Opinion | Trump and the ‘Emergency’: An Update

To the Editor:

Re “Trump Calls Emergency, Defying Congress” (front page, Feb. 16):

Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their country. The president has crossed a red line, and the people know it.

If you have Republican members of Congress, right now is the time to tell them, in no uncertain terms, that you will absolutely not vote for them in 2020 unless they reject President Trump’s unconstitutional abuse of authority in declaring an emergency when no such emergency exists.

The only thing that will change the course of events in this country is when Republicans start to see their power erode and say “no more.” When we promise that their own jobs are on the line unless they stand up to President Trump’s blatant act of autocracy, the tide will turn and we will begin to reclaim our democracy.

Republicans, and Americans who have Republican lawmakers, only you can prevent dictatorship. Call your members of Congress today.

Peggy Lee Scott
Berkeley, Calif.

To the Editor:

One of the critical pillars of the American system is that we do not use the military to manage the people. Declaring a false emergency to support government by tantrum is the camel’s nose: a powerful step toward the dictatorship that President Trump dreams of.

This is the blatant bridge too far. If Congress fails to remove this clear and present danger, we must put down our pens and our devices and head, peacefully, into the streets.

Ann Norvell Gray
Richmond, Va.

To the Editor:

If President Trump were smart, he would focus on a wall that is actually needed: a firewall against foreign intrusion into our data infrastructure.

But our cyberspace isn’t a tangible object, like Trump Tower, to which he can point and claim credit. And, after all, its breach is what largely got him elected.

Martha D. Trowbridge
New York

To the Editor:

Re “A Detailed History of Trump’s Signature Promise, in His Own Words” (graphic, Feb. 17):

Your list of President Trump’s promises that Mexico would pay for a border wall parallels earlier lists of President Trump’s many other such promises.

These lists leave us with an overarching question: Did the president know that he was lying — that Mexico would never pay for a wall — in which case he has to be the greatest scoundrel in American political history?

Or does he really think that he is uttering actual truths, in which case he is the most delusional person in American political history?

Fellow citizens, choose your poison!

Manfred Weidhorn
Fair Lawn, N.J.

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Huawei, Karl Lagerfeld, India: Your Wednesday Briefing

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Good morning.

Huawei’s founder rebukes the U.S., religion-based violence spikes in India, and Karl Lagerfeld’s death leaves a hole in an industry largely defined by him. Here’s the latest:

States sue Trump over national emergency declaration

Days after President Trump declared a national emergency at the border in order to build his long-promised wall, 16 states banded together to challenge him and his top officials in court.

Details: The lawsuit argues that the president doesn’t have the power to divert federal funds to build the wall because Congress controls spending, setting up a constitutional clash over the scope of presidential emergency powers.

What next? The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives is also gearing up to confront the president, including the possibility of bringing its own lawsuit.

Though Congress doesn’t have the power to stop the president from declaring a national emergency, the House and Senate can end the emergency status if they believe the president is acting irresponsibly.

Go deeper: Mr. Trump’s declaration was the first to authorize military action since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Here’s how other presidents have used the emergency power.

Another angle: Our limited-run weekly newsletter, Crossing the Border, offers a deeper understanding of an issue that seems to have taken over the U.S. political agenda.

Mr. Trump’s other problems: Our team of reporters looks at how, over two years of beating back investigations, the president has exposed himself to a widening obstruction of justice inquiry.

Vatican admits to secret rules for priests with children

The Roman Catholic Church confirmed, apparently for the first time, that it has general guidelines for what to do when clerics break celibacy vows and end up fathering children, a growing issue that strikes at the heart of the Vatican’s culture of secrecy.

The children are often the result of affairs with nuns or laywomen while others are the product of rape or abuse — raising uncomfortable questions about whether the church should loosen its celibacy requirements, as other Christian churches have.

By the numbers: While it’s difficult to estimate how many such children exist, one dedicated support group website has 50,000 users in 175 countries.

What next? The children of priests are among the many people who feel they have been wronged by the church and are descending on Rome to press their cause during the Vatican’s landmark meeting on sexual abuse this week.

Huawei founder slams U.S. for ‘politically motivated’ case

Ren Zhengfei accused the U.S. of bringing criminal charges against his daughter, a top executive at the Chinese telecommunication giant, for political reasons.

Mr. Ren made the unusually sharp comments, a departure from his previous reluctance to comment, in an interview with the BBC, as a Canadian judge prepares in coming weeks to hear arguments on whether his daughter, Meng Wanzhou, should be transferred to the U.S. to stand trial.

Background: Ms. Meng was arrested in December by Canadian authorities at the request of the U.S. Last month, the Justice Department accused her and Huawei of trying to steal trade secrets, obstructing a criminal investigation and evading sanctions against Iran.

The arrest added strains to U.S.-China relations already damaged by an escalating trade war and coincided with a U.S. effort to pressure other Western government to turn on Huawei.

Canada has warned the U.S. not to use the extradition process to pursue political ends.

Karl Lagerfeld, a prolific designer who reshaped fashion, is dead at 85

The luxury fashion designer, with his signature dark glasses and powdered white ponytail, was one of the most recognizable faces of an industry he helped define.

Our director of fashion coverage, Vanessa Friedman, called him the most prolific designer of the 20th and 21st centuries. He served as creative director at Chanel since 1983 and Fendi since 1965, and had his own line.

In his 80s, when most of his peers were retiring, he was designing almost 14 new collections a year. Read the full obituary.

Impact: By reinventing and modernizing heritage brands, he dragged them into “the present with a healthy dose of disrespect and a dollop of pop culture.”

Famous quotes: Among the witty aphorisms and quips that were eventually collected in a book, “The World According to Karl”: “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat” and “I’m very much down to earth. Just not this earth.”

Succession plan: Virginie Viard, Mr. Lagerfeld’s right and left hand, is the new creative director at Chanel. Fendi, however, will name a replacement “later.”

Here’s what else is happening

India: A new report by Human Rights Watch found that since India’s 2014 elections brought Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party to power, attacks on religious minorities have spiked and the authorities have blocked investigations into homicides or even filed charges against victims’ families.

Iran: A commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards said at least three Pakistani citizens were among the assailants responsible for killing 27 members of his force in a suicide truck bombing last week, one of the deadliest attacks in the country in years.

McKinsey: The global consulting firm operates a secret $12.3 billion hedge fund, prompting questions about conflicts of interest. The firm says the fund is completely separate from its consulting arm and doesn’t benefit from any inside knowledge.

Honda: The Japanese automaker, grappling with the slowing global market, confirmed that it planned to close its plant in Britain, which employs 3,500 people, by 2021. The news was a blow for the country, which has experienced an exodus of businesses as it prepares to withdraw from the E.U.

Egypt: Officials detained a veteran New York Times correspondent, David Kirkpatrick, after he arrived in Cairo from London, holding him for seven hours without food, water or an explanation before sending him back to London. The case exemplifies the increasingly severe crackdown against the news media under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

China: A new Zara ad featuring the model Jing Wen with striking crimson lipstick and little other makeup to hide her freckles has created an uproar in a country that views freckles as blemishes. Some online users even accused the Spanish fashion brand of imposing Western beauty standards on Chinese women.

Ai Weiwei: A segment the dissident artist directed for an anthology film, “Berlin, I Love You,” was cut from the final version, and he said the producers told him the reason was that investors, distributors and other partners had raised concerns about his political sensitivity in China.

Bernie Sanders: The Vermont senator and Democratic primary runner-up in the 2016 presidential election embarked on a run for 2020, bringing his liberal populist agenda to an increasingly crowded field.

Australian War Memorial: Plans to expand significantly the Canberra memorial to add more on the country’s role in Iraq and Afghanistan are drawing criticism that the changes will minimize the far larger losses in World War I and II, as well as concern that the current conflicts will be sanitized to legitimize continuing troop deployments.

Nigella Lawson: Two decades after the release of her first book, “How to Eat,” the celebrity home cook reflects on her fame and the scrutiny that came with it. “I remember complaining in the book that no one ate kale anymore,” she told our Australia Fare columnist, Besha Rodell.

Smarter Living

Tips for a more fulfilling life.

Recipe of the day: Dates add a welcome touch of sweetness to savory sesame chicken with cashews.

Want a flattering selfie? Here’s how find your good side.

If someone you know is in mourning, here’s what to say (and what not to say).

Back Story

Did Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan nominate President Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize? Mr. Trump says he did, but Mr. Abe has declined to comment, citing a Nobel policy of 50 years of secrecy for the process.

But an insider could always write a tell-all book. In 2015, the longtime secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Geir Lundestad, did just that, infuriating the committee.

Among his revelations: The controversial decision to honor Barack Obama just months into his presidency was intended to strengthen his campaign to rid the world of nuclear weapons. And Mr. Obama considered not going to Norway to accept the award, but realized that would only create more uproar.

Back to Mr. Trump — he is definitely in the running this year. Two Norwegian lawmakers have said that they nominated him after his Singapore meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea.

The Nobel is announced in October.

Andrea Kannapell, the briefings editor, wrote today’s Back Story.

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BlackRock, KKR plan $4 billion-$5 billion investment in ADNOC pipeline unit: FT

(Reuters) – U.S. investment firms BlackRock Inc and KKR & Co Inc are in advanced talks to take a $4 billion to $5 billion stake in Abu Dhabi National Oil Co’s (ADNOC) pipeline network, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday.

The deal could be signed as early as next week, the newspaper reported, citing people briefed on the matter.

State-owned ADNOC was looking to sell a stake in its multibillion-dollar pipeline infrastructure assets, Reuters had reported bit.ly/2GySytx in early October.

ADNOC has started a major transformation drive in the past two years to make it more competitive and commercially focused like other state-owned peers, selling and listing stakes in parts of its business.

BlackRock and KKR did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment, while ADNOC declined to comment.

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Opinion | A Happy Marriage Between God and Budget Deficits

KARACHI, Pakistan A few years ago, when my wife and I decided to name our newborn son Changez — which sounds like “CHAN-GAZE” — my older sister was livid. “But he was a mass murderer; he killed so many people.” The connection to Genghis (Khan) hadn’t really occurred to us. The name sounded nice, and we had announced it. “What did you have in mind instead?” I asked my sister. She suggested a prophet’s name. I said that the prophet might have had to kill a few people, too. Every ruler in history has had to kill a few people. And that doesn’t stop other people from celebrating them.

When Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, arrived in Pakistan on Sunday there was an air of celebration and no mention of murder. A few journalists put up as their display picture on social media photographs of the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October. They got calls from their bosses to remove the shots, and most of them did. Otherwise, our TV screens turned into a welcoming red carpet. It was a unique visit, we were told again and again.

Mundane logistical details sparkled, as these things do when they come in contact with royalty. The Pakistani government has been on an austerity drive, and a while ago it auctioned off many of its luxury vehicles. But now it was renting 300 Prado SUVs to carry the Saudi delegates. Pakistani officials were tasked with sourcing 3,500 pigeons to release on the prince’s arrival. There was dancing on the streets. Air force jets escorted the prince’s plane as it entered our air space. Yes, it was a royal welcome.

For days before Prince Mohammed’s arrival, TV journalists were breathless with anticipation. Eighty containers full of the prince’s stuff were expected to arrive in advance. A special gym was set up in the house of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Two kids with bouquets as big as themselves greeted the prince in the prime minister’s house. They got a pat and a kiss on their heads. Poor kids.

It’s often said here that Saudi Arabia is the undisputed leader of the ummah, the worldwide community of Muslims, because its rulers are the custodians of the sacred sites in Mecca and Medina. Pakistan, with its nuclear arsenal, considers itself the guardian of the custodians. We are told that all of us are brothers in faith, but relations really just boil down to the fact that Saudi Arabia is bailing Pakistan out of yet another economic crisis. It’s a happy marriage between God and budget deficits. Prince Mohammed just promised us investments worth $20 billion. One might think that it’s his dad’s money he is spending. But Pakistanis seem to think that since God has blessed Saudi Arabia with so many riches, we are only getting our fair share.

Being promised billions tends to make you forget that the custodian of our sacred cities has caused more misery to the ummah than most nations on this Earth. Not only does Saudi Arabia continue to bomb one of the poorest Muslim countries in the world; it also refuses to pay wages to the poor laborers it imports from Pakistan and elsewhere, or it locks them up and throws away the key. Prince Mohammed won over lots of Pakistani hearts when, after a plea from Mr. Khan, he announced the release of more than 2,000 Pakistani prisoners from Saudi jails. Nobody questioned the merits of a justice system in which a prince can release thousands of prisoners because he is in a good mood. How many can he jail when he is having a bad day?

After declaring the prince a great modernizer and a “global thinker,” the West got a rude shock when it heard that he may have ordered Mr. Khashoggi’s gruesome murder. He had been exalted in these pages and many other places. The media coverage both before and after the murder has turned Prince Mohammed into an international brand.

His victory tour of Asia comes as India is threatening Pakistan with revenge for a suicide attack in Kashmir that killed more than 40 Indian soldiers last week. (There was another deadly attack on Monday.) Nobody is expecting the prince to do anything about Pakistan and India being on the brink of a war yet again. Like all little princes he does not have to pick sides or make a choice. When he visits India this week, he is expected to sign more investment deals. The Pakistani government calls his visit historic, and Indian officials call it historic. But only people with no sense of history call every passing chariot a historic event. The prince is playing with Pakistan and India because he is being temporarily snubbed by the boys and girls of the West, the ones he really wanted to play with.

This visit brings back old memories of when, following the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Saudi Arabia started giving Pakistan lots of money to fight the communists, bringing fortunes to a few people and a rabid and enduring sectarianism to the rest. In Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia matched the United States dollar for dollar, and together they spawned a multinational jihad complex that still haunts the world.

In the buildup to Prince Mohammed’s arrival in Pakistan this week, some small groups made muted noises about his brutal war on Yemen and started the #MBSNotWelcome hashtag. The Ministry of Interior issued a notice singling out “disgruntled members of the ‘Shia community’” as those “mostly involved in this nefarious activity to malign” Saudi Arabia. When it was pointed out that this sounded like old-fashioned sectarianism, the ministry issued a second notice saying it was starting an inquiry into why the first one had been issued. Mr. Khan heads the Interior Ministry.

Mr. Khan is so smitten with Prince Mohammed that he insisted on driving His Royal Highness himself. Referring to the prince’s popularity in Pakistan, the prime minister joked that if the prince contested an election in Pakistan, the prince would get more votes than he. Only, the prince doesn’t seem to be in a mood to contest elections, from here or anywhere. He is keen on the old family feud, though.

At a joint news conference in Islamabad on Monday, the Saudi foreign minister launched into a diatribe against Iran and called it the chief supporter of terrorism in the world. TV channels quickly muted his speech. The Pakistani foreign minister chose to mute himself. The same day, Prince Mohammed was given Pakistan’s highest civilian award. All this comes at a time when the Iranian government is blaming Pakistan for a suicide bombing in Iran last week that killed at least 27 Revolutionary Guards.

Pakistan may welcome goods coming from the Saudi royalty, but it should think about what might be asked of it in return.

Mohammed Hanif (@mohammedhanif) is the author of the novels “A Case of Exploding Mangoes,” “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti” and “Red Birds.” He is a contributing opinion writer.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

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Pipeline firm Targa to sell 45 percent stake in Bakken assets for $1.6 billion

(Reuters) – U.S. oil pipeline operator Targa Resources will sell a 45 percent stake in some of its assets in the Bakken region for $1.6 billion as it looks to reduce debt, the company said on Tuesday.

The sale, to funds managed by GSO Capital Partners and Blackstone, comes as pipeline capacity in the Bakken, the third-largest U.S. oil field, has tightened after oil producers ramped up production following a recovery in oil prices last year.

Targa’s assets are located in the Bakken and Three Forks Shale regions of the Williston Basin in North Dakota and includes about 480 miles of crude oil-gathering pipelines.

Evercore was Targa’s financial adviser on the sale, while Citi advised Blackstone. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter of 2019.

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Border Wall, Venezuela, Vatican: Your Tuesday Briefing

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Good morning,

We start today with a multistate lawsuit over President Trump’s national emergency declaration, an impending showdown in Venezuela, and the Vatican’s secret guidelines for priests who have children.

16 states sue over emergency declaration

A coalition of states, including California and New York, challenged President Trump in court on Monday over his plan to use emergency powers to pay for a wall on the border with Mexico.

The suit, filed in San Francisco, argues that the president doesn’t have the power to divert funds because it is Congress that controls spending. Read the full lawsuit here.

Catch up: The lawsuit is part of a constitutional battle that Mr. Trump set off last week when he declared a national emergency in order to use money that lawmakers declined to give him.

Go deeper: Presidents have declared national emergencies nearly five dozen times since 1976. Never before has one been used after Congress rejected funding for a particular policy.

President Trump warns Venezuela’s military

Mr. Trump said on Monday that forces loyal to President Nicolás Maduro stand to “lose everything” by refusing to allow in emergency aid that has been blocked at the border.

Mr. Trump’s remarks at a rally in Florida came five days before a deadline that his administration and the Venezuelan opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, have declared for getting aid into the country, which has experienced long shortages of food and medicine.

What’s next: It’s unclear how the Venezuelan opposition would break the blockade. John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, said the U.S. military, which has airlifted supplies to the Venezuela-Colombia border, would not enter the country.

Another angle: The crisis has prompted plans for dueling aid concerts this weekend, one organized by the British billionaire Richard Branson and one by the Venezuelan government.

Double role for a major consulting firm

McKinsey & Company, which says it offers management advice to 90 of the world’s 100 biggest companies, also has a secretive $12.3 billion investment arm, prompting questions about conflicts of interest.

In Puerto Rico, where McKinsey is advising a board that seeks to reduce the island’s debt, the company’s hedge fund has investments in that debt, according to a report released on Monday.

Response: McKinsey says the way the fund is operated ensures that its employee investors do not stand to benefit from the firm’s inside knowledge. But those assurances have been challenged in Congress and in lawsuits.

Vatican’s secret plans for priests who have children

The Roman Catholic Church has guidelines for what to do when clerics break celibacy vows and father children. There are no estimates of how many such children exist.

A Vatican spokesman said that the “fundamental principle” of the internal document was the “protection of the child.” He said the guidelines requested that the father leave the priesthood, but another official said that was “impossible to impose.”

How we know: The Vatican confirmed, apparently for the first time, the existence of the rules in response to a query from The Times.

Related: The revelation comes as the Vatican prepares for a meeting this week about the church’s child sexual abuse crisis at which victims will speak.

Catch up: The Vatican announced over the weekend that Pope Francis had expelled Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal and archbishop of Washington, from the priesthood. It appeared to be the first time that a cardinal had been defrocked for sexual abuse.

If you have 10 minutes, this is worth it

A black mathematician’s lonely trek

Math would seem to be the ultimate meritocracy. Either you can solve a problem or you can’t.

But fewer than 1 percent of doctorates in the subject are awarded to African-Americans. Dr. Edray Goins, pictured above, won two math prizes at Caltech, and in 1999 he received a Ph.D. from Stanford’s math department. “To say that I feel isolated,” he wrote in a widely shared essay, “is an understatement.”

Here’s what else is happening

North Carolina vote: At a hearing on Monday that could settle the final undecided House race of 2018, a state election official said that an operative working on behalf of a Republican candidate went to elaborate lengths to conceal an illegal absentee ballot “scheme.”

Southern Baptist Convention: The largest evangelical denomination in the U.S. has announced plans to address revelations of widespread sexual abuse in churches across the country.

Political storm in Canada: The resignation of a top adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has deepened a crisis over allegations that the government tried to interfere in a criminal court case.

Jussie Smollett case: The police in Chicago said they planned to re-interview the “Empire” star after news reports that the attack he reported last month had been a hoax. Here’s a timeline of the case.

Snapshot: Above, Asdrubal Cabrera of the Texas Rangers at bat during spring training in Surprise, Ariz., on Monday. (Start the countdown: Spring begins March 20, and Major League Baseball has its earliest opening day ever, March 28.)

In memoriam: Lee Radziwill, a former princess and the younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, died on Friday at 85.

George Mendonsa made the most credible claim to being the sailor who was famously photographed kissing a woman in Times Square after the end of World War II. He died on Sunday at 95.

Late-night comedy: In declaring a national emergency last week, President Trump said, “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.” That prompted Stephen Colbert to say: “That’s the exact opposite of an emergency. That’s a choice.”

What we’re watching: This Twitter thread. The briefings editor, Andrea Kannapell, writes: “Dance tells its own story. I can only hope someone will put into words what these clips of break dancing among rural Chinese have to say.”

Now, a break from the news

Cook: Leave the measuring spoons aside for a simple roast fish with ginger, scallions and soy. (Our Five Weeknight Dishes newsletter has more recommendations.)

Watch: Sergei Bondarchuk’s sprawling 1960s adaptation of “War and Peace” is “a singular feat of filmmaking that can never be repeated,” our critic writes. A digital restoration of the seven-hour-plus magnum opus is screening through Thursday at Film Society of Lincoln Center, and a home release by Criterion is in the works.

Listen: “For Real,” a previously unreleased Tom Petty track about media posturing, rings true in 2019.

Read: Our Globetrotting feature offers a preview of books being published around the world.

Smarter Living: Face-to-face connections come with meaningful bonds. How to make time for that? Invite family members into whatever you’re already doing. Ask your kids to help you cook. Invite your spouse to walk the dog with you. You can turn ritual into connection.

An organizational psychologist offers strategies to handle even the most hopelessly overstuffed inbox.

And now for the Back Story on …

An operatic disaster

Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” is one of the most popular operas ever written. It would have been pretty amazing to be at its premiere, which was given this week in 1904, right?

Undoubtedly — because it was one of the great fiascos in opera history.

The premiere, at the storied Teatro alla Scala in Milan, was often drowned out by what one critic described as “groans, roars, moos, laughs, bellows, sneers.” The Times reported that the opera had been “received rather coldly.”

Puccini compared the experience to a “lynching.” Some believed rivals had organized claques to embarrass him. Others cited the opera’s subject matter: An unsympathetic American naval lieutenant impregnates and abandons a Japanese teenager, later driving her to suicide.

After several revisions — including a new remorseful aria to soften the lieutenant — “Butterfly” became a hit. (The challenge in staging it these days has more to do with avoiding Orientalism and cultural appropriation.)

And in 2016, La Scala staged the rarely seen original version, in a symbolic act of contrition.

That’s it for this briefing.

Thanks to all the readers who answered our call on Friday for odd facts, some of which we plan to feature in future briefings.

See you next time.

— Chris

Thank you
Mark Josephson, Eleanor Stanford and James K. Williamson gave us the break from the news. Michael Cooper, who covers classical music and dance for The Times, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at [email protected]

P.S.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Today’s episode is about Democrats and Israel.
• Here’s today’s mini crossword puzzle, and a clue: Vietnamese New Year (3 letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• In 2016, a mariachi band serenaded Julia Preston as she left The Times after more than two decades as a reporter and editor focused on Mexico and immigration.

Chris Stanford is based in London and writes the U.S. version of the Morning Briefing. He also compiles a weekly news quiz. He was previously a producer for the desktop home page and mobile site, helping to present The New York Times’s news report to readers. Before joining The Times in 2013, he was an editor and designer at The Washington Post and other news organizations. @stanfordc

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Opinion | The Creeping Liberalism in American Islam

Since 9/11, a recurrent theme in the far-right circles of America has been “creeping Shariah.” It reflects the fear that Islamic law will silently spread through the land of freedom to ultimately overtake it — to put all women in burqas and all adulterers to death. In this scenario, American Muslims, who make up only 1 percent of the population, will pursue this grand scheme because they are here not for freedom and opportunity, but to form a fifth column in it, as Steve Bannon seriously claimed in 2016.

Those with deeper knowledge of American Muslims, a minority that is much better integrated than some of their counterparts in Europe, can easily see such sordid fantasy as paranoia. Those with some knowledge of American history can also see that this new calumny about Islam has precedents, in the McCarthyism of the Cold War era and the anti-Catholicism of the 19th century.

But here is something even more ironic: When you examine the internal discussions among conservative Muslim leaders or pundits in America today, they don’t come across as concocting some “Protocols of the Elders of Mecca.” Instead of cheering for any creeping Shariah, they seem worried about a creeping liberalism within American Islam.

Read Mikaeel Ahmed Smith, for example. He’s an imam in Virginia who has titled an internet article “A Spiritual Disease in American Muslims, Making Them Gods Above God.” His criticism targets a new genre of Muslim bloggers and writers who he says “challenge or outright reject the traditionally normative Islamic view on social issues and Muslim life.” These young people care less about traditional religious texts, the imam warns, because of “a rejection of any authority other than one’s own intellect.”

Or read Butheina Hamdah, an academic, who sees alarming signs of “liberal individualism” among American Muslim women. She thinks the hijab (the Islamic head scarf) is becoming a mere “cultural marker of identity” while losing its “deeper theological dimensions.” That is why “trendy” or “sexy” versions of the hijab are emerging, she argues, while young Muslim women embrace feminist notions of “bodily autonomy” and “individual choice.”

Perhaps nothing marks this liberal trend more than the skyrocketing acceptance of gay marriage, which, as a 2017 poll showed, is now stronger among American Muslims than among white evangelical Christians. It is also reflected in the pro-L.G.B.T.Q. stance of two new Muslim congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. (This month, Ms. Omar took a lesson in how to integrate into America’s pluralist politics when she apologized, after heavy criticism from her own Democratic Party’s leaders, for a tweet that insinuated that American support for Israel is fueled by money from a pro-Israel lobbying group. “Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes,” she said almost immediately, adding, “I unequivocally apologize.”)

There are two distinct lines in this trend toward American values. One is a kind of anything-goes social liberalism, spearheaded by small groups like Muslims for Progressive Values. The other, larger line is a political liberalism that accepts a pluralist framework for society while preserving its own social and moral conservatism. Jonathan Brown, a convert to Islam and scholar of Islamic studies at Georgetown University, theorized the latter approach in a much-discussed article in which he accepted gay marriage of non-Muslims by making an analogy to traditional Muslim empires’ noninterference in what he called “incestuous Zoroastrian marriages.”

Of course, all this is happening within a political context, which Eboo Patel, an interfaith leader, explains in a chapter on “the American ummah” in his book “Out of Many Faiths: Religious Diversity and the American Promise.” In the wake of 9/11, and especially in the Trump era, Mr. Patel writes, worrying about Islamophobia has required the Muslim community to show that it really fits America. Hence, the center of gravity has shifted from “traditional Muslims,” whose authority derives from knowledge of religious sources, to a new group of media-savvy “social Muslims,” whose strength is interpreting the Muslim experience for the broader society. The interesting twist is that the progressive narrative of the “social Muslims” is having an impact on the whole American Muslim community. “Once you invoke diversity as a value,” Mr. Patel writes, it is hard to deny a place to “gay Muslims, Shia Muslims, non-hijabi female Muslims, less-observant-than-you Muslims.”

The conservatives are understandably worried that this may go too far. For example, Rashid Dar, a thoughtfully committed Muslim academic, fears the prospect of an irreversible transformation in his community. A life of “adhering to political liberalism in the public sphere but social conservatism at home or at the mosque very easily runs the risk of creating severe cognitive dissonance,” he told me. “I used to fear that this might lead to widespread ‘reform Islam’ movements. What I fear now is widespread nihilism and apathy toward faith.”

I think that while this concern is understandable, the opposite may also be true: Young generations may lose the faith if Islam remains too closed to rationality, individuality, tolerance and freedom.

For that reason, I find the American Muslim quandary fascinating — and promising. “Liberalism” as a framework for a free society is painfully lacking in large parts of the Muslim world today. If the Muslim community in the United States, what Mr. Patel called the “American ummah,” can embrace that by reinterpreting its traditions without losing itself, it could contribute to the broader ummah by offering new perspectives and a lived example.

Charles Taylor, one of the most prominent thinkers on religion today, reminds us of a historical precedent in an essay from 2011: In the 19th century, American Catholics were seen by the Protestant majority as “inassimilable to democratic mores, in ways very analogous to the suspicions that nag people over Islam today.” But, Mr. Taylor added, “American Catholicism evolved and, in the process, changed world Catholicism in significant ways.”

A similar transformation took place within American Judaism, as Steven R. Weisman shows in his recent book, “The Chosen Wars: How Judaism Became an American Religion.” Rabbinical authority waned, women became empowered, practices were modernized and Reform Judaism flourished.

To say that change would never happen in Islam would be a view too unfair to this third big Abrahamic religion. It would also underestimate America’s great potential to attract, and also transform, people of all faiths and races under a simple but rare principle — equal justice under the law. Shouldn’t some of those who call themselves “American nationalists” know this better than they seem to know these days?

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Bad loan manager Fire to boost assets as it considers IPO: CEO

MILAN (Reuters) – Italian bad loan investor Fire is looking to add 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in assets under management this year as it works towards an eventual stock market listing, its chief executive said.

Italian banks’ efforts to cut a bad loan pile that peaked at 360 billion euros after a recession turned Italy into Europe’s biggest market for soured bank debt, with sales totaling some 150 billion euros in the past two years.

“(In 2019) we want to approach the 10 billion euro psychological threshold (of assets under management) which separates big players from small- and medium-sized ones,” CEO Claudio Manetti told Reuters.

Manetti said the group, which currently manages 9 billion euros and is awaiting a regulatory green light to start operating in Greece, would aim for a stock market listing at some stage following bigger rival doBank and Cerved.

Fire had in the past discussed a possible investment by private equity firm TPG as part of a joint acquisition of rival debt collector CAF, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. The deal fell through when CAF was bought by Sweden’s Intrum Justitia.

TPG declined to comment.

Fire, based Messina in Sicily, is fully owned by Italy’s Bommarito family.

Manetti said Fire was in talks to buy the debt collection business of a small Italian bank. He declined to name the bank but said the deal was expected to come through by the third quarter.

“The deal would have the usual shape, a sale of the unit together with a 10-year debt servicing accord,” he said.

Italian banks Intesa Sanpaolo and Banco BPM last year sold a majority stake in their debt recovery units together with a chunk of bad loans.

The sale of a loan servicing business helps banks to cushion any hit from a bad loan sale, normally carried out at a loss. The value of the business is closely linked to the fees that the spun-off business will then charge the bank over an agreed number of years to recover its impaired loans.

($1 = 0.8839 euros)

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Opinion | In Nashville, ‘Beauty Herself Is Black’

NASHVILLE — This is an arts town, and artistic miracles happen here with some regularity, but last weekend’s miracle was not the usual kind. Watching John Prine, at the age of 72,dance onstage after a three-hour performance at the legendary Ryman Auditorium — that’s a truly Nashville kind of miracle. Watching “Lucy Negro, Redux,” a poetry collection by an African-American woman, come to life as a ballet — a ballet scored by an African-American woman and danced by an African-American woman? That’s the kind of miracle Nashville has never seen before.

The project started with Caroline Randall Williams, who became fascinated as a graduate student with a theory advanced by Duncan Salkeld, a Shakespeare scholar at the University of Chichester, that the mysterious Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets wasn’t a white woman with a dark complexion at all — she was a black woman called “Black Luce,” or “Lucy Negro,” who owned a brothel in Shakespearean London. When Shakespeare wrote in Sonnet 132, “Then will I swear beauty herself is black,” he meant, actually, black.

There are different theories about the identity of the sonnets’ Dark Lady — just as there is much speculation about the identity of the “fair youth” to whom so many of the earlier sonnets are addressed — but this one ignited the young poet’s imagination. Ms. Randall Williams descends from Nashville literary royalty: Her mother is the novelist and songwriter Alice Randall; her paternal grandfather was the civil-rights activist Avon Williams; a great-grandfather was the Harlem Renaissance poet (and later Fisk University writer-in-residence) Arna Bontemps. But Caroline Randall Williams also descends from white men who raped her black ancestors. She carries in her very DNA the conflict at the heart of “Lucy Negro, Redux”: What does it mean for a woman to be both desired and reviled for the color of her skin?

A university research grant allowed Ms. Randall Williams to join Dr. Salkeld’s search through primary documents for definitive proof that Lucy Negro was indeed Shakespeare’s Dark Lady. Proof was not forthcoming, but poetry was.

The poems in “Lucy Negro, Redux” — first published in 2015 and reissued last week in an expanded edition by Third Man Books — defy genre. Or rather, they wander with intense prepossession through many genres. Part lyrical narrative, part bluesy riff, part schoolyard chant and part holy incantation, the book is an unflinching investigation of otherness and a dead-sexy exploration of the intersection of identity and desire. Above all it is a witty and audacious rejoinder to literary history and its systematic suppression of female voices. Especially black female voices.

It’s a powerful collection, but it is not the kind of book that you might naturally think of as source material for an original ballet. Unless, that is, you’re Paul Vasterling, the visionary artistic director of the Nashville Ballet, where a transcendent dancer named Kayla Rowser — a fierce intensity of muscle and bone and spirit, untroubled by gravity — was perfectly positioned to play Lucy as Caroline Randall Williams imagined her.

Before long, Mr. Vasterling had persuaded Rhiannon Giddens — a conservatory-trained MacArthur fellow, though she may be better known as a co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and as a recurring character on the drama “Nashville” — to write the score. Working in collaboration with the jazz composer Francesco Turrisi, Ms. Giddens also performed the music onstage while Ms. Randall Williams herself entered the performance space as both narrator and muse and, at times, the still center to a swirling human kaleidoscope of dancing bodies.

I am still pondering the artistic miracle that unfolded before me last weekend in a sold-out series before the most diverse audience I have ever seen at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Polk Theater. “Attitude: Lucy Negro Redux” was a beautifully choreographed ballet, but it was more than a ballet: It was also a spoken-word incantation and a showcase for the musical genius of Rhiannon Giddens. It was a love story, but it was more than a love story: It was also a forceful and pointed claiming of female desire — for authority, for sovereignty, for sexual self-determination.

The Nashville literary world is small enough that most writers know, or at least have met, the other writers who live here. I first met Caroline Randall Williams when she was 4 years old, the year I met her mother. As part of my job as editor of a literary publication here, I celebrated the arrival of “Lucy Negro, Redux” when it was published the first time, in a tiny print run from a tiny press.

But I was not at all prepared for “Lucy Negro Redux,” the ballet. There is nothing tiny about it, or about the scope of its artistic ambitions. It is a full-throated, full-bodied exploration of love and desire, exultation and loss, belonging and expulsion, ownership and autonomy. A mixed-media, multigenre embodiment of a scholarly theory about an arcane point of literary history might not seem like fertile ground for enchantment, but it was absolutely transformative.

Who is Lucy Negro? We may never know whether she was Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, but we know that she is Kayla Rowser, who has spent her entire professional life in a field that rarely elevates a dancer with brown skin. We know that she is Rhiannon Giddens, who moves fluidly between African diaspora music and American symphony halls. We know that she is Caroline Randall Williams, an African-American woman with depraved white ancestors who grew up in a literary household and learned to love Shakespeare when she was still a child.

And now Lucy Negro is Nashville, too, for she has taught us something about who we are. Flawed and impossible as this city may be on so many scores, it is also a place where a choreographer and a poet and a composer can come together with an entire ballet company to make something wildly original, something so unlike anything else that all description falls short of its otherworldly reality. A place where, when the curtain drops, the very city cries out: “Brava! Brava! Oh, brava!”

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

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Margaret Renkl is a contributing opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.  She is the author of the forthcoming book “Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss.” @MargaretRenkl

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John Downing: 'Our hybrid Government is well beyond its sell-by date – but Brexit makes it duty-bound to struggle on'

For some of us it has been a very short three years, as the evaporating weeks quickly turned into months and became years. Others will argue that the time has dragged by with leaden feet.

But any way you look at things, this day three years ago we were up to our oxters in the final week of campaigning for “the election that nobody won”. In fact on this very day, February 18, 2016, Gerry Adams, still the leader of Sinn Féin, was being grilled on radio by Sean O’Rourke, and telling the nation all he did not know about the Irish economy.

But Gerry Adams was not the only one to struggle with economic issues in this strange and often lacklustre General Election campaign of 2016. Another former leader, Enda Kenny, effectively blew it for Fine Gael from the word go.

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Just hours after the then-Taoiseach made his expected election announcement to Dáil Éireann on February 3, and did a quick scoot to Áras an Uachtaráin to formalise things, Mr Kenny presided at his opening election press conference. This was a confused and diffuse affair with the Fine Gael leader bungling questions about his party’s central economic pledge to abolish the unpopular Universal Social Charge (USC) at a cost of €4bn.

Under pressure, Mr Kenny managed to compound things by saying: “I’m not going to get into economic jargon here because the vast majority of people don’t understand.” Critics were quick to point out that Enda Kenny was the one who did not understand.

Fine Gael was unsuccessfully chasing the game from then on and even its trump card, the ever reliable veteran finance minister Michael Noonan, could not help it rescue things. At the time, this writer foolishly thought its election slogan – “Let’s keep the recovery going” – was good.

But this 23-day election campaign, one of the shortest in the State’s history, forcefully told us all that the Fine Gael election slogan was far too Dublin-driven. Too many people beyond the Pale felt they had yet to experience the fruits of the fledgling economic recovery.

Cork senator Jerry Buttimer had also warned at the campaign start that the slogan “lacked heart”. Fine Gael strategists had expected a reverse in this general election. After all, they had spent the bulk of their term in power continuing to dish out the harsh medicine framed by their predecessor, Fianna Fáil, and also dictated by the IMF-EU-ECB Troika which was “correcting their homework”.

But the scale of the Fine Gael losses showed much of it was its own work as it went from a record high of 76 seats in the 2011 election, to just 50 in 2016. There was a huge meltdown for Labour, which also had a historic high of 37 TDs in 2011, but was now reduced to just seven Dáil seats, meaning an overall crushing defeat for the outgoing coalition government.

Labour had wrongly led voters to believe in February 2011 that there was an alternative to austerity. The travails of the party, now led by former public expenditure minister Brendan Howlin, have continued and three years after Election 2016 there is no sign of any real revival in its battered fortunes.

The big winners in this election of three years ago were Independents and the smaller parties, who between them amassed 33 out of the 158 Dáil seats which was an unprecedented high. Sinn Féin also had a good outcome with 14pc of the vote and 23 TDs – but it was far short of the big breakthrough it and some observers had talked up.

Fianna Fáil was the surprise packet of the election in what was a win for the fortitude of its leader, Micheál Martin, who had campaigned strongly throughout. After the worst election in its history in 2011, when it had only 20 TDs, the party returned 44 deputies, just six fewer than Fine Gael.

So much for that stuttering election campaign. It delivered us a serious case of a “hung Dáil”.

What followed was even more strange and unprecedented, as we witnessed a slow bicycle race over 70 days to the formation of a minority government, on May 6, 2016, surprisingly led by Fine Gael and Enda Kenny. It included just seven of the 33 Independent TDs and had the support of another two Independents.

Along the way, we got a glimpse of what might have been when, on April 6, Enda Kenny offered Fianna Fáil “a government partnership” with equal numbers of ministerial posts. The idea of a rotating Taoiseach was understood to be part of this – but it was never reached as Fianna Fáil TDs and senators rejected it on April 7. But the idea of deeper collaboration by the two big parties still hangs in the air around Leinster House.

The Government was elected thanks to the abstention of Fianna Fáil in the re-election of Enda Kenny as Taoiseach. And the creaky minority coalition has continued to operate by grace and favour of a party which is strangely and uncomfortably half-in and half-out of Government.

This situation has given us repeated scenes reminiscent of a large family where children of a similar age vie for a place in the pecking order. Sinn Féin utterly eschewed any role in Government after February 2016. And it continues to ostensibly attack Fine Gael and the coalition while reserving its particular wrath for Fianna Fáil, which is its real target.

On Sinn Féin’s left flank, it is beset by the strong presence of the leftist Solidarity-People Before Profit, which relies on popular disenchantment with the establishment for its support. This grouping has six TDs and has so far avoided the public splits which bedevil far-left groupings.

The Dáil is also characterised by the strong and vocal presence of rural Independents.

These deputies fuel the recurring allegation that the Government is not focussed on rural communities’ needs.

So, we have had three years of “new politics” which is slow and diffuse – though sometimes showing the potential of what it might be if there was a better spirit of cross-party co-operation which also embraced highly individualistic Independents.

As we prepared to go to the polls in 2016 we were aware of the threat that became Brexit, though few of us really believed it would come to pass.

It has dominated our politics ever since that fateful Friday morning of June 24, 2016, when a six-week-old Irish Government awoke to a UK referendum result which would form the backdrop to, and centrepiece of, all its subsequent work.

Brexit, we are increasingly told, is what is keeping the current hybrid and ramshackle Dáil and Government together and in office. But three years after the last election, there are growing signs that this situation is definitely past its sell-by date. External circumstances dictate that it must struggle on for some more months.

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