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He was an American child in Hiroshima on the day the atomic bomb dropped

By Ted Gup
He was an American child in Hiroshima on the day the atomic bomb dropped
Howard Kakita, one of the last American survivors of the Hiroshima bombing, feels

On that clear, sunny morning, 7-year-old Howard Kakita stood on the roof of his grandparents' bathhouse excitedly watching the vapor trails of an approaching B-29.

The date was August 6, 1945. The city was Hiroshima.

Howard was not supposed to be on the roof, his grandmother shouting as the air raid siren sounded. Then again, neither he nor his brother were supposed to be in Japan at all. Born in California, they were Americans, like their mother and father before them, like unknown numbers of U.S. citizens who were caught in that city on that day and forever after associated with the atomic bomb and the horrors it unleashed.

A dozen servicemen, crew members of aircraft downed in the final days of the war and held as prisoners, died after the bomb detonated. But hundreds, some say thousands, of other Americans also perished or suffered and bore witness. Many were children from Hawaii and the West Coast who had arrived in the prewar years to visit relatives or absorb the culture of their families' heritage. Now, 75 years later, their numbers are dwindling. Even the youngest are in their 80s.

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While no records reveal the exact number of American hibakusha - Japanese for "atomic bomb survivors" - that country's government made a lifetime commitment to serve them, dispatching teams of doctors to the United States every other year to track their health. For decades, these doctors have met with survivors, collected blood, measured vitals, taken X-rays and interviewed them about what ails them, be it the lingering effects of radiation or the complications of aging.

Forty Americans made themselves available to the doctors last November. Among them: Howard Kakita, a retired computer engineer, father and grandfather.

"There are not too many of us left," he says softly.

His story, like that of many American A-bomb survivors, is seldom part of the popular literature surrounding Hiroshima. Yet it is distinctly both a Japanese and American tale, one filled with tragedy, betrayal, heroism and eventual forgiveness.

Howard's story begins with his grandfather, Yaozo, a farmer and the first of his family to come to America. He was 22 when he boarded a transport ship in 1899, knowing no English but sure that the ticket he held was a ticket to a land of opportunity.

What awaited him was something different - anti-Japanese hysteria, a law that barred him from naturalization, and years of hardship. He retreated to Hiroshima but was unable to shake the American Dream.

In 1906 he came again, joined by his young bride. They settled in Bakersfield, Calif., where eight children would be born, each an American citizen, the birthright conferred by the 14th Amendment. Desperate for acceptance, Yaozo registered for the 1918 draft as "Charlie" Kakita.

- - -

Still, life in the states was no easier the second time around; the law prohibited Japanese immigrants from owning land or holding long-term leases. In 1927, Yaozo's wife died in childbirth. He returned to Hiroshima and remarried, only to watch each of his sons choose a future in America over one in Japan. By 1940, he had sunk into a deep depression and turned to drink. He seemed close to dying.

Early that year, son Frank, the second-oldest, and his wife, Tomiko, sailed to Hiroshima to introduce Yaozo to his two grandsons and stay for the birth of their next child. The months-long visit was the perfect tonic; the patriarch recovered his health. But when Frank announced that the family needed to go home to California, Yaozo's mood again darkened. So Frank and Tomiko made him and his wife an offer: As a show of good faith that they would return, they would leave 2-year-old Howard and 4-year-old Kenny in their care.

Then Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, and everything changed. War - and its cruel aftermath - would separate them for nearly all of the decade.

Only as a young man did Howard begin to realize how miraculous his survival was. His grandparents lived less than a mile from Hiroshima's ground zero. For several moments, he lay unconscious under the rubble then dug himself out. His grandfather rescued his grandmother from the mountain of debris that had been their house.

They fled with his brother toward the mountains, away from the all-consuming fires, passing bodies with entrails exposed. For years, Howard could not eat foods with flecks of pink or red, be it grapefruit or beef. The sight of spaghetti turned his stomach.

"It reminded me of blood and gore," he recalls now.

When they came back to their obliterated neighborhood, the air was filled with the stench of mass cremations. They and those around them salvaged whatever metal and wood they could find to put a roof over their heads. Both Howard and Kenny suffered dysentery and lost their hair from the radiation exposure. Their maternal grandmother, they learned, had literally vanished in the blast. Their maternal grandfather would die within days. The couple, sweet-potato farmers, had just been in the city for the weekday market.

On the other side of the Pacific, their parents assumed both boys perished. Like some 120,000 Japanese Americans, Frank and Tomiko had spent the last three years in an internment camp. Theirs was a desert landscape in Arizona so hostile that guard towers were unnecessary. And that's where they still were when the American Red Cross finally confirmed that their children were alive.

But the end of the war brought no reunion. The Kakitas were released from the camp, handed a one-way ticket and $25. But they had no money to pay for Howard and Kenny's passage from Japan. More months became years. On Aug. 8, 1947, grandfather Yaozo died of cancer - "a casualty of the bomb," Howard says.

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The following March, against their will, the boys were placed on a ship to San Francisco - a foreign land with a foreign language, two parents they did not remember and two little brothers they did not know.

Their reentry was fraught. The family lived in a three-story tenement. The parents did not speak of their internment; the sons did not speak of the bomb. Howard, now 9, was beset by nightmares and woke up screaming.

Years would pass before "the fog lifted," and he could discuss Hiroshima publicly. Kenny remains intensely private about sharing the past. "I can't talk about it," he told Howard recently. "I get too emotional."

Howard's evolution from silent survivor to reticent witness to full-throated chronicler of the atomic bomb's catastrophic toll reflects the narrative arc of any number of American hibakusha, who recognize the time to tell their story is growing short.

"I do feel a responsibility," he explains from his home in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., where, at 82, he is busy preparing a webinar with other survivors to mark the upcoming anniversary. "I am at that twilight zone where I am one of the youngest guys who remember the experience of the Hiroshima bombing, and after me, there is probably no one else. Those younger will not remember."

Last fall, he spoke to hundreds of history students at his alma mater, the University of California at Los Angeles. He has shared his story at the Japanese American National Museum, and Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Museum has videotaped him as part of its collection of survivors' memories.

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Part of his bigger narrative is what his life became in this country. While his transition was turbulent at first, the trauma receded and he soon flourished - as a Boy Scout, math whiz, high school track star and varsity football player. He studied engineering at UCLA and got a master's degree in computer architecture.

In 1960, as a graduate student, he met a freshman named Irene Doiwchi. She was a Japanese American born in the Amache, Colo., internment camp. Her father had volunteered for the legendary all-Japanese American 442nd Infantry Regiment, which was awarded more than a dozen Medals of Honor. Suiyo Doiwchi earned four Bronze Stars and helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp in Germany - his way "of proving his loyalty to the United States," according to his daughter.

Not until Howard was considering marriage did he bring up Hiroshima with Irene. "I had to tell her that I was exposed to serious radiation, that I may not live that long," he says.

Irene was undeterred. "Call it blind faith or something," she says. "I told myself I was meant to be with this man, come hell or high water, no matter what comes along."

For a time, that past seemed a distant memory. Howard was designing early computers, first for aerospace companies, then Xerox. But the shadow of Hiroshima descended once more when their 4-year-old son Randy was diagnosed with cancer in 1968. He died in less than six months.

"Was it my fault?" Howard wondered, again fearing the legacy of his exposure. (Two daughters and four grandchildren have had no such scares.)

The Kakitas long ago reconciled themselves to history, just as Japan and the United States attempted to do the same. In 1988, the U.S. government pledged $20,000 in reparations to every Japanese American forced into a camp; about 82,000 survivors ultimately received payments. Japan continues to wire monthly payments to American survivors based on their proximity to the bomb - Howard gets about 30,000 yen, or $300 - as well as send the medical teams for those biennial health assessments.

- - -

"We are the living guinea pigs," he says, with the exams providing doctors and researchers insights into the long-term effects of radiation.

Last September, Howard and Irene visited Hiroshima and its peace museum. It was either his fourth or fifth trip back, and he noted that the exhibitions had become less graphic and less likely to shock visitors. Yet his own sense of purpose has only intensified.

"There is a Japanese phrase - 'shikata ga nai,' which means 'it cannot be helped,' " he says, and this fatalism is how many Japanese came to terms with tragedy and misfortune. He now disagrees. "It is not something that cannot be helped," he stresses. "We should learn from it, we should understand."

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Gup, an author, journalist and fellow at Durham University in Britain, lives in Altamont, New York.

Wolf emerges as Trump's favorite Department of Homeland Security chief

By Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey
Wolf emerges as Trump's favorite Department of Homeland Security chief
Acting secretary of homeland security Chad Wolf arrives at the White House in July 2020. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford

WASHINGTON - Chad Wolf often was overshadowed by more bombastic political appointees at the Department of Homeland Security in the months after President Donald Trump named him acting secretary last fall. In April, Wolf's staff set up an Instagram account to enhance its boss's profile.

The photos showed him touring Trump's border wall, appearing at the White House with the president and riding department helicopters. The Instagram posts attracted little attention or controversy, and sometimes featured comments from Wolf's young son, with questions such as, "Dad, are you coming to my baseball game tonight?"

Nowadays, Wolf's posts generate pages of comments denouncing him as a fascist and the toady of an authoritarian president - or they lionize him as a loyal Trump soldier. His aggressive use of federal force to counter protests in Portland, Ore., during the past several weeks has drawn criticism from former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials in both major political parties; when protesters picketed Wolf's Virginia home last month, his neighbors served them snacks.

Wolf's journey from midlevel lobbyist to DHS staffer to the face of the president's police crackdown on protesters whom Trump calls "anarchists" has taken a roundabout path that says as much about the trajectory of the DHS under Trump as the person now running the department. The use of the DHS as an instrument of the president's agenda - first at the Mexican border and now in U.S. cities - has alarmed many who have come to see the department as the enforcement arm of Trump's "Make America Great Again" agenda, and Wolf his enabler.

After 3 1/2 years, the president is happy with a DHS chief, according to White House aides. And while Wolf's predecessors sometimes pushed back at his attempts to break rules and bend norms to fit his desired policies, Trump now has a DHS chief giving him the answers he wants.

"The president likes having someone who will tell him yes," said David Lapan, a former DHS spokesman, retired Marine colonel and longtime aide to Marine Gen. John Kelly, who worked closely with Wolf.

Trump "wants people who will agree with him and will go out and act aggressively, and that reaffirms why the president sees Chad favorably," Lapan said. "But that only lasts so long. And there are plenty of others who were seen favorably by the president until they weren't."

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Wolf's ascent to the top of the DHS also is a result of the president's unprecedented disregard for the norms of the nation's confirmation processes. The department has not had a Senate-confirmed secretary since April 2019, when Trump ousted Kirstjen Nielsen. Her replacement, Kevin McAleenan, was frustrated at the increasing politicization of the DHS and resigned after seven months. When Wolf took over in November, he was not Trump's first choice for the job, and he was viewed at the time as an option of last resort - more of caretaker than a Cabinet secretary.

Wolf was serving then as the DHS's top policy official, and he was content in that job, according to longtime colleagues who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to share candid views of the DHS chief and his relationship with the president.

Trump had appointed Ken Cuccinelli and Mark Morgan to key roles at the DHS after seeing them defend his immigration agenda on television, but neither man was eligible for the acting secretary job.

So it went to Wolf, 44, who had a reputation as a competent staffer and political operative. But Wolf was not known publicly as an ideologue or Trump true believer. His resume lacked law enforcement and military service, and Wolf had never headed a large organization, after spending much of his career as a lobbyist for the travel industry. On TV, he seemed to lack Cuccinelli's confidence and Morgan's zeal.

During the past several weeks, amid his standoff with protesters in Portland, Wolf has eclipsed both men to win the president's favor, wielding the considerable might of the DHS and sending its most highly trained agents to face off against demonstrators targeting a federal courthouse downtown.

As images surfaced last month of camouflaged federal agents grabbing people off the streets and stuffing them into unmarked vehicles, Wolf dug in. The president was eager to use the courthouse standoff for his law-and-order campaign theme, and he threatened to send federal forces elsewhere, focusing on liberal cities run by Democrats.

Critics said Wolf's intervention in Portland marked a new low in the DHS's transformation from a counterterrorism agency with broad bipartisan support into a partisan tool. Created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks primarily as a bulwark against national security threats, the department's focus has shifted to the border and immigration enforcement, becoming a primary instrument of the president's political agenda.

In Portland, many critics saw a new instance of DHS mission creep, as America's sprawling domestic security apparatus turned its focus inward to intervene in street-level politics.

"DHS is not going to back down from our responsibilities," Wolf said on Fox & Friends at the height of the Portland unrest, when the city's mayor blamed Trump for making the violence worse. "I think the president's been very clear. He's not going to stand for this."

Trump called Wolf frequently during the Portland standoff, sometimes early in the morning, when action on the streets was still playing out on the West Coast, according to administration officials who were not authorized to discuss the conversations. Wolf declined requests for an interview for this report.

Sarah Matthews, a White House spokeswoman, called Wolf "a tremendous asset to the department and the president's mission" who has been "instrumental in helping implement policies responsible for protecting the American people and our homeland."

One senior White House official said Trump was initially skeptical of Wolf, and after one of Wolf's first meetings with the president, Trump did not come away impressed. But since then, he has come to view him as an ally and a proponent of his agenda, and Wolf regularly talks to Stephen Miller, a top Trump aide who controls White House immigration policy. Nielsen, Wolf's former boss at the DHS, had an antagonistic relationship with Miller.

Once hesitant, Wolf now looks for opportunities to do conservative media hits, the senior official said. His rhetoric has become more bellicose, in contrast with his predecessors, who avoided inflammatory language. Wolf in recent weeks has ditched his stylized five-o'clock-shadow beard - junior staffers joked that he looked like a Washington version of pop star Adam Levine - to assume the clean-cut visage of a cop.

"He sees as key to survival amplifying the White House's message," one of these officials said.

Miller, in a statement to The Washington Post provided by the White House, called Wolf "a tireless and profoundly effective champion of the president's pro-worker immigration policies."

"Chad is faithfully committed to executing the president's bold vision of an immigration policy that prioritizes the interests of U.S. workers, wage-earners, taxpayers and communities," said Miller, who has seized upon the Portland clashes to depict Trump's intervention in soaring terms, as a struggle between "chaos and civilization."

Trump likes Wolf, another senior White House official said, because Wolf keeps his briefings short and focuses on topics he knows the president cares about. He also typically brings the president a solution instead of just presenting problems or talking about topics that do not interest him, the official said. Wolf usually answers the president's questions quickly and directly, which Trump also likes.

"The president knows Chad just gets things done and he doesn't have to worry about him," the official said.

Trump sees Wolf as "serious" and focused on law enforcement, which he views as a key message to his 2020 reelection bid, the official said. "He also benefits that the border is under control, and every time Chad talks to him, he can say the numbers have gone down, and the wall is going up." (After falling sharply, border arrests have been trending upward since April.)

As Wolf hews more closely to the president's rhetoric and displays a willingness to wield the authorities of the DHS, he has brought rare criticism from the former department leaders he served under during the Bush administration - Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff.

Wolf has been irked by their comments, colleagues say, but mostly blames what he considers inaccurate media coverage of the Portland unrest. But their concerns about overreach are shared by other current and former DHS officials worried the department is suffering long-term reputational damage.

When The Washington Post reported last week that DHS intelligence office chief Brian Murphy had generated reports on the work of journalists covering Portland, Wolf removed him.

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Wolf grew up in the wealthy Dallas suburb of Plano, won a tennis scholarship and graduated with a history degree from Southern Methodist University. In the pre-Trump era, he fit the mold of a George W. Bush Republican, with moderately conservative views, a preppy style and a view of government shaped by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Wolf worked as an intern on Capitol Hill and was a junior staffer in the office of former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., then joined the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) soon after its creation in 2002, where he worked with Nielsen. After leaving the Bush administration in 2005, Wolf became a lobbyist at Wexler Walker, specializing in aviation industry issues, and he remained there for 11 years until Trump's win, when he was recruited to return to the TSA as the agency's chief of staff.

Trump had placed Kelly in charge of the DHS, and Nielsen, Kelly's chief of staff at the time, wanted to groom Wolf to take over for her in the hope that she would be picked to lead the newly formed cybersecurity agency at the DHS, according to former colleagues of both. Wolf left the TSA after four months to become deputy chief of staff at the DHS and the top aide to then-Deputy Secretary Elaine Duke, a career management official who was not comfortable navigating immigration politics. When Kelly and Nielsen left for the White House in summer 2017, Wolf moved into the DHS chief-of-staff role.

Nielsen was confirmed as Kelly's replacement at the DHS in late 2017, and she relied heavily on Wolf, especially for political advice, colleagues say. Wolf spent a great deal of time in Kelly's office at the White House trying to help Nielsen save her job and figure out how to please Trump, helping her prepare for meetings and avoid Trump's explosions, said a former senior official who worked with them. Wolf would often complain about the administration's haphazard policymaking process and the extraordinary degree of internal fighting in the West Wing.

Current and former aides say Wolf spends less time one-on-one with Trump than some of his predecessors, and he does not clash with Trump or try to correct him.

As Nielsen's most trusted aide, Wolf played a central role in the "zero tolerance" border crackdown that separated thousands of migrant children from their parents, one of the defining episodes of Trump's presidency. Like Nielsen, Wolf has displayed little enthusiasm for the politics of immigration enforcement, but unlike her, he has largely avoided blame for the families' trauma and the policy debacle behind it.

Trump, who treats monthly enforcement numbers from the border as a kind of stock index of the DHS's performance, had already soured on Nielsen by the time a record wave of Central American families and children had overwhelmed the U.S. immigration system. The president installed McAleenan, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, whose inner circle was made up mostly of former CBP aides and counselors. Wolf was on the outside, but he remained at the DHS as the acting undersecretary for strategy, policy and plans.

Miller, who is viewed at the DHS as a kind of shadow secretary, is well known for going around agency heads to cultivate relationships with their subordinates, and he began calling Wolf more. Miller had clashed at times with McAleenan, who was pushing back against long-delayed plans for an ICE operation targeting migrant families.

When McAleenan stepped down last fall, he had no clear Senate-confirmed successor at the DHS, and the White House had never bothered to work toward the confirmation of Trump's other appointees, let alone nominate them.

Although immigration hard-liners were opposed to Wolf, citing his previous lobbying work securing employment visas for overseas tech companies, Miller had a figure already accustomed to his methods, and who, unlike Nielsen and McAleenan, would not take offense when he went around them to achieve a desired outcome. "Chad is a guy without a whole lot of ego," said one former DHS official and longtime colleague. "He's not a self-promoter, nor a showboat."

To be eligible for the acting secretary role, Wolf had to be confirmed for his undersecretary job first, and he squeaked by, with a 54-to-41 Senate vote on Nov. 13. Trump made him acting DHS secretary that day.

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Wolf coasted through a rare lull at the DHS in the months after he took over. The responsibility for delivering on Trump's ambitious border wall construction targets had fallen to Jared Kushner and the Army Corps of Engineers. The border crackdown engineered by McAleenan, relying largely on cooperation with Mexican authorities and a controversial policy making asylum seekers wait outside U.S. territory, had driven migration numbers back down to levels acceptable to the White House.

When the pandemic hit, Cuccinelli, who had a tense relationship with Wolf and was rumored to be angling for the department's top job, became the top DHS appointee to the White House coronavirus task force. Wolf was left to run the DHS and implement its new travel and border restrictions.

Then came Portland.

The president in late June issued an executive order defending U.S. monuments and federal property against "anarchists and left-wing extremists," placing the DHS on the front lines of a broader cultural reckoning sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

Trump's reelection chances have been sinking as a result of widespread frustration with his response to the pandemic and the economic crash, but in Portland his campaign saw a place to make a law-and-order pitch, claiming the country would descend into criminal anarchy should former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, win the presidency in 2020.

Wolf sent teams of agents in tactical gear to Portland before the July 4 holiday, and the size and intensity of the protests grew as the protests galvanized around the courthouse and the building became a symbol of Trump himself. City and state officials accused Wolf of throwing gas onto the flames, particularly after he traveled to Portland and met with sympathetic police union leaders.

Wolf's colleagues say that he believes without reservation that his use of federal agents to protect the courthouse was justified, and that he grew more determined after DHS personnel were injured in the clashes. As images circulated more widely of rioters setting fires and launching commercial-grade fireworks at officers, the optics of the standoff began to change. Some civil rights leaders began criticizing the attacks as a distraction from the racial justice goals of the Black Lives Matter movement, and they worried it was playing into Trump's hands.

One former DHS official who worked closely with Wolf said he handled Portland well, and he was not surprised that the president had grown fond of him, calling him "an active listener who doesn't have an insatiable need to have everybody giving him praise."

"Chad's on message," the official said. "He's not going out and making gaffes or saying ridiculous things, and that's helpful in this administration."

A deal between Trump administration officials and the Oregon governor to de-escalate the situation was reached last week, replacing much of the DHS force at the courthouse with state police officers. Wolf has framed the agreement as a capitulation by authorities in Oregon, insisting the full contingent of DHS personnel would remain on standby in the city until he is satisfied with the response of local authorities.

But the removal of the federal agents from the front lines defused the standoff almost immediately. Recent nights have seen a diminishing crowd and no arrests. The scenes of swirling gas, explosions and mayhem appear to be over, lending further credence to Oregon officials who said Trump and Wolf were stoking conflict.

Trump appeared eager Friday to keep the conflict going, threatening Portland with National Guard troops despite the first night of calm in weeks.

The president has pledged to deploy federal forces to other cities that have seen a rise in homicides and other crime during the past several months, but Wolf's potential role is unclear. Some Democrats have indicated a willingness to accept the help, even as the president blames them for the violence, but they have stated a preference to work with the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and other agencies under the command of the Justice Department, not the DHS.

Sheriff seeks reelection against opponent who wonders whether voters will vote for Black candidate

By Stephanie McCrummen
Sheriff seeks reelection against opponent who wonders whether voters will vote for Black candidate
Grady County Sheriff Harry Young, a Republican, sits outside a polling location during the Georgia primary elections in the small southwestern town of Cairo on June, 9, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Mark Wallheiser

CAIRO, Ga. - It was Election Day in Grady County, and Sheriff Harry Young, 76, had hardly slept three hours the night before. He was going for another term, his fifth, and as the sun rose, he settled into his usual voting-day spot under a white tent by the county's agriculture center, trying to shake off a sinking feeling that in a changing country, his victory was no longer secure.

"Good luck, Harry!" a woman called out as she headed to vote in the Republican primary, the winner of which was likely to win the general election in the GOP-dominated county.

"Thank you, babe!" the sheriff yelled back.

"Hey, Harry, we want you back in there!" yelled a man passing by in a truck.

"Well this one is stressful!" Harry shouted.

The immediate reason for the uncertainty was a Facebook meme that the sheriff had posted on May 8, before the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody: "Can we get back to the tradition of hanging traitors?" it had read over a drawing of a prisoner being led to the gallows. He said he had posted it in response to House Democrats who voted to impeach President Donald Trump, but as nationwide protests and riots broke out over Floyd's killing, a local woman had called attention to the post, writing on her own Facebook page that she was "completely disgusted" by it, and the sheriff had doubled down. He re-shared the post with the meme, writing: "If you like destroying hard working people's property because of one officer's horrible decision then you are the problem!!!"

Now the election was becoming a referendum not just on another four-year term for Harry Young but on all he had come to represent in a county that was 66% White, 29% Black and where the face of law enforcement had always been White and male.

"Hey, Harry, we're going for another four years?" a woman yelled out of her car window.

"Sure are, sugar!" said the sheriff, who had three primary challengers, one of whom was Duke Donaldson, who was a mile away under his own tent on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.

"You know I got you!" a young man yelled out to Duke as he headed to vote.

"All right!" yelled Duke, a 54-year-old police officer in the county seat of Cairo trying to become the county's first African American sheriff. Even though he considered himself a Democrat, he was running on the Republican ticket to reassure the White voters he would need to win, including some who had quietly pulled him aside to say that they felt the Harry situation was an embarrassment.

"If we want change then this is one of the steps," Duke said to one of his volunteers.

"Harry's got to go," she said, waving her sign at the traffic.

"Duke!" yelled another young man driving by.

"You voted?" Duke said, and over at the agriculture center, Harry was wiping the sweat off his forehead and swatting gnats hovering above the grass.

"Oh boy," he sighed. "I'll be glad when this day is over."

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There are two versions of law enforcement in America, the police departments led by hired chiefs who are accountable to mayors and city administrators, and the relatively less-scrutinized system of sheriffs - elected officials who have few professional requirements and are accountable only to the voters who put them in office.

While sheriffs preside over thousands of rural and suburban counties across the country, they are especially powerful figures in the South, where in the decades before and during the civil rights era of the 1950s and 60s, they were relied upon to protect local White power structures, whether that meant enforcing segregation codes or enabling mob violence against African Americans perceived as threatening that order.

In more recent years, aspects of the old culture have lingered in the list of sheriffs and deputies accused of racial profiling, excessive use of force, coercing confessions, siphoning money meant for prison food and other violations, though there are also examples of change. Departments have undertaken policy changes, and in some of the South's most populous counties, African American candidates have ousted White sheriffs in power for decades. Other sheriffs' departments exist in somewhat murkier territory, and this was the case in Grady County, about 400 square miles of farms, small towns and trailer parks in the southwestern corner of Georgia. No great scandals had come to light in recent years, and though there were now Black deputies on the staff, no major changes had been deemed necessary, a status quo that left Harry Young feeling entitled to another term as the county's chief constitutional officer.

"Afternoon, Harry," a deputy said as the sheriff arrived at headquarters a few days before the election.

"Hey, bud," said Harry, who was part of a constellation of long-serving sheriffs in southern Georgia. To the west was Wiley Griffin, with 20 years. To the north was W.E. Bozeman with 27. To the east, Carlton Powell had been in office since 1976.

Harry considered them all friends, and lately, they had been calling to check in more than usual, which was reassuring yet also underlined his sense that their world was off-kilter.

"We'll be fine," Harry would say.

To his way of thinking, the death of George Floyd was the result of a rogue officer rather than a systemic failure; the rioting was a plot by liberal billionaire George Soros; the protests sweeping the nation were creating a moment of peril, not hope, views he had often poured forth onto his Facebook page late in the evening, including the nights he let loose about hanging traitors.

"Some of us were talking about it the other night, that every 50 years we go through this all over again," he said, sitting in an office decorated with certificates of appreciation from local sports teams and clubs. "It just goes in a circle. Things are going great, and then something happens to mess it up. Like Floyd. It's just brought a whole 'nother cycle. If they have their way, it'll be the downfall of America - we'll be communist socialists."

He just hoped there were enough like-minded people to keep him in charge of the $2.4 million budget, the 21 deputies, the four investigators, the three-person drug unit, the jail, the jail guards, the double-aught shotgun in his truck, the .22-caliber Kel-Tec Magnum on his belt and the walkie-talkie now beeping on his desk.

"Go ahead, buddy," the sheriff said, heading out to his truck.

It was a deputy calling to ask how he should handle a racial-justice demonstration rumored for that afternoon.

"I just don't want no trouble," Harry told him. "I heard they were going to march here. If they do it, fine. As long as it's peaceful."

He'd heard that someone had threatened to burn down the jail, too, but for now it was quiet. He pulled onto a two-lane road, heading out on one of the loops he sometimes drove through the county. His cellphone rang.

"Hey, buddy," Harry said.

"Hey, Sheriff," a man said. "Just calling to check on you. Just wanted to wish you luck. Hope you stay in the driver's seat."

"I think we'll be all right," Harry said.

He drove past the Valero gas station, where there had already been a small racial-justice demonstration, and turned toward downtown Cairo, where there had been a peace vigil that Harry had attended, sitting off to the side in a lawn chair as pastors led prayers. At least he could agree with that. When he had first run for office, he said, God had visited him in a dream with a detailed plan: "He said, 'Son, you will be deputy sheriff for 2 1/2 years, and you'll be sheriff until you're old and gray,' " and now here he was, white hair, white mustache and a cellphone with what he estimated to be more than 2,000 numbers of people he called "my friends."

He passed a convenience store called Susie Q.

"They're my friends - they give us all free coffee, free drinks," Harry said, lifting his hand off the steering wheel to wave.

He passed the white-columned banks of North Broad Street.

"All the bankers - they're all friends of mine," he said.

He passed a Baptist church - "the pastor's my friend," Harry said - and the Cairo Messenger newspaper, where a crowd traditionally gathered on election night to see the returns posted on the storefront window.

"The editor, he and his wife, both of them are friends of mine," Harry said.

The school: "My friends."

The courthouse: "All the judges, all the lawyers."

The hospital: "All the doctors, I consider all of them my friends - except one," he said, referring to the doctor whose wife had drawn attention to his Facebook post. "Well, I guess we're friends, but I never thought they'd do what they did to me."

He rode past the brick ranch houses and green lawns on the east side of town.

"All these," he said, sweeping his hand toward yards with Harry Young signs.

He knew not everyone was a fan. Besides critics of his Facebook page, he knew there were people who believed his deputies arrested more Black people for marijuana offenses than White people for dealing meth and other drugs. He knew people thought he did favors for his friends. He knew that there was talk around town that he sometimes had one too many drinks in the evenings. He said none of it was true and blamed the stories on his political enemies.

He rode around for another hour or so, nodding as he saw his signs on barns, in farm fields and lawns, and soon he was back in Cairo.

He turned into the west side of town.

It was the mostly African American side, and during Harry's first election, when he ran as a Democrat, he rode in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade. Since he switched to Republican, he hardly ever campaigned on the west side anymore.

"I don't bother - they know I love 'em," Harry said.

He drove slowly into an enclave of narrower streets of shotgun houses where his deputies served warrants and his drug unit sometimes conducted marijuana busts.

"This is the Hotbed," he said, referring to the nickname of the neighborhood where people once grew peppers. "They don't like law enforcement. I keep my eyes moving when I'm through here."

He pointed: "Big raid on that street."

He was sure that his biggest gift was what he called his "instinct," which he'd first noticed when he was 12 years old, and his father would arrive home drunk.

"I could feel something in my stomach when he'd come in the door," Harry said. "I knew something was going to happen, and sure enough, he'd jump on my mother. I remember my stomach would get nervous. I was always right."

Back when he patrolled, he'd get the feeling when he was driving through the Hotbed, or when he pulled someone over for speeding.

"Sure enough, you could see they were nervous," Harry said. "You could see their eyes dilated. You could tell they were on marijuana or something."

He hadn't gotten the feeling in the longest time until the Facebook situation happened.

"I got it then," Harry said. "I had the feeling it was all going to blow up, and then it did."

He'd been waking up at 3 a.m. ever since, tossing and turning. He had been thinking about the apocalypse. "The Bible says there'll be rioting in the streets, people trying to destroy the government," he said.

It was late afternoon when he arrived back at headquarters. No protest had materialized; no one had tried to burn down the jail. It was quiet, and when Election Day arrived a few days later, it was still quiet as people voted across Grady County. Harry sat under his white tent and waved as voters drove by, and now one of them pulled over and parked. A man got out and walked over with a vigor that pierced the afternoon lethargy.

"Mr. Harry, I want you to know I voted for you," the man said, shaking Harry's hand as Harry tried to place his face. "I'm Dave. I worked up at the Piggly Wiggly? Just wanted to let you know."

"Appreciate that, my friend," said Harry.

"I don't understand what's going on in the world right now," Dave continued. "I watch Tucker Carlson a lot, and last night it was about the Black Lives Matter movement. And it's nothing about Black lives. It's about trying to change the whole country over to Marxism."

"Well, we don't want to let it slip," Harry said.

"No," Dave said.

"We just have to lean on God," Harry said.

"It's brotherly love that's going to heal this nation, and now we got this movement to abolish police?" Dave continued. "And they want to get rid of conservatives and put in all leftists."

"You let 'em turn loose, they're going to realize they made a big mistake," Harry said.

"I'm not racist if I want to protect my family," Dave said.

"Right," Harry said.

"Anyway, just wanted you to know I voted for you," Dave said again.

"Appreciate you," Harry said, and with four hours to go before the polls closed, he watched Dave walk back to his truck and drive away.

- - -

"They said the turnout at the airport is pretty steady," Duke Donaldson was saying over on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, where the mood was cautiously hopeful.

"How many you got on the other side of town, Duke?" said Sonia Simmons, one of several volunteers under his tent.

"It's about like this," said Duke, who had volunteers working several precincts he considered promising in the county. His cellphone rang.

"What? Why?" he said to a volunteer explaining that she was being asked to move away from a polling place. "There's a sign right there - you're not past that sign, right? Then you shouldn't move. Don't move. Who told you to move?"

He and his campaign team had been knocking on doors since the start of the year, registering voters at the Walmart, and after the pandemic hit, making calls and tapping networks of family, friends and churches. His case for the job was his 24 years of experience as a resource officer for the county schools, and more recently, as a Cairo police officer. He had coached football and basketball and felt he had the trust of Black and White parents across the county.

"When it all boils down, the question is, will they vote for a Black candidate?" Duke said, referring to White voters. "I just feel they will. I just think Harry's burned his bridges. There is no trust there."

He sat under the tent with his volunteers, all of whom were Black, all of whom had stories about Harry.

"He sure fooled me," said Sonia, whose son had driven Harry in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade during his first election. "I supported him. I handed out candy. I stood down there just like I'm doing right now, campaigning for Harry Young. He gave my son a big donation for graduation. He'd hang out and treated us like he was OK with us. I wanted to respond, but I didn't," she said, referring to Harry's Facebook post. "Ain't no telling what I'd say."

"Well, I told him," said another volunteer, Sondra Williams, whom everyone called Queen. "I said, 'Really, Harry? This is not acceptable. You cannot show this kind of bias.' But he does it. He does it so much. I do not feel safe with him. Not with that attitude."

"Well, he had to be this way always to be this way now," said Sonia.

"I tell my son, if it's dark and you don't feel safe, drive to a lighted area" rather than call the sheriff, said Montez Palmer, who lived in a rural part of the county and said the few times she had called 911, it took an hour or longer for a deputy to respond. "For all they know, I'm dead in an hour. They don't care."

"There's a meth epidemic and they hardly touch it," Duke said. "But people see a Black guy going to jail for marijuana and they think the sheriff's working."

"That's why they keep him in there," said Queen. "Because of the good ol' boy system in the South."

As the afternoon went on, they discussed their concerns about Harry's drinking, and rumors of improprieties they'd heard over the years that never got investigated.

"Brunswick, Georgia, is what we are living with here in Grady County," said Queen, referring to the town where more than two months passed before three White men were charged with killing a Black jogger named Ahmaud Arbery. "That's exactly what we are dealing with."

"We are lucky nothing like that's happened yet," said Duke, and after a while, a man named Odell Jolly walked over to the tent. He was 78 years old and had dealt with all of this before when he had tried to become the first African American sheriff in Grady County. His case for the job had been his 25 years of experience with the Miami Police Department as an officer, an investigator, and decorated lieutenant. "I figured I could show people all my experience and background and have no problem," he said. "That's what I thought. Didn't work out that way."

In 1998, the first time he ran, the people of Grady County elected a former school bus driver named Snooks Green. In 2012, the second time he ran, the people elected Harry.

"White people won't vote for a Black man," said Odell. "Maybe they thought I'd be too strict. Maybe they thought I'd come in here and do what needs to be done and they'd wind up with the short end of the stick."

He stood under the tent for a while and watched Duke waving to voters, wondering whether he could pull it off.

"You gonna win, Duke?" a man called out from his car, and Duke gave a thumbs-up.

A young man rode by on a bike.

"Ty!" Duke yelled, and the boy wheeled around.

"Hey, Duke!" he said.

"What grade you in now?" Duke asked.

"Eighth," the boy said.

"All right then," said Duke, smiling and waving, and after the polls closed, he headed over to the newspaper to see the results.

- - -

Harry was already there, opening his shirt collar one more button. It was hot, and he could feel his old sense of dread rising. Police had blocked off the street in front of the Cairo Messenger, and by 8 p.m. all the local candidates and their supporters had arrived, some unfolding lawn chairs, anticipating a long night. On the window of the newspaper building, an official taped up a chart with rows of empty boxes where vote totals from nine precincts would soon be filled in. Harry drifted between clusters of people, avoiding the usual chatter, finally standing off to the side by himself. He checked his phone.

"I'm worried about you," his daughter texted him from Florida.

A police officer walked over.

"Hey, Harry, how're you doing?" he said.

Harry nodded and went back to his phone.

Across the street, Duke and his supporters watched the scene.

"Look at him over there," Queen said, shaking her head.

Soon the door of the Messenger opened, and people began gathering at the chart.

Harry walked over, and Queen crossed the street, and now they were shoulder-to-shoulder as an official began filling in the first batch of results.

"Duke won the Ag," someone said into the quiet, reading the numbers from the agriculture center: Harry, 63. Duke, 65. A third candidate, a former sheriff's deputy named Steve Clark, viewed by many as a younger version of Harry, got 62.

The official moved on to Cairo 4, the precinct by Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue: Harry, 15. Duke, 96. Then came the rest.

A rural precinct called Spence: Harry, 67. Duke, 3. Clark, 67.

A rural precinct called Woodland: Harry 99, Duke 29, Clark 153.

The early votes: Harry, 371. Duke, 50. Clark, 300.

Harry's phone started ringing.

"Hey buddy," Harry said, brightening. "Yeah, they're starting to put them up. I got Spence and Woodland. Yeah. Well, we'll see."

People began patting Harry's back and shaking Harry's hand.

"Good to see you, brother," one man said.

"Hey, Harry, how you do?" another said.

Across the street, Queen showed Duke the numbers she had written down in a notebook. In past elections, more than a thousand people had voted at the precinct by Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue; the total this time was fewer than 150.

"They didn't show up," Duke said.

He looked at the rural precincts where he needed to get a decent share of White votes to have any hope of winning. Mostly single digits. He looked away.

"It's still mathematically possible," said Queen. "Not likely, but possible."

Duke sighed. He looked at the pavement. He looked down an empty street.

"I'm just going to go," he said.

"Duke, don't you leave like this," Queen said. "Go get yourself together and come back and shake their hands. Just take a deep breath and see it through."

He retreated to his car to collect himself. Queen walked back across the street to where Harry was chatting with a supporter.

"George Soros - it's been proven," Harry was saying when Queen came up to him.

"Hey, Queen," he said.

"Hey, Harry, how're you?" she said, smiling, pulling him in for a hug, close enough to whisper in his ear: "If you win this, you better clean your s--- up, Harry."

"I'll try to," said Harry, but he was beginning to think that the events of the past few weeks might have helped rather than hurt him and that he did not have anything to clean up at all.

His spirits were lightening. Blowing Cave, Midway, Higdon - as the night went on, it was becoming clear that there would be a runoff between Harry and Steve Clark, not the outcome Harry preferred but hardly the disaster he had been dreading. He had missed a clean win by just 19 votes.

Across the street, the reality was settling in.

"I'm numb," said Queen.

She and the others stood there in silence for a while, watching Harry shake hands, listening to the little bursts of laughter on the other side, and Montez Palmer felt her anger rising.

"Duke worked harder than all of 'em!" she said. "How can they vote Harry back in there anyway? Duke worked harder than all of 'em."

"There's going to be a runoff, baby," said LaTasha Copeland, trying to calm her.

"How can they vote him back in that chair?" Montez said, wiping her eyes. "They all do that good ol' boy crap."

"It is what it is," said Queen, who saw Duke walking over to rejoin them. "Don't let him know you're upset," she told Montez.

Duke stood with his arms folded.

"You want to give people the benefit of the doubt on the racial issue," he said, shaking his head. "But everything around here is Black and White."

At about 10 p.m., officials came outside to say there was a glitch counting the mail-in votes. There were voting glitches all over Georgia. It was going to be another two hours before the full results were known.

"No tellin' what they'd do if we left," said Sonia.

They settled in, and as the evening went on, the street barricades were removed, and election night in Grady County distilled down to two distinct scenes: The one under the lights in front of the Cairo Messenger, where White candidates and their White supporters sat in lawn chairs with coolers of sodas, and the one across the street, where Duke and his smaller group of supporters stood in a half-dark parking lot, looking on.

They watched the chairman of the county Republican Party chatting on the other side. He was the one who had encouraged Duke to run on the GOP ticket.

"I think they told him to be on the Republican ticket to trap him," said Sonia. "They wanted to knock him out of the race."

"They don't give you a chance, and that's on purpose," said Montez.

They watched Harry drifting around the crowd until a man led him by the elbow to a truck and drove him away.

"That's our leadership y'all," said Queen.

"When they start talking about marching to get him out, I don't want to hear it," said Sonia. "No way. Don't bother me."

"They don't understand - this little vote for sheriff here? This affects us more than the president of the United States does," said Montez's husband.

"This is a direct impact," said Queen.

They talked into the night about strategy and politics and life in a rural county in the South, and near 1 a.m., the door of the Messenger opened, and the official began writing in the final tallies. Queen crossed the street and copied them down in her notebook.

Duke, 357. Clark, 1,526. Harry, 2,042.

She crossed back over.

"So y'all," she said to the others. "What's the next move?"

- - -

In the morning, Harry got to his office earlier than usual, anticipating all the calls.

"It was just stressful," he was saying to one of his friends. "But I think I got enough support to go ahead and finish it off."

The runoff was still weeks away, and November distant. For now, he was still the sheriff of Grady County, his white button-down freshly ironed, his badge on his belt, his walkie-talkie on his desk next to a booklet on the powers of constitutional officers. His phone rang again.

"Yep, I'm in a runoff buddy," he said to Doug Hanks, the sheriff of Cook County. "I had three running against me, you know. I know you had it pretty good."

"Yeah," said Hanks. "Well, just wanted to check on you."

"We'll be fine, and Wiley'll be fine too," Harry said, referring to the sheriff of Decatur County.

"All right," said Hanks. "If you need me, holler."

He hung up and took a moment to review everything that had happened. He thought about what Queen had whispered to him, and what he knew she and others had said about him.

"They say, 'Oh, he's a good ol' boy.' I always ask, who is the good ol' boy? Explain to me, who is the good ol' boy? Am I a good ol' boy? Am I getting the job because I'm a good ol' boy? I think I'm a good person."

His phone rang again.

"Harry!" said Powell, the sheriff of Thomas County, who was likely to become the longest-serving sheriff in Georgia.

"How are you doing my friend?" Harry said, and they talked about the runoff.

"Well, I believe you'll get it," Powell said. "I heard ol' Wiley pulled his out, too."

"Yeah, we're going to be fine," Harry said again. "But I'm telling you, it was a long night. I got to thinking about 'what if.' Then the 'if' never happened. So, I feel pretty good about it. Fixing to take two weeks off. Going to Florida. Let things cool off here."

"Well, be careful," Powell said. "People'll say, 'Oh, Harry thinks he's got it made.' "

Harry knew his friend was right, and when he thought about the "if," and the different world that it contained, he could feel his dread returning, the premonition he had always trusted.

"I hear you," Harry said.

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

Starting Aug. 10, the Taxpayer Advocate Service will help the IRS fix stimulus payment glitches

By michelle singletary
Starting Aug. 10, the Taxpayer Advocate Service will help the IRS fix stimulus payment glitches


Advance for release Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, and thereafter

(For Singletary clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

WRITETHRU: Swaps in new 11th graf ("Unfortunately, ...")


(c) 2020, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- With Congress still debating future financial aid to individuals sidelined by COVID-19, it's vital that the Internal Revenue Service finish delivering the stimulus payments that were already promised.

As of July 17, the IRS has distributed just over 159.2 million economic impact payments under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (Cares) Act. The measure provides up to $1,200 for individuals, $2,400 for couples, and an extra $500 for each dependent child under the age of 17.

It's been a daunting job to deliver so much money in just a few months. The IRS had to shut down offices because of the pandemic. While most employees have since returned to work, they are battling a backlog of returns and refunds for the 2020 tax season while still rushing to distribute stimulus funds.

Overwhelmed, the agency has turned to its Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), an independent organization within the IRS, to assist people in resolving certain issues related to their stimulus payments.

"Although the IRS accurately delivered these payments to the overwhelming majority of eligible individuals, millions still have not received some or all of the amounts Congress authorized, and many desperately need the money," said Erin Collins, National Taxpayer Advocate.

Starting Aug. 10, TAS will provide an assist to the IRS to correct stimulus or economic impact payments (EIPs) under five specific situations. Here's the list of scenarios.

-- (BEG BOLD)Dependent payments.(END BOLD) The IRS created a non-filers tool so that eligible individuals who had not filed a tax return in 2018 or 2019 could get a stimulus payment. Many parents have reported that they received their $1,200 but did not get the extra $500 for each child, or they received money for one child but not for another.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a report in June that some 465,000 stimulus payments from April 10 to May 17 did not include the $500 for qualifying children. The IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig later revised the figure down to 365,000.

"These payments are already in process to be issued by direct deposit or mail and should be received in August," said TAS spokesman Kenneth Drexler. "We are hopeful that these payments will be made without any problems, but if problems arise, TAS will be able to assist."

In a much-criticized decision, the IRS issued a special alert on April 20 on its website giving individuals - Social Security retirement, survivor, disability, or Railroad Retirement beneficiaries -- around 48 hours to claim their $500 payments. If they missed the very short window, they have to wait until 2021 to get the money. A similarly tight deadline, May 5, was set for people who receive Supplemental Security Income or Veterans Affairs benefits.

Unfortunately, the assistance from TAS doesn't extend to any of the federal benefit recipients who missed the deadlines to enter information about their dependent children.

"Since the IRS has figured out a way to issue supplemental dependent EIPs to the benefit recipients who used the portal, why can't they let the ones who missed the short deadline enter their info now, and apply the same matching algorithm to get supplemental payments to them?" asked former taxpayer advocate Nina Olson, who is now executive director of the Center for Taxpayer Rights.

-- (BEG BOLD)Injured spouses.(END BOLD) The Cares Act allows an "offset," or the withholding of stimulus funds, for individuals who owe back child support. Individuals can file IRS Form 8379 to seek an "Injured Spouse Allocation" - in this case, to avoid having their half of an economic impact payment withheld. But the IRS mistakenly offset stimulus payments to people who filed that form.

-- (BEG BOLD)Return math errors.(END BOLD) Individuals whose economic impact payment (EIP) was based on a 2018 or 2019 tax return that contained bad math, resulting in a lower stimulus payment, will get assistance.

-- (BEG BOLD)Identity theft victims.(END BOLD) Victims of identity theft who did not receive an EIP, or who received the wrong amount, will get help.

-- (BEG BOLD)Surviving spouses or spouses of an incarcerated individuals.(END BOLD) The IRS issued stimulus checks to the incarcerated and some $1.4 billion in payments to people who had died since the beginning of 2018. In response to criticism, Treasury decided such payments had to be returned.

However, spouses of the deceased or incarcerated may still be entitled to their portion of the stimulus money. In cases where a spouse's payment was not issued, returned, or canceled, TAS will work to get the EIP issued to the surviving or non-incarcerated spouse.

In the coming week, TAS, which can be reached at 877-777-4778, will provide more details about taxpayers with EIP issues who might qualify for assistance, Collins said in a blog post.

As helpful as this effort should be for folks who fall into the five categories, it's inexcusable for our government to leave out so many other people at a time when they need help the most.

- - -

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

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Mark Meadows isn't saving Trump. He's sabotaging the country.

By dana milbank
Mark Meadows isn't saving Trump. He's sabotaging the country.


Advance for release Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, and thereafter

(For Milbank clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Dana Milbank

WASHINGTON -- This is what happens when you put a saboteur in charge of governing.

On Capitol Hill, talks for a new pandemic relief package are going nowhere fast, even though enhanced unemployment benefits have already lapsed for many of the 32 million Americans out of work -- while schools lack funds to protect teachers and students, and states and cities run out of money to pay for cops and public health.

At the White House, meanwhile, the Trump administration's pandemic response, after a brief feint in the direction of responsible behavior, has again devolved into chaos, with President Donald Trump warring with his own "pathetic" pandemic task force coordinator and regarding 1,000 dead Americans a day with nonchalance: "It is what it is," he told Axios during an interview broadcast Monday night.

The common denominator, the man with a lead role in both, is Mark Meadows, the new White House chief of staff. During his seven years in Congress, he developed an unsurpassed reputation for blowing things up and making sure bills didn't pass. But he has virtually no experience at getting things done.

At deadlocked congressional negotiations Monday, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., complained to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who successfully cut two pandemic-relief deals with lawmakers, that Meadows had been a "bad influence" on Mnuchin. A person familiar with the private exchange confirmed the account, first reported by Politico.

Asked by reporters Tuesday whether Meadows could close a deal, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Appropriations Committee, was unconvinced: "I don't know. This is his first big deal. We'll see."

Meadows, publicly pessimistic, is reportedly bored with talks; he has said he'd be happy to have Trump take executive actions instead and essentially shut off the stimulus spigot with the country teetering on the cusp of depression.

Previous Trump chiefs of staff Reince Priebus, John Kelly and (to a lesser extent) Mick Mulvaney tried to temper the president's wildest instincts. Under Meadows, Trump seems to have no guardrails: tear-gassing peaceful demonstrators for a photo op, embracing Confederate generals and flag, proposing delaying the election and sabotaging the post office's ability to handle mail-in ballots, disparaging the late John Lewis while voicing sympathy for accused sex criminal Ghislaine Maxwell, hiring a senior campaign adviser who argued that he'd like to see Trump be "a tad bit more of a fascist" (as the Daily Beast's Scott Bixby reported), appointing a conspiracy theorist to a top Pentagon position after the Senate declined to confirm him, and promising a health-care plan that never materializes.

Now, The Washington Post reports, White House decision-making meetings on the pandemic are "led by Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows." Trump has been publicly trashing task force coordinator Deborah Birx, again contradicting his team about hydroxychloroquine, and touting the advice of a "doctor" who warns of "demon sperm" and "alien DNA."

Meadows, who ran a sandwich shop before succeeding in real estate, made a splash just months after taking office in 2013 by becoming an informal leader of a "suicide caucus" and primary architect of a 16-day government shutdown in a failed attempt to defund Obamacare.

In 2015, he tried to oust House Speaker John Boehner by filing a "motion to vacate" that served as a no-confidence vote. Boehner, who prevailed but retired soon after, later told Politico's Tim Alberta that Meadows is "an idiot. I can't tell you what makes him tick."

Meadows and his "Freedom Caucus" of ultraconservatives also defied Republican leadership that year by opposing giving the Obama administration enhanced authority to negotiate a Pacific trade deal; Meadows was temporarily stripped of a subcommittee chairmanship.

In 2017, Meadows hobbled House Republicans' attempt to repeal Obamacare, threatening to block anything short of "full repeal" and forcing a politically damaging amendment to remove protections for preexisting conditions. The effort failed in the Senate.

In 2018, he killed Speaker Paul Ryan's hopes of immigration reform, threatening to oust Ryan: "If he gets it wrong, it will have consequences for him." Meadows, then chairman of the Freedom Caucus, had negotiated a bill with House Republican colleagues for weeks, but as an agreement neared, the Freedom Caucus blew up negotiations by warning about "amnesty" in the bill. Immigration legislation died on the floor.

Later in 2018, Meadows was the primary architect of another government shutdown, this time inducing Trump to force a disastrous, 34-day shutdown in a failed attempt to get Congress to pay for Trump's border wall.

The antics made Meadows the most feared person in the Republican caucus and "the most powerful man in the House," as Vox dubbed him.

But not anymore. Tearing things down is easy, yet governing is hard. Meadows's anti-government vandalism probably won't save Trump, but it could bring us all down with him.

- - -

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

A master at playing the race card

By ruben navarrette jr.
A master at playing the race card


Advance for release Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, and thereafter

(For Navarrette clients)

By Ruben Navarrette Jr.

(c) 2020, The Washington Post

EDITORS: Note language in third graf from the end.

- - -

SAN DIEGO -- We interrupt this year's national conversation on race to bring you this important public service announcement: Americans should be aware of the fact that one of the major candidates for president this year has a terrible race problem.

I don't know if he is racist, but he sure is fluent in the language of racism. He knows how to make White people fearful of non-White people, and thus more likely to accept his offer of protection.

This man has talked about a particular racial minority with disrespect for many years. He gets away with it because he's glib, blunt and folksy. The problem is, he sounds less like Mr. Smith and more like Archie Bunker.

Part of the reason this candidate is so obtuse on race could be that he grew up in a bubble, and that he has lived most of his life not far from where he was born and surrounded by other White people.

Or it could be his advanced age, and the fact that he grew up in the 1940s and 1950s, when racial minorities were openly discriminated against.

For whatever reason, his brand of politics is mean, divisive and insensitive. And, in this election, such ugliness seems out of place with the "woke" moment that America is experiencing since the killing of George Floyd. Bottom line: This candidate is a hot mess on race.

Yet, this fall, he'll be on the ballot. Right next to President Donald Trump.

That's right. The candidate who is a disaster on race is Joe Biden.

All human beings should tread softly when talking about groups to which they don't belong or issues that don't impact them.

When it comes to race, neither Trump nor Biden do that. Old White men sometimes say the darnedest things.

Democrats and the media - I know, I'm being redundant - are very skilled at portraying Trump as racist. Meanwhile, on race, Biden gets a pass.

Hasn't anyone noticed that the former vice president spent more than half of five decades in politics assuring White people that he would protect them from Black folks, and only recently flipped the switch and began assuring Black people that he will protect them from White folks?

In 1991, during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, Biden - who was then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee - failed Anita Hill. Caving to pressure from the right wing, he chose not to call other witnesses who might have corroborated Hill's testimony and did nothing when White Senate Republicans attacked the African American woman who had accused Thomas of sexual harassment.

In 1992, during a speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Biden, D-Del., bragged that a crime bill he had written was so tough that it did "everything but hang people for jaywalking."

In 1994, Biden, authored the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and would, for the next 20 years, defend what he called the "Biden bill." It led to longer prison sentences, more prison cells, more aggressive policing, and greater incarceration rates for African Americans.

In 2007, while running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Biden told the New York Observer that one of his opponents - Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. - had much to offer as "the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

In 2008, Biden was picked by Obama as his running mate likely because the native of Scranton, Pa., had strong appeal to a constituency that Obama needed help with: so-called "lunch pail" (i.e., white working class) voters.

In 2019, Biden was scolded in different debates by both Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif, and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. Harris made the case that Biden was behind the times because he opposed mandatory busing in the 1970s and kept company with segregationist senators from the South. Booker accused Biden of making urban crime worse by pushing heavy-handed anti-crime measures.

This year, as the Democratic nominee, Biden told Charlamagne Tha God, co-host of the popular morning radio show "The Breakfast Club," that any African American who is considering voting for Trump "ain't black." Recently, when Biden called Trump "the first" racist to get elected president, Charlamagne angrily said: "I really wish Joe Biden would shut the eff up forever."

Now, with Biden poised to choose an African American woman as his running mate, Democrats hope this one gesture will put Biden in a better position on race.

Not likely. Biden's wounds were self-inflicted. A running mate can only do so much. It's the top of the ticket that needs fixing.

- - -

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

A splashdown that couldprotect the human race

By megan mcardle
A splashdown that couldprotect the human race


Advance for release Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, and thereafter

(For McArdle clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Megan McArdle

WASHINGTON - - Something amazing happened on Sunday, and almost no one seemed to care.

Two men had burst out of Earth's stratosphere in May, propelled by more than 1.7 million pounds of rocket-fueled thrust. On Sunday, they returned safely. The joint mission between NASA and SpaceX was the first time in nine years that the United States had sent astronauts to the International Space Station under our own power, rather than snagging a ride on a Russian rocket.

Fifty-one years ago, 63% of U.S. households watched at least some part of Apollo 11's historic trip to the moon. Sunday's return, by contrast, mostly enthralled space geeks who've been planning to colonize Mars since they were old enough to read their first science fiction.

America is rather busy with other things, of course, such as a pandemic. But it's actually the pandemic that shows us just how important it is to keep humanity moving along the road to the stars.

Perhaps this seems overblown to you; perhaps you think that space travel is a government boondoggle, a nerd equivalent of agriculture subsidies that siphons off taxpayer dollars from domestic social spending. Perhaps, too, you think that it's hardly fair to compare the attention lavished on humanity's first moonwalk with our relative indifference toward one more visit to the space station.

Yet the flight of the Dragon was also a major milestone, marking both the revitalization of our government's crewed space program, and the sustained entrance of commercial enterprises into the field. The more players there are on that field, the more trips we will make into space, and the more likely it becomes that we'll develop the expertise to finally realize those science-fiction dreams of space colonies and even interstellar travel.

Though this may seem rather remote and non-urgent compared with suffering in the here and now, it's actually human welfare that makes the most clear and pressing argument for developing our space capabilities. Human spaceflight is not just a gee-whiz cool, but fantastically expensive, way to flex our technical capabilities. It's a necessary -- though, yes, costly -- insurance policy against planetary catastrophe.

When space enthusiasts say this (and full disclosure, I was one of those 8-year-olds who fully expected to be colonizing another planet by now), our skeptics often hear an excuse for gross abdication of our ecological obligations -- use up this planet, then skip happily onward to the next one. But many of us believe that humanity should spend its money on space flight and environmental causes, and for the same reason. Because one of the mass extinctions we worry about is the die-off that extinguished the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period.

Most scientists now believe this was caused by a massive meteor, more than six miles across, that crashed into Earth near what is now the Yucatán Peninsula. New mountains were thrown up in an instant, tsunamis battered the coasts, forest fires ravaged the continental interiors, aerosols were thrown skyward that, along with the smoke from the fires, dimmed the sun and lowered temperatures. Most of the planet's known species weren't adapted for this harsh new environment, and in the aftermath of the great meteor, approximately three-quarters vanished.

Most educated people are aware that a meteor killed the dinosaurs, but prefer not to meditate on its corollary: If another meteor like that hits, humanity might well be among the species that go extinct. Such collisions are a regular event in the long history of our planet; even now, astronomers keep recording a disconcerting number of near misses.

A robust space program thus offers us two kinds of important protection: First, we could eventually develop the capacity to detect and deflect a potential collision; and second, even if we were unable to do so, part of humanity could be elsewhere when disaster hit, allowing the species to survive. It may seem silly to plan against a cosmic disaster that last happened millions of years ago - especially when there is a microscopic yet deadly threat stalking us right now. But note that until March, it struck most people as pretty silly to worry more about a pandemic than about threats from overgrown bureaucracy or the seasonal flu.

And indeed, modern public health efforts had lowered the yearly risk of such a contagion significantly. It's just that over a sufficiently long timespan, those low annual risks accumulate into something more like a certainty -- and you never know, in a given year, whether this is the time humanity wins the lottery -- or, rather, loses it. So even if your spirit isn't moved by the thought that a species of weak and hairless plains ape has somehow managed to vault itself once again toward the stars, you should still care about our progress in that direction. The more people we can put into space, the more likely it becomes that we will be able to keep everyone safe at home.

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Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

Disaster makes everything real

By kathleen parker
Disaster makes everything real


Advance for release Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, and thereafter

(For Parker clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Kathleen Parker

Pawleys Island, S.C. -- There's not much to recommend a hurricane, other than the morning after, when cooler temperatures prevail, and breezes lift the heavy blanket of humid air that makes swamps steam with envy.

But, setting aside the damages and inconveniences, hurricanes at least have this in their favor: They make us feel alive. Novelist Walker Percy wrote often of this phenomenon, once having a character ask: "Have you noticed that only in time of illness or disaster or death are people real?"

Having lived most of my life along southern waterways and coasts, I've known an alphabet of hurricanes and don't generally seek out their company. But I also like a good show and the uncertainty that comes with a good storm, and so I settled into my evening and a screened porch from which to view Isaias' approach.

A libation in one hand and my phone in the other, I confess to feeling very much alive. I would even put it at giddy with excitement. This was mostly because I knew that Isaias was merely a tropical storm as dinnertime approached and that landfall, when it might become a hurricane, was still hours (and 60 miles or so) away.

Snapping photos and filming videos, I began to register a faint feeling of elation building as the tide began to rise toward the beach. The usually modest waves of one or two feet grew quickly to enormous, cresting and breaking two or three times their normal size. Everything was very loud. Already water was pouring into the porch, both from the ground and the ceiling.

High tide under the full moon was due at 9 p.m., but it came on sooner. By 7 p.m. I wondered whether waves might breach the flimsy fencing along a line of puny dunes and engulf my room. It occurred to me that I should be afraid, but, perhaps foolishly, I wasn't.

In fact, I felt more alive and happier than I have in weeks. For a few fleeting hours, there was no pandemic, no elections, no toxic politics, no lockdowns, no noise except that of bulging waves breaking closer and closer to shore. "Here and now, boys," I heard the bird squawking in Aldous Huxley's "Island."

Here and now is a rare place and time these days.

A large trash can bobbed past, preceded by a small, rubber dinghy (empty). A few tourists (surely) stood on a pier just beyond my perch, perhaps hoping for a glimpse of the Gray Man, a legendary ghost who walks the beach in advance of a storm, warning mothers to hustle the children inside. My great-aunt Tawa was one who often saw and correctly heeded his warnings.

Landfall was estimated for between midnight and 2 a.m., with winds potentially surpassing 75 miles per hour. I wanted to stay awake in case I needed to do something heroic, or at least wise, but I surrendered to sleep when the power went out at precisely 9:41 p.m., according to the last text to my husband, who was busy 90 miles inland.

Without power and, importantly, air-conditioning, I left the sliding door open to the porch. Already, the tide had begun its ebb back toward the now-dark horizon. And, though the storm hadn't yet reached us, I calculated (OK, I hoped) that the likelihood of a surge was past.

Nature worked her usual magic. As waves gradually crashed with decreasing intensity and volume, I drifted into the deepest sleep. I was awakened by the soft light of a new day. A cool breeze filtered through the open door. Just beyond were the brisk sounds of people clearing debris and restoring things to normal

I have too much experience to tempt the Fates, but my husband put his finger on my determined lack of caution. "You're always hungry for the storm," he said, and he is right. But it's not a bad trait in a reporter or, for that matter, the rest of us these days. As Percy observed, everyday-ness can be a lonely, despairing, soul-numbing exercise. It is only in the contrast of the everyday to the forced vulnerabilities of illness, death or disaster that we experience the exhilarating mix of the alternatives.

Put it this way, without death, there would be no love. Without illness or disaster, there would be no sanctity of life. Creation, whether a Botticelli or childbirth, is painful and beautiful at once. The storm, whatever its magnitude, reminds us of these enduring truths -- and frees us to be real.

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Kathleen Parker's email address is

History not yet repeated

By george f. will
History not yet repeated


Advance for release Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, and thereafter

(For Will clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By George F. Will

WASHINGTON -- Seventy-five years ago Sunday, three days after the first use of a nuclear weapon, the second occurred. There has not been a third in the subsequent 27,394 days. One of humanity's remarkable achievements is this absence of something.

President Harry S. Truman, who ordered the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, did not learn about the existence of the Manhattan Project that developed the weapons until he became president upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12, 1945. The developers did not know until July 16, in the New Mexico desert, whether the weapon's physics would work. Truman used the bombs to avoid invading Japan. His decision, following the bitter-end Japanese fanaticism on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, was a moral and successful wager on economizing violence.

In the decision's immediate aftermath, however, little was known of the scale and nature of the violence, and for a while the U.S. government wanted to prevent knowledge. When reports said the Hiroshima bomb was equivalent to more than 20,000 tons of TNT, a young reporter stationed in Europe, named Walter Cronkite, assumed this was a typo, which he changed to 20 tons. "It was just the same as getting a bigger gun than the other fellow had to win a war," said Truman, adding, "Nothing else but an artillery weapon."

Except this one melted eyes in their sockets. Radiation sickness -- the bomb's lethality long after detonation: uncontrollable vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding gums, wounds that would not heal, disappearing white blood cells, fevers reaching 106 degrees -- had been denied, then minimized. Army Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, first dismissed Japanese reports of lethal radioactive effects as "pure propaganda," then told a Senate committee that radiation poisoning "is a very pleasant way to die." In May 1946, however, John Hersey arrived in Hiroshima.

One of his earlier New Yorker stories had concerned the sinking of a PT boat commanded by a young sailor named John F. Kennedy. Two years later, another story began:

"At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk."

What followed was, Lesley M.M. Blume says, "one of the most important works of journalism ever created," 30,000 words that filled the entire Aug. 31 issue of the New Yorker and became the book "Hiroshima," which has not since been out of print. Blume's new book about the making of Hersey's essay, "Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World," argues that by defeating Gen. Douglas MacArthur's censorship regime in Japan, Hersey compelled Washington to surmount its reticence, born of queasiness, about the bombings. Even Groves registered few, if any, objections to the essay.

After the war had killed perhaps 60 million combatants and civilians, and after the Holocaust's industrialized murder, people experienced what Blume calls "atrocity exhaustion." Nevertheless, Hersey's unsparing journalism, Blume argues, made impossible any further discussion of the bomb as a conventional weapon, and his understated, matter-of-fact presentation of horrific facts facilitated the implementation of deterrence, which has been successful. So far.

Hersey could not, however, immunize his nation from some subsequent follies when nuclear weapons became entangled in interservice parochialism and rivalries. Fred Kaplan's jaw-dropping 2020 book "The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War" reports that a Navy commander once minimized the military effectiveness of nuclear weapons -- the Air Force had custody of them -- by testifying "that you could stand at one end of Washington National Airport, set off an atom bomb on the other end, and walk away 'without serious injury.'" The Air Force, exuberantly multiplying potential Soviet targets to match the expanding U.S. nuclear arsenal, assigned 17 nuclear weapons to a Soviet base inside the Arctic Circle, where Soviet planes would land after bombing U.S. sites. U.S. nuclear weapons were allocated not just to Soviet tanks but also to the factory that produced them, the steel mill that supplied the factory, the ore-processing facility that supplied the mill, and the ore mine.

The human capacity for such lunacy suggests that people are too optimistic when they say that the vast majority of human beings who will ever live have not yet lived. If true, this will require an endless supply of the skill, leavened by luck, that has got humanity through its most recent 27,394 days.

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George Will's email address is

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