Metro leader search on hold

For an agency already under fire for fatal safety lapses and revelations of financial mismanagement, the latest developments indicate more turmoil.

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Metro has abruptly ground to a halt in addressing the authority’s future executive leadership. The agency also might use new rail cars to replace older ones rather than to expand the subway’s capacity.

Meanwhile, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser moved to oust one of city’s representatives on the Metro board and replace him with someone who shares her view of the kind of leadership the agency needs.

In another surprise Thursday, the transportation chiefs for Washington, Maryland and Virginia agreed in principle to allow Metro to exercise purchase options for 220 new rail cars, according to Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne.

The agreement, first reported by radio station WAMU, would add to the 528 new rail cars for which funding has already been approved.

Separately, in a sign of Metro’s continuing financial difficulties, officials said Thursday that the agency has yet to submit paperwork to the federal government to be reimbursed for $400 million that it spent in previous years to upgrade the system. Metro was years late in applying for the federal grants and is still playing catch-up in accounting for its spending in order to collect the money.

The agency’s board chairman, Mortimer Downey, also criticized Metro’s past financial managers for the troubles.

“Don’t ask me why the people at WMATA never sent those [grant] applications in,” Downey said. If he had done the same when he was chief financial officer of the New York transit agency, Downey said, “I would have been either fired or executed on the spot.”

As for the rail car purchase, Metro wants to acquire the total of 728 new, technologically advanced rail cars over the next several years to eliminate six-car trains during rush hours, replacing them with all eight-car trains.

The transit agency wants Maryland, Virginia and Washington to pay $1.47 billion for the eight-car rail plan — $614 million for the 220 additional and $856 million for infrastructure upgrades to accommodate more trains. What apparently remains to be decided is whether the new cars will be used to replace old cars or used to increase capacity, and whether the jurisdictions will spend $856 million for related infrastructure improvements.

Metro’s purchase options for the cars expires in July, Downey said.

“We’ve been asked to produce an analysis of how many cars should we buy out of the option program, what should they be used for, what ancillary investments will be immediately necessary or long-term necessary,” he said.

The $1.47 billion rail-car plan is part of a broader, $7 billion list of hoped-for capital improvements — a plan dubbed Metro 2025 — for which the agency had been seeking funding approval this spring.

However, after a discussion with Maryland, Virginia and Washington officials about Metro’s financial condition, Downey said, the agency has agreed not to seek funding for most of the Metro 2025 plan until next year. The only piece that will remain on the table is the rail-car acquisition, because the purchase options are due to expire.

Regarding the Metro board’s membership, District of Columbia Council member Jack Evans, D-Ward 2, who represents the city on the panel, said he will ask the council to pass legislation that would remove Tom Downs, a Metro board member since 2011. Downs, whose term on the Metro board doesn’t expire until 2018, is a longtime transit executive and a former Amtrak chairman.

The move appears related to a disagreement over the type of general manager Metro should hire, with Bowser and other Washington officials favoring a financial turnaround specialist. Downs was in the camp that favored a more traditional transit executive, Metro officials have said.

The disagreement boiled over last month, just as a majority of the board seemed ready to appoint a new top manager from a field of three finalists. Amid the turmoil, the three finalists withdrew from consideration, pushing the transit agency back to square one in its search for new executive leadership.

Now the search has been suspended until Bowser’s chosen appointee joins the board, and until Maryland, under new Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, fills one of its two voting seats on the transit authority. One of Maryland’s voting representatives resigned last year.

Metro officials have said that Hogan shares Bowser’s view that Metro, given its money woes, should hire a financial turnaround specialist as general manager.

As for the board shake-up, Bowser would replace Downs with Corbett Price, a health-care financial consultant. The legislation also would remove one of the District’s alternate board members, Matthew Brown, and appoint Leif A. Dormsjo to his seat. Dormsjo is acting head of the District of Columbia’s Department of Transportation.

Evans and Bowser generally see eye-to-eye on Metro matters. By replacing Downs with a second voting member who also shares her views, the mayor would greatly enhance her ability to steer the transit agency in the direction she wants.

Asked about his impending ouster, Downs said: “The mayor’s office told me of her intention last week. I told the mayor when I met with her the first time after the election that I understand and support any mayor’s need to have their own people in that position.”

Downs said: “There are differing opinions still, even within the District government, on a lot of the Metro stuff. Different views on both the finance and the safety stuff, and the board member stuff. . . . My view doesn’t count anymore, since this is my last board meeting.”

News that Bowser wants to remove Downs came on the same day that Metro budget officials told the board that they plan to borrow $220 million to make repayments on lines of credit that are due in July. The agency has been scrambling to pay its bills for capital projects after the Federal Transit Administration restricted Metro’s ability to draw grant funds. That action came after last summer’s highly critical FTA audit report.

Metro faces cash-flow pressure because the FTA has slowed payments to it because of past financial mismanagement.

“It’s a liquidity problem, from not doing business in the appropriate way,” Downey said.

The troubles should ease when Metro accounts for the $400 million in past spending and is reimbursed for it, but Metro said it didn’t expect to complete that process until sometime next year.

“We’ve got about five years of paperwork we’ve got to get done,” Downey said.

Partly because Metro was so late applying for the federal grants, it had to wait until this year for most of them to be awarded. The award makes it possible for Metro to be reimbursed, after it accounts for the spending.

In the past, Metro borrowed money and spent it in anticipation of eventually collecting on the grants.

“If I had gone to my board and said, ‘I haven’t applied for the federal grants for the last couple of years, but trust me, I’ll borrow the money and we’ll fix it,’ I would not have stayed in that job very long,” Downey said.

Downey demurred when asked if he thought Metro managers deserved to be fired.

“Obviously we’ve got to do a better job,” he said.

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Washington Post staff writer Lori Aratani contributed to this report.

The ‘self-fulfilling prophesy" of stereotyping Asian American students

“Ophelia” was never a very good student.

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The second generation Vietnamese American described herself as “not very intelligent,” someone who got straight Cs. She failed the exam to qualify for Advanced Placement classes at the end of Junior High.

But for reasons beyond her understanding, she was placed on the AP track when she got to high school. There, surrounded by ambitious peers and high expectations, “something clicked,” she told researcher Jennifer Lee.

“I wanted to work hard and prove I was a good student,” she said. “I think the competition kind of increases your want to do better.”

Ophelia graduated with a 4.2 grade point average and an acceptance to a prestigious pharmacy program.

Lee, a sociologist at the University of California-Irvine, is the author of the new book “The Asian American Achievement Paradox,” which examines how stereotypes based on race can determine students’ chances for success. For her research, she surveyed hundreds of students like Ophelia — children of Vietnamese and Chinese immigrants who felt they were treated differently because of their race.

“Teachers and guidance counselors and peers assumed that they were smart and disciplined and high achieving,” Lee told the Washington Post. “So they were more likely to be placed on advanced tracks, more likely to be directed toward selective colleges. Some admitted to getting grades they didn’t feel like they deserved.”

Paradoxically, though, this was one stereotype that served its targets well. Lee said that students who were subject to irrationally high expectations usually rose to meet them. Surrounded by brainy classmates only happy with “A’s,” they adjusted their own notions of what it means to do well. Assumed to be a “smart Asian,” as Lee put it, they put extra effort into their coursework in order to live up to expectations of their ethnicity.

“What you have is a self fulfilling prophesy where initially what is untrue becomes true,” Lee said. She calls it the “stereotype promise.”

Lee’s findings are the inverse of social science we’ve heard about before. For the past two decades, researchers have been investigating the “stereotype threat” — how negative assumptions about certain groups can undercut their performance. It’s been used to explain why high-achieving African American students sometimes struggle when they get to college, why talented women may under-perform in STEM fields.

Social psychologist Claude Steele, who coined the term in 1995, explained how the stereotype threat affects members of groups that are seen as less able or intelligent.

“They know that they are especially likely to be seen as having limited ability,” she wrote in the Atlantic in 1999. “Groups not stereotyped in this way don’t experience this extra intimidation. And it is a serious intimidation, implying as it does that they may not belong in walks of life where the tested abilities are important — walks of life in which they are heavily invested. Like many pressures, it may not be experienced in a fully conscious way, but it may impair their best thinking.”

In the Los Angeles area, where Lee and her colleagues surveyed 4,800 first generation Americans, the children of Mexican immigrants were most likely to be affected by the stereotype threat. These respondents told Lee that they were rarely taken seriously as students. They weren’t offered help preparing for the SAT and weren’t advised to apply for four year colleges. If a Mexican American student wanted to get into a selective school, they had to be their own tutors, their own guidance counselors.

“One of the questions it raises is how many students aren’t given the opportunity to meet their potential,” Lee said.

Lee’s finding challenges the assumption that gaps in achievement are purely cultural, that “tiger moms” and community regard for education entirely explain Asian American students’ success. The perception of a culture can be as influential as the culture itself.

That’s not to say that culture isn’t a factor — Lee has previously studied how raised expectations within the Asian American community drive high achievement. But when we adopt stereotypes about Asians and education, we’re crediting the wrong culture, she said. It’s not necessarily Chinese people who value education so highly (only 4 percent of China’s population has a college degree), it’s the highly-educated Chinese immigrants who come to the U.S., more than half of whom went to college.

“It’s not culture reduced to a certain ethnicity,” Lee said. “It’s about who immigrates to the U.S. and what sort of norms they’re bringing.”

Chinese and Korean immigrants are “hyper-selected,” as Lee put it. They are more likely to be highly skilled and more likely to hold an advanced degree than almost any other immigrant group. In fact, they are almost twice as likely to be college-educated than the general U.S. population — only 28 percent of Americans have graduated from college. Since parents’ level of educational attainment is one of the best predictors of their children’s achievement, it’s hardly surprising that academically successful Chinese immigrants will have academically successful kids.

Teachers’ assumptions about Asian culture — misplaced though they may be — affect how they perceive Asian American students. And Asian American students internalize those perceptions. They wind up achieving more than they normally would have based on a stereotype that isn’t even completely true.

“We think that grades and test scores and who gets into what colleges is objective, that it’s all about individual effort,” Lee said. “But our work reveals the hidden ways in which biases and stereotypes operate that make certain outcomes more possible for certain groups.”

Most of the students Lee spoke to said that the stereotype promise was a good thing. It helped them do well in school and get into good colleges.

But Lee warns that it can be a “double edged sword.” Asian American students are also likely to feel a form of the intimidation Steele described in writing about the stereotype threat.

While black students may worry that their failures will reinforce negative assumptions about African American achievement, Asian American students who didn’t meet the high expectations set for them “didn’t feel Asian,” Lee said. One man told her that he was “the whitest Chinese guy she’ll ever meet,” because he didn’t fit the stereotype of a high-achieving Asian. The pressure can lead to mental health issues, like anxiety and depression.

And the positive stereotypes that serve Asian Americans well in school can act against them once they’re in the workforce. They have a harder time attaining leadership positions because they’re seen as diligent and thoughtful, rather than bold and creative, according to Lee. She noted that Asian Americans made up 6 percent of college students (slightly more than their proportion of the U.S. population) but 2 percent of college presidents. In Silicon Valley, Asian Americans are 27 percent of the workforce but just 14 percent of executives.

The stereotype promise may help Asian American students get a degree, Lee said, but the “bamboo ceiling” stops them from achieving as much as they could with it.

Agreements for food aid to reach besieged Syrians

The Syrian government has granted the United Nations access to three Syrian towns, including one where residents say thousands of people are starving to death.

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Humanitarian assistance will be delivered to Madaya and two other cities, Fu’a and Kefraya, but no firm date had been set.

Madaya has been under siege from Syrian government forces and Hezbollah militias for seven months, preventing basic supplies from getting through.

Rachael Hocking reports.

Amateur footage shows the haunting image of an emaciated child with his ribcage sticking out.

It is perhaps the most shocking of images being shared by Syrians as part of a social-media campaign to bring attention to their suffering.

The video reportedly comes from the Syrian town of Madaya, near the border with Lebanon.

In it, the young boy says his name is Mohammed Issa.

He tells the person filming he has not eaten in a week.

(Man:) “What’s your name?”

(Child:) “Mohammed Issa.”

(Man:) “How long have you been without food?”

(Child:) “Seven days.”

(Man:) “Say that you swear to God.”

(Child:) “I swear to God.”

(Man:) “Are you very hungry?”

(Child:) “Mmmhmmm …”

(Man:) “God willing, what are you craving right now? What would you like to eat?”

(Child:) “Something sweet.”

The last time Madaya received humanitarian assistance was last October.

Since then, the United Nations says, it has been inaccessible.

The town of 40,000 people has been under siege for seven months from Syrian government forces and Hezbollah militias.

Pro-government forces have also restricted access to the nearby town of Zabadani.

Meanwhile, anti-government fighters have surrounded Fu’a and Kefraya, in north-western Syria.

Residents say people are starving to death without access to food.

One protester from the northern town of Saraqeb accuses the Syrian government of violating the terms of truces reached for Zabadani and Madaya.

(Translated) “I am standing here to oppose the truce that took place in Kefraya and al-Fu’a, and against the siege in Madaya, against the truce that led to the starvation in Madaya. The hunger of our people in Madaya was caused by the truce. The truce made them hungry.”

Now, the Syrian government says it will allow aid into Madaya, Fu’a and Kefraya.

The United Nations says in a statement it welcomes the Syrian government’s announcement but is calling for unimpeded access to reach those in need.

“Almost 42,000 people remaining in Madaya are at risk of further hunger and starvation. The UN has received credible reports of people dying from starvation and being killed while trying to leave. The UN calls for immediate humanitarian access to all hard-to-reach and besieged areas and for the facilitation of the safe evacuation of civilians.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the war, puts the number of people dying from starvation in Madaya at 10.

But the international humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières says 23 patients have died of starvation at a health centre in Madaya since December the 1st.

The group is calling for medical access to blockaded towns along with the promised food aid.

Meanwhile, the conflict in those cities and others has cast a bleak outlook over peace talks the United Nations hopes to convene this month.

Syrian opposition leaders have told a UN envoy they will not participate in talks with the government until the Madaya siege and others are lifted.

 

 

 

Restoring free speech on campus

The past academic year offers a depressing number of examples of institutions of higher education failing to live up to their core mission.

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At Northwestern University, for example, Professor Laura Kipnis endured a months-long Title IX investigation for publishing an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education in which she discussed a high-profile sexual assault case. Just a few months later, her fellow professor, Alice Dreger, courageously resigned in protest over Northwestern’s censorship of a faculty-edited medical journal.

In a similar vein, Louisiana State University fired Professor Teresa Buchanan after nearly two decades of service for her occasional use of profanity, which the university suddenly deemed “sexual harassment,” and Chicago State University enacted a new cyberbullying policy to silence a blog that was critical of university leadership.

At Iowa State University, administrators censored T-shirts created by the university’s student chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The Regents of the University of California are considering adopting a “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” that would ban “derogatory language reflecting stereotypes or prejudice.” Other institutions are considering banning so-called “microaggressions” or requiring “trigger warnings” to protect students from having to confront potentially upsetting ideas and subjects. Still others have withdrawn invitations to speakers who have taken positions that some members of the community find unpleasant, offensive or wrong- headed – a practice President Barack Obama criticized this month, saying that leaving students “coddled and protected from different points of view” is “not the way we learn.”

Restrictions on free expression on college campuses are incompatible with the fundamental values of higher education. At public institutions, they violate the First Amendment; at most private institutions, they break faith with stated commitments to academic freedom. And these restrictions are widespread: The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s most recent survey of college and university policies found that more than 55 percent of institutions maintain illiberal speech codes that prohibit what should be protected speech. For students and faculty, the message is clear: Speaking your mind means putting your education or your career at risk.

Enough is enough. Our colleges and universities should redeem the promise of the new academic year by reaffirming their commitments to freedom of expression.

Last year, the University of Chicago convened a Committee on Freedom of Expression to do exactly that. The committee issued a statement identifying the principles that must guide institutions committed to attaining knowledge through free and open discourse. Guaranteeing members of the academic community “the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn,” the statement guarantees students and faculty the right “to discuss any problem that presents itself.”

How should students and scholars respond when challenged by speech with which they disagree, or that they even loathe? The Chicago statement sets forth the answer: “by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.” Anticipating the push and pull of passionate debate, the statement sets forth important ground rules: “Debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.”

Perhaps most important, the Chicago statement makes clear that “it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.” Laura Kipnis, Alice Dreger and Teresa Buchanan would have benefited from this frank and necessary recognition.

Encouragingly, Princeton University, American University and Purdue University have already adopted the core of the Chicago statement as their own. If colleges and universities nationwide were to follow their example – either by adopting the Chicago statement or forging one of their own – academic censorship would face a powerful new challenge.

Backed by a strong commitment to freedom of expression and academic freedom, faculty could challenge one another, their students and the public to consider new possibilities, without fear of reprisal. Students would no longer face punishment for exercising their right to speak out freely about the issues most important to them. Instead of learning that voicing one’s opinions invites silencing, students would be taught that spirited debate is a vital necessity for the advancement of knowledge. And they would be taught that the proper response to ideas they oppose is not censorship, but argument on the merits. That, after all, is what a university is for.

Free speech and academic freedom will not protect themselves. With public reaffirmation of the necessity of free speech on campus, the current wave of censorship that threatens the continuing excellence of U.S. higher education can be repudiated, as it should be, as a transitory moment of weakness that disrespects what our institutions of higher learning must represent.

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Stone is a professor at the University of Chicago and served as chair of the school’s Committee on Freedom of Expression. Creeley is vice president for legal and public advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Police kill alleged attacker on Paris anniversary

Paris police have shot dead a man allegedly wielding a knife who tried to enter a police station shouting “Allahu Akbar” — “God is great” — and wearing a fake suicide belt.

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A piece of paper with a flag of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or IS, and the man’s claim for the attack in Arabic was found on his body.

The incident took place on the anniversary of the fatal attacks at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Brianna Roberts reports.

Police say the man tried to force entry into the police station in Paris’s 18th arrondisement, a district IS claimed it had planned to hit in deadly attacks in the city in November.

Officials have named the gunman as a convicted thief, Moroccan-born Sallah Ali.

A woman named Reeka Polonyi says she witnessed the incident.

“I looked out the window when I heard shouts. I saw two policemen shouting at a man who was advancing towards them quite fast. And when the man didn’t stop, they started shooting.”

Another witness says the man was warned twice before being shot.

(Translated)”They told him to get back, and he did, but then he stepped towards them again. They warned him once more, he lifted his arms, and they shot him three times.”

The incident came only minutes after President Francois Hollande had given a speech to mark the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

In his speech, the French leader emphasised the impact he says terrorism has had on France.

(Translated)”We are now facing hardened fighters who have decided to kill even at the cost of their own lives. Their attacks are coordinated from abroad, ordered by the organisation called Islamic State. That is why I say that we are at war.”

It has been one year since gunmen murdered 17 people in attacks centred around the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket.

France is also still reeling from attacks in November, including at the Bataclan concert hall, that killed 130 people.

One Paris citizen, Pascale Foucault, says the French people have made adjustments due to the terrorist threats and have become more vigilant.

(Translated) “The attack and those gunshots left deep traces. We should commemorate the victims of the attack, because we should never forget it. The attack was so brutal and difficult for people to accept.”

President Hollande says more than 25 crimes connected with terrorism activities have been uncovered.

A three-month state of emergency was imposed on November 13.

 

 

 

Obama and Roberts: Supreme Court ruling further entwines two legacies

Though both men are Harvard Law School graduates, they occupy nearly opposite ends of the ideological spectrum.

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Obama, as a senator, had voted against Roberts’s confirmation the court, saying the judge lacked sufficient empathy for the powerless and could not be counted on to vote the right way in the most important cases.

But in Thursday’s Supreme Court decision upholding federal subsidies offered under the Affordable Care Act, Roberts again helped sustain the president’s policy legacy in a way that few could have anticipated when Obama took office. In voting with the majority and writing the opinion, the chief justice has assured that the legacies of both the Obama presidency and the Roberts court are forever intertwined.

Roberts on Thursday disappointed conservatives who hoped he would “atone” for 2012, when he saved Obamacare from an earlier constitutional challenge by providing the decisive vote. Instead, he doubled down, his tone deferential to an effort of the president and Congress that “grew out of a long history of failed health insurance reform.”

Roberts even brought along Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had agreed with the court’s three most conservative justices the first time around that the entire act should be junked as unconstitutional.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he would “reserve comment” on whether Obama had rethought his initial assessment of Roberts given the two men’s “unique relationship.” But he added, “It seems like there are a lot of areas, at least with regard to this case, where the two men agree.”

But the decision was blasted by Roberts’s fellow conservatives, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a presidential candidate who like Roberts had clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

“What this court has become is heartbreaking,” Cruz said. “If Chief Justice Rehnquist could see this court today, he would be filled with sorrow at what has become of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

If Roberts’s goal is to make the court appear nonpartisan, being scolded by the right in addition to the left might help.

But to Neal Katyal, who served as acting solicitor general during Obama’s first term, Thursday’s decision was proof that Roberts was sincere when he told the Senate during his confirmation hearing that he would serve as “an umpire” whose job was “to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.”

“That’s what he said,” Katyal recalled, noting that the comment “got a lot of derision from the left” at the time. “I don’t think we should be surprised at the end of the day that he meant what he said.”

There have been visible strains between the president and the chief justice over the years, most notably during Obama’s first two years in office.

The flubbing of the oath at Obama’s swearing — when Roberts paused mid-sentence, Obama prematurely broke in to repeat the words, and then Roberts lost his place — sparked recrimination from both camps. Some White House aides privately groused, while Roberts told friends his requests to practice the oath with Obama had been rebuffed.

After an internal debate, the president’s aides asked the chief justice to deliver the oath of office again two days later, in the White House’s Map Room.

More substantively, the two men clashed when Obama, during his 2010 State of the Union address, criticized the court’s 5-to-4 decision in the campaign finance case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commissionwhile several justices sat in the front row of the audience.

“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates,” the president said, referring to the decision eliminating the limit on the total amount of money wealthy donors can contribute to candidates and political committees.

Justice Samuel Alito was seen to murmur “Not true” as he sat in the House chamber that night. Six weeks later, Roberts told an audience at the University of Alabama Law School that he was “very troubled” by the “setting, circumstance and decorum” that now marked the president’s annual address to Congress.

“To the extent the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I’m not sure why we are there,” Roberts said.

White House officials — who had debated before the State of the Union whether the president should make his criticism during that speech or in another forum — were unapologetic.

“What is troubling is that this decision opened the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections — drowning out the voices of average Americans,” then-White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement, adding that the president was determined to curb the influence of special interests and lobbyists in Washington. “That is why he spoke out to condemn the decision and is working with Congress on a legislative response.”

Still, Roberts believes in his ceremonial duties; he has not skipped a State of the Union address, though other justices often do.

Differences emerged again when Roberts pressed the court to scale back a key part of the Voting Rights Act in the 2012 decision Shelby County v. Holder. Many who know Roberts say he is more interested in undoing race-based programs than health-care legislation.

On Tuesday, the court gave the administration a big win not only on health care but in a second major case, concerning a tool that civil rights groups see as essential in combating racial discrimination in housing. In that case, Roberts dissented.

Even if the two do not agree on much, Roberts is often on Obama’s mind when it comes to judicial scrutiny, aides say.

When administration lawyers were preparing their defense of the health-care law’s constitutionality, several of the president’s aides were focused on how to sway Kennedy, the court’s traditional swing vote. But Obama and his then-White House counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, were focused on how to win Roberts over to their side.

“We were very conscious of the chief justice’s view of his own role as a steward of the court, as an institutional matter,” recalled a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “As an advocate thinking about how to present your case, you have to think about individual justices and their past jurisprudence. It is all about, at the end of the day, getting five votes in your favor.”

In 2005, Obama made it clear to those close to him he never doubted Roberts had the skill to serve on the nation’s highest court, but Obama was aware an aye vote for his confirmation could jeopardize his standing within the Democratic Party. Publicly, he said of his concern about “the depth and breadth” of Roberts’s empathy for the weak, “I hope that I am wrong.”

And while Thursday’s decision did not turn on the question of compassion — Katyal called it “just straightforward Law 101” — it is now conservatives who are wondering whether they had misjudged Roberts a decade ago when he was nominated for the court.

Asked whether he still considers Roberts a conservative, Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said in an interview, “I don’t know that you can label the guy in any way, shape or form right now.”

Carrie Severino, chief counsel with the Judicial Crisis Network and former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, was more blunt, mocking Roberts’s decision that exchanges “established by the state,” as part of the law reads, could also refer to federal marketplaces:

“The two biggest losers today are the English language and the legacy of Chief Justice Roberts.”

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Washington Post staff writers Mike DeBonis and Katie Zezima contributed to this report.

For Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church, shooting is another painful chapter in rich history

This historic congregation, the oldest of its kind in the South, had already seen more than its fair share of tumult and hate.

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It was founded by worshippers fleeing racism and burned to the ground for its connection with a thwarted slave revolt. For years its meetings were conducted in secret to evade laws that banned all-black services. It was jolted by an earthquake in 1886. Civil rights luminaries spoke from its pulpit and led marches from its steps. For nearly 200 years it had been the site of struggle, resistance and change.

On Wednesday, the church was a crime scene — the street outside aglow with the flashing red lights of police cars and echoing with the screech of sirens. Nine people had been killed there, reportedly including the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, though police had not confirmed his death.

“I do believe this was a hate crime,” Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said at a press conference early Thursday morning.

To those watching in Charleston and from afar, it was devastating.

“It’s not just a church. It’s also a symbol . . . of black freedom,” said Robert Greene, who studies the 20th century South at the University of South Carolina. “That’s why so many folks are so upset tonight, because it’s a church that represents so much about the rich history and tradition of African Americans in Charleston.”

In Charleston, the church is affectionately known as “Mother Emanuel,” a nod to its age and its eminence in the community. It is a place people take pride in, said the Rev. Stephen Singleton, who was pastor there from 2006 to 2010 — all soaring ceilings and fine pinewood floors, with an antique pipe organ that had been shipped from Europe more than a century ago.

“They’re just God-fearing people,” Singleton said of his former congregation. “People who lived in modesty in light of the history of the congregation they called home.”

“Where you are is a very special place in Charleston,” the most recent pastor, Clementa Pinckney, told a group of visitors two years ago. “It’s a very special place because this site, this area, has been tied to the history and life of African-Americans since about the early 1800s.”

That history is a long and storied one. The congregation was founded in the era of slavery by Morris Brown, a founding pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1816, frustrated with the racism he encountered in Charleston’s segregated churches, Brown decided to form a church of his own. About 4,000 parishioners followed him — more than 75 percent of the city’s black community, according to a history published by the College of Charleston.

From the beginning, the congregation was a focal point of community organizing and anti-slavery activism — provoking fears and intense distrust among the city’s white population. According to a PBS documentary, white Charlestonians constantly monitored the church, sometimes disrupting services and arresting worshippers.

They had some reason for alarm: Denmark Vesey, the organizer of one of the nation’s most notable failed slave uprisings, was a leader in the church. He fiercely and insistently preached that African-Americans were the new Israelites, that their enslavement would be punished with death, and in 1822 he and other leaders began plotting a rebellion.

The revolt was planned for June 16 — 193 years and one day before the shooting Wednesday night. But another member of the church, a slave named George Wilson, told his master about the plot. Nearly three dozen organizers — including Vesey — were put on trial and executed, while another 60 were banished from the city. Believing that “black religion” had caused the uprising, South Carolina instituted a series of draconian measures against African-American churches and communities, including a ban on services conducted without a white person present. The Charleston A.M.E. congregation was dispersed and their building set ablaze.

After the end of the Civil War, the A.M.E. congregation — which had been conducting services in secret for decades and worked as part of the Underground Railroad — was formally re-established and adopted the name Emanuel. Parishioners rebuilt their church on Calhoun Street, a half mile away from Fort Sumter, where the Civil War’s first shots were fired and, a block from the square that had been a military marching ground during the Civil War and the site of a celebratory parade of African-American residents once the conflict ended.

When that wooden building was destroyed in a 1886 earthquake, the congregation replaced it with the stately gothic revival structure seen today.

The church’s activism resumed along with services, and by the 20th century it had become a focal point of South Carolina’s civil rights movement.

Booker T. Washington spoke there in 1909 to a large audience of both white and black admirers. In 1962, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speach about voting rights and making the “American dream a reality.” So did Roy Wilkins, as executive secretary of the NAACP. In 1969, as Charleston was in the midst of a massive strike aimed at creating a union for the state’s mostly black hospital workers, Coretta Scott King led a march from Emanuel A.M.E.’s steps while 1,000 state troopers and national guardsmen looked on.

“If there was any sort of civil rights protest or activity in Charleston it was almost always centered around that church,” Greene said.

Singleton, the former pastor of Emanuel A.M.E., said the church was still a place for political organizing when he was there. Politicians often dropped in, he recalled. Parishioners organized for community issues.

Pinckney, 41, the current pastor who was in the church when the gunman opened fire, was even more active. For more than a decade he’d served as a member of the South Carolina State Senate. He was an advocate for a bill in the state legislature that would require police officers to wear body cameras, calling it “our No. 1 priority,” according to the Charleston Post and Courier.

For many, the initial response was one of shock.

“If we’re not safe in the church, God, you tell us where we are safe,” mourners at a prayer circle told a reporter for MSNBC.

But Robert Mickey, a University of Michigan political scientist who studies race and politics in the post-War South, noted that activist African-American churches have been targeted before.

“They’ve been sites of black protest and community organizing, and they have long been targets as well,” he said, noting the long list of racist attacks on black churches, particularly the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

The gunman on Wednesday, who police said was about 21 years old, may not have been aware of that history, Mickey added. But the congregation at Emanuel A.M.E., as well as the thousands of people who watched the news of the killings there in horror, certainly did.

“When you’re on the receiving end of the violence, it’s pretty hard not to put it in that context,” Mickey said. “You can’t help but notice the continuities, the violence and fear that constantly these revisit these same communities.”

But Singleton said that the attack on his old church “should be dealt with as an individual,” not as part of some broader trend.

“I think the comparison that you can draw from it is, evil is real and it’s prevalent all over the place,” he said, adding, “I want to encourage people of faith to be prayerful. Embrace our faith and embrace each other.”

Singleton, who preaches in Columbia, S.C., now, said he’ll heading back to Charleston in the next few days. He wants to visit his old congregation, he said, to pay his respects to those who were killed and the church that has had another painful chapter added to its history.

“That church has a legacy, and it won’t be destroyed because of this,” he said, firmly. “Chances are it’ll probably come out stronger.”

Video: A prayer circle formed following the shooting that left nine dead at an historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C.

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How doxing went from a cheap hacker trick to a presidential campaign tactic

Alas for Trump, he’s not exactly a pioneer here: Small-time hackers, message-board flamers and other low-life Internet bullies have made exactly this sort of grand “statement” for more than 20 years.

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In Internet parlance, it’s called doxing: the strategic outing of an opponent’s real name, home address, or other private information, published with the intention of inconveniencing, frightening or straight-up endangering them.

But lately, it seems, the dox is society’s immediate, unthinking reaction to any character or news event with which it doesn’t agree. In the past three weeks alone, vigilantes have doxed Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who shot Cecil the lion; Brian Encina, the Texas police officer who arrested Sandra Black; and more than 300 employees of Planned Parenthood, which was purportedly hacked.

In a predictable karmic twist, even Trump himself got the dox treatment: Gawker published the candidate’s personal phone number on Aug. 3, only too “happy” to add it “to the body of public knowledge.”

“Doxing is not a new thing — far from it,” explains Whitney Phillips, an expert in online trolling and an assistant professor of liberal studies at Penfield College of Mercer University. What is new, Phillips says, is this counterintuitive concept of “doxing for good”: exposing other people’s personal information “as a stand against ‘bad’ behavior, or as a sort of public service.”

The big question, of course, is whether doxing “for good” ever actually does any.

To understand what makes this question so very complicated, you have to first know a little bit about the history of doxing. Phillips cautions that the tactic is a tool: Like a switchblade or a Kalashnikov, it’s not inherently evil — though it’s used for evil more often than not.

The earliest recorded instances of doxing, before “doxing” was even the preferred term, went down in Usenet newsgroups and online bulletin boards, where rabble-rousers wielded real names and addresses like weapons against more vulnerable users.

Later, in the mid-’90s, “dropping docs” — short for documents — became trendy among rival hackers: Not only was digging up an opponent’s identity a good show of skill, but publishing it could also potentially do serious harm to someone, up to landing them in jail.

By the time 4chan and its band of lunatic pranksters emerged from the edges of the Internet in 2003, the dox was well-established as the ultimate “life-ruin tactic”: the absolute height of malevolent Internet prankery. 4chan’s /b/ board, and later Anonymous — the hacker collective it spawned — rejoiced in a good, life-ruining dox, the kind that sent victims scurrying for cover.

Anonymous doxed Hal Turner, the white supremacist radio host, before setting their sights on a range of minor Internet personalities. In 2008, seeking greater laughs and infamy, they doxed the senior leadership of the Church of Scientology.

In hindsight, experts say, that episode may have changed everything.

“Like most previous raids, many expected this hearty ‘f— you’ would run its course and then peter out after a few days of brutal and playful shenanigans,” the anthropologist Gabriella Coleman wrote in her seminal history of Anonymous.

But the raid didn’t peter out: On the contrary, the Scientology scandal struck a rare chord with the mainstream, launching a tidal wave of international press attention. Within days, there were anti-Scientology protests in 127 cities. And overnight, Anonymous — a fringe group of puckish Internet provocateurs — had become “hacktivists.”

You gotta admit: The neologism had a nice ring to it. Even better, anyone with a moral ax to grind could claim to be part of the movement. Since Anonymous is a very loose collective, with no leaders or official membership, joining is as easy as saying you’re in. And as Anonymous became associated with progressive activism, lots of non-hackers were interested.

“I don’t want to say there was ever a watershed moment,” Phillips cautions. “But as Anonymous began to work with progressive causes, social justice campaigns and events also began to integrate its tactics.”

Doxing was chief among these tactics, and Anonymous deployed its full strength on the Steubenville, Ohio, high school football players accused of rape in 2012; many pundits say there would have been no action taken in this case if it wasn’t for Anonymous.

They then went on to dox the man accused of bullying Canadian teenager Amanda Todd to death.

And the police officer who they said shot Michael Brown in Ferguson.

Sometimes Anonymous doxed the wrong people; increasingly, the people would dox on their own, no longer dependent on Anonymous’ skills. Doxing no longer requires a large degree of Internet savvy. We all release so much information online under our real names that, at least for a rudimentary dox, the detective work is as easy as a reverse domain look-up, a public-records check or a quick Google search.

Doxing Walter Palmer was so simple, in fact, that even the actress Mia Farrow got into it the game: “CecilTheLion -Gentle protector of 6 cubs. Loved by many. Killed by Dentist Walter Palmer,” she tweeted casually on July 29, with a screengrab of Palmer’s home address.

There you have it, in black-and-white plain text: The pinnacle of Internet justice.

A year ago this week, at the height of Ferguson’s meltdown, a 14-year-old hacker named David obtained the name, home address and Social Security number of the police officer he believed had shot Michael Brown.

It was a masterpiece of a vigilante dox, a proud fulfillment of the exhortation to only “dox the powerful.” It was also 100 percent, entirely, totally mistaken. David not only had the wrong guy, but he felt absolutely no remorse for any harm or collateral damage that resulted from the actions he’d taken.

“Even if someone has done something objectively terrible, doxing is a problematic response,” Phillips sighs. “You can get information wrong. You can harm people who have nothing to do with it. Your actions can have further repercussions than you expect.”

In short: “Anything that relies on the mob mentality is a powder keg.”

It’s not just that the mob tends toward error and disproportionate responses, either: A group of highly motivated, partisan people can convince themselves that almost any sort of dox qualifies as a strike for the “right” side: Just ask the dozens of journalists who were doxed for merely covering divisive stories this year, or the gamers, designers and critics whose deeply frightening cases are currently in the hands of the FBI.

According to the strain of logic popular in those doxers’ IRC channels and message boards, they’re not actually harassing anyone: They’re just “watching the watchers.”

Incidentally, that’s the basic justification Trump used when he handed out Senator Graham’s phone number in late July: “Your local politician, you know?” he quipped, implying the move was some kind of pro-social, pro-government-transparency strike.

There’s no dressing up a dox, though — even a dox intended for good.

“Even when they come from a good place,” Phillips said, “they open too many cans of worms.”

Dewey writes The Post’s The Intersect web channel covering digital and Internet culture. 杭州桑拿网,杭州桑拿,washingtonpost杭州桑拿会所,/news/the-intersect/

Can a former corrections official help integrate our national parklands?

“There,” he said, wiping his hands on his pants.

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“Those tents are so easy, anyone can do it. Even me.”

He crawled inside and in minutes was sleeping, his snores joining the cacophony created by birds and crickets. It was the end of an exhausting day.

That morning, York had joined volunteers from across the country who were attending a two-week wilderness skills program focused on maintaining trails, which is a massive ongoing project that costs the Forest Service $75 million annually but is necessary to keep visitors on the paths and away from animal habitats.

Getting to the training location would require a steep hike straight up the mountain. York had looked up at the blue sky, its puffs of white clouds held in place by the stagnant heat of the day, and removed his baseball cap to wipe the sweat dripping down his bearded face. Although the title “leader of wilderness programs” might conjure a rugged image, York, dressed in a brown and green plaid shirt and tan pants, looked more paper-pusher than outdoorsman.

Rather than working his way up through the Forest Service, the 59-year-old came to the position after a controversial tenure as a corrections official, including a stint as interim head of the D.C. jails. The first African-American leader of wilderness programs, he had never been to a wilderness in the United States before his hiring.

He peppers his speech with sayings like, “To walk the yard is to own the yard,” and says he has “no clue” why the Forest Service chose him. But following decades in law enforcement and corrections, York believes nature can be a positive force in the lives of at-risk kids, and he has made it part of his job to encourage young people from troubled and low-income neighborhoods to find purpose in the wilderness.

York put the cap back on. “OK, let’s do it,” he said in his deep Southern drawl and started following the trail, slick from the previous night’s heavy rains, past thick branches of mountain laurel with pink-tinged white blossoms.

After a few teetering stops and starts, York slowly reached a dip in the trail, where volunteers were building and repairing retaining walls under the guidance of the Jolly Rovers, an Upstate New York-based band of experts that travels the country teaching others the art of constructing stone walls and staircases.

York sat on a large flat rock, surveying the workers. Once again, despite the fact that the training program was advertised widely, he was the only black person in the crowd of white. Part of the Forest Service’s mandate is to improve diversity within both the workforce and the visiting public – and here was just one more example of the challenge facing him.

By 2050, U.S. Census figures predict, the United States will be mostly a brown and black country. Yet hundreds of millions of acres of public land are rarely used by this portion of the citizenry. According to the Forest Service, which manages 193 million acres in 44 states and territories, only about 1 percent of visitors from 2010 through 2014 were black, and less than 6 percent were Hispanic. The other federal agencies that manage public lands report similar numbers. (See below.)

Addressing such disparity is “critical,” said Mary Ellen Sprenkel, chief executive of the Corps Network, which supports national service programs. “We need to make sure people from other backgrounds and cultures understand the importance of natural space, or we won’t have the ability to preserve these places for future generations.”

The low number of minority visitors to the outdoors is a long-term issue that has moved toward the forefront of the nation’s consciousness only in the past decade or so, as demographic change has accelerated.

“People of color for many years were deterred from taking advantage of their public lands,” said Reginald “Flip” Hagood, chairman of the diversity committee for the governing council of the Wilderness Society. “There is a long history there.”

According to Hagood, integration of the outdoors has been hampered by discrimination (in certain areas, people of color were denied access through segregation), as well as cultural differences and economic issues.

“Most blacks of my generation are scared to go into the woods because they don’t know if they are going to come out,” York said. “It would be a great shame if we allowed this feeling to continue. People need to know the land is also for them.”

According to Denise Ottaviano of the public affairs office, “It is part of the Forest Service mission to employ individuals from diverse groups, encourage diverse groups to utilize their public lands, and also partner with organizations from diverse backgrounds to take care of Forest Service land. In some way, all Forest Service employees play a role in diversity.”

In its minority outreach, the Forest Service has especially focused on urban youths, who traditionally have not participated in environmental stewardship. (Rural kids are also a concern; they no longer can be counted on to become the next generation of foresters and firefighters as video games have replaced their interest in the outdoors.)

To that end, it manages Children’s Forests, areas where youths can connect with and learn about the outdoors, and urban field stations, including one in Baltimore, where scientists and researchers work with the community to enhance the natural environment. (Among the issues the Baltimore station is addressing is the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.)

The other agencies – including the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – fund or partner with similar programs geared toward kids, such as the Obama administration’s Every Kid in a Park.That initiative debuted in September and provides free passes to encourage fourth-graders and their families to visit public lands during the school year.

York believes his role is bigger than simply introducing young minorities to the outdoors. “We don’t want to bring kids in for a one-time photo op,” he said; he wants them to learn from an experience. The wilderness, he added, is “an equal-opportunity provider. There is no discrimination. If you don’t chop wood for the fire, you are cold; if you don’t boil hard water, you are thirsty.”

Born in 1956 to a mother who was a teacher and a father who owned a construction company, York grew up in Richmond, his life straddling the vestiges of the Jim Crow era. Weekends and summers were spent in Chesterfield, Virginia, with his cousins, swimming in the pond, chasing ducks and picking blackberries. York would sleep outside during the hazy summer nights, staring at the stars above, and although Chesterfield wasn’t far from Richmond, it felt worlds away.

Back in town, York’s mother taught in housing projects, often pillaging clothes from his closet to bring to the poorer students. His grandfather was head maitre’d at Richmond’s famed Jefferson Hotel. He taught York about personal responsibility and taking pride in work, and sometimes sneaked in his beloved grandson to see the alligators swimming in the Palm Court lobby.

“He worked there his whole life,” York said. “But he was never allowed through the front door.”

The local park had a sign that said, “No Coloreds, No Dogs Allowed.” He and friends went there anyway. At movies, they sat in the balcony.

But for York – who says, “I understood oppression but never felt oppressed” – there also was playing in the woods and the all-black Boy Scout troop run by his church. “I didn’t know we were poor until I got to college,” he said.

His mother, who fiercely loved her only child, wanted him to have broad cultural experiences. She made York take ballet and tap dancing and taught him to talk “of cabbages and kings.” But perhaps most important, she scrimped to send him to a summer camp that catered to the children of black professionals. York attended Camp Atwater in East Brookfield, Massachusetts, from age 8 to 15, and memories of those years helped him maintain his affinity with the outdoors.

York’s life changed forever in the early 1970s, when Richmond schools were forced to desegregate. On the first day, as a bus took him and other city kids out to the suburbs, the children lay on the floor while rocks were thrown through the windows. “Going to an integrated school wasn’t as much about fear as it was about anger,” said York. “What I did learn from integration was that white schools had more equipment and privilege.”

Spurred by his mother and his peers at Camp Atwater, he channeled his emotions toward his education. York graduated from Howard University in Washington, then went to Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University. He spent his early career, which included a stint as a municipal judge, in Houston. He has been married twice; his wife, Michelle “Angie” Davis-York, lives in Florida, where she had been caring for her mother, who died recently. He has no children.

In 1993, York moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands to train prosecutors before becoming principal assistant attorney general. He then became acting corrections director for a department that, following a class-action lawsuit, was under court order to fix dangerous and inhumane conditions at its jail.

In 1996, jail inmates complained that the conditions had not been improved. But before a judge could rule, York quit, returning to Richmond to take care of his mother, who had had a stroke. Remaining jail officials were found in contempt.

In 1997, he was hired by the D.C. Corrections Department as an attorney, then in 2005 became interim corrections director. Before assuming the directorship, he had been in charge of inmate transfers during the tumultuous closing of the infamous Lorton Reformatory, a process stemming from lawsuits about overcrowding that led to more lawsuits and abuse investigations.

York contends that he inherited problems in both the Virgin Islands and the District, and should have been credited for taking steps to resolve them. Although he had supporters, he was not confirmed as permanent director. He moved to Key West, Florida, to work as the head of pretrial services for the 16th Judicial Circuit.

By then, York said, he was tired of the violence and lack of rehabilitation in the justice system. He wanted, and needed, something different. He heard about the Forest Service’s wilderness leader position in 2011, and it got him thinking: His undergraduate degree was in zoology, and he remembered his Camp Atwater days fondly, though he hadn’t continued outdoor activities; maybe he could make a change by introducing troubled minority youths to public lands.

“I think they saw something that they liked or thought worked best for the agency, took a chance to invest time and training to bring me up to their expectations,” he said. “So far it is working, as best as I can tell. I like what I do and I like the folks I work with.”

No one at the Forest Service would comment directly on York’s hiring, saying it is a personnel issue covered by the Privacy Act. But “someone with Elwood’s background and network” is able to make different connections than “many of us born and raised and moving through the ranks of the conservation community,” said Leslie Weldon, deputy chief of the National Forest System and York’s boss. The first female African-American in her position, Weldon understands the diversity struggle and has often been the only person of color out in the field.

“Elwood has done a great job of building additional bridges and opportunities,” she said.

When they heard about his new job, his friends thought he had lost his mind. “We did the Boy Scouts, but we are urban people,” said his childhood best friend James McCollum, now a lawyer in Washington. But in a way, York said, the change has saved him: “My only wish is that I got this job when I was 40 years old.” Now, he says, the purpose in his life is clear and hopeful.

York has sent five groups of inner-city youths to the wilderness through the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, which has partnered with the federal government and local organizations across the country to recruit 100,000 youths and veterans over 10 years to protect and restore the country’s great outdoors.

“Very easily in another life I could be looking at the same kid through a set of bars,” York said. Wilderness experiences, he added, “can be a lifesaver.”

But they aren’t necessarily easy to set up. York has had to battle barriers including lack of proper gear and families’ unfamiliarity with the tradition of camping.He has held a shoe drive to ensure all kids had the correct footwear and personally persuaded parents to let their kids visit the wilderness.

One of the five Corps wilderness trips he organized included boys from Baltimore and Washington who were so frightened by the total darkness in Taos, New Mexico, that they couldn’t sleep. Another involved the first Native American wilderness corps program, outside Phoenix. And York traveled to the San Bernardino Forest with the Urban Conservation Corps of the Inland Empire, which is made up mostly of Latino, Asian and African-American youths from high-crime neighborhoods. Their work “restores broken lives and prevents catastrophic wildfire disasters,” according to its director, Sandy Bonilla.

York coordinates with groups promoting National Public Lands Day, an annual September tradition to encourage people to get outdoors. This year it was Sept. 26; in the run-up he planned to celebrate Sept. 18 on the Anacostia River with the Earth Conservation Corps and Sept. 19 at an Urban Kids Fishing Derby at the Mall’s Constitution Gardens. He spent last year’s Public Lands Day by the San Gorgonio Wilderness area, about an hour from Los Angeles, where he met some older women who fell asleep in their lawn chairs, lulled by the peace.

And he visits youth programs and schools monthly to encourage minority students to consider careers in the Forest Service. At all-black St. Augustine in Northwest Washington, he showed up with a “Buffalo Soldier” dressed in a navy blue uniform, with a yellow bandanna and the original Smoky Bear hat. The soldier got the children to stop squirming by telling them how members of these African-American regiments were among the first park rangers, enduring heat and disease to build some of the first wilderness trails.

“To see a person who looks like you and talks like you goes a long way,” York said.

Next on York’s list is bringing baby boomers into the wilderness and connecting them with younger people: “They have the resources to reach back a generation and bring people along.”

But it’s clear his passion is with urban kids in troubled neighborhoods. “We live in worlds of concrete and steel,” York said. “People must believe in something. They need to have hope. And what can be more hopeful than Mother Nature?”

On the last day of the wilderness skills institute, York drove down winding roads past the roaring waters of Looking Glass Falls to the Schenck Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center. The Forest Service-run center is one of 28 that are part of the larger federal Job Corps program and offer 40,000 low-income youth ages 16 to 24 training for jobs in natural resource management.

Nestled on the banks of the Davidson River, Schenck has a school, an auto shop, a welding building and a carpentry studio. But York was most interested in the advanced forestry and wilderness fire program run by Mickey Beland, a 75-year-old ranger with twinkling blue eyes.

“I’m an old-school forest guy, and I’m obsolete in some areas,” Beland said. “But if we can get students interested now, at this age, they have a bright future.” He said most of his trainees are fleeing something when they arrive at the center. “They don’t want to live in the city anymore. They want to find a connection that is not hostile.”

Two students, Oriente Lowe and Brian Davis Jr., both 21, later took a break from cutting bamboo roots to talk with York about how the forest had inspired a new direction in their lives.

“I was surrounded by negativity all the time. There was drug abuse and violence happening,” said Lowe of his hometown, Byron, Georgia. “But now I see I can have a career, not just a job. And I feel at home when I’m working in the woods. I’m at peace, I feel calm.”

Davis, too, was happy to be out of his home town: East Baltimore. “I couldn’t focus in school,” he said. “Every day, I woke up and thought this couldn’t be my life.”

Though it took him a while to get used to the quiet, the bugs and being unable to walk to a store, Davis, who wants to be a wilderness firefighter, said he feels “a whole lot safer” in the woods. “I don’t worry about my life in danger. I don’t have to deal with police or worry about the consequence of other people’s actions.”

Another new experience: being detailed to Redmond, Oregon, to fight a fire last year. Crowds waved at the firefighters as they drove through town, and a woman gave him a cup of coffee, refusing his money, he recalled. “People I’ve never met in my life thanked me.”

York listened to the young men, nodding. These were the faces he had hoped to see at the skills institute. He gave Davis his card and shook his hand, smiling and joking about getting him a firefighting job in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, his earlier fatigue gone, invigorated by the connection. The sun was poking through the clouds dotting the sky, and off in the background was the distinct but muted rushing sound of the river.

“We are just the seed planters, not the gardeners,” York said afterward. “We just can hope that something in them catches the fire. And grows.”

VISITORS TO PUBLIC LANDS

Four federal agencies – the Forest Service, Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management – administer more than 723 million acres of public land across all states and Puerto Rico. Three keep breakdowns of visitors by race and ethnicity:

– Fish and Wildlife Service*

American Indian or Alaska Native 4%

Asian 1%

Black or African-American 1%

Native Hawaiianor Pacific Islander 1%

White, non-Hispanic 96%

Hispanic or Latino(any race) 4%

*2010-11 survey of service’s 53 national wildlife refuges; numbers do not total 100% because respondents could select more than one race

– Forest Service**

American Indian or Alaska Native 2.3% national forests, 1.7% wilderness

Asian 2.3% forests, 3.1% wilderness

Black or African-American 1.2% forests, 0.7% wilderness

Hawaiian or Pacific Islander 1.2% forest, 0.7% wilderness

White 94.9% forest, 95.6% wilderness

Spanish, Hispanic or Latino (any race) 5.5% forest, 5.9% wilderness

** 2010-14 survey; numbers do not total 100% because respondents could select more than one race

– Park Service***

American Indian or Alaska Native 1%

Asian 3%

African-American 7%

White, non-Hispanic 78%

Hispanic (any race) 9%

***2008-09 survey of U.S. households; numbers do not total 100% because of rounding

Eagle ‘hot spot’ in Virginia could be replaced by a golf course and homes

But if the corporation that owns the land where they live has its way, moving day will come soon.

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Richmond County recently approved a request from Diatomite Corporation of America to rezone a large section of the cliffs for a sprawling resort with pricey housing and an 18-hole golf course atop a habitat used by tens of thousands of eagles each year.

The proposed development on the rezoned land has set off a heated skirmish in sleepy Richmond County, which federal troops occupied during the Civil War. It also is known as the place where native tribes fired arrows at explorer John Smith as he sailed through in 1608. In the fall, the county board will consider whether to allow construction.

Opponents such as the Chesapeake Conservancy and Friends of the Rappahannock say wiping away hundreds of trees will destroy the scenery that Smith viewed before English settlers arrived.

Even worse, they say, a resort that would take years to build could permanently damage one of the most important gathering places for eagles in the Chesapeake Bay region. Hundreds of eagles live there, and as many as 20,000 visit to feed on shad, herring and blue catfish as they migrate between Canada and South America. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, also has expressed concern.

“This is a global hot spot,” said Bryan Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology, a research group that studies nature and birds at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. “There’s no other place on the continent like the Chesapeake Bay for eagles, and this place is one of the most important places in the bay. It’s an eagle magnet.”

But a backer of the project said the conservationists are part of “a cabal of interests,” including property owners along the Rappahannock, who are using environmental issues as a wedge to keep the remote and quiet landscape to themselves. He described their opposition as a NIMBY movement — “not in my back yard.”

“You feel like you’re being shot at all the time,” said Robert Smith, an attorney for Diatomite, which is based in Miami, according to court records. The land that conservationists call historic and pristine was once denuded for resources to fight the Civil War, Smith said. Now, the eagle population, which has rebounded nationwide after being classified as endangered, is so plentiful that they appear to be everywhere in Virginia, he said.

“It’s a false assumption that man and nature can’t co-exist,” Smith said.

– – – –

The bald eagle is one of the biggest success stories of the Endangered Species Act. America’s national symbol was nearly eliminated by destruction of its habitat, food contamination, illegal shooting and pesticide use in the 1970s. But the population recovered with protection and was removed from the endangered list eight years ago.

On a recent Tuesday, about two dozen brown-feathered eagles,1-year-old and younger, playfully screeched and swooped at each other over the Rappahannock. Nearby, an adult bald eagle glided over still water and snatched a fish.

They inhabit Fones Cliffs, where bluffs a 1,000 feet high overlook a wide section of the river. The Fish and Wildlife Service attempted to purchase the land in recent years but failed. And a budget request by President Barack Obama this year that would have provided funds to conserve a major portion of the property was denied by Congress, said Joel Dunn, president and chief executive of the Chesapeake Conservancy, who helped lobby for that effort.

Diatomite bought the land in the 1950s for a chalky sedimentary rock of the same name. The rock was heralded for its many uses — from an additive in cement to a kitchen grease cleanser to a purifier of beer. But cheaper substitutes have lessened its value.

Three years ago the company envisioned another use for the property. The land would be developed for a 116-room lodge, guest cottages and a 150-seat restaurant, as well as 718 homes that would cost between $300,000 and $500,000, said Morgan Quicke, Richmond County’s administrator.

“This is certainly much bigger than anything than we’ve ever been a part of,” Quicke said.

Diatomite promised the county planning board that the development will bring new jobs and added tax revenue to a county still recovering from the 2008 recession.

In a nod to county history, Smith said in a February presentation that “monuments will be erected to recognize John Smith and the first English settlers.” An 18-hole championship golf course would tie everything together.

And Smith, the attorney, said that there would be millions of dollars in additional tax revenue. Conservation easements that protect virgin land from development now yield $5 per acre in taxes for the county. “Our property . . . will generate approximately $9,000 per acre,” Smith said.

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But will buyers flock to what Quicke described as “a very rural part of the county . . . big farms, big land owners, big tracts of land, narrow roads” 35 miles from the small city of Fredericksburg? The largest road, two-lane Route 624 is so sparsely traveled that workers didn’t bother to paint a yellow stripe.

Most homes in the area cost no more than $150,000, and they would be dwarfed by the 3,500-square-foot houses in the proposed project.

The county board of supervisors will start considering the proposal in the fall, a process that could take a year. Its attraction to buyers is “something that needs to be determined as we go through the process,” Quicke said.

Diatomite says there’s a market, but what the county “might consider is maybe getting a second opinion.”

Hill Wellford, whose 2,200-acre property sits along the river, said there’s no reason to think that people will flock to the area after eagles are chased from Fones Cliffs. Wellford joined one of several conservation groups opposed to the project and wrote a letter to the planning board to denounce the project.

“The vision is not to be against development, but to focus on how to protect essential natural features, spawning crabs and bird habitat,” said Wellford, a retired lawyer.

Wellford said that 10 active eagle nests are on his land. Through binoculars, he recently watched two nesting, one with a lifeless fish in its talons. “You realize you’re seeing something special.”

But Smith argues that Virginia’s eagle population has grown to a saturation point, so large that younger birds cannot find unoccupied territory. Citing Watts and other bird experts, Smith said eagles “will nest at airports, on a chimney, at nuclear power plants.”

Yet Watts, with the Center for Conservation Biology, said he is strongly opposed to development.

Watts said he has debunked past arguments by conservationists who sought to stop developments by using the destruction of the eagle habitat as an excuse. But “this is different than those. That area is a nexus for populations across the coast. There’s a much larger public good at Fones Cliffs that trumps local landowner rights.”