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Determined migrants unfazed as deportations begin from Texas border

By Arelis R. Hernández
Determined migrants unfazed as deportations begin from Texas border
Migrant families wait at a bus stop Sunday in Del Rio, Texas, where thousands of migrants, mostly from Haiti, have recently gathered amid food shortages and deteriorating sanitary conditions. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Sergio Flores for The Washington Post

CIUDAD ACUNA, Mexico - The Biden administration Sunday began deporting people from the makeshift camp where nearly 14,000 migrants have gathered beneath a South Texas bridge amid food shortages and deteriorating sanitary conditions.

Three flights carrying hundreds of migrants landed in Haiti on Sunday, according to a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. In a midday news conference, Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said the federal government had moved 3,300 individuals from the camp Sunday to migrant processing facilities. The government enlisted the help of the local school system to transport people on school buses to facilities in Texas in San Antonio, Laredo and Eagle Pass, he said.

"We are working around-the-clock to expeditiously move migrants out of the heat, elements and from underneath this bridge to our processing facilities in order to quickly process and remove individuals from the United States consistent with our laws and our policies," said Ortiz, adding it will be done in a "humane and timely manner."

The Biden administration is conducting the deportations under Title 42, the Trump-era public health order that President Joe Biden has kept in place to push migrants south of the border during the covid-19 pandemic.

The goal is to reduce the number of people waiting to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel and improve conditions on the ground. It's also designed to break the momentum and determination of migrants who have been encouraged by their U.S. relatives to make the journey before the opportunity passes or their individual circumstances worsen.

Migrants attempting or considering the journey to the border, "should know we are still enforcing CDC Title 42 order and they will not be allowed to enter the United States. They will be removed and they will be sent back to their country of origin," Ortiz said.

But news of the deportation flights has not stopped or worn down the resolve of some migrants.

Near the encampment Saturday, Melisa Joseph ticked off the names of all the countries she and her family journeyed through on their way to the Rio Grande's steep, thorny embankment near Texas.

"Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica. I think it was nine countries," the 24-year-old told another woman in her Creole-tinged Spanish, the fruit of three years living in Chile. "Maybe it was 10."

Deteriorating social and economic conditions - worsened by the pandemic - in the South American country became too hostile to bear for Joseph, forcing her, her husband and two young children to join a persistent exodus of her compatriots to the northern half of the Americas. Racism, perpetual deportation threats and tightening work restrictions on foreigners in Chile made the choice inevitable, but Joseph never imagined what she found at the river's edge in Mexico.

From the neighborhood alleyways of Ciudad Acuna overlooking the Rio Grande emerged a surreal sight: A highway of humanity, many of them fellow Haitians, crisscrossing the international boundary unfettered as if it were a New York City intersection during rush hour and not the heavily surveilled dividing line between two global powers.

No one was hiding. There was no hesitancy. Everyone - carrying cases of water, bags of food, mattresses and blankets - looked like they had somewhere important to be.

"I never expected any of this," the bewildered Joseph said as she prepared to make her own crossing, grabbing a bag of recently bought groceries. "We go with fear, but we go determined to make the sacrifices for our families. We got this far."

While it's not clear how or why thousands of specifically French-, Creole- and Spanish-speaking Haitians converged simultaneously on this isolated outpost of the U.S.-Mexico border, what is clear is that many of their migration stories began long ago. Theirs is an unending tale of displacement, discrimination and deportation that many had hoped would end in Del Rio, Texas, and lead to a permanent home.

Their motivations for migrating are complicated yet similar. The routes they traverse are dangerous and unpredictable. But their crowding by the thousands - with many more reportedly on their way - onto a dusty piece of dirt bereft of proper sanitary conditions, medical resources or shelter, has provoked an overwhelmed government to threaten these immigrants with removal to homelands they hoped never to return.

Jorge Rios, 28, and his cousins have been guarding their family property in Mexico since early this week when the first cascades of migrants washed over this small town. Local police asked Rios's family to open a passage to the river embankment behind their home. Migrants, press and police are the only ones allowed through. Rios stopped a pair of Mexican teens warning them not to trespass on his property: "Mexicanos, no," he said. "Migrantes, si."

"I've never seen anything like this before," said Rios, whose family pulled out power strips from inside the home allowing migrants to charge their phones. "More than 10,000 people have walked through our backyard. And more are coming. These migrants have families en route, and they have families who already made it through weeks before them."

Mexican municipal police are monitoring the throngs. One bored officer stood at the mouth of a torn chain-link fence occasionally rebuking migrants to wear masks. At one point, the officer gave up saying anything.

The narrow dirt paths leading down the Mexican bluff are well-worn but susceptible to tumble. People step lightly as they carry giant bottles of water on their heads and babies in their arms. Some migrants tie their shoes together by the laces and wrap them around their necks. They roll up their pants up to their underwear before stepping down into the swift, knee-high water.

Walking across the concrete spillway is like trudging through goop, stepping slowly and warily so as not to fall victim to the deceptively swift current. It is not easy to avoid the clumps of algae and mysterious brown-colored muck the river carries. A group of fishermen and snorkelers cast spears and line into the river, unbothered and seemingly oblivious to the spectacle unfolding around them.

Before Saturday afternoon, law enforcement was largely absent from this river crossing. But after more state and federal officers surged to the border, a caravan of police vehicles and helicopters descended on the U.S. side of the spillway where people were bathing and washing out plastic bottles for reuse. As a lightning storm darkened the sky, Texas state troopers yelled at migrants to clear the spillway, cordoning off the area and closing river access to the itinerant camp residents.

Gusting winds ripped apart the new "No Trespassing" sign they had attached to the rope. Troopers secured and now guard the once-unrestricted byway.

The window for cross-river commerce appeared to have been suspended and possibly, over for good. Microeconomies had developed over days within the camp. Men bought boxes of food in Ciudad Acuna's plazas and food trucks to resell to desperate and hungry families. Women bought extra blankets and diapers to make an extra buck. Wherever there is people, there is money and the opportunity to make more, migrants said.

Cutting off access to Mexico could be problematic for the masses underneath the bridge. In the streets of the border city, Brenda Martinez of the local charity Bridge Builders for the Cross, handed out free masks, T-shirts and sanitary napkins to the migrants from the back of a pickup. It was important to her that the migrants obtain basic goods that may not be available at the camp. Their shirts said in Spanish, "Helping people is my passion."

Limiting migrants' ability to cross into Mexico or use the river to bathe would complicate matters at the camp where sanitation is largely absent. Migrants said the portable toilets are foul. The dust, dirt and sweat are ubiquitous and the river offers the only viable option to clean.

Before this latest mass of migrants, Haitians, Venezuelans and Cubans regularly opted for the Ciudad Acuna-Del Rio crossing point to surrender to Border Patrol. They had been told by other migrants, compatriots and family members who had gone before them that once in custody, there was a high likelihood they would be released. CBP data for the sector confirms their assumptions.

Upon reaching soil and contacting agents, migrants would insist on changing at the shore into their better clothes and shoes and cleaning up a bit. They knew they would soon be in an airport or on a bus to meet their waiting relatives within hours.

That is what Gerlin Dominguez, who traveled from Venezuela, expected before encountering the camp. The conditions surprised her. There are so many people and it is so loud that one can hear the drone of what sounds like a stadium full of voices from more than a mile away.

Buying things in Mexico, including soap and wipes, is a boon to the local businesses but its also imperative for the migrants because there is nothing at the camp. The food handed out by federal authorities runs out quickly and the chips and bread they hand out are not sustenance, she and other migrants said.

"There's no space. It's dusty, dirty and not at all what I hoped to find," said Dominguez while walking alongside her 5-year-old son, Ramses. The boy is sleeping on a piece of old cardboard beneath a crude hut made of bamboo-like cane and draped with blankets over top. "It's the children who are suffering the most."

While city and county officials fear agitation and restlessness could lead to violence or unrest, Dominguez said most migrants endure calmly, holding on dearly to their ticket numbers and are careful not to do anything to compromise their spot in line.

"We gave up everything we had to be here," the 30-year-old said. "We are not going to give up that easily."

- - -

The Washington Post's Nick Miroff contributed to this report.

Lost grave markers surface from a distant World War II battlefield

By Michael E. Ruane
Lost grave markers surface from a distant World War II battlefield
Owen L. Conner, curator for the National Museum of the Marine Corps, unwraps pieces of a wooden cross bearing the name of Sgt. Bernard A. Marble, 28, of Massachusetts, one of more than 1,000 Marines who died in the 1943 battle for Tarawa. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Katherine Frey.

QUANTICO, Va. - Curator Owen L. Conner carefully unties the ribbon around the weathered slats and removes the storage paper. Sand from the island where the Marines fought still clings to some of the wood. One by one, he assembles the three crosses once used to mark graves.

As he does, the faded names appear in black over peeling white paint: Robert W. Hillard; Clarence S. Hodgson; Bernard A. Marble. Fragments of other names can be seen on other pieces, and "Nov . . .1943."

The crosses come from lost cemeteries on the World War II battlefield of Tarawa, an atoll in the Pacific where more than 1,000 Marines were killed fighting the Japanese, and where hundreds may still lie buried in unmarked graves.

Last month, the National Museum of the Marine Corps officially acquired the crosses, along with other grave artifacts, from History Flight Inc., the Fredericksburg, Va., nonprofit archaeological firm that has been excavating on Tarawa for more than a decade.

The Tarawa crosses are rare and are believed to be the only such artifacts in a museum collection.

The relics from a bygone war come as the Marines mourn the 11 members killed in the most recent conflict, alongside one soldier and one sailor, in the Aug. 26 suicide bombing attack at the Kabul airport.

Among the items from Tarawa: A projectile removed from the lower back of a skeleton; a pristine glass ampule of iodine; a tiny glass bottle containing unidentified pills; a container of surgical thread; a deteriorated poncho of the kind bodies were buried in; and Japanese and American helmets and canteens.

The crosses had been wrapped up like a bundle of old fence parts and stored in a repository on the atoll when they were spotted three years ago by History Flight's chief operating officer, Justin D. LeHew.

One day last week, Conner, the museum's curator of uniforms and heraldry, unboxed the crosses and other artifacts in the museum's support center in the old brig on the Marine base here.

He said he hoped some of them might soon be displayed at the museum.

The crosses all told tragic stories.

The United States assaulted the Japanese-held atoll - mainly its tiny island of Betio - over four days in late November 1943. The attack was part of the plan, after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, to seize enemy bastions across the Pacific Ocean.

But Betio, code named "Helen," was heavily fortified, and defended by about 4,500 men. A Japanese admiral reportedly bragged that a million Americans couldn't take it in 100 years. The Marines had about 18,000 men.

The battle was fierce, and often fought at close quarters.

Color film footage shot by a Marine cameraman captured the grim nature of the combat and its aftermath. In one clip, the bodies of Marines are seen strewn across the beach and floating in the water.

The handling of the dead was haphazard.

"Corpses were everywhere," Pfc. Joe Jordan recalled, according to historian Derrick Wright. "We worked to identify the folks from our unit and placed them in the trench covered by their ponchos . . . Then bulldozers pushed sand in on top of the bodies."

Graves were scattered across the island, some apparently denoted with markers, some not, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).

Military construction projects later moved many grave markers without moving remains, a DPAA historian has written.

In addition, other markers appear to have been placed where there were no bodies. And some markers were erected to commemorate Marines who died of wounds and were buried at sea.

In 1946, graves registration experts exhumed remains from 43 cemeteries and burial plots across the island and combined them into one.

In late 1946 and early 1947, the combined remains were disinterred again, and the markers apparently discarded.

The human remains, at this point mainly skeletal, were taken to Hawaii for possible identification, and in 1949, those unidentified were reburied in a national cemetery in Honolulu.

In the overall process, though, half the Marine dead may have been left behind on Betio, according the DPAA.

Last week, the crosses of Hillard, Hodgson, and Marble looked like pieces of driftwood as Conner, the curator, put them together on a display table.

He matched up the name, rank and serial numbers written on the broken sections as if working on a puzzle.

As he worked, he said he often wonders about the men: Who was Robert Hillard? "Where'd he come from? . . . What did he look like?"

"The really tragic thing with these men [is] so much of their stories have been lost," he said. "Because they didn't have . . . their own young families and their parents were the only people that they had, and they're gone."

"You just sort of have these dead ends on their lives," he said. "When I see those crosses I think how sad their ending is."

Hillard, a native of West Tulsa, was one of 11 children and stepchildren in a blended farming family in Big Fork, Ark., according to census records.

He was 17, technically a minor, when he enlisted in 1941. He needed his mother's consent to sign up.

He was 19 when he was shot in the head and killed on Nov. 20, 1943, according to government records gathered by private researcher Geoffrey Roecker.

Hillard was one of 61 Marines from his 165-man company killed in the battle, Roecker said in an email. They were shot down as they tried to land on an especially deadly section of beach called "the pocket."

His family was not notified of his death until Jan. 1, 1944. And his body was not recovered.

But after the war, his mother, Susie Ratliff, said the Marines sent her a package of his belongings - a cigarette case, a pocket watch and wallet, and mistakenly informed her that he was buried in "grave 9, row 1, plot 10" of a Marine cemetery on Betio.

In 1947, the Corps reversed itself, apologizing and telling her that it had not found her son's body under his grave marker - the same one, perhaps, that Conner had on his display table.

"It must be assumed that . . . the cross was erected in his honored memory rather than . . . as a marker identifying the location of his grave," the Marine Corps commandant wrote her.

She was livid.

"Why have I been deceived?" she wrote a local congressman. "Why didn't they tell me the cold hard facts in the beginning so I could accustom myself to them all at the same time? . . . [It's] more than I can sanely take."

Clarence Stanley Hodgson, of Eddyville, Iowa, had just turned 18 when he enlisted in the Marines in 1940. He was known as Stanley, and was the son of a farmer. He was 21 when he was shot in both legs on Nov. 21, 1943.

He was evacuated to the USS Sheridan, a troop ship, where doctors amputated part of his right leg. He was given whole blood, blood plasma and a solution of saline dextrose.

But he "failed to respond to treatment," the government records state. He died at 9 p.m. the next day and was quickly buried at sea.

He got a memorial cross on Betio despite the absence of his body.

Sgt. Bernard A. Marble was 28 when he was killed Nov. 21. His battalion had suffered heavy casualties as it came ashore the day before on Red Beach 3.

A native of Somerset, Mass., where he lived a block from the Taunton River, he had enlisted on Sept. 19, 1941, according to the records.

His body was recovered and buried in a large grave on Betio. It was later exhumed and reburied in the combined grave. It was identified. Its location was recorded, and a grave cross was created.

It's not clear what happened after that, but when his remains were exhumed again and moved to Hawaii, they were classified as unknown. At that point they consisted mainly of a skull, arms, chest and pelvis, according to government files.

Laboratory examination of his dental records and physical characteristics, though, enabled experts to identify the body as Marble's.

He was returned to Somerset and on May 12, 1949, five years after his death, he was buried in a cemetery around the corner from his home. The funeral flag was presented to his mother, C.

The crosses and artifacts were unearthed during History Flight's work with the DPAA on Tarawa over the past few years, said LeHew. The chief aim of the project was to locate lost gravesites and to repatriate and identify remains of Marines buried on Betio.

About 140 sets of remains have been recovered and identified. As many as 400 may still be there, according to the DPAA.

Over the years, a large cache of artifacts - American and Japanese - had also been unearthed, LeHew said: things like rusted rifles, helmets and burial markers.

"It was all pretty much relic status," he said. "But for the trained eye . . . it was the entire battle history of the U.S. Marine Corps of that time period."

During his visits to the site, which is 2,400 miles southwest of Hawaii, he said noticed that some pieces were starting to deteriorate.

"I knew I had to do something to preserve this," he said. He inventoried everything not needed by the DPAA experts, and set aside the most historic and intact Tarawa artifacts.

He brought them back to the U.S. and offered them to the museum.

The museum accepted them all.

In Japan's anime universe, 'Belle' seeks to rewrite script on female power

By Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Julia Mio Inuma
In Japan's anime universe, 'Belle' seeks to rewrite script on female power
A sketch of the movie poster

TOKYO - In her life in rural Japan, Suzu is a freckled and shy 17-year-old who is self-conscious about her looks and has lost her will to play music after her mom's death.

But in the virtual world, known as "U," she transforms into Belle, an enchanting global pop superstar with flowing pink hair and a mesmerizing facial design that resembles freckles.

The animated film "Belle" - a hit in Japan that will make its U.S. debut at the New York Film Festivalon Sept. 25 - also carries a bit of artistic rebellion.

The film's message of female empowerment has gained attention for flipping the script on anime, Japan's signature style of animated movies and graphic novels that often portrays girls and women as weak, vacuous and hyper-sexualized.

The message has resonated in Japan during a time when growing numbers of women are calling for change - most recently laid bare through a string of sexist comments by high-ranking Olympic officials that drew fierce backlash.

"I feel that women characters in Japanese anime are often depicted through a lens of desire leading to their sexual exploitation, and too much is brushed off as a freedom of expression," the film's director, Mamoru Hosoda, said during an interview earlier this month at Studio Chizu, his animation studio in the Tokyo suburbs.

From Disney princesses to Marvel superheroes, from anime to pop music, creators across genres are rethinking how to portray women and girls with agency and dignity, and show that being imperfect is beautiful, too. Global movements such as #MeToo have also underscored a sense of common purpose.

Hosoda said he hopes to draw attention to the ways that Japanese animation has shaped the public's perceptions of women and girls, and what it means to be beautiful and powerful.

"Such exploitation [has been] . . . justified with the notion that it's happening in a fantasy world, and not in reality. But I feel that, surely, such perceptions are connected and will influence our reality," he added, as he sipped on coffee at his office, decorated with posters and figurines.

Japanese animation, which includes anime and manga, is among the country's biggest cultural exports and has become popularized through digital streaming services.

But problematic female representation in anime, especially in television shows aimed at men, has been a concern for gender equality advocates. Such depictions are both overt - exaggerated breasts and barely clothed girls - and subtle, such as story lines in which girls are damsels in distress and secondary to boys.

In recent years, directors such as Hosoda have sought to challenge views in Japanese society that can devalue women, said Akiko Sugawa, professor at Japan's Yokohama National University specializing in gender and anime studies.

"Anime has the power to create and break gender stereotypes," she said.

Sugawa said there is still much room for improvement, including the need for more women and LGBTQ anime directors.

"There are now more positive portrayals of LGBTQ characters, issues and works that pose questions about societal problems. And with the rise of more diverse directors and anime decision-makers, there's hope for more change to come," Sugawa said.

"Belle" is a modern twist on the Disney classic "Beauty and the Beast." After her mother dies while trying to save a child from danger, Suzu struggles to fit in at school. She joins the virtual world "U" as Belle, a talented performer with eye-catching outfits who instantaneously gains billions of followers.

With the computer savvy of her female best friend and the emotional support of her late mother's female friends, Suzu/Belle embarks on an adventure to help a mysterious beast. Along the way, Belle performs several songs that can now be heard throughout shopping districts of Tokyo. Since its release in July, "Belle" has become Japan's third-highest-grossing film this year.

In the movie, Hosoda seeks to give women and girls greater depth and humanity than is normally depicted in anime. Through Suzu/Belle, he juxtaposes the way that the inner beauty of Suzu and dynamism of Belle coexist in one person. For Suzu, an introverted teen, her online persona is not just an imagination or an escape, but rather a part of herself that she eventually grows into.

Hosoda said he wanted to give Belle more complexity, in the way the character of Beast in the original Disney movie was afforded that depth.

"Just like the beast having a duality, I wanted Belle to also have two sides and focus on how the two sides come to play, ultimately leading to her self-growth," he said.

Hosoda received a 14-minute standing ovation when his movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in July. Belle has been replicated by cosplayers, who dress up as anime characters. The animated character Belle "performed" the movie's title song at the Fuji Rock Festival last month.

On social media, Japanese fans have raved about the movie's positive message, stunning visuals and catchy tunes. "Those who are feeling difficulty in their lives, those who want to change but can't, I hope they see this film. It really helps you take a step forward," one person tweeted.

Hosoda, 53, has long focused on the cyber world in his works, including the film versions of "Digimon" in1999 and 2000 and from his earliest feature films such as "Summer Wars."

His movies, particularly in recent years, have depicted women and girls as independent and strong-willed characters, including the 2018 "Mirai,"a story about a boy who lashes out after his younger sister is born but learns the importance of family bonds. The movie earned Hosoda an Oscar nomination for best animated feature film.

But through "Belle," Hosoda has delivered perhaps his most explicit message about female empowerment and the power of technology as a force for good. He said he was inspired by his 5-year-old daughter, as he contemplates the future she will face growing up.

"She is still in preschool and is quite introverted, so I imagined how she was going to survive once she gets on social media and begins having all sorts of online interactions," he said.

Hosoda said he wanted to challenge the narratives warning against increasing reliance on the Internet.

"For the younger generation, the norm will be to live in both worlds and that both worlds are their realities," he said. "And the Internet plays a huge role for them to raise their voice and go out into the world."

"Belle" is scheduled to be released in U.S. theaters this winter.

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The tart truth underlying SALT repeal arguments

By megan mcardle
The tart truth underlying SALT repeal arguments

MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

Advance for release Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, and thereafter

(For McArdle clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Megan McArdle

WASHINGTON -- If you were the owner of a median-priced home in Lloyd Harbor, New York, you would have paid more than $40,000 in annual property taxes in 2018 -- higher than the U.S. median wage. New York is the highest-taxed state in the country, and Lloyd Harbor the village with that state's heftiest property tax burden.

So it makes sense that Rep. Thomas Suozzi, D-N.Y., whose district includes Lloyd Harbor, wants to let Americans living in high-tax jurisdictions deduct the full value of their state and local taxes -- a.k.a., the "SALT" deduction. Said deduction was capped at $10,000 in 2017, and Suozzi has said that unless congressional Democrats repeal the caps, he won't vote for the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package under consideration.

Suozzi's job, of course, is to represent the interests of his constituents. But it would be outrageous for his fellow Democrats to give in.

Lloyd Harbor pays a fortune in taxes because the villagers make fortunes. The median income of Lloyd Harbor was more than $250,000 in 2019. Out of the town's 1,196 households, only 41 were below the poverty level.

In this, Lloyd Harbor reflects the skewed income distribution of SALT. According to the Tax Foundation, just 13.7% of filers itemize their deductions -- a prerequisite for deducting state and local taxes. Only at the top 10% of the income distribution do even a majority of taxpayers itemize. But among the top 1% of taxpayers, 92% do, and of course, their higher marginal tax rates make each deduction more valuable.

So it is these taxpayers whom the SALT deduction primarily benefits. According to Maya MacGuineas of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, households in the top 0.1% of earners would receive an average benefit of about $150,000, while those in the middle would get closer to $15. Repealing the caps would cost about $350 billion by 2026, and an estimated 85% of that revenue would end up in the pockets of the richest 5% of Americans.

You can probably think of many better uses of taxpayer money than giving a tax break to the most affluent people in the most affluent parts of the most affluent states in the country. Unless, of course, you are someone who would benefit from a larger SALT deduction. As, I admit, I would.

SALT beneficiaries tend to be full of arguments as to why they deserve their deduction. They're not rich, they say, they just live in a high-cost area -- as though living in that area were something that happened to them, rather than something they chose. Besides, they contend, our state and local taxes are going to pay for vital public services, and we shouldn't be punished for doing the right thing by our neediest neighbors.

But the property taxes of communities like Lloyd Harbor are dedicated to local services such as police and roads that benefit the well-heeled people who live there. So is much of the revenue from state and local income taxes, though those governments certainly also spend money on the needy.

But as sociologist Joshua McCabe has pointed out, the richest states spend more on public goods because states with more affluent people can afford to levy higher taxes. It's a lot easier to collect tens of thousands in taxes from the people of Lloyd Harbor than the residents of Shelby, Mississippi, which has median household income $27,112. "The fiscal capacity of wealthy Connecticut," McCabe notes, "amounted to more than twice that of resource-poor Mississippi."

Sure, in richer states, higher incomes are partly absorbed by higher housing costs and taxes -- but other expenses are much the same almost everywhere, and higher incomes make cars and electronics and vacations much easier to afford. The expensive educations funded by property taxes help their children eventually command similarly high incomes, and for homeowners, those hefty mortgage payments build equity in homes they can eventually sell.

In the meantime, they're all getting the benefits of the expensive areas in which they chose to live -- not just the cultural amenities of a major city, say, but also deep labor markets where they maximize their chances of finding work that is satisfying as well as remunerative. And, of course, they enjoy a vibrant service economy built on catering to a highly concentrated population of affluent folks -- and dependent on the concentrated population of low-wage workers that their tax dollars help care for.

When those folks compare themselves to similar neighbors, it may feel as though a six-figure income is really just middle-class and the resulting tax bill is an unfair burden. But in fact, they are rich, even if their house is smaller than what they could buy in some Florida exurb. It would be unseemly to argue that we lucky few deserve a special tax break for making a lot of money and spending it on things we value. Sadly, that clearly won't stop Democrats from trying.

- - -

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

Anthony Gonzalez gets what Democrats need to know

By e.j. dionne jr.
Anthony Gonzalez gets what Democrats need to know

E.J. DIONNE JR. COLUMN

Advance for release Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, and thereafter

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For Print Use Only.

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

WASHINGTON -- President Biden, call Anthony Gonzalez.

The two-term Ohio Republican congressman, who announced last week that he will not seek reelection, understands what Democrats need to grasp about the stakes in American politics right now.

One of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 riot, Gonzalez called the former president "a cancer for the country." He told the New York Times he did not want any part of a 2022 GOP that will "make Trump the center of fund-raising efforts," adding that "most of my political energy will be spent" preventing Trump from being president again.

For all of Joe Biden's honorable efforts to pull the nation together, and his earlier habit of downplaying the radical nature of today's Republicanism, our politics remain as dangerously abnormal as Gonzalez warns.

For at least two more elections -- next year's midterms and the 2024 presidential contest -- the central issue before voters will be whether to reward or punish the GOP's extremism and, particularly in the case of the House Republican leadership, the party's embrace of Trump.

This is not an abstract question. In the here and now, Republican-controlled states have embraced voter suppression and election subversion, justified in the name of doubts sown by Trump's preposterously false claims about the 2020 election outcome.

With some honorable exceptions, Republican governors in the party's strongholds have blocked sensible actions to prevent tens of thousands of deaths from the spread of COVID-19.

Gonzalez's decision in combination with the outcome of the California recall, the continuing deadly spread of the delta variant and the introduction of the Freedom to Vote Act in the Senate could well mark last week as a turning point in how Democrats, including Biden, approach the next phase of political combat.

It begins by accepting that calls for unity of purpose will, for some time, continue to fall on deaf Republican ears. Biden signaled on Thursday that he accepts the new terms of the struggle. He said some Republican governors were playing "the worst kind of politics" by opposing his vaccination and testing mandates, singling out Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas.

"The governors of Florida and Texas," Biden said, "are doing everything they can to undermine the lifesaving requirements that I proposed."

This is fertile ground. Large majorities of Democrats and independents and a significant minority of Republicans support Biden's vaccine mandates. A poll released in Florida last week found the state's voters unhappy with DeSantis's virus policies and preferring Biden to DeSantis in a hypothetical presidential matchup.

And the defeat of the recall effort against Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom by a nearly 2-to-1 margin demonstrated the power of a campaign waged in favor of tough action to curb the virus -- and against Trump and Republican extremism.

Of course, it helped Newsom that his state is one of the most Democratic in the union. But as recently as last month, Newsom's supporters feared (and Republicans hoped) that he might be hurt by low Democratic turnout. His campaign's focus on COVID policy and Republican radicalism nudged millions of Democrats to cast ballots. It's a lesson highly relevant to the Virginia governor's election this year and next year's midterms, even in purple districts and states where turnout differentials will matter.

But the case for confronting Trumpist zealotry is moral, not just political. Our democracy will be in peril as long as the vast majority of Republican leaders refuse to join Gonzalez in battling what he rightly sees as a growing cancer in their party. And Democrats will be complicit if they act as if business-as-usual remains possible.

Those who oppose altering filibuster rules to pass a federal voting rights bill might, in ordinary times, find plausible arguments for keeping current practices as a way of bringing the parties together. But there is nothing ordinary about what Republicans, acting alone, are doing to undercut democracy at the state level, and Republican senators show no signs of being ready to stand in the way of these abuses.

That Pennsylvania Republican legislators are seeking data on 2020 voters (including driver's license information and the last four digits of Social Security numbers) shows how much the GOP's wacky obsessions threaten basic liberties.

Even Republican politicians who acknowledge that Biden won fairly have put little muscle behind defending the 2020 outcome. This has allowed falsehoods to metastasize among the faithful -- thus a CNN poll this month finding only 21% of Republicans said that "Biden legitimately won enough votes to win the presidency."

Of course, Democrats also need to prove they can govern by passing a large chunk of Biden's Build Back Better agenda. But our democracy will not function properly until the right-wing's self-indulgent excess is routed. That is this moment's central task.

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

How not to lobby Brett Kavanaugh

By ruth marcus
How not to lobby Brett Kavanaugh

RUTH MARCUS COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, and thereafter

(For Marcus clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only. Repeating to correct release date

By Ruth Marcus

WASHINGTON -- The First Amendment protects "the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances." So the crowd of 50 or so abortion rights activists who marched on Justice Brett Kavanaugh's Chevy Chase home this week to protest his vote allowing the Texas abortion law to take effect were within their rights. I'm aggrieved by Kavanaugh's vote, too.

But their tactic was both wrong and wrongheaded. If your goal is to convince justices such as Kavanaugh not to dismantle the right to abortion, this is precisely the wrong way to go about it. If anything, it will backfire.

Protests are an important tool in the arsenal of activists, demonstrating collective commitment and passion about a cause. This includes protests about Supreme Court rulings. We don't want judges to be cowed by public opinion, but that doesn't mean they should be oblivious to or insulated from the effects of their rulings.

"Another blatant attempt to intimidate the judiciary," thundered Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. Somehow, the annual March for Life, on the January anniversary of (BEG ITAL)Roe v. Wade(END ITAL), doesn't seem to bother him.

Still, there is a place to protest the actions of public officials, and it's not in front of their private residences -- not if they are Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and not if they are Republicans like Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, both of whom have experienced protests outside their homes.

It's intimidating, even terrifying, to have people turn up at your home, and officials' spouses and children shouldn't have to endure it. In Los Angeles, where the city council recently moved to block protests within 300 feet of an official's home, council president Nury Martinez described protesters screaming obscenities into her daughter's bedroom window. This kind of bullying goes too far.

It's also, in the case of Kavanaugh and the court, apt to be counterproductive. It may be that Kavanaugh is a sure vote to do away with constitutional protection for abortion rights -- that he's just been biding his time, having conned Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, until the right moment.

And that moment may be at hand: In the term that begins in roughly two weeks, the court will hear a challenge to Mississippi's prohibition on abortion after 15 weeks, a case in which the state and others have asked the justices to overrule (BEG ITAL)Roe.(END ITAL)

Certainly, Kavanaugh is no fan of that ruling. It would be foolish to hope that abortion rights will be as protected after the justices decide the Mississippi case as they are now.

Still, a ruling that finds a narrow way to uphold a prohibition against abortion after 15 weeks, the law at issue in Mississippi, is preferable to a broadly worded opinion that opens the door for six-week bans like the Texas law now in effect. It is possible to imagine Kavanaugh joining Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. in refraining from outright abandonment of constitutional protection for abortion rights.

So what is the best way to nudge him in that direction?

Here's the thing to understand about Kavanaugh: He wants to be liked and admired. Unlike some of his conservative colleagues, he enjoyed being part of, and respected by, the legal establishment; teaching at Harvard Law School was important to him. In the aftermath of Christine Blasey Ford's testimony, and Kavanaugh's intemperate outburst, that kind of acceptance is no longer available to him.

But there are ways for him to carve out a reputation as a thoughtful justice, win plaudits from those whose acceptance he still craves and prove that the searing confirmation process did not leave him embittered.

Even some of those who want to narrow or eliminate the right to an abortion almost certainly fear what eliminating it entirely will do to their party's future at the polls. It is not hard to imagine Kavanaugh, who has the most extensive experience in politics among the justices, wanting to avoid deciding the Mississippi case in a way that would likely hurt Republicans in the midterm elections a few months later.

The smartest strategy, therefore, is to encourage Kavanaugh when he demonstrates temperateness and restraint. The dumbest approach is to alienate him. There isn't much prospect of good results from the Supreme Court as currently constituted; but Kavanaugh represents the last best hope for less bad outcomes. On the court, he has demonstrated an inclination, not every time but often enough, to split the doctrinal difference and avoid reaching hard questions. And as Kavanaugh goes, so goes this court -- he was in the majority in 97% of the court's cases last term, more than any other justice.

So, while it might be therapeutic for Kavanaugh's critics to issue fruitless demands for his resignation, it only increases the risk that it will drive him more irrevocably into the extreme conservative fold. It's human nature to bristle at the side that reviles you.

Protests, appropriately conducted, can play a positive role when it comes to the court. Perhaps this is wishful thinking, but I have been wondering about whether the backlash to the Texas law, and the court's decision not to block it, might induce the conservative Justices to take a more moderate course in the Mississippi case -- not to go as far as they might otherwise be inclined. So protest away -- just get off Kavanaugh's lawn.

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Ruth Marcus' email address is ruthmarcus@washpost.com.

Cremation or composting? I'd consider the latter.

By kathleen parker
Cremation or composting? I'd consider the latter.

KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, and thereafter

(For Parker clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only. Repeating to correct release date

By Kathleen Parker

Most of us spend our lives ignoring the last important question of our time on Earth: What should happen to our dead bodies?

Some people, of course, don't mess around. They plan their own funerals, often elaborately. In New Orleans, death doesn't mean the party's over. Some people have commissioned life-size replicas of themselves to be stationed at the wake.

And now, in some states, people are opting to be composted rather than be embalmed or cremated.

OK, let's get it over with right now: (BEG ITAL)Ewwwww.(END ITAL)

Thus far, Colorado and Washington state have approved body composting, and Oregon is soon to follow. The idea is to allow the body to return to dust -- or dirt -- under controlled conditions, resulting in a few bags of sanitized soil that can be used for planting or distribution under qualified circumstances. (Imagine a flowering dogwood, or a perennial garden thanks to "Nana.")

I'll spare you some of the less vital details, but you needn't worry about your prosthetics, or artificial hips, knees, or other non-biodegradable augmentations. They'll be filtered out of your soil after three months of, um, well, (BEG ITAL)marinating.(END ITAL) The vessel in which this all takes place resembles a rough-hewed barrel-casket, except instead of being draped in satins and velvet, it's packed with wood chips and straw. The thing also has wheels so it can be rolled around for the oxygenation and agitation needed to compost, sort of like your backyard composter.

Throw in a few table scraps and worms, and you're in business. OK, no, they don't really do that -- but barring religious objections, what would be wrong with becoming, say, a magnolia instead of a mummy?

I admit to thinking about this from time to time. I've even suggested to my husband that we carve out a little parcel of land so we can be buried quickly and skip the indignity of embalming. Perhaps, having grown up around my uncle's funeral business in Columbia, S.C., I know too much.

Dead is dead, you say, but one of my dead friends showed up in a dream of mine one night to my immense delight. "You're not dead!" I exclaimed. But there he was, nonetheless, and this is what he said: "As it turns out, it's not that easy to leave. I needed to take care of some things."

Well, so do I. My vague sense is that I'll need my body if I'm to haunt people as I intend. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust is fine in the long run, but short-term, I've got a few postmortem errands to run.

There (BEG ITAL)are(END ITAL) good arguments for cremation, obviously. But I figure if I want to burn, I'll just go to hell. I know this much about cremation: I feel much closer to our family dogs and cats who are buried next to the fishpond than I do staring at my dear, sweet Ollie's box of ashes on the mantle. A blind toy poodle, he died on Christmas Eve, alas, and the ground was too cold for services.

All such concerns are mostly matters of faith, philosophy and tradition. What most of us know from experience is that when it comes to a dead body, there's no one there. The body is merely a vessel for our being-ness. I confirmed this more than 25 years ago when my father died. During a private moment with his embalmed body, I knocked on his chest -- his "temple," as he often referred to our bodies. "Take care of your temple," he'd say, usually while mixing a cocktail and smoking a cigarette. "Anyone home?" I asked because I knew he would have laughed at that. He might as well have been made of wood.

Though I'm open to becoming a sack of dirt (OK, don't say it, please), that intimate moment with my father helped me let go of his physical self. I still carry his spirit with me everywhere I go. I often recall him standing next to a tree, a red-hot dot illuminating his face as he takes a drag from his cigarette.

One other personal anecdote, if I may: My mother, who died at 31, was buried in her family's plot in Barnwell, S.C., where I visited each summer growing up. Because I was only three at her death, I have no memory of her. Her grave provided a connection. Just knowing that she was physically there was profoundly reassuring.

But that's all I knew. It's also entirely possible that I would have loved climbing my mother tree, hanging upside-down from her lowest branch, hugging her trunk, telling her my secrets. My father, who relaxed after work by watering his trees, absolutely should have become a live oak. I'm not real excited about the composting process, but I rather like the idea of becoming part of a forested ecosystem, sustaining infinite cycles of diverse life for as long as the Earth shall live.

Talk about heaven.

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Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

Apocalyptic series 'Y: The Last Man' is actually a warning about workplace inequality

By michelle singletary
Apocalyptic series 'Y: The Last Man' is actually a warning about workplace inequality

MICHELLE SINGLETARY COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, and thereafter

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For Print Use Only. Removes repeated phrase in last sentence of 2nd graf

By Michelle Singletary

WASHINGTON -- A new sci-fi FX on Hulu series "Y: The Last Man" proves this is indeed a man's world -- and why that's a big problem.

An adaptation of the comic-book series by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, "Y: The Last Man" depicts an apocalyptic world in which every mammal with a Y chromosome suddenly and with no explanation dies. One subplot of this show is how gender inequality contributes to the chaos. The women are left to rebuild but aren't equipped to handle the mayhem, because so many vital job fields were dominated by men.

Naturally, the song featured in the show's trailer was James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World." It's one of the signature songs by "the Godfather of Soul" -- co-written by a woman, Betty Jean Newsome, who had to sue to get credit for it.

There's one cisgender male survivor, Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer). Yorick is a man-child who relies on his parents to pay his rent because he can't earn enough working as a self-employed escape artist. He's not worried at all about figuring out why he was spared, yet he's the key to the world's future.

I realize this is a drama -- fiction -- but it's also reality.

- - -

Fiction: Yorick's mother is a high-ranking congresswoman, Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane), who, through the line of succession, becomes president. But governing is difficult. The women struggle to manage the power grid. Police numbers are insufficient to keep the peace.

Fact: In the United States, women represent just 16% of the enlisted armed forces and 19% of the officer corps, according to a Backgrounders report by the Council on Foreign Relations.

In 2019, only 12.8% of full-time law enforcement officers were female, according to an analysis by Statista.

- - -

Fiction: With so few women in political leadership roles, governments around the world are in disarray.

Fact: "Data shows that women are underrepresented at all levels of decision-making worldwide, and achieving gender parity in political life is far off," according to U.N. Women, a U.N. organization that focuses on gender equality. The group says that as of Sept. 1, "there are 26 women serving as Heads of State and/or Government in 24 countries. At the current rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years."

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Fiction: One scene in the third episode of the series was so heartbreakingly close to reality. Brown, looking exhausted, is pleading with a mother, who is grieving for her two sons, to get a nuclear power plant back up. This accomplished nuclear engineer is literally their only hope. There isn't anyone else.

"We need people like you," Brown says, "people who went to work every day where they were the only woman in the room."

Fact: Of course, there are some jobs where women dominate -- health-related occupations and education -- and these jobs are also critically important to the functioning of society. But women are needed in other fields, too, especially in STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math.

When he heard I was writing about "Y," Andrew Van Dam, a Washington Post reporter who focuses on economic data, pointed out the following statistics from the Census Bureau on the most male occupations in the country:

The workers who install and maintain power lines are 98% male, and the ones who operate power plants are 93% male, according to Census Bureau data.

Van Dam found that workers in several occupations were more than 99% men -- including oil and gas roustabouts, mining-excavator operators and brick and stone masons -- as of 2019, the most recent year for which Census Bureau data is available. Dozens more occupations are more than 97% male, including HVAC workers, plumbers, roofers, carpenters, electricians, wind turbine technicians, solar-panel installers, auto mechanics and loggers.

In addition to the Census Bureau statistics, a report earlier this year from the Pew Research Center highlights the underrepresentation of women in STEM.

Women account for 25% of those working in computer occupations, according to the report. Women are vastly underrepresented in the ranks of engineers and architects, at 15%. Representation is better in health-related STEM jobs, where women represent 38% of physicians and surgeons, up two percentage points from 2016. And they represent 33% of emergency medical technicians and paramedics, also up two percentage points from 2016.

The Pew report also pointed out that while STEM workers often earn more than others, there's a substantial pay gap for women. In 2019, the median earnings of women in STEM occupations was $66,200, compared with men's median earnings of $90,000.

Even when they are hired, it can be torturous for women in those jobs where they are a minority. "Women in STEM and non-STEM jobs are equally likely to say they have experienced sexual harassment at work, and both groups of women are less inclined than men to think that women are 'usually treated fairly' when it comes to promotions," a 2018 Pew report found.

"Discrimination and sexual harassment are seen as more frequent, and gender is perceived as more of an impediment than an advantage to career success," the report said.

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The events of "Y" don't seem so preposterous as the world continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic. Watching the women in this fictionalized drama struggle was infuriating -- because the fact is, in the real world, women are still fighting decades of inequities.

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Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). 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.

The Supreme Court doesn't just suffer from political hackery. It's more insidious than that.

By ruth marcus
The Supreme Court doesn't just suffer from political hackery. It's more insidious than that.

RUTH MARCUS COLUMN

For release Friday, Sept. 17, 2021 and thereafter

(For Marcus clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Ruth Marcus

WASHINGTON -- Let us grant, for the sake of argument, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett's desire to convince us that she and her high court colleagues aren't "a bunch of partisan hacks." Because, to be sure, no political hack worth her salt would choose, for one of her first public speeches since joining the court, a venue named after the same senator who engineered her rushed confirmation.

Something worse -- something more insidious -- is going on here. The truly problematic hackery isn't so much political as judicial. The court's conservative majority -- padded to six with the addition of Barrett -- has been demonstrating an increasing and disturbing willingness to distort its judicial philosophy and ordinary practices in the service of a desired outcome.

Barrett is correct, as she said in her speech Sunday celebrating the 30th anniversary of the (Mitch) McConnell Center at the University of Louisville, that "judicial philosophies are not the same as political parties." As it happens, though, the originalism practiced by legal conservatives, a grudging and mechanical reading of the Constitution's deliberately grand phrases, aligns near perfectly with conservatives' desired outcomes.

As the Federalist Society has learned, if you inculcate enough law students with originalist doctrine, if you groom enough lower-court judges to be able to predict their performance, if you invest enough dark money into securing their confirmations, if you have McConnell on your side to block Democratic nominations and hustle through Republican appointees, you can get pretty much what you want.

No matter that the desperate search for original meaning only gets you so far -- and that originalism is itself subject to a justice's motivated reasoning: You can apply the technique and come up with the outcome you seek.

The best example came in the court's 2008 gun rights ruling. Justice Antonin Scalia parsed the text and history of the Second Amendment and discovered, contrary to a previous decision, that the Constitution limited government's ability to regulate gun ownership. Justice John Paul Stevens employed the same techniques to produce an opposite -- and more convincing -- result.

Stevens: "Without identifying any language in the text that even mentions civilian uses of firearms, the Court proceeds to 'find' its preferred reading in what is at best an ambiguous text, and then concludes that its reading is not foreclosed by the preamble" -- the reference to a well-regulated militia. "Perhaps the Court's approach to the text is acceptable advocacy, but it is surely an unusual approach for judges to follow."

But that's not the really insidious part.

The insidious part is when the court majority doesn't even bother to practice the conservatism it preaches.

One of the most flagrant examples of the court's willingness to jettison its supposed conservatism in the pursuit of a desired result came last summer in (BEG ITAL)Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee,(END ITAL)the 6-to-3 ruling eviscerating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 2 prohibits any voting practice that "results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color." That language was, ironically enough, rewritten in response to an earlier Supreme Court decision that interpreted the law to require proof of intent to discriminate. But not rewritten strongly enough to survive this conservative court.

Instead, Justice Samuel Alito Jr., joined by all of his supposedly conservative colleagues, not only ignored the clear text of Section 2 but invented entirely new parts -- what Justice Elena Kagan, for the liberal dissenters, called "a list of mostly made-up factors, at odds with Section 2 itself." Now, those challenging a particular voting rule must show it imposes more than "the usual burdens of voting." If the state provides "other available means" for voting, a rule that has a discriminatory impact can still pass muster. This is activism, not conservatism.

So, too, with the court's increasing use of its "shadow docket" to make law without even going through the normal processes of briefing and argument. This practice may have been inflamed by conservative justices' unhappiness with the practice of district court judges issuing nationwide injunctions to halt Trump administration rules -- although the justices do not seem nearly so worked up about conservative lower courts doing the same with Biden administration rules.

It was clearly further fueled by conservatives' solicitous concern over pandemic restrictions that they viewed as infringing on religious freedom -- although, again, the conservatives appear unbothered by the blatantly unconstitutional Texas abortion law.

Kagan, once again getting to the heart of the matter, lambasted the majority's move to allow the Texas law to take effect as "emblematic of too much of this Court's shadow-docket decisionmaking -- which every day becomes more unreasoned, inconsistent, and impossible to defend."

Unreasoned. Inconsistent. Indefensible. These are hallmarks of judicial hackery -- and I'm awaiting a defense from Barrett or her conservative colleagues against that.

- - -

Ruth Marcus' email address is ruthmarcus@washpost.com.

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