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Locking panties and man-repelling bracelets: Is this what the women of 2018 need?

By Lavanya Ramanathan
Locking panties and man-repelling bracelets: Is this what the women of 2018 need?
Illustration for story about some of the well-meaning (but often ridiculous) defenses women have been offered against the great boogeyman of sexual violence. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post illustration by Eddie Alvarez

In the promised reckoning over sexual assault, harassment and rape culture, a bracelet probably wasn't the solution the women of 2018 were hoping for.

But here it is. Last week, a Dutch start-up announced the sale of the Invi bracelet, the latest in a long line of odd implements designed for fending off would-be rapists. When the wearer gives it a tug, the Invi releases a pungent stench that Invi's founder, Roel van der Kamp, likens to a skunk's perfume.

The tagline for the Invi, priced at about $70, is "Provoke Independence," which is an oddly upbeat way of reminding us that without some kind of protection, women's freedom is not a given. Guys, you get to slide your Time's Up pin through your lapel and call it a day. We'll go to work wearing a skunk bracelet just in case.

Which, well, stinks.

"If this approach was going to work, it would have worked already," says Jaclyn Friedman, an anti-rape activist and author of "Unscrewed: Women, Sex, Power, and How to Stop Letting the System Screw Us All."

Instead, she says, these sorts of products are "incredibly exploitative of women's fears, and they sell the idea that there's some capitalist-commerce fix to the problem of sexual violence."

And, adds Emily May, executive director of Hollaback!, an organization that offers resources and training to fight harassment on the street and online, self-defense contraptions are a "cottage industry" built around "the idea that, essentially, it's your responsibility to protect yourself - that the people who perpetrate these behaviors don't have any self-control, and you need to take control and strap on your jacket with 110 volts of electricity."

Van der Kamp argues that men can also wear his bracelet to draw attention to sexual violence. Of the burden of ending rape, he says, "I don't believe it's a woman's problem. It's equally a man's problem."

So why are so many of these "protective" gadgets aimed at us? Here's a shortlist of some of the well-meaning (but often ridiculous) defenses women have been offered against the great boogeyman of sexual violence.

- The chastity belt

Researchers say there was never an actual medieval device intended to make a fortress of a woman's erogenous zones, but the fantasy of a locked-up damsel endures. A modern-day version might exist in AR Wear, a crowdfunded prototype of a woman's panty with locks at the waist and the legs. Tagline: "For when things go wrong."

- The rape whistle

Sound archaic? Dozens of these glorified noisemakers are available on sites such as Amazon. And after the brutal, deadly rape of a young woman in New Delhi in 2015, an organization called She's Against Rape even began distributing pink whistles to Indian women as a defense - along with a warning not to cry wolf.

- The self-defense movement

Urban American women first took up jujitsu and other self-defense training in the 1920s, just as they were going after the right to vote, according to the recent book "Her Own Hero: The Origins of the Women's Self-Defense Movement." Was the timing a coincidence? We think not.

- Pepper spray

Whip it out of your pocket or purse and spray the rape away. Or maybe not. "I've always had this fear: What if I were in a situation where I had to carry (pepper spray) to protect myself, but what if it were turned on me? What if it blew up in my bag and ended up making me get sick?" says Jamia Wilson, director and publisher of the New York-based Feminist Press. "I'd rather have a society that holds people accountable, that teaches people about consent, and where rape culture doesn't exist."

- The Athena

The Athena is a button-like device that when triggered sends a distress message and your location to a network of contacts you've selected. Then you sit and wait for one of them to rescue you.

- The antirape condom

We can thank a South African doctor for the Rape-aXe, a female condom - never brought to market - with rows of teeth that would ensnare an attacker upon penetration, trapping him painfully until a doctor removed it. No word on how exactly a victim would discreetly use a condom, much less one that looked like a killer jellyfish.

- Code words

In 2016, a rape crisis center in England encouraged bar patrons on troubling dates to go to the bar and "ask for Angela," tipping bartenders to their need for help.

- Date-rape nail polish

Yes, really. Undercover Colors has developed but not yet begun selling a nail polish that changes color when dipped into, say, trashcan punch loaded with roofies. "Power," reads the company's website, "must be handed back to women in what is a devastatingly powerless situation."

- Consent apps

Swipe your consent to sex ahead of time, so you won't ever actually have to discuss it. LegalFling, announced last week, offers just that, with Tinder-like ease of use. As a bonus, your potential partner gets a record of that consent for posterity (or in case of future legal action), and if there's "a breach" of contract, you can simply tap the app, triggering a cease-and-desist letter. Men, naturally, are behind this.

---

So, where should inventors direct their money and efforts, if not lockable panties?

"Products that would reduce the likelihood of men wanting to assault," May deadpans. Maybe even a bracelet a man would have to wear. "Something like, every time a woman gets sexually assaulted, you get a tiny shock on your wrist."

Men wouldn't even have to wear it very long, she adds, to get a very strong jolt of women's reality.

After a year of Trump, Russians are still waiting for the thaw

By Anton Troianovski
After a year of Trump, Russians are still waiting for the thaw
Souvenir matryoshka dolls depicting Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, left, and President Donald Trump and his family sit on display at a tourist stall in the city center ahead of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on May 31, 2017. Photograph MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Andrey Rudakov

MOSCOW - Russian nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky still fondly remembers the time he says a Russian official working at the United Nations arranged a meeting for him with Donald Trump.

"He understood that the way Russia is portrayed in the American press does not correspond to reality," Zhirinovsky said of Trump before recalling the 2002 meeting in New York. "He understood that we were even better than the Americans."

But as Russia takes stock of Year One of the Trump presidency, the pundits and politicians here who predicted a sea change in relations with the United States increasingly are concluding that they bet wrong. The first year in the White House of the most pro-Russian major-party presidential nominee in recent history has brought U.S.-Russian relations to an even lower point than before Trump took office.

"I thought there would be a revolution," said Zhirinovsky, who hosted a champagne reception in the Russian parliament after Trump won. "We could not possibly have foreseen all that happened."

In his campaign, Trump promised to improve relations with Russia. He called Russian President Vladimir Putin "very smart." But in Trump's first year as president, his administration has doubled down on Barack Obama's support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian-backed separatists and gone along with congressional sanctions against Russia.

The result: a civics lesson for those Russians who thought that the U.S. president could wield as much influence as their own. The state news media, pro-Kremlin politicians and many commentators now blame the Washington establishment and the U.S. media for spinning a fiction about Russian election interference and blocking Trump from carrying out his promise of a friendlier policy toward Moscow.

Putin told reporters last month that Trump hasn't been able to improve relations with Russia "even if he wanted to, because of the obvious constraints." His press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, called the state of U.S.-Russian relations the main disappointment of 2017.

"This is a president whose hands are tied," Valery Garbuzov, director of the Institute of U.S. and Canada Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said at a roundtable on Trump's first year hosted by a Russian state news agency. Using a phrase that is a favorite in Russian political circles, he added, "The Russian political elite saw the U.S. president as being at the top of a vertical of power, as we have it here."

One bellwether is Zhirinovsky, a presidential candidate and longtime firebrand who revels in racially charged and xenophobic rhetoric. Russians often ridicule him for his outrageous statements, but he supports Putin and is one of the most prominent voices in Russian politics.

In an interview, Zhirinovsky said he wanted to meet prominent Americans, preferably politicians, when he visited New York in 2002. But a Russian official working at the U.N., Vladimir Grachev, arranged a meeting for Zhirinovsky with Trump instead. Zhirinovsky said that in the meeting, he tried to convince Trump to build a development in Moscow and offered to help with contacts in the city government.

"He was the only one who agreed to meet with me," Zhirinovsky said. "Trump apparently was already on the radar screen as someone who traveled to Moscow and didn't refuse meetings with those who arrived in New York."

Grachev, now the deputy administrative head of Russia's Central Election Commission, confirmed in a phone interview that he arranged the 2002 meeting as a favor for Zhirinovsky, whom he had long known. Grachev said that he did so in a one-off, informal capacity and that it came together thanks to a mutual acquaintance of Grachev's and Trump's: Tamir Sapir, a Soviet-born real estate developer who had lived in Trump Tower and who died in 2014.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Two months after Trump declared his candidacy in 2015, Russian newspapers were already quoting Zhirinovsky as a Trump supporter. "We need Trump!" he shouted on a prime-time talk show the following year, in September 2016. "We need to fight for a Trump victory!" And after Trump did win, Zhirinovsky hoisted a plastic cup of champagne in parliament and delivered a toast to "a rapid improvement in relations between Russia and the United States."

A year into Trump's term, that improvement is nowhere in sight. By the end of the month, the U.S. Treasury is expected to release a list of Russian business executives close to the Kremlin - part of legislation responding to Russian election interference enacted by Congress over the summer. Being on the list isn't tantamount to being hit with sanctions, but it will likely carry a stigma nevertheless.

Trump has given his go-ahead for the delivery of lethal weapons to Ukraine for use against Russian-backed separatists, a step Obama avoided. And the new U.S. National Security Strategy, which the White House released last month, names Russia alongside China as challenging "American power, influence, and interests."

"If Clinton had won, then the whole elite of the U.S. wouldn't be so set against us," said Zhirinovsky.

But for all the hand-wringing in Moscow about the breakdown in U.S.-Russian ties, there is less discussion of what many Americans would say is one of the biggest factors in that disintegration: the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion, which the Kremlin rejects, that Russian operatives interfered in the American election. In the 90-minute roundtable discussion of Trump's first year, the topic barely came up.

"Not only at the top but also in society, most [Russian] people a year later don't recognize how important a question this is for the United States," Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, said of the allegations of Russian election interference.

Zhirinovsky said he doesn't know whether the interference allegations are true. But even those pro-Kremlin politicians who decisively reject them also sometimes voice satisfaction that more Americans now see Russia as a force that can't be ignored.

Obama "called us a nation in ruins that is a small regional power. A year later, people in America are talking about nothing but Russia," said Andrei Klimov, deputy chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Russia's upper house of parliament. "The only right lesson out of all this is: Don't pretend that others are dwarves."

A liberal entrepreneur sets out to help West Virginians - and gets a lesson in humility

By Jennifer Miller
A liberal entrepreneur sets out to help West Virginians - and gets a lesson in humility
In West Virginia Joe Kapp had a new mission, but as he initially saw it, it was simply an extension of his previous work helping LGBTQ couples and businesses find financial security. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Ricky Carioti

On a sunny day last October, Joe Kapp ducked out of the fresh afternoon air and into the ammonia stench of an industrial chicken house. He followed Josh Frye, the owner, into the crush of 30,000 scuttling, chirping and crapping chicks, just 10 days old and still downy. Frye has three such houses here in Wardensville, West Virginia, each the length of 1 1/2 football fields, and he walks them three times a day, nearly 300 days a year. He adjusts the temperature and ventilation, checks the water feeders and gauges the flock's health.

"I'm in awe of this," Kapp said as birds scooted out of his path.

"You get a run of emotions from visitors," said Frye, 52. "From awesome to disgusting."

After the first time he visited Frye's farm, Kapp had come home with his boots smeared in chicken poop. "Joey, what have you been doing?" asked Carlos Gutierrez, Kapp's partner of 25 years. And Kapp answered, "Honey, you don't even want to know."

When Kapp, 47, an entrepreneur, and Gutierrez, 46, an entertainment lawyer, decamped to a West Virginia cabin in 2012, industrial chicken houses were not on the agenda. They'd come to take professional sabbaticals. But Kapp, who has a restless energy and an insatiable drive to make things happen, had barely settled into his Adirondack chair when he befriended the forward-thinking president at the local community college. From there, it wasn't long before he was helping the college to launch an innovative project, the Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (IREED), aimed at diversifying the regional economy of West Virginia's eastern panhandle. Over the past two years, Josh Frye had become one of IREED's most promising clients as he tried to develop his chicken farm into something much more ambitious: an innovative business with wide-reaching economic and environmental potential for the state.

And yet, determined as Kapp was to help West Virginians like Frye, he was initially blind to the challenges of such a project - not just the systemic obstacles that have kept West Virginia from adapting to a rapidly evolving economy, but the personal roadblocks he would encounter as an affluent, liberal urbanite living in a rural culture he didn't understand. He would eventually find himself the object of a vicious online campaign, targeted with homophobia and maligned as an arrogant carpetbagger. But easy as it might be, especially in the Trump era, to write off this response as pure bigotry and partisan ignorance, Kapp took another perspective.

"I had to take some time to muck around in chicken s---," he says. "I learned humility. If we can drop our sense of 'we know best,' that animus that I have been the target of doesn't need to be there."

Kapp has become an unlikely advocate for rural communities and their largely conservative, working-class populations. He believes this demographic has far more potential than they are given credit for. They deserve economic self-determination, he says, not empty promises to revive dying industries. He is certain that by harnessing local knowledge, like agriculture, they can start businesses and put their own people back to work.

At the same time, Kapp knows that urban partners are vital to helping these communities access resources and take entrepreneurial risks. Which creates a problem: At a moment when our country is increasingly divided, convincing West Virginians to trust the liberal, urban elites who have long maligned them isn't easy. No less simple, Kapp has discovered, is getting these elites - himself included - to recognize their own shortcomings.

---

IREED is headquartered at Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College, a modest, two-story building overlooking the new Corridor H highway. These days, it's a 20-minute jaunt from Wardensville. A few years ago, the only option was a two-lane road, often backed up by slow-moving chicken and coal trucks. Then, the same drive could take an hour. Only part of Corridor H is open now, but when finished, the 148-mile thoroughfare between Virginia's Shenandoah Valley region and central West Virginia will serve as a badly needed conduit for workers, goods and visitors.

Many people in the Potomac Highlands, the six-county region that Eastern serves, commute. Wardensville residents might drive between 30 and 70 miles to work each way because there aren't jobs closer to home. Those who do work locally gravitate toward poultry processing, furniture manufacturing and agriculture, but the numbers aren't good.

In 2015, the unemployment rate in Hardy County, where Eastern is based, was 7.5 percent, compared with 6.7 percent statewide and 5.3 percent nationally. The per capita income in Hardy was just under $28,000 a year, compared with about $37,000 for the state and $48,000 nationwide. The Appalachian Regional Commission may not categorize Hardy County as economically "distressed" like the southwestern part of the state, but it falls somewhere between "transitional" and "at-risk." It's not surprising that so many young people are opting to leave the state.

Lindsey Teets, Eastern's small-business development coach, lamented this fact one afternoon in July. "Ninety percent of the kids I talk to at local high schools say they can't make any money here," he said. "To me, that's heartbreaking." Teets grew up in West Virginia and, in addition to his job at the college, runs a 200-head sheep farm with his father. On this day, he and Kapp were driving out to visit a small brewery whose revenue Teets had helped double over the past year. "Quite frankly," Teets continued, "there's almost nothing you can't do from anywhere now."

"Assuming you have broadband," Kapp scoffed. Halfway to the brewery, he knew, they'd lose service.

"Before the 1930s, Appalachia didn't have electrification," Teets said. "And today we don't have internet. It's the same problem."

Kapp shook his head. "You've got kids doing their homework in McDonald's parking lots. People in most of the country just have no idea."

Growing up, Kapp certainly didn't. He was raised in a middle-class North Miami Beach community, attended high school with the likes of author Brad Meltzer and Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg and received his master's in government administration at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduate school, he taught himself to code and bounced between companies, including a large tax-audit firm and a corporation that did sales force automation. By 26, he was working with major clients such as Johnson & Johnson and ExxonMobil.

But Kapp wasn't happy. He didn't just need a more fulfilling job - he needed a mission. This hit home one weekend when a Ford Explorer crashed into his car and propelled it into oncoming traffic. Kapp walked away without serious injury but determined to change his life. He quit his job and fled to the Tibetan Plateau, near the Himalayas. On his journey he kept thinking about Gutierrez, his longtime partner and the primary stabilizing force in his life. Inspiration struck: He decided he would help other gay couples achieve a similar stability. In 2006, he co-founded a D.C.-based financial and estate planning practice focused on LGBTQ couples and, a few years later, helped build the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce out of a previously existing nonprofit.

Before arriving in West Virginia, Kapp had only one experience at a community college: a summer biology class he and Gutierrez took for extra college credit. They treated it like a joke. While dissecting a fish, Kapp scooped out an eyeball and dropped it in the animal's stomach. "Look!" he told the professor, thinking himself quite clever, "it's an introspective fish!"

So when Kapp volunteered to teach an entrepreneurship course at Eastern in 2012, it was mainly out of boredom. He hardly considered it a real job; the college could barely pay. "When you think of the way that community colleges have been viewed, it's sort of like the redheaded stepchild of education," Kapp told me. He now considers this ironic, because after completing an undergraduate degree in economics from Florida State University, he initially couldn't get a job. "After Hurricane Irma, the people who were climbing the poles and fixing the lights were the people getting their trade skills at a community college," he says. "It's unlikely you could take somebody from an Ivy League college and have them climb a pole after a hurricane."

At Eastern, Kapp was impressed by his students' enthusiasm and was surprised to learn that some of them, along with a number of staff members, had side hustles to make ends meet. "People in big cities call the 'gig economy' the new thing," Kapp says. "But it's been in rural communities forever. 'I'm a ditch digger, but I've got a vegetable garden market going.'" What they lacked, however, were the kinds of small-business development resources typically found in cities. Kapp believed Eastern, with its small size and lack of red tape, could be a hub for just that.

Chuck Terrell, Eastern's mustachioed, tattooed president, was amenable; getting students to enroll had been a struggle, and he'd been looking for ways to engage the broader community. West Virginia's community college system is just over a decade old and has some of the lowest enrollment rates in the country - only about 10 percent of high school graduates, compared with 50 percent of graduates nationwide.

But the kind of economic development that Kapp had in mind wasn't part of community college culture. "That's more of a four-year college role," says Sarah Tucker, chancellor of the West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education. According to her and Terrell, community colleges largely put people to work by developing short-term training programs to meet the needs of specific employers. This January, for instance, Eastern will begin teaching industrial-maintenance courses to train potential hires for a manufacturing company called Automated Packaging Systems. The college's welding program also has an agreement with the Ironworkers Local Union No. 568. Students who complete the program are guaranteed an interview and can earn credit toward becoming fully skilled pipe welders.

Some community colleges have partnered with major corporations looking to hire many hundreds of workers. But that's not possible in low-density areas like the Potomac Highlands. "Everyone's talking about Amazon, but that's not the right way to talk about economic development" in a rural community, says Nathan Ohle, executive director of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, which focuses on communities of several thousand people. "That's putting all your eggs in one basket. You need to create an ecosystem that allows for small-scale manufacturing and innovators. Quite frankly, what works in urban and suburban places won't work in rural ones."

It's not surprising, then, that CNBC's 2017 report on "America's Top States for Business" ranked West Virginia 49th in three categories: workforce, technology and innovation, and business friendliness. The state's mountainous geography, its diffuse and aging population and its lack of services, including high-speed internet, make it less than desirable for big companies. It can't attract enough outside job creators to replace the 33 percent of coal mining - and coal mining support service - jobs lost since 2008. And these jobs, though temporarily holding stable, will continue a gradual decline over the next two decades, according to John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University. "We have a desperate need for industrial diversification," says Deskins. "And the only way to achieve it is to foster and promote small-business culture."

In 2013, Kapp pitched Terrell on the idea of establishing an institute for rural entrepreneurship. No community college in the state had anything of the kind. Kapp helped Eastern secure a $15,000 grant from the Coleman Foundation to set up IREED. Then, at an event for the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE), Eastern was offered the chance to apply for $100,000, on the condition that it raise matching funds. When he heard this, Terrell leaned over to Kapp and said, "Well, we're out. I don't have a hundred thousand in our budget." Kapp replied: "The problem isn't the money. The problem is your attitude."

"I'm a college president, and we've got a little ego at times," Terrell said later. "Internally, I was like, 'Who are you?' "

As Tucker explains, community colleges, like many West Virginians, are struggling just to survive. "We've been hit with several budget cuts in the last two years alone," she says. "So it's easy in that context to just want to tread water, just do what you're supposed to be doing in the moment, put your head in the sand. To say, 'We've been cut, we've been cut, we've been cut.' But Joe doesn't back down from what he wants to do. He's going to find a way."

Eventually, Kapp helped raise over $767,000 from a handful of private and public funders to support IREED initiatives. These included an entrepreneur-in-residence position for Kapp, which he assumed in 2014, and a Wardensville-based business incubator called the New Biz Launchpad, which opened in 2015.

Kapp had a new mission in West Virginia, but to him, it was simply an extension of his previous work helping LGBTQ couples and businesses find financial security. Though a secular Jew, he'd taken to heart a saying from Rabbi Maimonides: "The highest degree of charity, above which there is no other, is he who strengthens the hand of (the poor) ... till he is able to be independent." To Kapp, that meant helping marginalized people become self-reliant. And as a gay man, Joe Kapp knew from marginalized communities. Surely he could help the people of West Virginia.

---

Kapp did not come out of the closet until college, and when his parents learned he was gay, their primary reaction was fear. "They were really concerned that I'd be able to rely on myself," Kapp says. "They wanted to make sure that nobody would ever harm me or fire me from a job." Kapp understood their anxiety. "It's about 1989, and things were actually really, really difficult," he recalls. "You still don't have ubiquitous internet access. You're still in the throngs of the AIDS crisis, still having issues with homophobia, police raids of clubs. ... If I'd come out much earlier, my life could have been a lot shorter."

He was saved, in part, because of Gutierrez. Almost from the start, the two were exclusive. They couldn't have been more different: Kapp was a white, middle-class Jew, excitable, with a high tolerance for risk, while Gutierrez, a formerly undocumented immigrant from Colombia, was studious and cautious. But the couple found security and happiness facing a hostile world together.

After he launched his LGBTQ estate planning firm, Kapp says, some people responded with disgust. At industry conferences, people would hear about his clients and walk away. But the culture was shifting and, before long, financial planners were asking his advice about reaching an LGBTQ audience. By 2012, Kapp was managing more than $45 million in assets and had doubled the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce to over 450 members.

That same year, the couple achieved a long-held goal: saving enough money to no longer need full-time jobs. Gutierrez resigned as in-house counsel for Discovery Communications, a position he'd held for 13 years, and Kapp had sold his share of the estate planning practice. With no immediate plans, they moved to the cabin they owned in Lost River, West Virginia, a popular weekend retreat for D.C. gay professionals.

From the start, small, albeit significant, signs revealed Kapp's ignorance about the region. Agriculture is central to the Potomac Highlands economy, but Kapp never considered that farmers might be IREED's target audience. Initially, he called the New Biz Launchpad an "incubator," not realizing that most locals associated this word with chickens. On one occasion, he admitted to colleagues at Eastern that he didn't know the difference between hay and straw. After they finished laughing at him, Tina Metzer, the Launchpad's executive director, just shook her head as though to say, "You don't have any clue."

And then Kapp made the fateful decision to open IREED's New Biz Launchpad in Wardensville - a small town populated by families whose lineage reaches back generations. (Josh Frye can trace his ancestors back to the 18th century, and he lives in the house where his own father was raised.) Kapp didn't choose the location by chance. Two years before the Launchpad opened, Donald Hitchcock and Paul Yandura, domestic partners whom Kapp knew socially from Lost River, had spotted a business opportunity in Wardensville: Why not make the place - located along the road from Northern Virginia to Lost River and other points in the Potomac Highlands - a charming stop-off for weekenders and tourists? There were a few restaurants, but most of the storefronts were shuttered. So the couple purchased a handful of properties on Main Street, including a home, and opened a real estate agency and the Lost River Trading Post, an espresso-wine-craft-beer bar and crafts store. They persuaded a handful of friends and acquaintances from D.C. and Virginia to invest as well. Local and D.C.-based media noticed, and Yandura and Hitchcock became eager spokesmen for the town's revitalization.

Kapp hoped to capitalize on this momentum, using Wardensville's success as a way to pitch both IREED funders and Launchpad clients. He also bought two buildings on Main Street, where he opened the New Biz Launchpad, a student-run store and a gallery space.

"Wardensville became this petri dish of all these new creative ideas, and you had creative people like Paul and Donald and Joe, and that creates synergy," says Terrell. "When you bring together that diversity, does it create conflict? Sure it does. But that's part of a community evolving."

But Kapp didn't fully grasp how much resentment Hitchcock and Yandura were causing, nor did he realize, at least initially, how different his mission was. Yandura was hoping to play up Wardensville's "old school, authentic feel" and thereby create "something new and different and higher-end" for weekenders and tourists. They could brand it "the smallest town in America with a Main Street," he says. But for this to work, Yandura told me, they needed to persuade urbanites to visit a community "in the middle of nowhere that nobody wants to come to." Which meant overhauling a town government that the couple considered to be dysfunctional and nepotistic. "There needed to be adults at the table," Yandura says.

Locals, not surprisingly, found this attitude condescending and worried their town would become an Epcot-like attraction for city folk. "West Virginia has historically been played upon" for outsiders' commercial gain, says Lindsey Teets. "We're really leery as a people of someone coming in and saying, 'I've got your fix.' You get someone to move in here that's relatively rich, and they can buy whatever they want. They can use their money to bully (people) out."

Hitchcock and Yandura - whose tense dealings with locals became the subject of a 2017 story in Washingtonian magazine - say they were honoring the town's roots by refurbishing buildings instead of demolishing them and by filling their shops with old-timey music and decor. They point to the Lost River Trading Post, which sells only American-made and local crafts, and the Main Street Initiative, a nonprofit umbrella group they founded for Wardensville businesses. They would also go on to open a nonprofit garden market and bakery, staffed primarily by local teens. Still, many townsfolk believed the couple was obscuring a unique identity that reached back generations. Textbook gentrification. To make matters worse, the couple's development efforts were supported by the newly elected mayor, a woman who quickly lost support among some residents for the reforms she was enacting.

Kapp was easily lumped in with Hitchcock and Yandura. Some of this was stereotyping. And yet he, too, was giving press interviews, talking about how much the town had improved. He'd also befriended the new mayor, using his financial planning and auditing skills to tackle the town's messy finances. When the mayor offered him an unpaid position as head of the Wardensville Development Authority, Kapp accepted. The woman he replaced was a local business owner and sixth-generation resident.

In early June 2015, about six weeks after the Launchpad opened, Kapp learned that someone in town had started an anonymous Facebook page called Good News Wardensville. "We live in a growing, changing community," the first post read. "And ALL change is good, right? Let's find out together."

Kapp was overseas at the time and paid it little attention. But he returned home to discover dozens of posts. "Good news, Wardensville!" the anonymous administrator wrote on June 20. "It's WEST VIRGINIA DAY! And we need to celebrate our state's rich history, where for decades outsiders have come here to grab our land & resources, line their pockets & tell us what to do, all for our own good."

Kapp grew concerned. Later he would come to see that his mission - which was really Eastern's mission - was not the same as Hitchcock and Yandura's. "It's one thing to have a bunch of people come from the outside and start businesses," he says. "It's another thing to help bring communities together and create capacity and really hear about the issues." Tina Metzer, who grew up nearby, is even more blunt: "We don't bulldoze our way in."

But when Kapp first arrived in Wardensville, he wasn't working with native West Virginians like Metzer or Lindsey Teets. He was fumbling in a foreign environment, unable to understand why the Launchpad had so few clients and why everyone was so hostile. Kapp followed Good News Wardensville obsessively, trying to make sense of it all. "I felt obligated," he says. "I never wanted to do anything that would damage the reputation of the college."

Good News Wardensville ridiculed Kapp for running a "pop-up" shop at the art gallery, a popular urban concept that Kapp thought would help business owners test out their ideas. He was likened to Scrooge McDuckand Mr. Haney, the con man from "Green Acres." But there was worse. In reference to Kapp, Hitchcock and Yandura, a local man posted a photograph of a human-sized inflatable penis with a smiley face and arms. The caption read, " 'New Friends' Mascot." Someone referenced Sodom and Gomorrah. And Kapp was frequently called the "Wiz of Biz" and "Whizzy Bizzy," homophobic, "Wizard of Oz"-inspired slurs. One post about him featured an 1872 caricature of a carpetbagger. It may not have been the poster's intention, but the image had stereotypical anti-Semitic features.

Good News Wardensville racked up 756 likes, roughly 500 more people than actually lived in town. Not everyone who followed the page supported it; plenty of residents called out the anonymous administrator and his or her supporters as mean-spirited bigots. Yet critics of Good News Wardensville could be mean-spirited, too. "You are all no better than ISIS," one commenter wrote. "Just pure hate and spite," wrote another. "Join the 21st century, people."

Gutierrez watched all of this unfold with dismay. He'd looked forward to relaxing with Kapp; now he was having to manage his partner's anxiety. "Joey tried to keep a strong face about it, but it really affected him," he says. "We had (Facebook) notices set up every morning. And every time something came up, my heart would sink. It's hard to get beat up when you're trying to do good. It made me question a lot of what he was doing there and why."

Kapp insists that he never asked himself the same questions. He'd made a commitment to help the college, and he was going to follow through. "I'm a hopeful and eternal optimist," he says. "I think every entrepreneur is, because you wake up every day regardless of how bad it was the previous day and think, Today's going to be so much better."

And so, he says that when an elderly man tried to trip him at Town Council meetings - something that happened a couple of times - he'd simply step out of the way. And when someone threatened to burn down the Launchpad, he bought more fire insurance. He never posted on Good News Wardensville and, unlike Yandura and Hitchcock, he never got into shouting matches at Town Council meetings. Instead, he started his own Facebook page. He called it the Wiz of Biz - an attempt to claim, and thus defang, the slur - and uploaded a goofy photo of himself in an emerald green top hat. "The people attacking me want nothing more than to keep people in poverty and to maintain the status quo," he posted in September 2015. "They are all to (sic) happy to use fear, lies and insults to keep things the same. The result are no new jobs in WV."

Kapp and Gutierrez have both concluded that the enmity in town wasn't fundamentally about sexual orientation. "There were people who were openly homophobic, but I think the creation of the (Facebook) group was about outsiders, and the outsiders happened to be gay," says Gutierrez. "Some people who have power in the community were scrambling to hold on to it."

But this wasn't just about petty small-town politics, Kapp realized. It was about a deeper cultural fissure. As the presidential election approached, Kapp told his friends, "Trump's going farther than any of you think." "They'd laugh at me," he says. "And I said, 'I don't think you understand how frustrated people are.' And I had to stop talking to my friends, because they'd just start yelling at me."

The anonymous administrator stopped posting on Good News Wardensville in May 2016, purportedly because someone threatened to expose that person's identity. Since then, Kapp has taken a hard look at himself. He now says he never should have advised the mayor or joined the development authority, no matter how noble his intentions. He should have reached out to community organizations, such as churches, from the get-go. And he should have asked what the locals wanted and needed from the community college instead of showing up to announce what they could get.

Kapp also wishes he'd connected with Teets and Metzer far sooner. Metzer, in particular, "helped me understand what my own failures and faults were. If we're going to be successful, you have to have a greater cultural competency with the communities that we're working with."

---

Kapp can be reckless for the sake of his cultural education. In early October, while visiting a defunct coal mine with Josh Frye, he ventured to the edge of a river swooshing with toxic runoff. Between 1 million and 6 million gallons of this polluted water flowed into the Potomac every day. "If they didn't use lime dust to treat it, the Potomac would be dead," said Amo Oliverio, coordinator for Eastern's biological and environmental technology program, who was showing the men around. "Part of this place is like the surface of Mars. There's nothing."

As it turned out, Frye had a potential solution to the runoff problem - one that was less expensive and more permanent than lime dust. About a decade ago, he discovered that the special machine he'd been using to heat his chicken houses could be reconfigured to create poultry biochar: a black, sandlike substance made from chicken litter, whose chemical properties both improved deficient soil and trapped heavy metals. Biochar can be created from a variety of materials and is used in industries like agriculture and landscaping. But after reading a U.S. Department of Agriculture white paper on poultry biochar, Frye realized that it could help clean up mines, which often leached heavy metals into the surrounding environment. He buckled down, became a self-taught expert in the molecular composition of soil, and spent years talking to government agencies, universities and companies, trying to find partners and clients for a poultry biochar business. The project consumed his life and ran down his bank account.

Frye's current distributor, a fertilizer and soil amendment company called Southern Organics & Supply, says that to its knowledge, Frye is the first person to turn poultry biochar into a business. But Frye's formal relationship with Southern Organics is recent. For many years, few people took him seriously. "You got something that no one has ever produced, and it's made out of s---. And you've got to tell people how great this s--- is and make them believe it. If I go to the city," he says, "there's a lack of respect."

In 2012, the machine Frye used to make poultry biochar fell into disrepair. With no money to fix it, he was ready to give up. As a last resort, he called the Launchpad. He'd heard plenty about Kapp, of course, but he decided to withhold judgment. He had nothing left to lose. Kapp, meanwhile, says his "mind was blown" when he heard what Frye was up to. "I realized how many Joshes there are in other states, struggling for access to capital and resources."

Kapp, Metzer and Frye began meeting weekly at the Launchpad. Kapp helped Frye develop his business and reach both investors and clients, including state and federal institutions. Frye gave him a new way to think about economic diversification in the Potomac Highlands. IREED's main goal should be to help the agricultural community think of itself as entrepreneurial - "one of the biggest challenges for individual farmers," Kapp discovered. And so IREED created a centralized online marketplace, now in beta, where farmers can connect with buyers; it runs conferences where farmers scout and present new technologies; and it hosts monthly workshops with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture on topics from public relations to aquaponics to agro-tourism. As it turns out, a lot of area farms want to open their doors to weekenders and tourists - the same people that Hitchcock and Yandura hoped to lure to Wardensville. But the approach matters. "The big piece is that it all has to be locally led," says Ohle of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership. "Give the community a playbook and allow them to drive that."

---

Kapp may not be a West Virginian, but he is now shouldering a lot of their indignation. At one economic development conference, an audience member questioned Kapp's decision to work with community colleges, calling them "the lowest common denominator." At another, Kapp was talking about the challenges of rural entrepreneurship, and someone countered that it was easy to drum up "a few million dollars" in business investment. The problem, Kapp says, is that elites have not invited the rural working class into their conversations. And that needs to happen, not just to achieve economic equality, but to close the cultural gap.

There's another shift happening these days, too. Since the election, Kapp says, a growing number of funders, foundations and corporations have come to him about reaching rural communities. Kapp is developing a program that will allow community colleges to offer low- or no-interest microloans, around $5,000, to aspiring entrepreneurs. These individuals would then take entrepreneurship and business-development courses at the lending college. "A bank might say, 'This guy's too risky,' " Kapp explains. "But a community college can say, 'I know this guy. We work with him. I am vetting and validating his ability to be able to pay back the loan.' "

Last fall, Kapp, NACCE and the National Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education won a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to introduce entrepreneurship education in eight community colleges across coal-mining-affected areas of Appalachia. The grant also provides curriculum resources for 28,000 K-through-12 students. The hope is that some of these students - perhaps many - will feel newly empowered to look beyond the fading economy that sustained their grandparents and parents. But, Kapp warns, they must feel supported - and respected - along the way. If not, the fissures between rural and urban, and working class and elite, will only keep growing.

---

Miller is a writer in Brooklyn. Her most recent novel is "The Heart You Carry Home."

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

Autonomy, inclusion and the abortion debate

By michael gerson
Autonomy, inclusion and the abortion debate

WASHINGTON -- Forty-five years after Roe v. Wade was decided, the right to abortion that the Supreme Court discerned remains controversial and disputed.

The expectation of legal abortion is deeply embedded in American law and practice. Many states were lifting restrictions on the procedure even before Roe. Justice Blackmun’s landmark decision seized upon an existing social trend. According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 79 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances. A constitutional amendment against abortion -- favored by many social conservatives -- is a practical impossibility.

But the Supreme Court created a legal regime more extreme than the general consensus. The dogged pro-life activists who return to Washington each year to protest Roe during the March for Life are not alone. In the same Gallup poll, 49 percent of Americans agreed that abortion is “morally wrong” (compared with 43 percent who find it “morally acceptable”). Just 29 percent believe abortion should be legal in every circumstance. A number of states have moved to restrict abortion at the edges -- requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers, ensuring that abortion providers have visiting privileges at local hospitals, restricting the procedure after the fetus can feel pain.

Why does this issue refuse to fade from our politics? One reason concerns Roe itself, which was (as Justice Byron White put it in his dissent) “an exercise in raw judicial power.” Blackmun’s ruling does not hold up well on rereading. His system of trimesters and viability was (and is) arbitrary and medically rootless -- a fig leaf covering an almost limitless abortion right. Blackmun’s weak argument largely substituted for the democratic process in 50 states. Fiat replaced deliberation and democratic legitimacy. This was a recipe for resentment and reaction.

But judicial fiat can’t be a sufficient explanation. The Obergefell decision legalizing gay marriage in every state was also sweeping. It has produced almost no political reaction. The contrast to Roe could hardly be starker. And the explanation is rather simple. All the great Civil Rights movements have been movements of inclusion. The first modern Civil Rights campaign -- militating for the end of the British slave trade -- set the pattern with its slogan: “Am I not a man and a brother?” Susan B. Anthony asked: “Are women persons?” The most rapidly successful Civil Rights movement of our time -- the gay rights movement -- used the strategy of coming out to reveal gay people as friends and family members. All these efforts expanded the circle of social welcome and protection.

The pro-choice movement, in contrast, is a movement of autonomy. Its primary appeal is to individual choice, not social inclusion. And the choice it elevates seems (to some people) in tension with the principle of inclusion. A fetus is genetically distinct from the mother, biologically human and has the inherent capacity to develop into a child. This makes it different from a hangnail or a tumor. At what point does this developing human life deserve our sympathy and protection? When neurological activity develops? When the fetus can feel pain? When a child is born? When an infant can think and reason? All these “achievements” are, in fact, scientifically and ethically arbitrary. They don’t mark the start of a new life, just the development of an existing life.

It is the pro-life movement that appeals to inclusion. It argues for a more expansive definition of the human community. It opposes ending or exploiting one human life for the benefit of another. There are heart-rending stories that prevent the simplistic application of this approach. But most of the pro-life men and women I know have the genuine and selfless motivation of trying to save innocent lives.

An appeal to choice is undeniably powerful in our time. It seems to be the age of autonomy on both left and right, from abortion rights to right-to-die laws to marijuana legalization. The assertion of a right is often enough to end an argument. But there is an ethical and political alternative, emphasizing an inclusive concern for the common good and solidarity with the most vulnerable members of the human family. Martin Luther King Jr. called this “the beloved community.” It emerges not through the assertion of autonomy, but through the acceptance of our shared humanity and of the loyalty we owe each other.

Both of these priorities -- autonomy and inclusion -- are strongly present in American history. The abortion debate falls along this enduring divide, producing a social conflict that will only be managed, not settled.

Michael Gerson’s email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

France inspires world on immigration debate

By fareed zakaria
France inspires world on immigration debate

NEW YORK -- Emmanuel Macron is today the most admired world leader among liberals, centrists and cosmopolitans around the globe. He has managed to win the French presidency, enact reforms and stay relatively popular -- all while speaking positively about the free market, the European Union, globalization and trade. He has done all this in the face of a tide of populism that is still surging. What’s his secret? One key area to watch him on is immigration.

On Tuesday, Macron announced yet again that his government would be tougher on immigration, expediting asylum claims and then actually deporting those whose applications were rejected. (In 2016, France deported less than 20 percent of those denied asylum.) He insisted that he would never permit another “Jungle” to appear on his watch, referring to the enormous makeshift refugee camp that was cleared in 2016. Macron is being criticized from the left and congratulated by his former opponent in the presidential election, the populist right-wing leader Marine Le Pen.

Macron has been an extraordinarily shrewd politician, and has a chance to be one of the great presidents of France’s Fifth Republic. He understands something about the popular mood, and not just within his nation’s borders. In Germany, Angela Merkel has seen her once sky-high public support crater over one central issue -- her decision in 2015 to allow in a million refugees, many from Syria. In the recent German elections, in which Merkel’s party lost ground and the right-wing AfD won enough votes to enter the Parliament for the first time, exit polling showed that 90 percent of voters wanted those rejected for asylum to be deported faster, and 71 percent wanted to cap the overall number of refugees.

The central issue feeding populism around the globe is immigration. That’s why you still see right-wing populism in such countries as Germany, Holland and Sweden, where economic growth is strong, manufacturing is vibrant, and inequality has not risen dramatically. Donald Trump beat 16 talented Republican candidates because he outflanked them all on one issue -- immigration. “The thing [my base] want[s] more than anything is the wall,” Trump explained to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Democrats continue to move left on economics, believing that this will make them more credible populists. But polling shows that the public is already with them on economic issues. Where they differ -- and especially with white working-class voters -- is on immigration. And yet, the party is now more extreme on the topic than it has ever been.

Positions that dozens of Democratic senators took on immigration 10 years ago are now rejected by almost every party leader. Most back then, for example, would have agreed that America’s current mix of immigration skews too heavily toward family unification and needs to attract more immigrants with skills. Now, none will speak on the issue. The party today embraces “sanctuary cities,” suggesting that local authorities should ignore federal laws or even defy federal authorities who try to enforce the law of the land. Imagine if Republican mayors did the same with regard to laws they don’t like on guns or abortions.

It is difficult to be moderate on any topic these days, most of all immigration. Trump discusses the issue in ways that seem, to me, racist. Factions of the Republican Party have become ugly and mean-spirited in tone and temper, demeaning immigrants and encouraging nativism and bigotry. To compromise with these kinds of attitudes seems distasteful, even immoral.

And yet, the issue is one that should allow for some sensible middle ground. The late Edward Kennedy was one of the most liberal senators in the country. Sen. John McCain is a staunch conservative. And yet they were able to agree on a set of compromises in the mid-2000s that would have largely resolved America’s immigration deadlock and the rage surrounding it. Canada used to have strong nativist forces within it. But ever since its immigration system moved to a skills-based one -- coupled with strong efforts at celebrating diversity, multiculturalism and assimilation -- it has had few such voices. And this despite the fact that Canada now has a substantially higher percentage of foreign-born residents than the United States.

The scale and speed of immigration over the last few decades is a real issue. Just since 1990, the share of foreign-born people in America has gone from 9 percent to 15 percent. It has nearly doubled in Germany and the Netherlands and nearly tripled in Denmark. Most of the new immigrants do come from cultures that are more distant and different. Societies can only take so much change in a generation. If mainstream politicians do not recognize these realities and insist that those who speak of them are racists, they will only push the public in its desperation to embrace the real racists -- of which there are many.

Fareed Zakaria’s email address is comments@fareedzakaria.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Preparing our Middle East partners to fight their own battles

By david ignatius
Preparing our Middle East partners to fight their own battles

FORT POLK, La. -- In training exercises in a mock Afghan village constructed here on a base amid swampland, the U.S. Army is applying the military lesson of the war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq: Help your partners beat the enemy, but don’t try to do the fighting yourself.

Letting others fight the battle hasn’t been the American way in modern times, to our immense national frustration. The U.S. military became bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, much as it had a generation earlier in Vietnam, by trying to reshape societies with American firepower. For the military, the lesson from these quagmires is to step back -- and help local forces with training, advice and airpower.

Fort Polk is a final warmup for the 1st Security Forces Assistance Brigade, one of the Trump administration’s most innovative military experiments. About 1,000 soldiers are being trained here this month before deploying this Spring to Afghanistan. The preparatory exercises all focus on the same basic theme: Step back, and insist that partners do the front-line combat.

Gen. Joseph Votel, the Centcom commander who oversees U.S. military operations from Libya to Afghanistan, brought me along on a visit Thursday to the SFAB final training site. He summed up the concept behind the new brigade this way: “We have to let our partners own it. That’s hard for us to do. It’s in our DNA to dive in. But our job is to help our partners fight, not fight for them.”

The Afghanistan simulations are carefully staged in the military version of a movie set, with a mosque tower, goats meandering in the street, peddlers hawking flowers and posters of President Ashraf Ghani on the walls of make-believe Afghan National Army (ANA) headquarters. The idea is to make soldiers “comfortable with the uncomfortable,” says Maj. Gen. Gary Brito, the commander at Fort Polk.

Over 14 days of training, the soldiers practice helping Afghan partners reclaim a police station from the Taliban in the imaginary village of “Marwandi” and arrest a Taliban financier who’s sheltered by the local population. In one exercise, soldiers practice rescuing their comrades who’ve gotten caught in a firefight, applying quick tourniquets to their wounds and dragging them to safety.

At each stop, Votel listens as soldiers repeat the new doctrine: “Put the ANA in the front,” says a sergeant heading for Afghanistan. “We have to remove ourselves so it’s not our fight.” Votel replays that unconventional message to the troops through a long day. “What we’re really going to rely on is your adaptability,” he admonishes one advisory team.

When the brigade moves into Afghanistan in several months, it will have 36 combat advisory teams, with about a dozen members each, partnered with ANA divisions spread across the country. Team members will be able to request supporting fire from planes, drones and advanced artillery. Other teams will assist at headquarters and in logistics operations. They will join more than 10,000 U.S. troops already in Afghanistan.

The new brigade, cobbled together quickly with volunteers from divisions across the Army, is an attempt to deal with three issues vexing the Pentagon after more than 15 years of frustration: What works? How can the successful tactics be sustained? And how can the train-and-assist skills of Special Forces -- who have been the star players in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria -- be spread across the Army?

Leading this tactical review was Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. Last Spring, he began a “failure analysis” of what had and hadn’t worked in the battle zones.

The new brigade illustrates a broader process of shaping military plans for the Middle East that’s finally getting traction in the Trump administration, after a year of discussion and delay. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outlined the Syria piece of this strategic framework this week at Stanford. He argued that America should keep train-and-assist forces in northeast Syria, to aid stabilization there. Walking away from these conflict areas in the past had been a mistake, Tillerson said, but so is trying to steer local governance through nation-building.

America has been so frustrated with combat in the Middle East that people have barely noticed the victory against the Islamic State, and the partnering tactics that made it possible. U.S. collaboration with Syrian Kurds and Iraqi Shiites has made neighboring states nervous, especially Turkey. But it achieved results.

Since the days of T.E. Lawrence, analysts have argued that the people of the Middle East must fight their own battles. This simple but essential idea finally seems to have become hardwired at the Pentagon.

David Ignatius can be reached via Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Don’t worry: HELOCs will survive despite new tax law

By kenneth r. harney
Don’t worry: HELOCs will survive despite new tax law

WASHINGTON -- It’s a big and confusing question for many homeowners in the wake of the December tax law changes: Are new interest-deductible home equity credit lines (HELOCs) and second mortgages now totally out of reach going forward?

The new law eliminated a long-standing section of the tax code that allowed homeowners to borrow against their equity and use the proceeds for whatever purposes they chose, while deducting interest payments on their federal taxes. That provision of the new tax law took effect Jan. 1, so it’s logical to assume that popular tax-deductible HELOCs no longer will be available.

They’re dead. Right? Not quite! To borrow a phrase from Miracle Max in “The Princess Bride,” the traditional uses of HELOCs may be “mostly dead” -- but not all dead.

A close reading of the final language rushed through Congress last month reveals that interest-deductible HELOCs and second mortgages should still be available to homeowners provided they qualify on two criteria: they use the proceeds of the loan to make “substantial improvements” to their home, and the combined total of their first mortgage balance and their HELOC or second mortgage does not exceed the new $750,000 limit on mortgage amounts qualified for interest deductions. (The previous ceiling was $1.1 million for the first mortgage and home-equity debt combined.)

“The key here is (how) you use the proceeds” of the HELOC or second mortgage, Ernst & Young tax partner Greg Rosica told me in an interview. You can’t buy a car anymore. You can’t spend the money on student loans, business investments, vacations or most of the things you used to be able to do. Now, to take deductions on the interest you pay, you’ve got to limit expenditures to capital improvements on your house, or -- less likely -- buying or building your principal residence.

The reason, said Rosica, a widely recognized expert on real estate tax law, is that although Section 11043 of the new tax law eliminated home-equity debt interest deductions, it left virtually untouched interest deductions for primary home mortgage debt (”acquisition indebtedness”) that is used to buy, improve or construct a new home. As long as you follow the rules on what constitutes a capital improvement -- spelled out in IRS Publication 530 -- and do not exceed the $750,000 total debt limit, “it is deductible,” said Rosica.

Banks and other lenders active in HELOCs and second-mortgage arenas agree with this interpretation and plan to continue offering home-equity products. Bob Davis, executive vice president of the American Bankers Association, told me “HELOCs will still be in the mix,” despite widespread concerns that they might disappear after the elimination of the home-equity section of the tax code.

Michael Kinane, head of TD Bank’s extensive second-lien product offerings, said in a statement for this column that HELOCs and home-equity loans remain available and popular, whether interest is tax-deductible or not, and can be “the best, lowest cost option for homeowners.” In mid-January, TD’s rates for owners with solid equity and good credit on a $100,000 HELOC were 3.99 percent APR, about half a percentage point below the prime bank rate.

A survey of HELOCs and second-lien lenders active on the LendingTree.com loan-shopping network conducted for this column found a “consensus” that not only will lenders continue to offer such financing, “but more lenders will offer them as home prices [and] values rise,” according to spokesperson Megan Grueling.

Lenders generally won’t advise you on interest deductibility, urging instead that you consult your tax adviser. Also, the final word on interest deductibility will need to come from the IRS. But the attorneys, CPAs and legislative tax experts consulted for this column were unanimous in their belief that the IRS will agree with their interpretation of the law changes.

Bottom line: Despite rampant rumors to the contrary, home-equity-based lending won’t be disappearing anytime soon. Borrowers who want to deduct interest will need to restrict their expenditures to qualified home improvements. Others who simply want to tap into their equity they’ve built up at attractive interest rates and use the money for whatever they choose will be able to obtain HELOCs or second mortgages, just as they did in the past.

And for those owners who now plan to opt for the standard deductions of $12,000 or $24,000, there’ll be no issue at all. Since they will no longer be itemizing, no big deal. They won’t be thinking about interest deductions anyway.

Ken Harney’s email address is Harneycolumn@gmail.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

An administration with no credibility cannot lead

By eugene robinson
An administration with no credibility cannot lead

WASHINGTON -- The rude, petulant man-child in the Oval Office is reeling ever more wildly out of control, and those who cynically or slavishly pretend otherwise are doing a grave disservice to the nation -- and to themselves.

How do you like him now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell? President Trump convened a made-for-television summit at the White House and said he’d sign any immigration bill Congress passes. “I’ll take the heat,” he boasted. So a bipartisan group of senators came up with a deal -- and he rejected it out of hand, launching into an unhinged rant about “shithole countries.”

What about you, House Speaker Paul Ryan? You came up with a clever way to get Democrats to agree to a stopgap funding bill, dangling the possibility of a long-term renewal of the vital Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). But the president tweeted that “CHIP should be part of a long term solution” and not a short-term measure to keep the government from shutting down.

Is this what you signed up for, chief of staff John Kelly? In a meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, you said that some of Trump’s campaign positions on immigration were “uninformed” and that there will never be a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. You reportedly added that whatever partial barrier gets built, Mexico won’t pay for it. But the president slapped you down with another series of tweets, claiming that his promised wall “has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it” -- and that Mexico will, too, pay for the wall, “directly or indirectly.”

How was your week, White House physician Ronny Jackson? You did what is expected of everyone who stands at the podium in the briefing room: lavish the president with flowery, over-the-top, Dear Leader praise. He is in “excellent health,” you announced. But the test results you released, according to many other doctors, indicate that Trump suffers from moderate heart disease and is on the borderline between overweight and obese. In your view, the next step down from “excellent” must be “deceased.”

Having fun, Steve Bannon and Corey Lewandowski? As bigwigs in the Trump campaign, you helped a manifestly unfit blowhard get elected president. This week, you did the White House a favor by stonewalling the House Intelligence Committee in a way that angered even the Republicans on the panel, which is hard to do. But you remain in the crosshairs of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and the best-case scenario is that you emerge unindicted but saddled with mountainous legal bills.

No one should feel sorry for those who choose to aid and abet this travesty of an administration. They made their choices. They elected to trust a man they know to be wholly untrustworthy, and to lie shamelessly to massage his swollen ego. At this point, I wouldn’t believe Sarah Huckabee Sanders if she told me that water is wet and the sky is blue.

But the larger impact is something we all must worry about: One year into the Trump presidency, we effectively do not have a presidency at all.

As McConnell noted in frustration Wednesday, he can’t orchestrate passage of an immigration bill unless he knows what Trump is willing to sign. Likewise, Ryan can’t pass spending legislation unless he knows what Trump will and will not accept. But the president has no fixed positions. His word is completely unreliable. How are congressional leaders supposed to do their jobs?

Regarding foreign policy, how can other nations take seriously anything Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says when he is subject to being countermanded on Twitter at any moment? What is the point of Jared Kushner’s diplomacy, if you can call it that, in the Middle East? Does “America First” really mean anything, or is it just Trumpian hot air?

And why, at this point, do reporters even bother to attend Sanders’ briefings, unless perhaps for the entertainment value? Past press secretaries all delivered pronouncements that were loaded with spin, but Sanders concocts laughable fantasies out of thin air -- usually to “justify” crazy things Trump has said or tweeted.

The nation has never before faced a situation like this: It is unwise to take literally or seriously anything the president and his official spokespersons say. An administration with no credibility cannot possibly lead.

Trump is incapable of growing into the job; if anything, he is becoming more erratic. I fear the day when a crisis arises and we must face it with a bratty preteen at the helm.

Eugene Robinson’s email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Is Trump’s doctor OK?

By dana milbank
Is Trump’s doctor OK?

WASHINGTON -- Examining the White House physician’s briefing on President Trump’s physical, I was alarmed -- not about the president’s health, but the doctor’s.

Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson was so effusive in extolling the totally amazing, surpassingly marvelous, superbly stupendous and extremely awesome health of the president that the doctor sounded almost Trumpian. “The president’s overall health is excellent,” he said, repeating “excellent” eight times: “Hands down, there’s no question that he is in the excellent range. … I put out in the statement that the president’s health is excellent, because his overall health is excellent. … Overall, he has very, very good health. Excellent health.”

And just how excellent is His Excellency’s excellent health, doctor? “Incredible cardiac fitness,” was Dr. Jackson’s professional opinion. “He has incredible genes. … He has incredibly good genes, and it’s just the way God made him.”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN, making a rare house call to the White House briefing room, offered a second opinion. “He is taking a cholesterol-lowering medication, he has evidence of heart disease, and he’s borderline obese,” Gupta pointed out, citing Jackson’s own findings. “Can you characterize that as excellent health?”

Jackson replied that Trump’s heart is “in the excellent category.”

And not just his heart! The doctor rhapsodized about Trump’s vision, his stamina (“more energy than just about anybody”) and above all his mental acuity, which, Jackson made sure to note, he examined only “because the president asked me to.” Trump is “very sharp, and he’s very articulate. … Very, very sharp, very intact. … Absolutely no cognitive or mental issues whatsoever. … The president did exceedingly well.”

Sure, the guy could exercise and lose a few pounds. But “if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old,” the White House physician proclaimed. Jackson even blessed Trump’s habit of sleeping only four or five hours a night -- “probably one of the reasons why he’s been successful” -- and his couch-potato tendencies: “He can watch as much TV as he wants.”

And that time when Trump slurred his speech? Jackson blamed himself, for prescribing Sudafed. It was dry throat -- exactly the diagnosis offered by the White House spokeswoman!

Jackson, nearly equaling the prediction of Trump’s personal doctor that he would be the healthiest president ever, predicted Trump would remain healthy “for the remainder of another term, if he’s elected.”

Jackson has been a well-regarded doctor. But since finding himself in Trump’s orbit, he has adopted the hyperbolic style and excessive flattery of the boss that we see in other, previously respectable members of Trump’s court.

We see it in the once-dignified Sen. Orrin Hatch suggesting Trump is on his way to being a better president than Lincoln or Washington, in Rep. Kevin McCarthy collecting pink and red Starburst candy for Trump, in the lies told by Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to cover for Trump’s racist outburst, and in the fawning public performances by White House officials Stephen Miller and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. What makes them trash their dignity?

I put the question to Bandy X. Lee, the Yale Medical School psychiatrist who compiled the controversial book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” raising doubts about Trump’s mental fitness.

Lee said the screening test Jackson gave Trump “gives the public a false sense of reassurance.” Indeed, Donald Trump Jr. used the results of the test in a tweet: “More #winning. 30 out of 30.”

She said the test, though useful for detecting Alzheimer’s and the like, indicates little about “his high functioning, his frontal-lobe functioning, that we’re questioning.” To figure out what causes the worrisome traits President Trump exhibits -- disordered decision-making, an insatiable need for affirmation, little impulse control, confusion about facts, difficulty foreseeing consequences -- you’d need more extensive tests, a psychological exam and an MRI.

But, in a sense, you don’t need a doctor’s diagnosis to see that there’s a lot of chaos and volatility in the presidential brain.

That, Lee speculates, could explain powerful sycophancy that overcomes those who get close to Trump. “Those close to him are sensing this level of appeasement is necessary,” Lee speculated. They “feel they need to step in as a way to diminish his volatility and rage.”

The danger, Lee said, is that Trump’s courtiers do this for too long and succumb to “shared psychosis,” in which they come to “share his view of the world and lose touch with reality.”

They might even come to believe that a sedentary 71-year-old with significant plaque in his coronary arteries, high cholesterol and borderline obesity is the very picture of health.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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