Opinion | Police Spying in New York?

To the Editor:

Re “Did the Police Spy on Black Lives Matter Protesters?” (news article, Jan. 15):

The allegations of police spying require mayoral intervention.

Under federal court rulings in the Handschu case, now nearly half a century old, the police are barred, under the First Amendment, from doing what in the current case they are accused of doing: spying on peaceful expressions of political opinion.

Yet in the current case, the police refuse even to say whether they are doing it or not, raising spurious claims of terrorism.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has in the past opposed a City Council bill to require the police to even disclose what they are doing. This is beyond legitimate policy differences; it involves police-state tactics against fundamental First Amendment rights.

No mayor who claims the label “progressive” can fail to step in and stop this.

Ira Glasser
New York
The writer was executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union in 1971 when it helped bring the original Handschu lawsuit.

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Opinion | BuzzFeed’s Cohen Story Suggests Trump Never Wanted to Be President

Donald Trump hungered for applause — the more frequent and louder, the better. He found that campaign rallies were a source of it like none that he had ever savored.

He thrilled to the appearance of his name not just in gold letters on tall buildings but also in newspaper headlines and on television screens. A presidential bid delivered those goods, too.

And he wanted ratings. Always, he wanted ratings. “The Apprentice” was a bygone badge. It was time for a bigger, brasher showcase. Running for president offered precisely that.

There are several profoundly unsettling takeaways from a breathlessly discussed report by BuzzFeed News that Trump continued to push for a Trump Tower in Moscow deep into his 2016 campaign and later instructed his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about that.

But I’m struck in particular by how this revelation, if true, underscores what many Trump observers have long believed, an insight that explains so much about his eccentric campaign and unethical governance: He never really expected to be president. More than that, he never really hoped to be.

That’s why he didn’t put business matters on hold or disentangle himself from glaring conflicts of interest. That’s why he refused to yoke himself to the sorts of rules that his predecessors had endeavored to follow.

That’s why he indulged in behavior that would come back to haunt him in the White House: He never planned on moving there. He wasn’t supposed to come under this kind of glare or have to lie this much (though lying comes easily to him). If victory had really been the point, he might not have left himself so exposed.

The BuzzFeed News report, published late Thursday, cites two unnamed law enforcement sources, and other news organizations have approached the scoop with varying degrees of caution. If the account holds up, it’s arguably the clearest evidence yet that Trump obstructed justice, recommending perjury in an effort to cloak his interests in Russia as Robert Mueller, the special counsel, investigated that very matter.

Regardless of the report’s veracity, we already know that Cohen pursued the Moscow project through June 2016 but falsely told lawmakers that he’d wrapped up that work the previous January: Last November he pleaded guilty to lying under oath.

We also know that Trump didn’t want his candidacy to foil lucrative deals and dilute his wealth. He publicly defended the fact that the Moscow project didn’t end when his campaign began, telling reporters, “There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gotten back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?” Sacrifice isn’t his strong suit.

He had neither the requisite knowledge nor experience to serve as president. Now we know he wasn’t prepared psychologically, either. His campaign wasn’t a rehearsal for civic leadership. It was a brand-burnishing interregnum, a time-limited adventure in egomania.

“Donald Trump never thought he was going to be president,” the Trump biographer Timothy O’Brien, who wrote “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” told me. “He began this thing as a marketing venture, and I don’t think the people around him thought he was going to win, either. They all jointly saw this thing as a big food fest.”

Paul Manafort would cycle back into commercial viability and political relevance. Jared Kushner would find a financial savior for 666 Fifth Avenue, his family’s towering albatross. Ivanka Trump would add weight to her cottony image. And her father, well, he’d be exponentially more famous, and there’s never fame enough.

“It had nothing to do with public policy,” O’Brien said. “It had everything to do with short-term opportunism.”

Major books about Trump’s campaign and election explore variations of the theme that victory surprised Trump and his enablers and caught them flat-footed. Michael Lewis’s most recent best seller, “The Fifth Risk,” begins with a damning account of the Trump team’s failure to carry out a coherent transition and fill key jobs in government.

In “Fire and Fury,” Michael Wolff writes that “Trump refused to spend any time considering, however hypothetically, transition matters, saying it was ‘bad luck’ — but really meaning it was a waste of time.”

“He wasn’t going to win,” Wolff continues. “Or losing was winning. Trump would be the most famous man in the world — a martyr to crooked Hillary Clinton.”

“Losing would work out for everybody,” he adds.

Michael D’Antonio, the author of “The Truth About Trump,” told me: “His past is not a past someone brings into the presidency, and he’s not so stupid that he wouldn’t have understood that. And I think he naturally feared the kind of examination that he’s undergone since the election.”

But because he wasn’t going to win, it wouldn’t matter that he’d paid off women with whom he’d had affairs, that he’d dispatched Cohen on so many unsavory errands, that he’d surrounded himself with such shady characters, that he refused to release his tax returns, that he forged ahead with the Trump International Hotel in Washington, that he vulgarly insulted the very lawmakers a president would need to collaborate with and that he surrendered any claim to moral authority by trafficking in racism and xenophobia. There would be no consequences because there would be no crown.

“This was a publicity gambit,” D’Antonio said. “It’s almost as if he believed that his candidacy was a joke, so under that circumstance, rigging polls and shouting about locking her up and issuing these racially charged lies about immigrants was O.K., because he wasn’t going to be president anyway. What he was doing was trying out ideas for his persona.”

Through that lens, this presidency and its shortcomings make complete sense. Trump couldn’t assemble and manage a top-notch cabinet because he’d never readied himself for that task. He couldn’t let go of any of the engines of his wealth because he’d never prioritized public service above it. He couldn’t say what the country needed him to after the violence in Charlottesville, Va., because he had no interest in the role of statesman and had never intended to play it. Rare is the person who finds a whole new skill set at his stage of the game, and rarer still is the person who finds a whole new set of principles.

“I think he’s well aware of his lack of intellectual sophistication and patience and maturity and competence, which is why he’s always speaking to those faults in public venues,” O’Brien said. “He knows deep down inside that he’s not up to the demands of the office.”

Two years into his presidency, the rest of us know it, too.

I invite you to sign up for my free weekly email newsletter. You can follow me on Twitter (@FrankBruni).

Frank Bruni has been with The Times since 1995 and held a variety of jobs — including White House reporter, Rome bureau chief and chief restaurant critic — before becoming a columnist in 2011. He is the author of three best-selling books.  @FrankBruni Facebook

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Opinion | If You Shut Down the Government, You Slow Down the Economy

President Trump, you could not have wanted your partial government shutdown, your tariffs, your corporate tax cuts and your war on undocumented immigrants to hobble economic growth, and hurt farmers, factory workers, airline passengers, government contractors, retailers and Coast Guard members and F.B.I. agents. But the economy can only take so many bad policies.

A $19.4 trillion economy is losing momentum as fast as your approval ratings. Growth is slowing down in spite of a $1.5 trillion tax cut that is blowing up the deficit while helping companies like Goldman Sachs, which earned $2.5 billion in the fourth quarter thanks in part to a $467 million tax benefit.

Government workers have already missed an average of $5,000 in pay because of the shutdown. These unpaid federal employees may only represent 0.53 percent of all payrolls, according to the economist Ian Shepherdson, but because they have above-average earnings, the harm to the economy is greater than that proportion might suggest. Presumably they’ll get back those wages at some point. Even then, some of those earnings will have to go to pay late fees on credit card and mortgage bills that are piling up. None of that money, though, will compensate for restaurant meals not eaten, movies not seen, Frappuccinos not sipped, or supermarket runs not made, at least not by Coast Guard members who are heading to food banks instead. Those sales, and sales taxes, are lost forever.

The shutdown is also aggravating damage you’ve already caused. You must have thought your audience was just a bunch of hayseeds when you told the American Farm Bureau Federation this week that “we’re setting records together for farmers and for agriculture.” Farmers are losing sales to China, Mexico, Canada and elsewhere thanks to your trade policy. They’ve lost customers who may never return. And now, because of the shutdown, they can’t get services from the Department of Agriculture, from crop financing to vital information about commodity supplies. Farmers have crucial decisions to make before the spring planting season begins, and the shutdown is keeping them in the dark. And in the red.

Will that mean they’ll start buying less machinery, too? The manufacturing sector could be running out of steam. Both the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index and the Empire State manufacturing index, leading indicators of activity in that segment, turned sharply lower amid concerns over tariffs and a slowing Chinese economy. Nor can the steel industry that you tried to protect with tariffs escape market forces. Prices for steel have fallen drastically after the industry first tried to use the tariffs to raise prices. Customers don’t take kindly to being price-gouged and adjust their purchases accordingly.

Damage from the trade war with China is spreading. China’s economic growth is expected to slow to 6.3 percent this year, the worst in decades, in part because of the Trump tariffs. This means China buys less from every nation. The export-focused German economy slowed last year because of diminished exports to China. Any sluggishness in Germany reverberates around Europe and then ultimately makes it way across the ocean. The World Bank has already taken its global growth estimates down a notch — and the risks are increasing.

Even what seemed like sweet news to your supporters in the mining industry has turned sour. The “war on coal is over,” your former Environmental Protection Agency boss said, even pulling back pollution regulations that protect our air and our health. He was right, it is over, and coal lost. Production in 2018 is expected to have hit a 39-year low. Utilities, out of concern for their pocketbooks more than the environment, continue to replace their coal-burning plants with cleaner, cheaper gas-burning units as well as wind and solar generators.

Your immigration policies aren’t working out so well for the economy, either. Last year many business owners, in both high-tech and low-tech areas, complained that they didn’t have enough workers. We need more immigrants, not fewer.

Meanwhile, the shutdown is hurting businesses as varied as craft beer and airlines, the former because brewers can’t get required government approval for new labels. Airline passengers are responding to the growing lines at airports by delaying travel. Once a jet takes off, the potential revenue from an empty seat takes off with it. And doesn't return. Delta reports that it expects flat revenues in the current quarter in part because federal employees are traveling less. Some airports, such as Miami, have been forced to close terminals temporarily because of a shortage of T.S.A. employees who, understandably enough, have been less than enthusiastic about showing up for work without pay. That, in turn, means fewer hours for the service workers staffing the ticket counters, hauling bags, or maintaining the terminal’s restrooms. Elsewhere in those terminals, lost wage hours can’t be returned to the folks behind the counters at Starbucks, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels or other shops that populate airports.

Most Americans wouldn’t know if Auntie Anne’s sold fewer pretzels in the Miami airport, or that a farmer in Minnesota decided not to plant another 10 acres of wheat because she couldn’t finance it.

But all of these millions of individual rational decisions make up our economy, which is being undone by your irrational policies.

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Opinion | Marie Kondo and the Life-Changing Magic of Japanese Soft Power

A diminutive Japanese woman kneels, eyes closed, caressing a rug with open palms. She appears to be praying — to a house. She greets it, thanking it for its service.

The camera pans to her American hosts, Kevin and Rachel. Ensconced in armchairs, struggling to keep a straight face, they look a little like children in church — and in a way, they are. In her new Netflix series, the decluttering guru Marie Kondo is shown not just sprucing up people’s homes but also reimagining them as sacred spaces — channeling her experience as a former assistant at a Shinto shrine, along with the related belief that life, even consciousness, of a kind, courses through everything.

The series leans on Ms. Kondo’s nationality in other ways, too: The conspicuous presence of her interpreter helps to create the impression of a cultural chasm being effortfully but productively bridged; Ms. Kondo’s own energy and kindness is tinged with an artfully ill-concealed sadness at these desperate Americans, their homes and minds choked with trash. When her first book came out several years ago, Ms. Kondo’s publisher did much the same: To “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” it added the subtitle “The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” Readers would no longer be doing chores; they would be engaged in a cultural and possibly spiritual activity.

Marie Kondo is by far the most successful participant in a larger trend of the past few years: packaging inspirational but fairly universal lifestyle advice as the special product of Japanese soil and soul, from which Westerners might usefully learn. We’ve had “ikigai,” which translates as the familiar concept of value and purpose in life. We’ve had forest bathing, as though the soothing power of nature had not occurred to people like Wordsworth and Emerson. Such advice books may be having a moment, but they are not new. Rather, they’re the latest installment in a surprisingly old tradition: Japan and its culture marketed as a moderating force in a world otherwise overwhelmed by the West.

The tradition goes back to a civil war in 1868-69, after which a new and forward-looking group of Japanese leaders found themselves facing a conundrum: How do you modernize without simply Westernizing? Ideas from the United States and Western Europe on science and medicine, philosophy, fashion and music were pouring in, while Japan, it seemed, was sending precious little back in the other direction. From beef to ballroom dancing, sideburns to suits, there appeared a real risk that Japan would forget its past completely, winding up a mere Asian facsimile of Western life.

And so, there followed a rooting around in the cupboards in search of things that might usefully define “Japan,” offering reassurance at home and material for export. The most successful of these played on the idea that the technological superiority of countries like Britain and America had been purchased at the cost of the Western soul. They were societies, as an adviser to the Japanese emperor put it in 1879, whose “only values are fact-gathering and techniques.” Japan’s mission in the world, some began to say, should be to succeed where the West had evidently failed: creating a form of modern life that integrates technological with spiritual progress, rationality with intuition and emotion, individualism with a deep feeling for community. As exports went, it beat geisha dolls and paper umbrellas.

This grand mission came closest to success when Westerners themselves willingly signed up. One of the reasons many in the West have heard of Zen but not any other big Japanese Buddhist sect is that from around the turn of the 20th century, canny Zen advocates worked with allies in the United States and elsewhere to present it as the answer to Westerners’ prayers: Meditation promised direct spiritual experience, shorn of Christianity’s increasingly unpalatable doctrines and institutional authority.

The reality of Zen in Japan was rather different — no shortage of rules, rites and philosophical complexity. Still, here was one culture helping to refresh another, offering a precious new practice while helping to rekindle awareness of Christianity’s own contemplative dimension — from the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the third century to Meister Eckhart a thousand years later.

But there was always the potential for this polarizing of Japan and the West to go too far, moving from mutual enrichment — rooted in shared spiritual aspirations — to aggressive contrast and competition. People’s everyday lives and habits easily became the fodder for sweeping and heavily politicized cultural conclusions.

Some went as far as claiming that Zen revealed the essence of Japanese life: simple, intuitive and relatively free of the wordiness with which Europeans and Americans so complicated their existences. Zen as the ultimate decluttering.

Others harped on the state of Japanese versus Western homes. The philosopher Tetsuro Watsuji argued that the thick internal walls found in Western homes indicated the real meaning there of “family”: pragmatic cohabitation by self-interested individuals. By contrast, Japanese homes’ movable internal partitions of wood and paper reflected the true and natural state of humanity: never solitary, always in relationships, always putting others first.

As Western empires had their “civilizing missions” in India, Africa and elsewhere, so Japanese leaders drew on the likes of Watsuji to supply cultural ballast for their own empire-building and war-making. First, the Koreans and the Chinese needed to be taught how to live well. Then the malign influence of a corrupt and materialistic Anglosphere had to be countered, not just on battlefields but in everyday life: Messy haircuts that drew inspiration from Hollywood were “tidied up.” Record companies switched from jazz to a more rousing “national music.”

World War II and its aftermath put Japan and much of the West on opposite sides, and encouraged an emphasis on contrast: Ruth Benedict’s famous study of Japanese culture and personality, “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,” published in 1946, was a popular best seller, not just in the West but in Japan, too, where for years after the war, many were more comfortable seeing their country defined by culture than by recent history. But in the end, the war made little more than a dent in entrepreneurial efforts to sell “Japaneseness.” And the wealth to which postwar leaders encouraged a poverty-stricken population to aspire helped to generate the consumer culture, and clutter, in Japanese homes that gave the likes of Marie Kondo her start in life.

Such connections are worth bearing in mind, because so little has really changed in 150 years. We in the West still hanker after new and exotic ways to make our lives better. And Japan still seeks to fit the bill. Its foreign policy is constrained by a pacifist Constitution and a one-sided alliance with America. Its economy has seen better days. But it flourishes through cultural “soft power,” offering Westerners at once a quieter life — the serene hush of forest or temple — and a quirkier, more fun one, courtesy of a world-beating pop culture. (Prime Minister Shinzo Abe went as far as dressing up as Super Mario at the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics in 2016, promoting his country’s hosting of the Games in 2020.)

There’s no reason both sides can’t keep benefiting from this venerable tradition of compare and contrast. As ever, the challenge on both sides is not to take it — or indeed ourselves — too seriously. The success of ikigai, forest bathing and Marie Kondo may indeed be telling us something. But it isn’t that Japan possesses a particular genius for good living. And it isn’t (just) the power of a consumer trend once it gains some momentum. It is that for some perverse reason, the most valuable human insights are easily lost or forgotten. Being gifted them again in some fresh form is surely good for us — we just shouldn’t get hung up on whose they are or where they come from.


Christopher Harding is senior lecturer in Asian history at the University of Edinburgh and a regular presenter and contributor on BBC Radio. His most recent book is “Japan Story: In Search of a Nation, 1850 to the Present.”

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Opinion | The Real Governments of Blue America

Officially, a big part of the federal government shut down late last month. In important ways, however, America’s government went AWOL almost two years earlier, when Donald Trump was inaugurated.

After all, politicians supposedly seek office in order to get stuff done — to tackle real problems and implement solutions. But neither Trump, who spends his energy inventing crises at the border, nor the Republicans who controlled Congress for two years have done any of that. Their only major legislative achievement was a tax cut that blew up the deficit without, as far as anyone can tell, doing anything to enhance the economy’s long-run growth prospects.

Meanwhile, there has been no hint of the infrastructure plan Trump promised to deliver. And after many years of denouncing Obamacare and promising to provide a far better replacement, Republicans turned out to have no idea how to do that, and in particular no plan to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions.

Why can’t Republicans govern? It’s not just that their party is committed to an ideology that says that government is always the problem, never the solution. Beyond that, they have systematically deprived themselves of the ability to analyze policies and learn from evidence, because hard thinking might lead someone to question received doctrine.

And Republicans still control the Senate and the White House. So even when (if?) the shutdown ends, it will be at least two years before we have a government in Washington that’s actually capable of, or even interested in, governing.

But not everything is on hold. For America has a federal system, and the 2018 elections set the stage for a wave of actual governance — of real efforts to solve real problems — at the state and local levels.

Until recently Republicans had a virtual lock on state government. Almost half the population lived in states with Republican “trifectas,” that is, G.O.P. control of both houses plus the governorship. Democrats had comparable control in California, and pretty much nowhere else.

But elections since then have transformed the picture. New Jersey and Washington went full Democratic in 2017, and six more states, including Illinois and New York, flipped in November. At this point more than a third of Americans live under full Democratic control, not far short of the Republican total.

These newly empowered majorities are moving quickly to start governing again. And the experience of states that already had Democratic trifectas suggests that they may achieve a lot.

Consider the experience of California, where Democrats took full control in 2011. Conservatives lambasted Jerry Brown’s increases in taxes, spending and the minimum wage, declaring that the state was committing “economic suicide.” In reality, the economy boomed, while California’s enthusiastic implementation of health reform brought the uninsured share of the population down from 18 percent in 2011 to just 7 percent in 2017 — almost twice the reduction in the U.S. as a whole.

Or consider New Jersey, where Democrats took control last year and used that control to implement a series of measures — including reimposing the requirement that individuals buy health insurance — that reversed many of the Trump administration’s efforts at health care sabotage. The result was a sharp drop in insurance premiums, which are now among the lowest in the nation.

Now that Democratic control has expanded, we can expect to see more of this kind of activism.

Gavin Newsom, California’s new governor, has proposed further action on health care, including a New Jersey-style state-level mandate and expanded subsidies for the middle class. Washington’s governor is proposing creation of a public option, a state insurance plan residents can buy into. And New York City’s mayor is proposing measures that would, he says, guarantee coverage for all New Yorkers, including undocumented immigrants.

And health care isn’t the only front for new action. For example, Newsom is also proposing major new spending on education and housing affordability. The latter is very important: Soaring housing costs are the biggest flaw in California’s otherwise impressive success story.

Now, let’s be clear: Not all of the new Democratic policy proposals will actually be implemented, and not all of those that do go into effect will live up to expectations. There’s no such thing as perfection, in policy or in life, and leaders who never experience failures or setbacks aren’t taking enough risks.

The point, however, is that newly empowered state and local politicians do seem willing to take risks and try new things in an effort to make progress against the nation’s problems.

And that’s a very hopeful sign for America, because their example may prove contagious.

Justice Louis Brandeis famously described the states as the laboratories of democracy; right now they’re the places where we’re seeing what it looks like when elected officials try to do what they were elected to do, and actually govern. If we’re lucky, two years from now that attitude may re-establish itself in the nation’s capital.

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Paul Krugman has been an Opinion columnist since 2000 and is also a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade and economic geography. @PaulKrugman

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Opinion | Trump Worsens the Border Crisis

EL PASO — Over the last month, I have traveled in three congressional delegations to El Paso and southern New Mexico. We heard from federal law enforcement, toured detention centers and Border Patrol stations, and listened to human rights and legal advocates who have worked with migrants for decades.

Some of us even saw where Felipe Gómez Alonzo, an 8-year-old Guatemalan who recently died while in custody, and his father were apprehended.

Obviously, El Paso and its metropolitan area, including Ciudad Juárez, in Mexico, is just one point along a very long border. But everything we saw demonstrated why President Trump’s call for a wall is simplistic and misguided. While there is indeed a crisis on the border, it’s not the one the president describes — and, in fact, his “solution” will only make things worse.

The border runs for 2,000 miles. Some of it runs through impassable terrain, some alongside cities like El Paso. About 700 miles of it already has a wall. In other words, the border may look like one long, thin line on a map, but in reality it is much more complicated.

Nor are those arriving at the border the threatening mass of humanity Mr. Trump imagines. For one thing, there are a lot fewer people being apprehended — down 60 percent from a decade ago. And these days the majority are seeking asylum, their legal right. And while drugs do flow across the border, most of them come through ports of entry.

It’s not just Mr. Trump who fails to appreciate these facts; as I’ve come to learn as an El Pasoan and now a member of Congress, so does the Department of Homeland Security.

Despite receiving more money than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined, the department has not adapted to changes in migrating populations and patterns. Before giving it another penny, Congress must understand why.

Instead of developing a nuanced response to the facts on the ground, this administration has chosen incompetence and cruelty as its approach. The consequences are already apparent.

For example, one reason more migrants are coming across the border through the desert, then requesting asylum, may be that they are being unfairly rejected at official border crossings or being forced to languish in Mexico while their applications are being considered at a deliberately slow pace, a tactic called “metering.” Many choose not to wait, and make a desperate, risky choice — and some die as a result.

And because federal law enforcement agencies have failed to adapt to this changing population, agents are ill equipped to handle the asylum seekers once they do arrive.

Those agents are used to chasing after single Mexican men determined to evade capture. They are now dealing with Central American families, fleeing their countries and running to, not from, the agents. Some carry very small children; all are being crowded into small, inhumane cement cells for days at a time.

I am not blaming the agents. During one of our visits to an El Paso Sector station, agents were up front with us about how unprepared they were to care for the large groups of people they apprehended. They had to buy burritos from a vendor down the street, then warm hundreds of them in a single, small microwave that eventually burned out.

Then there was the mother who, in our presence, asked for a cup of water for her toddler, only to be told that the facility was out of cups. What a terrible situation for the mother, holding an exhausted, thirsty child in her arms. And what does that do to the agent who has to say no to her?

During flu season, agents in El Paso had to dispense medication to their charges. Imagine keeping track of dozens of prescriptions intended to be dispensed every few hours. And all of this was keeping agents from what they were trained to do: track and apprehend bad guys.

When I ask agents what they worry about most, I hear stories like this — not pleas for a wall. Other times they ask for better cellphone coverage and updated radios to use in rural areas. In urban areas with busy ports of entry, they ask for more personnel and newer equipment. There aren’t enough immigration judges, they don’t have enough independence, and the laws on the books don’t reflect modern realities.

The agents may not be to blame, but the agencies sure are. Local immigration activists said their main concern was inadequate communication from federal law enforcement, which left their organizations scrambling when the local Immigration Customs Enforcement office releases hundreds of migrants in need of temporary housing into the nighttime streets of El Paso.

When we talk about a crisis along the border, this is what it looks like: desperate families overwhelming agents who get little direction or support from their local offices, let alone Washington.

This year, Congress needs to investigate the inability of a well-funded agency to adapt, why supervisors ignored the alarms raised by their agents on the ground, how two children (Felipe Gómez and 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin) died as a result, and how we best address the root causes of changed migration.

President Trump and his base won’t end their obsession with border security until there’s not a single undocumented crosser — an impossibility. For them, of course, this isn’t about border security; it’s about nationalism and isolationism. For the rest of us, it’s about finding a humane solution to a humanitarian crisis.

Veronica Escobar is a Democratic representative from El Paso.

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China, Brexit, the Philippines: Your Friday Briefing

(Want to get this briefing by email? Here’s the sign-up.)

Good morning.

We’ll be off on Monday for the American holiday of Martin Luther King Day.

Now back to the news: America’s expanded antimissile efforts, China’s shrinking population, and the economic costs of climate change.

U.S. plans to expand missile defenses

President Trump announced new investments in missile defenses aimed at shielding the nation against growing threats from North Korea, China, Russia and Iran.

“Our goal is simple: to ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States anywhere, any time, any place,” Mr. Trump said at the Pentagon.

Background: Antimissile systems are extremely costly — the U.S. has spent over $300 billion on them to date — and also extremely difficult to get right. It has proved challenging to intercept speeding targets in the sky: A system introduced in 2004 has failed in 50 percent of tests.

Timing: The announcement came a day before Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to meet with North Korea’s lead nuclear program negotiator, Kim Yong-chol, in Washington. Earlier this week, Mr. Pence said the U.S. was still waiting for “concrete steps from North Korea” toward denuclearization — a demand that has so far stalled dialogue between the two countries.

China’s looming demographic crisis

Chinese academics recently issued a stark warning: The country is facing its most precipitous population decline in decades, a trend that could have far-reaching economic and political consequences.

Details: Preliminary numbers suggest the total number of births in China in 2018 could fall to 15 million, down from 17.2 million in 2017. Women need to have 2.1 children to maintain population levels — but the official fertility rate is currently 1.6 children per women, and even that number is disputed.

Given this trajectory, the academics estimated that the country’s population could start shrinking in 2027. And some experts believe that could come sooner or has already begun.

One of the main reasons for the trend was long-term consequences from China’s “one child” policy to slow population growth, experts said. The policy also created gender imbalances.

Why it matters: With fewer workers in the future, the government could struggle to pay for a population that is growing older and living longer.

Britain awaits Theresa May’s Brexit Plan B

The prime minister has to return to Parliament by Monday with an updated blueprint for Britain’s withdrawal from the E.U. That plan is then scheduled to go to a vote on Jan. 29.

Days after Parliament resoundingly rejected her initial Brexit plan, she invited opposition party leaders to discuss a compromise. But the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, asked her first to rule out a “no-deal” exit. Mrs. May rejected the demand as an “impossible condition.”

View from Europe: E.U. officials initially saw Britain’s growing political crisis as a win, standing strong and united in the face of confusion and chaos in London. But now that it looks increasingly likely that Britain could leave the bloc without a deal, the E.U. is starting to worry.

Analysis: Mrs. May, who has remained “indestructible” in “the bizarro world that is British politics,” might go down in history books for her resilience. The prime minister “awakes every day to discover herself in a dire political crisis,” writes our London correspondent. “And every day survives, in her grim, implacable way.”

Wariness of China could decide the fate of a Philippines shipyard

The country’s largest shipyard, about 50 miles from the capital city of Manila, has been dragged into a geopolitical tangle with China.

Background: The site was a major American naval base during the Cold War. In 2006, a local unit of a South Korean company leased it and employed 20,000 people to build cargo ships. Then earlier this month, the company filed for bankruptcy, putting the site up for grabs.

What now? Officials said two Chinese companies were among the several foreign firms expressing interest in the site. But the country’s defense secretary is now suggesting keeping the shipyard under government control to keep it out of Beijing’s hands.

Why it matters: The shipyard is changing hands amid growing concern about Chinese companies, even those that aren’t government controlled, acting as proxies for Beijing’s influence and espionage efforts. At the same time, China continues to occupy and build military bases on islands in the South China Sea, near the Philippines.

Here’s what else is happening

Hitachi: The company said it was suspending work on a $19.3 billion nuclear power plant in North Wales, which had been expected to provide hundreds of new local jobs, after the British and Japanese governments failed to agree on financial terms.

1MDB: Goldman Sachs, in an attempt to minimize its own role in the multibillion dollar fraud scheme involving a Malaysian investment fund, has started a smear campaign against a former partner, depicting him as a master con man.

Facebook: The social media company said it deleted nearly 500 pages and accounts related to two disinformation campaigns originating from Russia that targeted users in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Microsoft: The company pledged $500 million to help address the affordable housing crisis in Seattle, one of a number of cities where the explosive growth of the technology industry has contributed to widening inequality.

BlackRock: Larry Fink, the investment firm’s chief executive, urged companies around the world to take leadership on social issues, especially where governments “fail to do so effectively.”

Climate change: In the coming decades, many of the world’s biggest economic questions will be, at their core, climate questions. Here are some of the big ones.

Perspective: “The malign incompetence of the Brexiteers,” the Op-Ed contributor Pankaj Mishra argues, has parallels in the British Empire’s ruinous departure from India.

Australian Open: Simona Halep, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic advanced to the third round. Follow along here for more updates from Melbourne.

The Oscars: It looks as if this year’s awards ceremony won’t have a host to steer the ship. Here’s why that might not be such a bad thing for the show.

Tiny Love Stories: Our column of reader-submitted romantic tales of no more than 100 words is going global, starting with Australia. If you’ve got a short personal story about the ties that bind (and sometimes break), go to nytimes.com/tinylovestories and write “AUSTRALIA” at the start of your entry.

Smarter Living

Tips for a more fulfilling life.

Recipe of the day: Cauliflower rice belongs in your weekly recipe rotation.

Train your memory, using systems that connect numbers to letters that can transform to sounds, sentences and images.

Escaping the frenetic digital world might seem impossible but it’s manageable through meditation.

Back Story

The North American International Auto Show in Detroit has lost of much of its cachet as the industry’s focus has shifted from horsepower to high tech.

This year’s event, which began this week, hardly resembles the glitzy spectacles of the past.

Only a handful of major new models are making debuts. Porsche, BMW, Audi, Mercedes and Mazda stayed home.

But for many years it was a can’t-miss affair.

To turn heads, Chrysler became famous for rollicking presentations worthy of halftime at the Super Bowl.

In 1992, it had its new Jeep Grand Cherokee arrive by crashing through a glass wall. (The fun begins in this video at 3:14.) It once presented the Chrysler Aspen S.U.V. by simulating a blizzard.

Most memorable was probably the cattle drive.

To promote its new Dodge Ram pickup, the company staged one outside the convention center.

The new truck emerged from a herd of 120 longhorn, led by cowboys on horseback — in the middle of downtown Detroit.

Neal E. Boudette, who is covering the Detroit Auto Show for The Times, wrote today’s Back Story.

Your Morning Briefing is published weekday mornings and updated online. Sign up here to get it by email in the Australian, Asian, European or American morning. You can also receive an Evening Briefing on U.S. weeknights.

And our Australia bureau chief offers a weekly letter adding analysis and conversations with readers.

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What would you like to see here? Contact us at [email protected].

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Video captures man jumping from 11th floor of cruise ship, earning him lifetime ban

A 27-year-old Washington man has earned himself a lifetime ban from Royal Caribbean after he decided to jump from an eleventh-floor balcony into the ocean while the cruise ship was docked in the Bahamas.

Looking to get a few laughs from his buddies and perhaps some internet shame fame, Nick Naydev decided to make the leap from the Symphony of the Seas ship while his friends recorded the plunge, sharing the video on social media.

The video, posted to Naydev’s Instagram late last week, shows the bro standing on a balcony railing wearing swim trunks and a button-down shirt, while three dudes laugh and record Naydev’s antics. Naydev is then seen flailing his arms and legs as he plummets to the water. He eventually surfaces, and slowly swims away. It’s unclear what happens after that.

“I am truly astonished at how this video has spread throughout the internet. I did not think this through before I jumped,” Naydev admitted in a statement to several news stations. “My idea was this would be a good laugh for my friends and I would just swim back to shore and continue my vacation and never thought this would be this serious.”

Wrong, buddy.

The stunt earned him and his friends a lifetime ban from the cruise liner.

“This was stupid and reckless behavior and he and his companions have been banned from ever sailing with us again,” Royal Caribbean said in a statement.

Naydev said he and his friends were immediately kicked off the boat in Nassau by security shortly after making the jump from the ship, a leap he estimated to be about 100 feet from the water.

“When the security caught up with me they told me and my friends that we needed to pack our bags and leave the ship immediately and were not welcome on any of their cruise ships again,” Naydev said in a statement. “Local police in Nassau, Bahamas were called in to pick us up from the ship, but fortunately the police thought the whole situation was amusing and did not proceed to file any legal actions.”

The man admitted that he hopes not to “inspire anyone to try” the stunt “because I don’t want to feel responsible for any injuries.”

However, the video still remains on his Instagram account and has been viewed nearly 85,000 times.

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Opinion | How Trump Loses the G.O.P.

Listen and subscribe to our podcast from your mobile device:

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This week on “The Argument,” could the latest bout of Trumpian chaos finally spur Republicans to turn against the president? Michelle Goldberg sees the government shutdown as most Americans’ first material taste of the costs of an incompetent executive. David Leonhardt thinks the G.O.P.’s turn against Representative Steve King — the racist Iowa congressman rebuked this week by his fellow Republicans — shows just how quickly Trump’s fortunes could change. And Ross Douthat cautions that only a true catastrophe will provoke enough Republican skittishness to end Trump’s presidency.

Then, does the political left have an anti-Semitism problem? With the third annual Women’s March set to take place this weekend, the columnists discuss the controversy over leadership that’s roiling the grass-roots movement.

And finally, Ross flies in with a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious recommendation: “Mary Poppins” — the book, not the movie.

Background Reading:

Ross on Steve King’s white supremacy and the left’s anti-Semitism problem and Trump, untamed or constrained

David on the case for removing Trump from office and Trump’s political vulnerability

Michelle on the government shutdown and anti-Semitism vs. anti-Zionism

“Is the Women’s March Melting Down?” (Tablet Magazine)

Ross Douthat

I’ve been an Op-Ed columnist since 2009, and I write about politics, religion, pop culture, sociology and the places where they all intersect. I’m a Catholic and a conservative, in that order, which means that I’m against abortion and critical of the sexual revolution, but I tend to agree with liberals that the Republican Party is too friendly to the rich. I was against Donald Trump in 2016 for reasons specific to Donald Trump, but in general I think the populist movements in Europe and America have legitimate grievances and I often prefer the populists to the “reasonable” elites. I’ve written books about Harvard, the G.O.P., American Christianity and Pope Francis; I’m working on one about decadence. Benedict XVI was my favorite pope. I review movies for National Review and have strong opinions about many prestige television shows. I have three small children, two girls and a boy, and I live in New Haven with my wife.

Michelle Goldberg

I’ve been an Op-Ed columnist at The New York Times since 2017, writing mainly about politics, ideology and gender. These days people on the right and the left both use “liberal” as an epithet, but that’s basically what I am, though the nightmare of Donald Trump’s presidency has radicalized me and pushed me leftward. I’ve written three books, including one, in 2006, about the danger of right-wing populism in its religious fundamentalist guise. (My other two were about the global battle over reproductive rights and, in a brief detour from politics, about an adventurous Russian émigré who helped bring yoga to the West.) I love to travel; a long time ago, after my husband and I eloped, we spent a year backpacking through Asia. Now we live in Brooklyn with our son and daughter.

David Leonhardt

I’ve worked at The Times since 1999 and have been an Op-Ed columnist since 2016. I caught the journalism bug a very long time ago — first as a little kid in the late 1970s who loved reading the Boston Globe sports section and later as a teenager working on my high school and college newspapers. I discovered that when my classmates and I put a complaint in print, for everyone to see, school administrators actually paid attention. I’ve since worked as a metro reporter at The Washington Post and a writer at BusinessWeek magazine. At The Times, I started as a reporter in the business section and have also been a Times Magazine staff writer, the Washington bureau chief and the founding editor of The Upshot.

My politics are left of center. But I’m also to the right of many Times readers. I think education reform has accomplished a lot. I think two-parent families are good for society. I think progressives should be realistic about the cultural conservatism that dominates much of this country. Most of all, however, I worry deeply about today’s Republican Party, which has become dangerously extreme. This country faces some huge challenges — inequality, climate change, the rise of China — and they’ll be very hard to solve without having both parties committed to the basic functioning of American democracy.




How do I listen?

Tune in on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts. Tell us what you think at [email protected] Follow Michelle Goldberg (@michelleinbklyn), Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) and David Leonhardt (@DLeonhardt) on Twitter.

This week’s show is produced by Alex Laughlin for Transmitter Media, with help from Caitlin Pierce. Our executive producer is Gretta Cohn. We had help from Tyson Evans, Phoebe Lett and Ian Prasad Philbrick. Our theme is composed by Allison Leyton-Brown. Special thanks to Kaiser Health News.

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Macquarie raises $5 billion for North America infrastructure fund

(Reuters) – The investment arm of Australia’s Macquarie Group Ltd (MQG.AX) said on Thursday it has raised $5 billion for its latest fund to invest in infrastructure in North America.

The fundraising underscores the private sector’s appetite to invest in U.S. infrastructure, which runs the gamut from toll roads to airports to oil fields, amid a dearth of federal and state infrastructure funding for many projects.

Private equity fund managers raised a record $85 billion in 2018 for infrastructure, with more than half coming from funds raised with a focus on North America, data from Preqin, an industry tracker, showed. Globally, the amount of money raised but not yet invested hit a record $172 billion last year.

Blackstone Group LP (BX.N) reached a first close last year of $5 billion for its new infrastructure fund and is aiming eventually to raise up to $40 billion. Major infrastructure investors Brookfield Asset Management (BAMa.TO) and Global Infrastructure Partners are also raising new funds.

While there were hopes that political consensus would emerge in the United States for more federal spending in infrastructure, this has not yet come to pass.

Democrats last year indicated a willingness to work with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration on an infrastructure investment program. This would follow a plan by Trump unveiled in 2017 designed to encourage spending on improvements by states, localities and private investors, which was widely panned for offering no new direct federal spending and never got a vote in Congress.

“To the extent that there are government privatizations in areas where there’s been historically few, we would certainly review those opportunities,” Macquarie Infrastructure Partners Chief Executive Karl Kuchel said in an interview.

“But there is already a large and deep private sector infrastructure investment opportunity set in North America and there always has been.”

Investment is needed, with America $1.44 trillion short of what it needs to spend on infrastructure through the next decade, according to a 2016 report by The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

The new Macquarie fund, Macquarie Infrastructure Partners IV, will primarily focus on the United States and Canada.

It will follow the same strategy as its predecessor fund, which closed in 2014, to invest in energy, transportation, waste and communications infrastructure but dependant on where the strength of the U.S. economy is, Kuchel said.

“The difference between fund III and fund IV is the expectation of where we are in the economic cycle. With fund III we had recently come out of the global financial crisis. Now, it’s reasonable to expect we’re close to the end of this economic cycle,” he said.

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