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The strange backdrop to the G-20: a Roman neighborhood built as a fascist showpiece

By Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli
The strange backdrop to the G-20: a Roman neighborhood built as a fascist showpiece
A view from the Palazzo Uffici, completed in 1939, before war forced the cancellation of the 1942 World's Fair. A bas-relief sculpture depicting Mussolini flanks the entrance. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Federica Valabrega.

ROME - In the Roman neighborhood known as EUR, all the classic telltales of Rome drop away. Gone are the cobblestone roads, the antiquities, the worn palazzi dappled like watercolors. What you get instead are broad boulevards and imposing white buildings, plus a man-made lake. Everything is orderly, planned. Look in the right direction, and you'll even see a sculpture heroically depicting the planner: Benito Mussolini.

Conceived as a fascist showpiece for an event that never happened - war canceled the 1942 World's Fair - EUR is getting a chance eight decades later to serve as a backdrop for a global gathering: this time, the Group of 20 summit.

Reminders of what EUR (pronounced Ay-oor) was supposed to represent are still vivid. Mussolini had hoped it would stand as an example of an ideal city, with gardens and open spaces, and he commissioned some of the most acclaimed Italian architects and artists to remake a land used previously only by farmers and an abbey of cloistered monks. EUR's boundaries were marked off in a near-perfect pentagon. Mussolini planted a tree at the 1938 groundbreaking.

But today, EUR also has lanyard-wearing office workers eating $12 salmon wraps. It has monuments designed to glorify the fascist ideal that now house global companies, like Fendi. It has a couple of eerie blocks almost resembling Pyongyang - empty, colossal and colonnaded - but it also has dentist's office and chain restaurants, energy company headquarters and upper-middle-class apartments.

"What I've often heard is that a neighborhood like this could only be built by a dictator," said Lorenzo Volpato, 49, a self-described leftist who lives and works in EUR and called the neighborhood pleasant regardless of the fascist markers. "It's got metro stations. It's modern. It's more livable than Rome."

The neighborhood has managed to grow - and normalize - in large part because of a Roman willingness to rebuild, move on and coexist with even the worst parts of the past. It's especially striking at a time when monuments to enslavers, Confederate generals, kings and colonial leaders have come toppling down across the United States and other parts of Europe. In EUR, such monuments have become just a part of the low-slung skyline.

The neighborhood is hosting the G-20 in part because of its convenience: It's spacious and easy to cordon off for security. It also has a modern, glass convention center, completed in 2016, known to Romans as the Cloud, which until recently housed a coronavirus vaccination center and where world leaders will be gathering this weekend.

"It was to be a place where you wouldn't be bound by antiquity," Luca Ribichini, a professor of architecture at Rome's Sapienza University. "It was supposed to personify the new modernity."

The plans, at least initially, fell into chaos. By 1945, the fascist regime had been toppled, Mussolini had been executed - his body hung upside down in public - and EUR was only half-completed, sealed off and all but abandoned.

But over the next decade, the postwar Italian government moved ministries to the area. Ahead of the 1960 Olympics, construction firms built roads and apartment buildings and finished what the fascists had started. Eventually, it became a sort of alternative Rome - while showing what more of Italy might have looked like had Mussolini retained power.

"It's this relic of a megalomaniacal project that has been turned into a business district," said Agnes Crawford, a 20-year resident of Rome who leads private tours, including, occasionally, in EUR, where she said the museums are high-quality and crowd-free.

"But," Crawford said, "it still retains some menacing overtones."

Some of the fascist markers have been removed over the years. But other reminders remain. One of the most noteworthy markers is a large inscription at the top level of the Fendi building. The quote, without context, is fairly innocuous, paying tribute to Italians as a people of "poets, artists, heroes, saints, thinkers, scientists, navigators, migrants." But that quote echoes a part of Mussolini's 1935 speech announcing the invasion of Ethiopia, a campaign that later led to charges of war crimes.

Just a few blocks away, there is an even more overt Mussolini homage. It comes in the form of a towering bas-relief sculpture, selectively narrating the long history of Rome. The sculpture moves through time from top to bottom, starting with the mythological founding of the city by Romulus and Remus, continuing through the centuries with Roman conquerors returning with spoils from Jerusalem, and with the construction of St. Peter's Square. At the bottom of the sculpture there is one dominant image: Mussolini on horseback, surrounded by soldiers, as children and women lift their hands.

Sculpted in 1939, it stands at the entrance of a building housing EUR S.p.A., the company that owns many of the properties in the neighborhood. Inside, there's also a courtyard fountain inlaid with fascist eagles. In one of the conference rooms, sitting without fanfare in the corner, is a metal head of Mussolini.

"The debate about art and beauty goes far beyond the history of the most ferocious regimes," said Antonio Rosati, the chief of EUR S.p.A., who said his politics lean left and he isn't bothered by the remnants of Mussolini's era.

There are numerous theories about why Italians have felt less of a need to fully remove the propaganda of a terrible time. One idea is that Romans have so much history, they didn't feel compelled to single out the most recent horror. Some have noted that the fascist icons - unlike the Confederate monuments - were built contemporaneously, and don't reflect some after-the-fact nostalgia for an earlier period.

For David Hannuna, a Jewish lawyer who was born and raised in EUR, the icons have never been a source of anger - instead, he said, they provide a reminder about progress.

"There was pride in being able to freely live, freely and openly practicing our religion, in a place where in another time that would've been a problem," Hannuna said.

Standing on a street corner, awaiting a tire change, Claudio Foglia, 69, said he, too, never saw a problem with the propaganda-infused art and architecture in his 40 years of working in the neighborhood, at the Italian energy firm Eni. But he is retired now. He has started reading more, including about fascism. He said he now worries that Italy "metabolized" fascism too quickly, and without fully addressing the sentiments that made it vulnerable. Just the previous weekend, a rally in Rome against the coronavirus Green Pass had turned violent, spurned in part by leaders of Forza Nuova, a neofascist group.

"It's painful for an Italian to read these things and realize we haven't dealt with them," Foglia said. "We are acting as if nothing happened."

One thing is clear about Mussolini's aesthetic: He liked his buildings to be seen. He signed off on the demolition of entire neighborhoods around the Vatican and the Colosseum, clearing the way for broad, showy thoroughfares that created sightlines for the most famous spots in the city. He used the same idea in EUR, where the most celebrated buildings are set off at wide distances from one another, connected by straight, flat roads.

One such road connects the Piazza della Civiltà Italiana - the arched and statue-lined Fendi headquarters - with the Palazzo dei Congressi, a travertine-clad hall designed for conferences and events.

To some observers over time, the palazzo has felt intimidating in its geometric vastness. When TV travel documentarian Anthony Bourdain visited the facility for a 2016 episode, his film crews trained their cameras on a single custodian, cleaning a hall that Bourdain said had been designed to "dwarf the individual."

For the G-20, the palazzo is serving as a media center. Large banners with the slogan "People, Planet, Prosperity" are draped outside, and on a recent afternoon, work crews were spread out in all areas, putting up prefabricated walls, building temporary meeting spaces or interview rooms.

An official from Eur S.p.A., which manages the building, led a tour to the heart of the palazzo: a vaulted space with ample lighting, adorned in perforated material the color of gold.

"It's a perfect cube," said one of the officials on the tour. It's 124 feet high, wide and long. And for now it houses 72 white media work desks.

The tour continued up to the roof deck - an area of rectangular benches, all cold marble - that was depicted as a mental institution in a classic 1970 movie, "The Conformist." During the shooting for that film, the sky was nearly the same gray as the marble. The monochrome conveyed an eerie vibe.

But if you visit now on a gorgeous day, the marble benches glow. The severity is softened by olive trees growing from spots of soil interspersed along the roof. From way up here, you can see all of EUR - the apartments, the offices, the people ending their workdays.

The neighborhood has at least one thing in common with the rest of Rome: The view at sunset is lovely.

Day of the Dead calls for pan de muerto. Watch how one bakery makes it.

By G. Daniela Galarza
Day of the Dead calls for pan de muerto. Watch how one bakery makes it.
A Día de los Muertos ofrenda or altar at La Estrella Bakery's Grand Ave. location. It's decorated with sugar skulls made from sugary meringue, which symbolizes the sweetness of life. Marigolds, the scent of which is said to attract the dead, decorate an archway at the top. This is an entrance for the dead to reenter the world of the living; papel picado, or tissue paper flags, add color and may flutter when spirits pass through the marigold arch. Photos of passed loved ones and the food and beverages they enjoyed are also often placed on the altar, in addition to pan de muerto. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Cassidy Araiza for The Washington Post.

TUCSON, Ariz. - Día de los Muertos, the festival that honors the dead, falls on Nov. 1 and 2 every year and is celebrated in Mexico and throughout Latin America. This year, it also marks the 35th anniversary of La Estrella Bakery, where the Franco family has been baking pan de muerto - sweet, round loaves full of symbolism - for Día de los Muertos since 1985.

"We actually opened on Oct. 31, 1985, just in time for Día de los Muertos," says Erica Franco. Her parents, Marta and Antonio Franco, founded the bakery after immigrating to Tucson from central Mexico in the 1970s. Today, La Estrella operates three locations. Marta, Antonio and Jose Franco (Antonio's brother) are on-site every day. Marta and Antonio's children help manage the business, too: Jorge is the head baker, and Erica Franco, Sandra Franco and Isabel Montaño manage the books, special orders, wholesale deliveries and partnerships with local schools and universities.

When covid-19 hit, the bakery - which makes dozens of types of breads, pastries and cookies in addition to flour tortillas and tamales - turned into a makeshift community center. "We closed for one day, just to sort of figure out what we were going to do," Erica Franco says, "but when we reopened the next day, we had a line out the door. People wanted to check on us, to check on their neighbors, and they just wanted their bread." The lines can be especially long starting in mid-October through mid-November, when La Estrella starts selling its locally famous pan de muerto.

The bread's base is soft and rich, with lots of eggs, butter, sugar, cinnamon and orange zest. "Traditionally, anise is used to flavor the bread, because it's said to have a cleansing scent, to ward off evil spirits," Erica Franco says, "but our customers prefer the orange and cinnamon flavors that we use."

After the dough is mixed and kneaded, it gets a long rise. Then, it gets shaped into rounds. La Estrella makes four sizes of pan de muerto: mini, or about the size of a baseball; individual, or the size of the bakery's beloved conchas - about twice the size of a mini; medium, or roughly the size of an acorn squash; and large, which is wider than a dinner plate. Each round is decorated with ropes of dough that have been stretched and indented to approximate the shape of bumpy bones.

"The breads usually have five 'bones,' which were meant to represent the five fingers of the hand of the dead," Erica Franco explains, "but our big loaves have more, because people love how crunchy these pieces of dough get once they're baked. They like to pick them off and dip them in their coffee in the mornings," she says with a chuckle. After the dough bones are wrapped across the top of each round, the loaves are allowed to rise again.

Before they're baked, some of the loaves get a dusting of sesame seeds, a request from customers who don't want such sweet bread.

After they're baked, the loaves without sesame seeds get a generous brushing of syrup made from local honey and cinnamon sticks, which slowly soaks into the center of each loaf, keeping it moist. The syrup also acts as a glue for colored sugars, which are mixed at the bakery and sprinkled on top in various patterns.

"We make at least 100 mini loaves each day during pan de muerto season, and dozens of the big ones," Erica Franco says, recommending that people call to place special orders in advance. In addition to the round pan de muerto, La Estrella's bakers also shape skulls and crosses out of the same dough, decorating them with faces or small dough shapes. When a figure is decorated with red or pink frosting or sugar, it symbolizes a dead adult relative; the color white, an emblem of innocence, symbolizes a deceased child.

Latin American communities across the country were hit especially hard by covid-19 this past year. "Late last year and early this year, almost every day, we had customers coming in to tell us, 'Just so you know, my father, my aunt, my sister . . . won't be coming in anymore. They passed,'" Sandra Franco says.

Marta Franco lost her father, Luis Ramirez, to covid-19 this year. To honor him, the Francos will place his photo on the altar they built at their newest location, on Grand Avenue. It's decorated with cempasúchil, or marigolds, to represent the fragility of life, and has an area for customers to pin photos of their loved ones. "It's a bittersweet time," Sandra Franco says, "because it seems like we've all lost someone. But our community is still here, stronger than ever."

Scientific reclamation: How the iconic Jefferson Memorial was restored

By William Neff
Scientific reclamation: How the iconic Jefferson Memorial was restored
The Jefferson Memorial is seen on Tuesday October 19, 2021 in Washington, DC. The dome of the memorial has been restored along with other portions of the building. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Matt McClain

WASHINGTON - As early as 2015, anyone viewing the Jefferson Memorial from a distance - say, from Independence Avenue across the Tidal Basin, or an aircraft window on approach to Reagan National Airport - could see that something was wrong. One of the capital's signature monuments, a priceless piece of the nation's heritage, was starting to look downright shabby. Dark splotches were growing on the iconic white dome. Growing fast.

Faced with the speed of change, and the increasing number of visitors and residents asking what was going on with the memorial, National Park Service analysts concluded they couldn't fight what they didn't fully understand. They took a patient approach, calling in scientists and their own conservation experts and embarking on a years-long analysis to determine what was attacking the memorial's 78-year-old marble dome.

"It was maybe 15 years between the time we first realized the problem and when we finally acted on it," said Audrey Tepper, a Park Service historical architect with the National Mall and Memorial Parks. "There's a real logic in not acting too quickly."

The culprit, they eventually determined, was something that probably had been present on the monument, and nearly every other outdoor structure in most cities, for decades: biofilm.

"It's a microbial community of bacteria, fungi and algae," Tepper said. "It occurs all over the place. It's existed for eternity, but it's more visible on white marble buildings."

It's usually barely visible, and in fact no one knows for sure how long it's been growing on the Jefferson Memorial dome. It only became a pressing problem when - for reasons scientists are still working to understand - it began to darken.

In collaboration with commercial restoration experts, National Park Service analysts determined that, as bad as it all looked, the biofilm infestation was superficial. If it could be cleaned off, it would leave the underlying marble undamaged. But there was a catch. "Most people in the preservation industry use essentially antimicrobial agents, chemical cleaning agents primarily developed for the health industry and the food industry," said Judy Jacob, National Park Service senior conservator and an in-house expert on biofilm. But the Jefferson Memorial sits in the sensitive biome of the Tidal Basin. Under the constraints of the 1972 Clean Water Act, the risk of toxic runoff made any use of chemicals to clean it look like a very bad idea.

- - -

No one knows for sure why this biofilm suddenly became a visible problem only over the last 20% of the Jefferson Memorial's life. One theory suggests that hydrocarbons from partially combusted jet fuel might feed the infestation; increased traffic into Reagan National Airport over the past couple of decades might explain the change.

Cleaner air may also be to blame: Since the enactment of the federal Clean Air Act in the 1960s, the amount of particulates in the air has lessened. The cleaner air has allowed more ultraviolet light to reach the dome surface, possibly feeding the biofilm colony.

And the specter of climate change may offer an explanation. Summers are generally longer and hotter now than years ago. Could this be having an effect? National Park Service conservators would love to know. "We need more people studying this," Tepper said.

One thing preservation experts do know, according to Jacob, is that the Jefferson Memorial's marble surfaces have weathered over the years.

"Rain alone will slowly erode the surface," Jacob said. "New marble has a sanded or rubbed finish with a satin sheen to it. That will erode first. With time, that beautiful smooth surface becomes eroded and it has a topography. That texture provides a surface that will stay wet for longer periods of time from rain, condensation, mist. This provides just the perfect environment for microorganisms."

- - -

As restoration jobs went, this was never going to be one of D.C.'s biggest - the $14.5 million budget to restore the Jefferson Memorial is dwarfed by, for example, the $60 million restoration of the Capitol dome in 2016. Still, as the nature and extent of the biofilm infestation became clear to analysts, it also became clear that this job would eat every dime they had allocated, and contingency funds as well.

And as anyone who's stood in the swamp-like murk of a Tidal Basin summer day will hardly be surprised to hear, it's a job that will need to be done again. "We think this biofilm will come back and we are continuing to study it," Tepper said. And they're not alone.

Conservators across the Potomac at Arlington National Cemetery are dealing with very similar biofilm on their Memorial Amphitheater, which is built of the same Vermont marble as the Jefferson Memorial. The Folger Shakespeare Library's ongoing $72 million renovation includes abating biofilm discoloration from its facade, constructed of slightly softer Georgia marble. The District of Columbia War Memorial on Independence Avenue across the Tidal Basin from the Jefferson Memorial also features a Vermont marble dome, visibly afflicted with an extensive - and growing - biofilm infestation.

Government funding addressing maintenance shortfalls at National Park Service properties, specifically the 2020 Great American Outdoors Act, along with the agency's usual dexterity in working the government's patchwork funding channels, leaves NPS officials cautiously confident that when dark splotches reappear on the Jefferson Memorial dome - "when, not if," as Tepper puts it - they will be able to respond.

And as for how soon that might happen?

"I have no guess," said Jacob. "We'll just have to wait and see."

- - -

The Washington Post's Aaron Steckelberg contributed to this report.

Information sourced from National Park Service; Center for Biofilm Engineering at Montana State University; EverGreene Architectural Arts.

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The Biden administration's self-inflicted school board disaster

By marc a. thiessen
The Biden administration's self-inflicted school board disaster


Advance for release Wednesday, Oct. 27, and thereafter

(For Thiessen clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Marc A. Thiessen

WASHINGTON -- The Biden administration has suffered yet another self-inflicted disaster, as the National School Boards Association (NSBA) board of directors has repudiated and apologized for the letter it sent to President Biden accusing American parents of engaging in "domestic terrorism" and asking him to deploy the FBI and "its National Security Branch" to investigate them using the Patriot Act.

Here is the problem: The Biden administration already acted on the association's request. Just days after the letter was received, Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memorandum to the director of the FBI ordering him to "convene meetings . . . in each federal judicial district" to discuss "strategies for addressing threats." But unlike the NSBA, Garland has not had the decency to withdraw his memorandum and apologize for this disgraceful effort to weaponize the FBI to intimidate parents who show up at school board meetings to protest the direction of their children's education.

Instead, Garland has tried to whitewash his actions, telling Congress last week that he did not use the words "domestic terrorism" or "Patriot Act" in his memorandum. That was intentionally misleading. In a statement accompanying the memorandum's release, the Justice Department announced it intended to create "a task force, consisting of representatives from the department's . . . National Security Division," among others, to "determine how federal enforcement tools can be used to prosecute these crimes." According to the Justice Department website, the "National Security Division (NSD) was created in March 2006 by the USA PATRIOT Reauthorization and Improvement Act" to "protect the United States from threats to our national security." So Garland was doing exactly what the NSBA asked -- ordering the use of the Patriot Act to investigate parents who come to school board meetings to exercise their First Amendment rights.

The story gets worse. It turns out the Biden administration did not simply passively receive and act on the NSBA letter. According to emails obtained through public records requests by Parents Defending Education, White House staff had been in contact with the NSBA for "several weeks" before the letter was sent and had requested specific information be included. In one email, NSBA interim executive director and chief executive Chip Slaven wrote that "in talks over the last several weeks with White House staff, they requested additional information on some of the specific threats, so the letter also details many of the incidents that have been occurring." This strongly suggests that the White House actively collaborated with the NSBA on this unprecedented assault on parental rights.

Worse still, one of the incidents the association included in response to the White House's request was that of an angry father who was arrested at a school board meeting in Loudoun County, Va. He had good reason to be angry: His daughter had been sexually assaulted in the girls' bathroom of her Loudoun County school by a male student. "I am not a domestic terrorist," said father Scott Smith. "I am a concerned father who loves his family and will protect them at every turn."

The domestic terrorism controversy has helped turn the Virginia governor's race -- which should have been a Democratic cakewalk -- into a dead heat. In one poll, Republican Glenn Youngkin now leads former Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe by 17 points among K-12 parents. Apparently, moms and dads don't like being called terrorists. Nor do they appreciate it when former president Barack Obama shows up at a rally for McAuliffe and accuses them of "fake outrage" and stoking "phony, trumped-up culture wars."

What is inexplicable is why -- with all the self-inflicted crises the Biden White House is facing -- they would needlessly ignite yet another dumpster fire? Instead of listening to the legitimate concerns of parents angry about school closures, mask mandates and seeing their kids indoctrinated with extremist ideologies, the Biden administration collaborated with an activist group to intimidate and silence them. Their actions had the opposite effect -- pouring gasoline on the brushfire that is sweeping suburban school districts across the nation. Parents are mad as hell, and rightly so -- and will be taking their anger into the voting booth.

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Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

The 'Great Resignation' is leaving many Americans wondering: Should I pay off my mortgage early?

By michelle singletary
The 'Great Resignation' is leaving many Americans wondering: Should I pay off my mortgage early?


Advance for release Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, and thereafter

(For Singletary clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Michelle Singletary

WASHINGTON -- It's been drilled into Americans that a mortgage is good debt, a liability that shouldn't give you pause, even after you retire.

But the pandemic has been shaking up a lot of old financial rules. The "Great Resignation," as it's being called for those quitting their jobs, is making a lot of homeowners wonder if they should consider paying off their mortgage early.

A record 4.3 million U.S. workers quit their jobs in August, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With covid still surging in areas, working comes with health risks for many people. The pay isn't enough to offset the possibility of getting covid, so they quit. For others, the pandemic death toll has made them wonder if their work took too much precedence over living their best life.

While not everyone who quits can afford to get rid of their mortgage early, for those who have the option, the question is: Why not?

I spoke with two experts to get their take on the pros and cons of paying off a mortgage early. Let's start with some of the cons.

- Being house poor

"I owe just under $80,000 on my home mortgage," one reader wrote. "I am retired, and I have the cash to pay the loan, but it will wipe out over half of my savings. I am on track to pay the mortgage in less than three years."

As much as you may want to rid yourself of your mortgage, don't do it if you'll leave yourself with an inadequate savings cushion, says Michael Roberts, a professor of finance at Wharton.

- Less to invest

"The easiest way to distill the decision down is to think of it in terms of opportunity cost," Roberts said.

Ask yourself this question: Is the interest on my mortgage greater than what I can earn from saving or investing this money?

- Loss of mortgage interest deduction

If you itemize, you can deduct home mortgage interest on the first $750,000 ($375,000 if married filing separately). The limit is $1 million ($500,000 if married filing separately) if you are deducting mortgage interest for a home purchased before Dec. 16, 2017.

Even if you take the deduction for mortgage interest, don't overestimate its value. This tax break is a deduction, not a credit. A tax credit reduces, dollar for dollar, the taxes you owe. A deduction eliminates only a percentage of your income subject to taxation. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled the standard deduction, resulting in fewer taxpayers itemizing deductions on their tax returns.

Now let's look at some positive reasons to pay off your mortgage early.

- Better cash flow

The mortgage for most Americans is their biggest household expense. Getting rid of that obligation frees up a significant amount of cash every month. We already know, based on data from the Federal Reserve, that many households have trouble responding to a financial emergency without having to borrow money.

Sandy Marasco paid the $22,000 remaining balance of her mortgage with savings, which was costing her $1,200. She has a 401(k) but can get by on Social Security and a small pension.

"I finally decided to retire, and I wanted to get my monthly expenses down as much as possible," she said. "I went through my younger years with too much debt. Something disastrous would have to happen for me not to have a place to live."

- Guaranteed return

One of the reasons people are often discouraged from paying off their home loans is that they are told they can earn more by investing in the stock market.

But this advice ignores risk, says Christine Benz, director of personal finance for Morningstar.

"If you're retiring debt, you are getting a positive return equal to whatever that interest rate was on the debt, less any tax breaks you were getting for carrying it," Benz said.

For young adult homeowners, they could reasonably outearn that interest rate by investing in the market, and they don't necessarily need that peace of mind of paying off the mortgage, Benz said. But for people closing in on retirement, or who are retired and have other assets, paying off the mortgage could be a great move.

"One of the best things you can do for your plan is to reduce your fixed expenses coming into retirement," Benz said. "Reduce the head wind of ongoing expenses and that will make you so much more flexible in the face of whatever might happen in your retirement, whether it's big health-care bills or a bad stock market."

Roberts also acknowledged that the flip side of investing the money for a higher return is recognizing that past performance of the stock market does not guarantee future results.

"If you try to find an investment that guarantees you an income at the same rate of return, it will almost surely be lower than what you're paying on your mortgage," he said.

- Peace of mind

"There's sort of a big psychological burden that's lifted," Roberts said. "So having the overhang of debt payments constantly is psychologically important. And that might sound odd coming from an economist, but it's precisely because I'm an economist that I can recognize the importance of psychological factors."

If you have the money to pay off the mortgage and there's not a liquidity issue, meaning you have enough in savings, then your financial peace of mind is a legitimate factor in this decision, Benz said.

One Maryland couple plans to retire their mortgage early in December. They are both retired and have more than adequate savings. Their mortgage wouldn't have been paid off until 2043.

"Most people keep telling us, 'You're always going to owe something,' " the husband said. "Most people just don't believe they can be debt-free. But I just keep remembering the loss of the mortgage payment will help us to save and give more."

- - -

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

The Supreme Court should hesitate before striding into this free speech minefield

By george f. will
The Supreme Court should hesitate before striding into this free speech minefield


Advance for release Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, and thereafter

(For Will clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By George F. Will

WASHINGTON -- The nation today has a surfeit of indignation, but wholesome exasperation -- brisk impatience with foolishness -- is always in short supply. Hence the exhilaration one experiences reading Judge Edith Jones' dissent, 16 months ago, on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, concerning a case the Supreme Court will hear next Tuesday. If Jones' argument was right, David Wilson's case should not have reached the Supreme Court and his argument should not prevail there.

Wilson, who perhaps thinks niceness is overrated, does not play nicely with the other eight members of the Houston Community College System's board of trustees. In 2018, the board, which has a tarnished recent history, reciprocated his antagonism, censuring him for having sinned against collegiality by things he had said and done. He twice sued the board (costing it nearly $300,000 in legal fees); he said the board has violated its bylaws; he hired one private investigator to discover whether a board member lived in the appropriate district, and another to investigate the board; he produced robocalls critical of the board; and he amplified his criticisms in interviews.

Historically, legislatures have powers to reprimand members. Because courts are wary of judicial interference with legislative bodies, they enjoy wide latitude in disciplining members. The Houston board, which is elected, says its censure of Wilson was merely its spoken rejoinder to his speech criticizing it.

The U.S. House of Representatives censured a member who shouted "You lie!" during a Barack Obama address concerning health care. The New York Times' Adam Liptak notes that in 2020, a year of imaginative vituperation, the city council of River Falls, Wisconsin, censured a member for describing someone opposed to mask-wearing as "a rancid tub of ignorant contagion." This invective earned a censure as a subtraction from the residual dignity of public life.

If the Houston board, a government entity, had confined itself to calling Wilson a stinker and a meanie, this would merely have been government exercising its right to speak its mind. Wilson could have replied that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." But the board accompanied the censure with tangible penalties, including denying him reimbursement for travel expenses and making him ineligible to be a board officer. These penalties could be considered unconstitutional retaliation intended to chill his future speech. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court should hesitate before striding into this minefield.

A district court rejected Wilson's flimsy argument that the censure (BEG ITAL)by itself(END ITAL) violated his First Amendment right of free speech, as though disapproval of his speech interfered with his speaking. So, he turned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. It got things exactly wrong.

The 5th Circuit majority said the censure alone was retaliation against constitutionally protected speech, and -- non sequitur alert -- therefore was unconstitutional. He had told this court that he had suffered "mental anguish." His woe-is-me whine was unbecoming, considering his tough-guy, politics-ain't-beanbag treatment of his board colleagues.

Dissenting, Judge Jones said, in effect: Good grief, a government entity expressing its disapproval of speech by a member of the entity does not suppress the member's speech. Jones seemed to think that both the board and its tormentor need a timeout to compose themselves, and she cautioned courts that treating the board's dispute as a justiciable matter will draw courts into refereeing -- on the basis of improvised principles -- innumerable such intramural squabbles. Jones wrote:

"Given the increasing discord in society and governmental bodies, the attempts of each side in these disputes to get a leg up on the other, and the ready availability of weapons of mass communication with which each side can tar the other, the panel's decision is the harbinger of future lawsuits. . . . Political infighting of this sort should not be dignified with a false veneer of constitutional protection and has no place in the federal courts."

A Harvard Law Review analysis of the Wilson case notes that when all local legislatures are counted, a censure of speech currently occurs approximately every two days. If the Supreme Court sides with Wilson, it might soon hear from, among many others, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who was stripped of her House committee memberships after numerous lunatic statements, such as her reference to "the so-called plane that crashed into the Pentagon" on 9/11, and the clear and present danger of a "global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles." Do federal courts want to formulate principles for sorting acceptable from unacceptable legislative reprimands of the exotic speech of unhinged members?

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George Will's email address is

As the anti-Facebook frenzy accelerates, remember: The problem isn't just a single platform

By david ignatius
As the anti-Facebook frenzy accelerates, remember: The problem isn't just a single platform


Advance for release Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, and thereafter

(For Ignatius clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By David Ignatius

WASHINGTON - Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg is a perfect target for people who are angry about the perversion of democracy in our open society. He's rich, arrogant and seemingly unrepentant. But I fear he is becoming a scapegoat for deeper problems with the Internet itself.

The Facebook frenzy is accelerating this week, as 17 news organizations join the document dive that started with whistleblower Frances Haugen's revelations to the Wall Street Journal. Some of what's being revealed is genuinely outrageous, such as Facebook's accommodation of dictators overseas, and its dissemination of information abroad by human traffickers, drug cartels and other illegal actors.

But before Congress rushes to create a new Department of Algorithm Review, I suggest we recall Walt Kelly's comment in his comic strip, "Pogo," to wit: "We have met the enemy, and he is us." In so many instances of disinformation about politics, vaccines or anything else, the problem is often a bottom-up viral spread of dangerous information by social media users. The information might be toxic, but it usually isn't illegal -- and in America we have a First Amendment that protects speech, even the nastier versions.

Beyond Facebook, I have a deeper worry. The Internet was created with an idealistic dream: The global propagation of open information would expand human freedom and democracy. As the world became flat and citizens were empowered, authoritarian rulers would become weaker. Alas, it hasn't worked out that way. The paradox of the Internet is that it has enabled greater control by authoritarians and fueled greater disorder in open democracies.

Americans who are anguished about former president Donald Trump keep looking for a villain to blame (other than Trump himself and his movement). After the 2016 presidential campaign, investigators hunted a conspiracy driven by Russia. Now, there's a similar fixation on Facebook as the root of our political dysfunction. If only Trumpism were as easy to explain as a Moscow or Facebook plot! But the veins of rage, left and right, were there to exploit, politically and financially, well before Trump.

Thomas Rid, author of "Active Measures," an authoritative 2020 study of disinformation, notes the meme that Zuckerberg is a malevolent machine. "Many cannot resist the temptation to blame some of the worst ills of our time on this company and its aloof CEO," he noted in an email message this week.

"The more accurate insight is so hard and so taboo that many of us dare not say it out loud," Rid continued. "Is it Facebook or the Internet that is bringing out the worst in us? Is the Internet merely revealing and amplifying what the old media gatekeepers kept in check? Is there a point where too much 'democratizing' of information will lead to a closing of our societies?"

Alex Stamos, a former chief of security for Facebook and now director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, notes that the very openness of the Internet is part of today's problem. Once, media gatekeepers limited what was disseminated. "Now, you get a vast buffet that has some healthy foods, and also some heroin, and a lot of people take heroin," he explained in an interview.

Social media was supposed to be an open ecosystem. But as people find their niches and preferences, they create closed loops for themselves. "Facebook is designed to deliver to users information that they like, from people that they like, in rapid fashion," argues Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and leading authority on disinformation.

Stamos helped lead a detailed study of misinformation in the 2020 election, conducted by the Election Integrity Partnership. The inquiry examined how false information was spread. Often it started with small incidents, reported from the bottom up, that were then disseminated by a relatively small number of "repeat spreaders," who would retweet or otherwise amplify the lie.

The answer, says Stamos, is to increase "friction" on the Internet, so that it's harder for these lies to become viral. That means limiting retweets and shares -- rather than trying to police the information itself. "I don't want Facebook to try to fix American politics," Stamos argues, and he's right. A hypothetical government social media agency shouldn't try to fix our politics, either. That's a road to tyranny.

Congress should rewrite some of the rules that bound the Internet. For example, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act should be amended so that social media companies can be sued if they design algorithms that propagate false information. But total repeal of Section 230 would be a mistake, because it would encourage endless defamation litigation and discourage platforms from carrying true stories that are critical of the rich and powerful.

Here's the awkward truth: Regulation of social media ultimately is on us -- the users. We have to teach ourselves, our children and our "friends" to monitor content and weed out what's false and hateful. In the end, we'll get the Internet we deserve.

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Contact David Ignatius on Twitter @IgnatiusPost

I used to be an electric car skeptic. I've changed my mind - but I still didn't buy one.

By megan mcardle
I used to be an electric car skeptic. I've changed my mind - but I still didn't buy one.


Advance for release Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, and thereafter

(For McArdle clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Megan McArdle

WASHINGTON -- It's the worst possible time to buy a car, but events recently forced my family to do it. I regret the shudder-inducing premium we paid to get our hands on a little piece of CarMax's pandemic-depleted inventory. But I also regret having to buy now because I'd hoped we could hold onto our old vehicle long enough to make our next purchase electric.

Once an electric vehicle skeptic, I gradually came around as the technology matured, and automakers got serious about electrifying their lineups. A big order from Hertz boosted Tesla's market capitalization above $1 trillion Monday. Governments are also behind this push; President Biden wants EVs to make up half of all U.S. car sales by 2030, up from about 2% now.

There's a lot to like about an all-electric future. EVs are cleaner, obviously. They're quieter, too. And of course, they reduce our dependence on a commodity currently soaring in price.

Then there are the personal benefits: On average, electric vehicles accelerate faster, cost less to maintain and fuel more cheaply (at least, if you charge at home) than cars with internal combustion engines. Plus, my husband and I are nearly the ideal case for an electric car: urbanites who drive fairly frequently, but not very far, so we don't need to worry much about range.

And yet, we did not buy an electric car for two reasons: the cost of the vehicles, and our inability to figure out where the heck we'd charge it.

Even with tax credits, and even with lower costs for fuel and maintenance, EVs still seem pricey compared with their internal-combustion counterparts. That's a problem that I hope will be solved in coming years, as mass production generates cost efficiencies. But at the moment, there's often still a significant premium for going green.

Yet with all the other benefits, we might have been willing to pay extra, except for one major problem: Like many people who live in dense, walkable neighborhoods, we park our car on the street, leaving us nowhere to charge it.

OK, not literally nowhere; we could have paid to get an outlet installed in front of our rowhouse, and hoped we'd be able to find a spot out front often enough to keep the car powered. Or we could have planned our weeks around finding public charging stations where we could regularly top up. But both seemed rather speculative for such a major investment, and in the case of public chargers, quite inconvenient. Road trips also posed a quandary -- if we did want to go more than a couple hundred miles, how long would we have to stop just to recharge the battery? (Answer: It varies by model and charger, but can run from 30 minutes, in the best case, to hours.)

We're not alone in having this problem, says Loren McDonald, a consultant working on EVs and EV-charging projects. He told me that 35 to 40% of households lack access to easy charging, and ironically the problem is greatest among the people who otherwise should be the natural market for electric vehicles: urbanite apartment-dwellers.

As for road-trips, McDonald calls them the "noose around the neck of electric vehicles."

Neither problem is insoluble. There are still plenty of garage owners able to install a relatively inexpensive charging station that can power up their vehicle overnight. As those folks shift toward electric vehicles, it will become more economical for stores and other public places to install charging stations where you can pay by the kilowatt while you're inside. Apartment managers will also presumably face pressure to install chargers in their garages or risk losing tenants.

But that still leaves the street parkers with a problem that local governments and utilities will probably need to solve for us. And there's no guarantee that any of it will happen on the ambitious timetables suggested by automakers and the president, unless all levels of government work to provide a push.

I'm not just talking about the billions the administration has proposed to spend building charging stations, which is at best a down payment. We also need to make grid upgrades, and rationalize the patchwork of state and local regulations and utility rules that take time and money to navigate. Chris Nelder, who used to work in the carbon-free mobility practice at the Rocky Mountain Institute, and now runs a podcast called "The Energy Transition Show," told me, "Because this process is so complicated and so messy, we found that developers would actually have to develop 2.5 sites to get one through."

That's a problem the market can't solve, no matter how cheap or attractive electric vehicles become. Nor is it likely to be solved entirely by farsighted local governments and utilities voluntarily preparing themselves for the future long before it arrives. It will take uniform state and federal standards, and probably some financial assistance, to clear the roadblocks that currently stand between millions of Americans and our first electric car.

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Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

Americans need a better understanding of dyslexia -- and more empathy for those who have it

By ruben navarrette jr.
Americans need a better understanding of dyslexia -- and more empathy for those who have it



(For Navarrette clients)


SAN DIEGO -- Have you seen a shark cry? It's unsettling. But when the tears are caused by dyslexia, it can also be revealing.

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. So it's time to explore the peculiar world of a learning difficulty that experts say could afflict as many as one in five Americans.

The shark is Kevin O'Leary. The boastful Canadian-born "Shark Tank" host and multi-millionaire investor -- aka "Mr. Wonderful" -- who chokes up when discussing his struggle with dyslexia as a child in the 1960s.

"It was very difficult for my mother," O'Leary told Yahoo! Finance. "She was very worried about me. Parents don't know … what the future holds. They're not sure what's going to happen. And that puts a lot of pressure on relationships and families."

I hear this often from dyslexics, that their parents wanted so badly to help them but didn't know how. As a parent, it breaks my heart.

I've also seen many parents of dyslexic children shell out money for specialized language therapy and shuttle their kids to after-school sessions.

I'm impressed by dyslexic children who battle a public school system that was not built for them. But I'm in awe of those parents who heroically fight for their kids against an invisible enemy.

The reason much of that battle occurs in public schools is because -- unlike private schools, or even charter schools -- the public schools are often too rigid and regimented to accommodate children with dyslexia. Also, many of the schools of education that credential teachers are outright hostile to the very concept of dyslexia; some even teach that it doesn't exist.

This frustrates Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley. With her longtime friend and fellow literacy specialist Tracy Block-Zaretsky, Sandman-Hurley co-founded the San Diego-based Dyslexia Training Institute more than a decade ago.

The center offers training and certification for teachers, one-on-one tutoring and reading therapy for students, and simulations that help people who don't have dyslexia see the world through the eyes of those who do.

The goal is to help untangle what is, for many families, the baffling riddle of dyslexia.

I was curious how Sandman-Hurley defined the concept.

"Dyslexia is a phonological processing problem that someone is born with," she said. "Someone has difficulty accessing written language. They might have trouble spelling or decoding words. Reading fluency is slower. It occurs in degrees, from mild to severe with everything in between."

What is it not?

"It is not seeing things backwards," she said. "That's a myth."

For 20 years, I've been fascinated by what has been called the "gift" of dyslexia, owing to the fact that my wife is a dyslexia specialist.

Lately, I've become interested in how it affects adults. Dyslexia can't be "cured." Children with dyslexia become adults with dyslexia.

Sandman-Hurley tells some of those stories in her important new book, "The Adult Side of Dyslexia." She interviewed 50 adults who have dyslexia and asked them the same questions.

Many of these folks still have vivid -- and horrid -- memories of their school days. Describing the experience of reading aloud to the class, many used words like "trauma" or "torture." Teachers need to handle with care those who struggle with reading and writing.

"What you say to them, they will remember when they are 50," Sandman-Hurley said. "And they remember it like it was yesterday."

Dyslexics aren't dumb or lazy. In fact, they are often incredibly hard workers given all they must overcome. High-functioning dyslexics include not just O'Leary but actress Keira Knightly, British billionaire Richard Branson, film producer Brian Grazer, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Sadly, other dyslexics wind up unemployed or homeless or in prison.

How that final chapter gets written depends largely on whether the dyslexic has enough love and support at home to survive the buzz-saw of the educational system.

I asked Sandman-Hurley about being an advocate for kids and confronting school administrators who either know what they need to do and refuse -- or, worse, don't even believe that dyslexia is really a thing.

"The advocacy is really stressful," she acknowledged. "But it's not even close to how stressful it is for a parent. The parent sees their child starting to struggle. They don't really know what's happening. They go to the school, and the school says: 'It's ok, they'll outgrow it.' But the parent's gut is telling them that something is wrong."

Parents, trust your gut. And stand by your child. As adults with dyslexia will tell you, it means everything.

- - -

Navarrette's email address is His podcast, "Ruben in the Center," is available through every podcast app.

(c) 2021, The Washington Post Writers Group

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