot about money," said Jan Yates, as she manned the table at her Shepherdstown parish where raffle tickets were selling for one dollar for a chance to win a quilt crafted by women in the congregation.

When Bransfield dedicated this church's new building in 2008, she said, his expectation for ceremony seemed to her to contrast with the purposely elegant but humble St. Agnes building, where parishioners sit facing each other in an almond-shaped rounded sanctuary with spare décor and no altar.

"He had to have lots of pomp and circumstance," Yates said. "That's not who we are. This is a cinderblock church. This is Christianity, and this is West Virginia."

Catholics across the state mused about what the money that Bransfield spent on himself could have gone to instead. For Anna Lehew, it was obvious: the four Catholic schools, all the Catholic schools in Marshall County, that she and other parents fought unsuccessfully for years to prevent the diocese from closing down.

"As many years as Bransfield was there, the diocese literally existed to benefit him and those at the top with him. That's how I feel," Lehew said. She still dreams of Catholic education returning to Marshall County. The parents group has taken their case all the way to the Vatican.

"He hurt people," said Chuck Pierpont. He's given so much of himself to his parish - as a council member, as a cantor, as an usher, as whatever role needs to be filled. And he knows his fellow members don't have much to spare, but many take their church donations as a deep responsibility. "They tithe. Ten percent of everything they bring in, every week."

Now that parishioners fear their funds might just be going to finance a bishop's fancy lifestyle, they may stop giving. Standing at the edge of the baptismal font cut into the concrete floor of his Shepherdstown parish, Pierpont said, over the sound of the trickling water, that he fears the funds that keep this building going will dry up.

About a quarter of Catholics nationwide told Pew Research Center recently that they've reduced their church donations due to church scandal. About the same number said they go to Mass less often, too. So Pierpont worries about an even more important resource disappearing: the people.

Last Easter, for the first time he can remember, no one was immersed in this baptismal font. There were no new Catholics, here, to baptize.

As donors, minority women push for political clout

By Michelle Ye Hee Lee
As donors, minority women push for political clout
Eric Casher shows his phone to Maria Echaveste at an event for She the People in Houston. MUST CREDIT: photo for The Washington Post by Sergio Flores.

HOUSTON - Sima Ladjevardian made her first major foray into political giving in 2016, when she gave thousands of dollars to support the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton's presidential bid. But she was only getting started.

Realizing there was power in political giving, the Iranian American lawyer donated to more than a dozen Democratic candidates from Virginia to Arizona in last year's midterm elections. This year, she has given the maximum $2,800 to presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke. And she is trying to persuade other minority women to do the same.

"Women of color have been afraid to get more involved, especially political causes, because they didn't think it would matter," said Ladjevardian, mingling at a private reception here for minority women this spring. "It's important to get [them] to donate and be involved in the process, and know how much their voice makes a difference."

In pockets across the country, women such as Ladjevardian are trying to raise their profile as political donors, driven by a desire to exert more influence over a political system that has long seemed inaccessible to them.

No longer content to simply be the Democratic Party's most loyal voters - 94 percent of African American women voted for Clinton over President Donald Trump in 2016, for instance - some women of color are seeking to break into the influential but overwhelmingly white and male world of political donors.

The efforts are part of a broader campaign to elevate the voices of this group within the Democratic Party, which has had some success. In April, most of the declared Democratic presidential hopefuls attended a forum hosted by She the People, a new political group dedicated to liberal women of color.

But the efforts also reflect a worry that, without robust giving by minority women, the party will move on in the general election to focus on white Midwestern Trump voters at the expense of communities of color.

"If the Democratic Party . . . were truly wanting to invest in the most powerful, reliable, fastest-growing part of the base, they would right now be announcing historic investments in registering and engaging women of color - in particular, in swing states," said Aimee Allison, founder and president of She the People.

The absence of women of color is particularly acute among the super-rich givers - billionaires and multimillionaires who give seven figures or more per election. The power of these contributors has grown in recent years as courts have opened the floodgates to donors' unlimited spending to try to sway elections.

But even many ultrarich minority women, such as Oprah Winfrey, have preferred to support charities and causes over political candidates. Activists and researchers say that reflects the challenges of creating a culture of political giving even among those who give large amounts philanthropically.

"Money to political [causes and candidates] was not what I grew up with. You give money to church, you don't give money to get [people] elected," said Lola West, an African American Democratic donor who gave to President Barack Obama and Clinton in their 2008 campaigns and has since donated several thousand dollars supporting candidates for Congress and local office.

She said giving and raising money opened a new level of access to push for policies and change.

"It's a new world that opens up to you when you start donating politically. You get entree to conversations, to meetings, to activities that are going on," said West, co-founder and managing director of WestFuller Advisors, a boutique wealth management firm in New York.

There is limited data and research on political giving by gender and race, making it difficult to gauge potential - or progress.

Although specific figures vary depending on racial and age groups, women of color are generally underrepresented as campaign donors even though they vote at high rates, according to research by progressive think tank Demos. Black, Latina and Asian women made up a smaller share of the donor pool in elections from 2008 through 2014, compared to men of color, white women and white men, Demos found.

There were just two Latinos among the top 100 political givers in the 2016 cycle, one of them female, according to the Center for Public Integrity: Alejandra de la Vega Foster, who gave to Republicans.

Another major donor is Sunita Leeds, an Indian American political activist and philanthropist living in Washington. She gave more than $200,000 to Democrats and liberal groups in the 2016 cycle and was a superdelegate for Clinton in 2016.

"Women of color of high-net wealth [are] doing some political giving, but very, very few are doing so with gusto," said Hali Lee, co-director of the Donors of Color Network, a national project researching and engaging wealthy minority donors. "There's a huge opportunity there for this sleeping giant."

A sign of hope many see for engaging more minority women to give money in 2020: the wave of women of color who were elected into office in 2018.

Maria Echaveste, a former White House deputy chief of staff under President Bill Clinton and a political donor, recalled almost instantaneously when asked about her first political donation. It was to Gloria Molina, who in 1991 became the first Latina to be elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

"She was taking on the old Latino boys in Los Angeles," Echaveste recalled. "The guys had told her, 'Wait your turn.' She was like, 'To hell with it.' "

Echaveste, then a young corporate lawyer just earning a salary, gave a couple hundred dollars and volunteered for Molina's campaign.

In 2018, the Democratic National Committee launched a program called "Seat at the Table" to involve more black women in the party, in response to criticisms that the party overlooked the voting bloc in 2016.

Since 2017, at least a dozen groups have emerged or ramped up their activities to bring together women and minority donors. They have been conducting research and meeting in small groups, and they tested out their strategy in the 2018 elections.

One effort is led by a small group of advisers and activists from the world of philanthropy who are recruiting and educating donors of color, particularly women, to donate politically.

The idea for the group came out of meetings at the Democracy Alliance, a network of high-net-worth liberal donors. People realized that women and minorities were often giving presentations to donors, rather than being the donors themselves, said Ashindi Maxton, who is involved in the effort.

"Women of color donors, the party doesn't look at them and see them as the power players they are or could be," Maxton said.

Another effort is being spearheaded by She the People. The group's April event in Houston was primarily funded by two groups that are engaging more women and minority donors and activists for 2020: Women Donors Network, a group of about 250 women, and Way to Win, a coalition of mostly female donors.

These groups are working to direct new donors' political spending to candidates and activist groups in the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party. They say the party has overlooked an increasingly multicultural, female and liberal base, particularly in the South and Southwest - and believe that the donor base should reflect and listen to the changing faces in the party.

"If there's a cultural shift happening in general, and a political shift is on the horizon, then certain donors . . . it's time for them to follow that cultural shift, too, and think about how they are engaged in politics," said Tory Gavito, president of Way to Win.

Wet California winter is a boon for skiers and water supply. But it brings a threat: Wildfires.

By Scott Wilson
Wet California winter is a boon for skiers and water supply. But it brings a threat: Wildfires.
Firefighters initiate and work a controlled burn in the Inyo National Forest area of Mammoth Lakes in California on June 3, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Melina Mara

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. - This early June morning is Boyd Shepler's birthday, No. 66, and he is spending it in a classic California way: a few hours of skiing in a snowflake-filled morning, then a round of golf in the dry afternoon sun.

The snow here in the Sierra Nevada is epic, packed into a base that is more than double the historic average for early summer. Here on Mammoth Mountain, the ski lifts will be running into August. At lower altitudes, a spring of atmospheric rivers and hard rain has filled the state's once-languishing reservoirs.

"The coverage at the top is as good as I have seen it in 30 years," said Shepler, stoked after skiing Hangman's Hollow in June for the first time in years before trading his waterproof pants for a pair of shorts and flip-flops. "We live for these summers up here."

But the bounty of California's have-it-both-ways climate has evolved into a can't-win challenge, something former governor Jerry Brown called the "new abnormal."

Awash in precious snow and water that will help meet the demands of the state's 40 million residents, the wetness also is forcing California to confront an even greater threat of wildfire. The soaking spring nourishing the Jeffrey pines and sagebrush is giving way to a desert dry as soaring heat scorches the new growth into blankets of kindling.

At least eight wildfires already have flared during the past week to the north and west of here, and the Bay Area is hitting record-high temperatures for early June. The utility company responsible for the state's deadliest fire, which reduced the town of Paradise to ash last year, has begun pre-emptively shutting down power to tens of thousands of customers in fire-prone areas.

The shift to climate extremes also highlights years of inadequate forest management that has turned places such as the Inyo National Forest, which surrounds this mountain resort, into overgrown stands of fuel. Forest managers here are setting "controlled" fires months earlier than usual, and they have adopted plans that will allow vast stretches of state forest to burn if wildfires begin naturally.

"We've gotten really good at putting out fires under all circumstances, except for extreme weather conditions," said Alan Taylor, a Pennsylvania State University professor of geology and ecology who has found that the historic link between wet winters followed by mild fire seasons no longer exists. "And that is how they are burning in California now."

Since taking office, President Donald Trump has blamed irresponsible forest management for California's severe wildfires, which have followed wet springs. He has failed to mention that more than half the forest land in the state is under federal control.

But Trump's push for more aggressive fuel-clearing measures - including controlled burns often opposed by the public and in conflict with state air quality regulations - is a rare point of agreement between those who manage the forests and his administration.

The U.S. Forest Service has been ordered to increase by threefold the amount of fire fuel it clears each year through controlled burns and "thinning," the more selective cutting down of trees. The agency also has been told to step up timber production, a policy that has traditionally bothered environmentalists.

California, too, has strengthened its approach.

Brown, a Democrat, allocated $1 billion from the state's carbon-tax revenue to the lead fire agency, CalFire, for the purpose of managing forests to prevent fires rather than simply fighting them. His successor, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, has continued that approach.

"Sometimes California feels like this entirely different country than the United States, and people love to disparage the state, sometimes for good reason," said Malcolm North, a forest service scientist who runs a lab at the University of California at Davis. "But this is an issue in the West that we are not going to fix without a financial commitment, and California is making that financial commitment."

The long-term goal is to return California forests to their conditions before 1850, when decades of European settlement culminated with the rapid population increase that accompanied the Gold Rush. What that means: Forests with far fewer trees.

The success of modern, aggressive fire suppression techniques has meant that forests, which once burned naturally, have for decades been prevented from doing so, leaving dangerous consequences.

About 10 percent, or 500,000 acres, of Sierra forest now under federal management burned each year before 1850. Forest scientists say that is roughly the natural fuel quota that should be eliminated annually.

But, in those same forests today, managers are clearing just 33,000 acres of fuel each year. The result is that forests dry out faster because, as North puts it, "there are too many straws in the ground." The fires burn hotter and longer.

"We're not even close, we're off by an order of magnitude, and you cannot just thin your way out of the problem," he said of meeting adequate fuel-clearing quotas. "We're behind the eight ball on this and we should use every tool we have."

- - -

The Inyo National Forest's 1.9 million acres include the Sierra's pine forests, steep canyons, expansive calderas and the highest peak in the Lower 48 states, Mount Whitney. There is no timber industry here in what is a rain shadow formed by the surrounding range.

"We are basically a forest on top of a desert," said Eric Vane, the U.S. Forest Service's vegetation planning manager for the northern Inyo.

Vane is 32 years old, a Michigan native, who has worked here for three years. Before that he was in Stanislaus National Forest to the north where, unlike in the Inyo, a commercial timber industry thrived.

Inyo's challenges are different - from its climate to its trees to its closer contact with a public that doesn't always weigh the long-term goals of forest management against short-term challenges and inconveniences of controlled burns.

Outside Vane's U.S. Forest Service office, a carved wooden Smokey Bear displayed a green sign one recent morning declaring fire danger "low."

There are patches of snow on the ground at 7,800 feet, the peaks above coated in white. But the clear air is dry and the sun hot when the windblown clouds reveal it.

"It changes so fast right now," Vane said. "This combination of dryness and heat just sucks the moisture out of the plants. We'll go from Smokey saying 'low' to 'extreme' very quickly."

The Inyo is made up primarily of Jeffrey pine, a tree that has adapted to fire. Its bark is thick and reddish, and on those that existed before the Gold Rush, its horizontal branches begin far up the trunk. The trees shed their lower branches to prevent flames from climbing into their crowns.

Some stands here are a tangle of old and young pines, pale sage and bitter brush covering the small patches of ground between them. This is unnatural, the bunching too close together to allow for healthy growth or the right allocation of water for all these straws.

"You read accounts from the mid-1800s, and people were taking horse and buggy through here," Vane said, pointing at a stand so dense a hiker would have a hard time passing.

But, as the dirt road climbs and dips through the forest, signs of the last fire appear. Charred trunks, cut down by the forest service after the blaze, lie in haphazard piles.

In 2016, the Owens River Fire charred nearly 5,500 acres, about 700 of which burned here along the steep roadside. This was a "high-intensity" event because the flames reached into the tree canopy, spreading quickly through high branches rather than across the ground.

Over the next rise, a patch of blackened forest fills the valley before climbing along the canyon's far wall toward the top of Bald Mountain. The trees here are black spikes, branchless.

"This was an area that had not seen fire in a hundred years, so all these dense patches were primed to burn at high-severity," Vane said. "The way this burned was an abnormality compared to how it would have a century ago."

The severity of the state's recent fire seasons, which have been longer and more intense than any in memory, prompted officials to update forest-management plans. The one for Inyo had not been revised since 1988.

At the state level, all 175 fire districts have done the same. Among the most significant measures adopted in some of the revised plans is the designation of large tracks of forest as "let it burn" zones. In the three districts in the Sierras, the designation encompasses between 150,000 and 300,000 acres of forest that would be allowed to burn if a wildfire were to begin.

Cinematic storm clouds blow in quickly, casting the approach to the Bald Mountain summit in shadow. A light snow dusts the roadside, heated only minutes before by a summer sun. Then hail begins to pelt the windshield. Nearing the summit, it turns to balls of ice and snow that pound down and make the summit unreachable.

Minutes later, and a thousand feet lower, the sun is out.

"I've never seen it like that before," Vane said. "I guess we decided to show you all the weather we have on one day."

- - -

The readings are promising - light wind, blowing away from town, and humidity above 50%. Conditions auspicious enough to start a fire and, with much planning and dozens of well-trained men and women, control it.

On this June day, the forest service is going to burn 120 acres of the Inyo National Forest, an operation that would commonly wait until fall. But fire season seems to start - if it ends at all - earlier each year here.

"We want to keep this fire on the ground - scorch height, but no higher," Jason Wingard, the burn boss, told his crew in the preignition briefing.

"What are we stressing most here?" asked Bren Townsend, a "holding team" leader assigned to keep the fire within its parameters.

"The wind," Wingard answered.

The planning for even a burn of this modest size is painstaking and politically fraught. One mistake, one wind shift, could turn a tool for wildfire prevention into a wildfire itself.

As a result, these burns are tiny bites of a very large apple. California air quality rules limit prescribed burns to 200 acres a day, and even after extending the window for these operations, the goal for the year here is about 3,000 acres.

The crew breaks into groups - holding, ignition, water. Those who will be starting the fire with drip torches, each containing a mix of diesel and gasoline, huddle around the team leader who is sketching the contours of the slope in front of them in the dirt.

The strategy is to bring the fire down the hill, against the wind, and into the flats. The sage and bitter brush is the primary target, not the larger trees that, at least here, are spaced far enough apart to indicate a healthy forest.

Soon a half dozen men and women are crisscrossing the hill, setting fires. The lines are organized, close together, and the boundaries defined by "black lines" that prevent flames from jumping "out of the box."

The work is slow. Stumps take special care, as do piles of bone-dry trees cut down in previous thinning operations. The smell of man-made fuel - hauled up hills in 50-pound jerrycans - is strong. So is the flat heat from nearby, chest-high walls of flame.

The burn will take all day. But the weather holds and after several hours Wingard is pleased with the fire's course.

"It's going about as well as it could be going," he said.

- - -

Tusks is the indoor-outdoor bar at the foot of Mammoth Mountain, a deck of picnic tables and a fire pit unlit on a recent summer afternoon.

It is the perfect vantage to watch the skiers and snowboarders delight in a June bonanza, launching from end-of-run jumps, skidding wildly into lift lines, and pounding upstairs for a beer after a few hours of traversing the cornice.

To Liam Corrigan, the snow is simply a boon. He jumped in his car in Orange, Calif., one recent morning and drove hundreds of miles north, reaching the slopes here before noon.

"The farther you go up the mountain, the better it is," said Corrigan, 23, who works at the REI in his Orange County town.

Light snow, then a thin rain begins to fall. Three shirtless guys reach the bottom of the slope with a noisy stop, a pair of resting kids drinking hot chocolate giggling at the spectacle.

"I'm from the East Coast, and I'm skiing in June," Corrigan said. "Believe me, I have nothing to complain about."

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

Oberlin has graduated from self-caricature to disgrace

By george f. will
Oberlin has graduated from self-caricature to disgrace


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

(For Will clients only)

WRITETHRU: 3rd to last graf, last sentence: "$33 million" sted "$22 million"


"You Americans do not rear children, you (BEG ITAL)incite(END ITAL) them; you give them food and shelter and applause."

-- Randall Jarrell, "Pictures from an Institution"

WASHINGTON -- Oberlin College has an admirable liberal past and a contemptible progressive present that will devalue its degrees far into the future. This is condign punishment for the college's mendacity about helping to incite a mob mentality and collective bullying in response to "racist" behavior that never happened.

Founded in 1833, Oberlin became one of the nation's first colleges to admit African Americans, and its first coeducational liberal arts college. It has, however, long since become a byword for academic self-caricature, where students protest, among many microaggressions, the food service's insensitive cultural appropriation of banh mi sandwiches, sushi and General Tso's chicken. Oberlin could have been Randall Jarrell's model for his fictional Benton College, where people "would have swallowed a porcupine, if you had dyed its quills and called it Modern Art; they longed for men to be discovered on the moon, so that they could show that (BEG ITAL)they(END ITAL) weren't prejudiced toward moon men."

In November 2016, a clerk in Gibson's Bakery, having seen a black Oberlin student shoplifting bottles of wine, pursued the thief. The thief and two female friends were, according to the police report, kicking and punching the clerk on the ground when the police arrived. Some social justice warriors -- they evidently cut class the day critical thinking was taught, if it is taught at Oberlin -- instantly accused the bakery of racially profiling the shoplifter, an accusation complicated by the fact that the shoplifter and his partners in assault pleaded guilty.

The warriors mounted a protracted campaign against the bakery's reputation and solvency. But with the cowardice characteristic of bullies, Oberlin claimed in court that it had nothing to do with what its students did when they acted on the progressive righteousness that they imbibe at the school. However, at an anti-bakery protest, according to a complaint filed by the bakery, the dean of students helped distribute fliers, produced on college machines, urging a boycott because "this is a RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION." (There is no record of any such complaints against the bakery, from which Oberlin bought goods until the hysteria began.) According to court documents, the administration purchased pizza for the protesters and authorized the uses of student funds to buy gloves for protesters. The college also signaled support for the protests by suspending college purchases from the bakery for two months.

A jury in the defamation trial awarded the bakery $11 million from Oberlin, and $33 million more in punitive damages. The $44 million probably will be reduced because, under Ohio law, punitive damages cannot exceed double the amount of compensatory damages. The combination of malice and mendacity precluded a free-speech defense, and the jury accepted the obvious: The college's supposed adults were complicit in this protracted smear. Such complicity is a familiar phenomenon.

As Stuart Taylor and K.C. Johnson demonstrated in their meticulous 2007 book "Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case," Duke's administration and a large swath of the faculty incited hysteria against a few young men accused of a rape that never happened. The University of Virginia's administration similarly rushed to indignant judgment in response to a facially preposterous magazine story about another fictitious rape.

The shoplifting incident occurred the day after the 2016 presidential election, which Oberlin's president and dean of students partially blamed for students' "pain and sadness" and "fears and concerns" during the "difficult few days" after the "events" at the bakery. From Oberlin's despisers of Donald Trump, the events elicited lies and, in effect, cries of "fake news," the brazenness of which the master in the White House might admire. Oberlin alumni who are exhorted to contribute to this college, which has been made stupid and mendacious by politics, should ponder where at least $33 million is going.

Continuing to do what it denies ever doing -- siding against the bakery -- Oberlin, in impeccable progressive-speak, accuses the bakery of an "archaic chase-and-detain" policy regarding shoplifters and insists that "the guilt or innocence of the students is irrelevant" to the -- of course -- "root cause" of the protests against the bakery.

Oberlin's president defiantly says "none of this will sway us from our core values." Those values -- moral arrogance, ideology-induced prejudgments, indifference to evidence -- are, to continue using the progressive patois, the root causes of Oberlin's descent beyond caricature and into disgrace.

George Will's email address is

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Moderate Democrats own their mistakes

By e.j. dionne jr.
Moderate Democrats own their mistakes


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

(For Dionne clients only)


CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., argued that Democrats need to pay far more attention to rural America if they ever want to take back the Senate. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., urged his party to be more open to people of faith. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., spoke for new members of Congress from swing districts in insisting that "the loudest voices" are not representative of voters "working two or three jobs."

And Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., had this advice: "Don't keep reacting to [President] Trump. Show there are things we can run on and win on."

Thus went the counsel of the Democratic pragmatists of Third Way, a leading middle-of-the-road think tank at a meeting here this week that was, in part, a running critique of the baleful influence of Twitter on the political debate. Jim Kessler and Lanae Erickson, senior officials of the group, devoted separate presentations to showing that Democratic voters who use Twitter regularly are much more left-wing than the party's primary electorate as a whole. Democrats, in Third Way's view, could tweet themselves into oblivion.

Jon Cowan, the group's president, brought the point home by warning that outside "cobalt blue districts and states, we can't afford a strategy aimed mainly at the furthest-left Democrats. … The danger is that we pursue an approach that runs up the score in blue places, but falls short everywhere else."

This is broadly what you might expect from a group that has long battled the party's democratic socialist wing and, in particular, supporters of Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator's loyalists return the favor, denouncing Third Wayers as a coterie of corporate Democrats -- especially, of course, on Twitter.

But what came later in Cowan's speech may have been the larger and more important revelation: that the group is not offering "a warmed-over 1990s centrism." Cowan's critique of what were, after all, the years of Bill Clinton's presidency was not hedged: "Back then," he said, "we placed too much trust in the market's ability to provide a reliable and realistic path to prosperity for most Americans. In the last 30 years, we have seen the impact of globalization and automation on our workers. And it is clear that a rising tide will not lift all boats."

Those sentences speak to a quiet revolution in the thinking of Democrats across the board since the 2008 economic downturn, and especially since Trump's election. It can fairly be described as a leftward movement in the entire party. Sanders is often credited with moving the party left, and his proposals such as Medicare for All and free college (which came under sharp criticism here this week) have entered the mainstream conversation. But the language of "left" and "center" is imperfect in capturing the change. The new attitude toward the economy's shortcomings is as much about the realities on the ground as it is about any ideological awakening.

"After 2016, it was imperative for everyone in the party to sit back and ask: What have we done wrong?" Matt Bennett, Third Way's executive vice president for public affairs and a veteran of the Clinton administration, told me. He vigorously defended both the Clinton and Obama presidencies, dismissing as "preposterous" the idea that they were failures.

Nonetheless, he added: "We have to own some of the mistakes of the New Democrats" of the Clinton era. Among them, he said, was underestimating the impact of trade liberalization on a significant number of blue-collar workers and "the speed and ferocity with which technology would decimate certain sectors of the American workforce." A particularly negative effect of this was the "concentration of opportunity" in certain regions as large parts of the country were left behind.

"We need to be working to tame capitalism at this moment because it is not functioning well," he concluded. "We need to do in this century what the progressives and New Dealers did in the last century." No wonder that Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is getting far better reviews from Third Wayers these days than she did a few years ago.

As some of the sharp-edged comments from Cowan and others about the dangers of an inward-looking (and Twitter-inspired) Democratic debate suggested, the party's ideological tensions have not been miraculously healed. Most here still leaned toward presidential candidates other than Warren and, especially, Sanders.

But Bennett's (BEG ITAL)mea culpa(END ITAL) pointed toward a new, implicit party consensus: You don't have to be a democratic socialist to believe that today's capitalism needs a spell in the repair shop.

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

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Let's talk about what really matters in 2020: Hillary Clinton's emails

By dana milbank
Let's talk about what really matters in 2020: Hillary Clinton's emails



(For Milbank clients only)


WASHINGTON -- President Trump was up early the day he formally kicked off his re-election campaign, contemplating the issue that has consumed much of his presidency.

He was thinking about Hillary Clinton's emails.

"Wow! The State Department said it has identified 30 Security Incidents involving current or former employees and their handling of Crooked Hillary Clinton's Emails," he tweeted at 12:51 a.m., crediting Fox News with this scoop. "This is really big."

Huge. But mostly because of what it says about Trump: Now approaching 2020, he is perpetually stuck in 2016.

At his campaign kickoff in Orlando on Tuesday, Trump alleged that "Crooked Hillary Clinton" funded "the phony dossier." He accused her of an "illegal attempt to overturn the results of the election, spy on our campaign."

On and on Trump went, about "Crooked Hillary" and her "insurance policy," falsely stating that she refused to concede the election and alleging that she "destroyed evidence, deleted and acid-washed 33,000 emails, exposed classified information and turned the State Department into a pay-for-play cash machine."

"Lock her up!" the crowd chanted.

His pronouncements in recent days have been much the same, with routine mentions of Clinton's (and President Barack Obama's) "Collusion Scandal," her "criminal" behavior, their orchestration of "the biggest & worst political scandal in the history of the United States" and more.

Since his inauguration 879 days ago, Trump has mentioned or referred to his 2016 opponent or his presidential predecessor an average of 2.56 times per day, or once every nine hours and 20 minutes, according to computations by, a data analytics company. This is an order of magnitude more than Trump's peers mentioned prior opponents and predecessors.

At the same point in their presidencies, Obama had mentioned or referred to his opponent or predecessor once every 3.52 days, George W. Bush every 62.79 days, Bill Clinton every 3.38 days, George H.W. Bush every 6.56 days and Ronald Reagan every 58.6 days, chief executive Bill Frischling tells me.

Why does Trump live in the past? Maybe because of the woeful record he has compiled since he descended the escalator in Trump Tower four years ago.

It's a record of cruelty. Late Monday, Trump rolled out a campaign-season plan to deport "millions" of migrant parents and children, which he is implementing after firing officials who objected on grounds that it would be ineffective and appear heartless after the debacle of last year's family-separation policy. Despite the cruelty, the border situation has substantially worsened under Trump.

It's a record of incompetence. Trump's defense-secretary pick Patrick Shanahan withdrew from consideration Tuesday over domestic-violence matters, becoming the latest of many botched nominations for an administration that has had record turnover and an unprecedented number of officials in "acting" roles.

It's a record of fraudulence. Trump is closing in on 11,000 false or misleading statements as president, The Washington Post's Fact Checker calculates. Trump sows distrust of the courts, the FBI, the Justice Department, the intelligence community and the media, while spreading paranoia about a "Deep State" conspiracy.

It's a record of criminality. Five of his advisers have been convicted or pleaded guilty in the Mueller probe (a sixth awaits trial), which concluded that it could not clear Trump of obstruction of justice.

It's a record of isolation. Trump set off a trade war and upset decades-old alliances while siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence, making common cause with autocrats and falling "in love" with North Korea's murderous dictator (falsely absolving that country as a nuclear threat). Trump has divulged intelligence secrets to adversaries and overridden the security clearance process for friends and family.

It's a record of racism. From Charlottesville, to the clumsy travel ban, to his remark about s -- hole countries, to a census revision aimed at suppressing nonwhite participation, Trump has used racial and gender resentment and fear of immigrants to mobilize his supporters.

And it's a record of buffoonery. The prince of "whales" and others may tolerate with politeness Trump's self-promotion and bumbling -- the moon is part of Mars! -- but the world literally laughed at Trump at the United Nations.

His defenders point to judicial appointments, as if these were worth losing the nation's soul. And until now they have pointed to economic growth, propped up by deficit spending and tax cuts. But now business conditions have deteriorated, growth has slowed, and a recession could be coming.

So by all means, let's talk about what really matters for 2020: Hillary's emails.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

If you question whether many Chinese people want democracy, look at Hong Kong

By megan mcardle
If you question whether many Chinese people want democracy, look at Hong Kong



(For McArdle clients only)


WASHINGTON -- Sometime in the past decade, neoliberals began nervously checking their premises about the inevitable triumph of liberal market democracy. Maybe civil liberties, the rule of law, and free and fair elections weren't so easily installed in societies that had never enjoyed them. Maybe those attributes weren't essential for economic growth, either. Worst of all, it began to seem possible that maybe billions of people in the world weren't even particularly interested in them. The market liberals who had once confidently debated "When will China democratize?" began lopping the first word off that question.

There's a strong argument that China won't democratize anytime soon. Chinese elites sincerely view democratization as a threat, not just to their own position but also to prosperity and social order. And the Chinese Communist Party has produced quite a lot of both over the past few decades, however appalling some of its production tools are.

But if you question whether any serious number of Chinese people even want democracy at the moment, you have only to look at the stunning images that came out of Hong Kong this weekend, as a reported 2 million people poured into the streets to protest a proposed law that would allow criminals to be extradited to mainland China.

Hong Kong has only 7.4 million people; an equivalent protest in the United States would have seen 88 million people clogging every major artery. They marched even though police had waded into an earlier demonstration against the controversial extradition bill with tear gas and rubber bullets, injuring more than 70 people. Or perhaps they marched because of that.

We can't know what attitudes toward civil liberties and similar democratic institutions are on the mainland, because it would be impossible to get honest answers to such sensitive questions under a regime that exercises tight control over its citizens.

What we can know is that, in Hong Kong, people are willing to defy such a regime to preserve their liberty. Maybe liberal institutions are an acquired taste, but maybe once you've had a taste you will never be satisfied with anything else. That may be why the Chinese, having taken Hong Kong back from the British in 1997 as a "Special Administrative Region," have encountered such fierce resistance to making Hong Kong less special and more administered.

That was one theory of how China would eventually democratize: The more the United States traded with them, the more Chinese people would come to the United States to study or do business. As we imported their cheap manufactured goods, we would export the idea that it is the people who tell their governments what to do, rather than the other way around.

It all sounded splendid to us good liberal democrats. But China's leaders were also aware of the theory -- and what we hope for, they fear. With China's integration into the world economy deepening, the past few years have seen, not a gradual relaxation of political control, but a sharp movement in the other direction.

The mainstays of civil society -- lawyers, journalists, nongovernmental organizations, academics and religious groups -- have all come under unrelenting pressure from a government that sees them as destabilizing forces. And techno-futurists have seen their optimism about the censorship-defeating capabilities of the Internet dramatically rebuffed by Beijing, which has effectively barred its citizens from seeing content that displeases the government.

Yet Hong Kong still offers market liberals one reason for optimism: After initially standing firm against the swelling extradition protests, the Chinese government eventually backed down. That's a sharp contrast with what happened during Hong Kong's last big wave of civil protest, the Occupy Central campaign for democratic elections in 2014, which the government ended without making any concessions. This time, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam offered a public apology and said the legislative process on the bill would be indefinitely suspended. (Protesters want the suspension made permanent.)

What was different this time? Arguably, the Chinese government capitulated to Hong Kong's powerful business interests. In 2014, the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce opposed Occupy Central, warning that it would be bad for business. This time around, big multinationals offered workers flextime to strike.

But that optimism should be, at best, measured. Business stood up against extradition when it wouldn't stand up for democracy. The rule of law is vital to businesses, especially multinationals. Democratic governance, it would seem, is not.

While markets may nudge at least one part of China in a more liberal direction, the country's citizens are probably going to have to walk most of the way on their own. And it's far from clear they can finish that journey with the Chinese Communist Party standing in their way.

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Appropriate ways of describing what is happening at the border

By alexandra petri
Appropriate ways of describing what is happening at the border



(For Petri clients only)


We know absolutely and clearly what is (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) happening at the border and the words we must not use to describe it.

Three people have died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since April. The children who have been separated from their parents are still reeling from the consequences. But it is nothing, if you see what we are saying, like the worst thing that could possibly have happened, and those who suggest this are wrong. It is horrible, but it is not an Unthinkable Horror. It is -- thinkable, I think. It must be thinkable.

What should make us most upset, right now, is those disrespectful enough to suggest that what is happening is in any way similar to the tragedies of the past. This is not to be compared to concentration camps or the atrocities of the Holocaust, except to say that this is not anything like that. If we were to compare the two, we might discover similarities.

It is important to be precise with the language used to describe such places and such things.

For example, the things the children were kept in were Not Cages. The administration was very strong on that point. Whatever the thing was that the children separated from their parents were kept in, it was not a cage, so we can sleep at night, and our consciences are clear. It was not so bad. Keep to the words!

The words will help you see when you are going really wrong. A man is not providing water and succor for people walking thirstily through the desert; he is doing a crime, human smuggling. It is good that we have these words to make it clear that providing shelter and comfort to people in need is a crime, whereas letting them perish is -- well, is not unthinkable. It is nothing like the never-to-be-repeated past. It is merely something that is occurring in the present, when we are busy.

The problem is the people who are using the wrong words to describe what this is. It is very important to use the right words. People must not use hyperbole, or the notion will get out that people could come Here, the United States, and die alone and frightened. You see, this is Here, where such things cannot happen.

And the words from the past are too enormous. To use these words in the present is to imply that we would not know, instantly, if something historically awful were taking place right now. If something truly monstrous were happening, it would be unmissable. It would not be the sort of thing we could possibly choose not to think about. People would not be marrying and giving in marriage and going about their lives in the ordinary way.

No, unique historical monstrosities come clearly labeled. When things happen that ought never to happen, the kind of thing you ought to stop, an alert comes to your phone, and your other plans are canceled. You are asked to be courageous -- but not to be inconvenienced! And no one yells at you except the obviously misguided. It is quite something.

People are always saying vaguely risible things, shouting that this is the thing, the thing that we feared would happen -- but they are always saying that about something. Everything cannot be the Great Emergency. In the course of a day you must walk past many small emergencies, but you console yourself with the knowledge that if the big one ever came, you would know.

We would know if this were the time to do something. We would know because if someone were to compare it to the Holocaust, everyone would agree, at once, that this was correct. We would rise, as one, to stop it. That is why language matters so much. That is why we must be so clear about what is not happening at the border. What is not happening is anything unthinkable or unrepeatable. We must be very careful with the words!

If we do not use the right words for this, we might think that something terrible was happening.

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Ethnic identity issues knock out heavyweight boxing champ

By ruben navarrette jr.
Ethnic identity issues knock out heavyweight boxing champ


(Advance for Wednesday, June 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, June 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Navarrette clients only)

WRITETHRU: 4th to last graf, adding sentence to end: "He even hopes to represent Mexico in the 2020 Olympics."


SAN DIEGO -- It's not smart to pick a fight with the heavyweight champion of the world. But I'll take my chances.

Because 29-year-old Andy Ruiz Jr. is a young Mexican American who needs a reality check -- and a map.

Being Mexican American is (BEG ITAL)muy(END ITAL) complicated. At times, I feel like simply an American of Mexican descent. Other times, I feel like a Mexican living in America.

When that happens, my wife corrects me. Born in Guadalajara, she came here legally as a child and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. She is the (BEG ITAL)real(END ITAL) Mexican living in America.

I grew up in a small, overwhelmingly Mexican American town in Central California where -- as recently as the 1980s -- all the top jobs were held by white people. I referred to myself -- however imprecisely -- as "Mexican," because that's how others referred to me and people like me. There was the "Mexican" part of town, etc. We were "Mexican" in the same shorthand that makes my Boston friends "Irish." No one assumes they were born in Dublin.

Like the rest of the estimated 30 million Mexican Americans in the U.S., I'm too Mexican to be American and too American to be Mexican.

In the second camp, you'll find those Mexicans south of the border who disparage their distant compadres as "pochos" -- i.e., white-washed Mexicans.

In the first, you'll find the reader who recently wrote: "[Given] your very obvious love of Mexicans and ur defense of their actions, PLEASE PLEASE leave the USA you dislike and go live in Mexico. You will be happy and so will we!!!"

Columnists aren't paid to be happy. I can't figure out whom I despise more -- the arrogant white racists in the United States who look down on people like me, or the arrogant rich and elitist Mexicans south of the border who look down on people like me.

A lifetime of therapy comes rushing back to me now, thanks to Ruiz. The son of Mexican immigrants made history on June 1 when he knocked out Anthony Joshua of Great Britain at Madison Square Garden to become the first Mexican American heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

As a fellow Mexican American, Ruiz makes me proud. Just like African Americans were proud of Joe Louis, or Italian Americans idolized Rocky Marciano.

Yet, since winning the title, Ruiz has mangled the cultural divide between Mexicans and Mexican Americans. He insists that he is "Mexican" even though he was born and raised in Imperial, California -- on the American side of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Geography says he's wrong. I admit, Ruiz has a claim to the motherland. As a teenager, when he ran with the wrong crowd and got in trouble, his father sent him to live with relatives in Mexico.

I guess Andy Ruiz Sr. thought there were too many "bad hombres" in the United States who were not the "best" influence on his son -- although some were probably "good people."

Later, Andy Jr. represented Mexico in qualifying tournaments for both Junior Olympics and the Olympics.

Ruiz obviously connects with Mexico in a way that I don't. But this doesn't make him "Mexican." The map doesn't lie.

Still, when I and others referred to him as "Mexican American" and not "Mexican," the champ jabbed back.

"Everyone who thinks I'm not Mexican simply because I was born in the United States is wrong," he told ESPN. "I'm always fighting for the Imperial Valley and Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. ... My mom and dad are from Mexicali, and I feel more Mexican than others who were born in Mexico. Because I fought for my race and for Mexico."

Slow your roll, (BEG ITAL)ese(END ITAL). If Mexico had fought to provide opportunities to your parents, they might have stayed there.

Mexican Americans are always getting robbed. What the Americans don't take, the Mexicans will.

Sure enough, Ruiz recently went to Mexico and gave President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador his golden gloves and a replica of his championship belt. He even hopes to represent Mexico in the 2020 Olympics.

Speaking of therapy, this guy thinks he's more "Mexican" than people born in Mexico? Wait until my wife hears that one.

Ruiz can call himself whatever he wants. But that doesn't change who he is. He owes America -- and his fellow Mexican Americans -- more respect.

I'm still proud of Ruiz, but I'm also worried. Throughout his life, he seems to have gone to Mexico to find himself. Yet, somewhere along the way, he got lost.

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

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

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

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

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