Opinion | As Long as Trump Is President, Blue Texas Could Actually Happen

Enthusiastic Democrats can often be heard talking about how Texas is turning purple and maybe even blue. Professional strategists have mostly scoffed at this idea — after all, Donald Trump won Texas by more than 800,000 votes in 2016. But if President Trump decides to seek a second term — and he has said many times that he intends to — he can no longer count on winning Texas’s 38 Electoral College votes.

In some respects, Trump’s problems in Texas are similar to the difficulties he faces nationally: college educated white women moving decisively to the left and the continued erosion of Republican support in fast-growing metropolitan counties.

The biggest warning signal for Trump in once bright red Texas is the clear disenchantment with hard-right conservatives that a segment of Republican voters feel. These are the conservatives most closely tied to Trump in both substance and style.

If Texas were to become a battleground state in 2020, the national political consequences would be hard to overestimate. Not only are its 38 Electoral College votes second in number only to California’s 55, but for a Democratic presidential candidate, winning Texas would, in effect, neutralize such adverse developments as, say, combined losses in Ohio and Michigan or Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Let’s bore into the details by looking first at Tarrant County (home to Fort Worth), which has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in 54 years.

In late October, Julie McCarty, the president of the NE Tarrant County Tea Party and a major power broker in North Texas, expressed confidence over the coming election.

“I have no worries about Tarrant County,” she told The Texas Tribune. “We are solidly red this go-round.”

On Nov. 7, the day after the election, McCarty changed her tune. According to the Tribune, she wrote to her loyalists on the Tea Party mailing list:

“We are rapidly becoming outnumbered. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I don’t like the pattern.”

In Tarrant County, not only did Beto O’Rourke beat Ted Cruz, a darling of the Tea Party movement, by a slim margin (312,477 to 308,608) but right-wing, down-ballot candidates were swept out of office.

For example, Matt Rinaldi, a state representative and a founder of the Texas Freedom Caucus, lost to Julie Johnson, who was endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund and Planned Parenthood, while carrying a rating of zero from the N.R.A. Konni Burton, a state senator and a former vice president of the Tarrant Tea Party, lost to Beverly Powell, who had the backing of virtually every liberal advocacy group in the state.

Even more telling for 2020, voters showed a clear preference for more moderate Republicans running statewide than for red meat, Trump-style Republicans.

Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice, described this development in an email:

Donald Trump made the most polarizing and dogmatic conservatives in Texas much more vulnerable, with a significant number of regular Republican voters strongly associating these candidates with Trump, and as a result either voting for their Democratic rival, not voting in that race, or casting a protest vote for the Libertarian.

Less polarizing and less dogmatic conservative Republicans — Governor Greg Abbott, Glenn Hegar, the comptroller and George P. Bush, the land commissioner — won by margins (on average, 11.9 percent), that, according to Jones, “double or triple that of the more polarizing and dogmatic conservative Republicans.” Those farther to the extreme right — the lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, the attorney general, Ken Paxton and Sid Miller, the agricultural commissioner, won by an average of 4.9 percent.

Jones has strong views on the Trump effect in Texas: “Donald Trump is without a question a major liability for Texas Republicans.”

Trump, according to Jones, repels

key GOP constituencies such as college educated Anglo women and Anglo millennials and post-millennials, while simultaneously providing Democrats with a banner around which to mobilize turnout, especially among Latinos and younger voters.

What about the big question: is Texas becoming Democratic? Jones’s answer:

It is premature to say that Texas is turning blue, but whereas four years ago its hue was dark red, today it is light pink. As long as President Trump is in the White House, Republicans in Texas can look forward to much tougher battles from higher quality and better funded Democratic challengers than they faced prior to 2018, as well as being required to do something that most Republican candidates have not had to do for years in Texas; actually work up a sweat in the fall.

Robert Stein, who is also a political scientist at Rice, pointed out in an email that the pro-Democratic trends in major Texas counties began well before Trump, although Trump has accelerated developments.

Stein uses graphics compiled by The Texas Tribune to make his point. In each major county, partisan voting patterns show Republicans on a steady downward path.

The Decline of the Texas Republican Vote Is Real

Republicans’ margins of victory (and defeat) in three regions, in percentage points. The 2000-16 margins are for presidential and governor’s races; 2018 margins are for the United States Senate race.

Dallas-Fort Worth region

TARRANT COUNTY

(INCLUDES FORT WORTH)

COLLIN COUNTY

(DALLAS SUBURBS)

+50

+40

+30

+20

+10

+6.2

0

–0.6

’00

’04

’08

’12

’16

’18

’00

’04

’08

’12

’16

’18

Austin region

HAYS COUNTY

(AUSTIN SUBURBS)

WILLIAMSON COUNTY

(AUSTIN SUBURBS)

+40

+30

+20

+10

0

–2.8

–10

–15.3

’00

’04

’08

’12

’16

’18

’00

’04

’08

’12

’16

’18

Houston region

HARRIS COUNTY

(INCLUDES HOUSTON)

FORT BEND COUNTY

(HOUSTON SUBURBS)

+20

+10

0

–10

–12

–16.5

’00

’04

’08

’12

’16

’18

’00

’04

’08

’12

’16

’18

Dallas-Fort Worth region

TARRANT COUNTY (INCLUDES FORT WORTH)

COLLIN COUNTY (DALLAS SUBURBS)

+50

+40

+30

+20

+10

+6.2

0

–0.6

’00

’02

’04

’06

’08

’10

’12

’14

’16

’18

’00

’02

’04

’06

’08

’10

’12

’14

’16

’18

Austin region

HAYS COUNTY (AUSTIN SUBURBS)

WILLIAMSON COUNTY (AUSTIN SUBURBS)

+40

+30

+20

+10

0

–2.8

–10

–15.3

’00

’02

’04

’06

’08

’10

’12

’14

’16

’18

’00

’02

’04

’06

’08

’10

’12

’14

’16

’18

Houston region

HARRIS COUNTY (INCLUDES HOUSTON)

FORT BEND COUNTY (HOUSTON SUBURBS)

+20

+10

0

–10

–12

–16.5

’00

’02

’04

’06

’08

’10

’12

’14

’16

’18

’00

’02

’04

’06

’08

’10

’12

’14

’16

’18

The New York Times | Analysis of Texas Secretary of State data and charts by Darla Cameron, Chris Essig and Alexa Ura/The Texas Tribune

Richard Murray, a political scientist at the University of Houston, is bullish on Democratic prospects. The midterms demonstrated that

the metro v. rest-of-state gap widened hugely in Texas, with the big cities going overwhelmingly Democratic while suburban counties outside Austin, Houston, and Dallas/Ft Worth moved toward the Democrats. But non-metro counties stayed very Republican with very high turnout, enabling Cruz to eke out a narrow win.

That trend is likely to continue, Murray argued in an email:

We had 8.3 million voters in 2018 (up from just 4.7 million in 2014). That should go over 10 million in 2020, giving statewide Democrats a good chance of carrying the state for president and winning the U.S. senate seat.

Not only will Democrats be competitive in 2020 but the party has, in Murray’s view, “a 50 percent-plus chance of taking the Texas House of Representatives, with major implications for the 2021 redistricting process.”

Texas continues to change demographically, and, over time, the shifts should work to the advantage of Democrats.

The census reports that from 2000 to 2017 the percentage of white, non-Hispanic Texans, the core of Republican support, fell from 52.4 to 42.0 percent of the population.

Over the same period, the black population grew modestly, from 12.0 to 12.7 percent; Asian-Americans from 3.1 to 5.0 percent and, most important, Hispanics, whose support Democrats are banking on, grew from 32.0 to 39.4 percent.

The Pew Research Center found that Hispanics in Texas voted for O’Rourke over Cruz 64-35. Historically, Hispanic turnout rates have been low. But in 2018, the Dallas Morning News reported, Hispanic turnout increased over 2014 by large percentages in heavily Latino counties: Dallas County (an 86 percent increase); Hidalgo (a 105 percent increase), Cameron County (a 115 percent increase); El Paso County, O’Rourke’s home base (a 168 percent increase).

Statewide, O’Rourke lost to Cruz by 219,427 votes, or 2.6 percent out of 8.3 million votes cast.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at the University of Houston, is also optimistic about Democratic prospects in Texas. Rottinghaus wrote in an email:

The migration of Texas’s big urban counties from red and purple to blue means Texas is a two party state for the first time in almost 30 years. Demographic changes, tremendous energy from voters, and a surge of resources will keep Texas competitive for decades.

Trump, Rottinghaus argued,

was a net negative, driving a wedge between college educated, women, and independent voters. As long as Trump is on the ballot in fact or in spirit, Texas will be a competitive two party state.

Christopher Hooks, a freelance journalist based in Austin who often writes for the Texas Observer, has produced two nuanced analyses of the state of play in Texas politics, one in the Observer, the other in the Atlantic.

In the Nov. 7 Observer, Hooks wrote:

Something happened this year that has not happened before — Republican-leaning voters studied specific down-ballot races and broke ranks. That’s a terrible omen for Republicans, who spent the month before the election begging voters to vote straight-ticket R. Once voters get in the habit of splitting their ballot, they’re more likely to do so in the future.

Hooks reported a conversation he had with O’Rourke last July in “a crummy hotel bar” in Lubbock, Tex. when O’Rourke talked not only about winning, but also

about the effect he hoped his race would have on the people around him. He would go to places Democrats don’t go, engage people in a politics that was collaborative, spontaneous and felt good, and hope that it gave them tools and encouragement to keep going after he was done. The success of that project was dependent on O’Rourke doing well enough, and proving the haters wrong. He did. Only time will tell what the race left behind. But according to his own terms — and let’s use a damn cuss here, in tribute to the man — it looks like he knocked it out of the … park.

In the Atlantic, Hooks cautioned that it was too early in the process of partisan transition to suggest that Texas is on the verge of turning blue, but that the Nov. 6 results “just might be the beginning of the end” of Republican dominance.

Hooks compared O’Rourke’s losing bid to that of John Tower — one of the first Republicans to break the pre-1965 Democratic stranglehold on Texas — who lost in his first attempt to win a Texas Senate seat in 1960 but went on to win in a 1961 special election.

Tower’s victory demonstrated to Texas Republicans that their ambitions were not hopeless, “that the party could bide its time, be smart, and pick off races when it could,” Hooks wrote. “That might just be — with a very strong emphasis on might — what happened to Texas Democrats in 2018.”

Despite his caution, Hooks appeared to be convinced that the 2018 election marked a turning point:

Something very strange happened here this year. Like Tower’s bid, the full payoff may not come for many years. But the state party now has what the Republican Party then needed more than anything else: A reason to start building in earnest. That’s not much, doubtless. But it just might be enough.

Perhaps the most trenchant insights concerning Texas politics were offered by a prominent Republican, Joseph Straus, who is retiring after serving 10 years as Speaker of the state House of Representatives. Despite a lifetime career in Republican politics, in a postelection interview with the Texas Tribune, Straus described his own distaste for some of the leaders of the party’s right wing.

He acknowledged that he split his ticket “more than I ever have before” and cited the

infectious enthusiasm (in the O’Rourke campaign) which was brighter than what a lot of his opponents were offering.

Trump, who campaigned extensively for Cruz, demonstrated “borderline racism” at times, Straus said. Some of Trump’s “rhetoric is extremely divisive” and

It’s dark. It’s not unifying. It’s not factual in many cases, and I think that’s the wrong direction for the leader of any party.

For her part, Julie McCarty, the Tea Party stalwart in North Texas, remains firm in her commitment. She wrote her supporters:

I am called to fight for freedom and righteousness, and that is all I know to do. We continue to educate and push back as long as we have the chance … and we do still have the chance because even though we had some squeakers and some tough losses, TEXAS IS STILL A RED STATE.

Straus was more considered in his assessment of Texas politics: “The Republican Party and the state of Texas are moving in opposite directions.”

I invite you to follow me on Twitter, @Edsall.

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Thomas B. Edsall has been a contributor to The Times Opinion section since 2011. His column on strategic and demographic trends in American politics appears every Thursday. He previously covered politics for The Washington Post.  @edsall

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Opinion | Marco Rubio, Trumpified

This article is part of the Opinion Today newsletter. You can sign up here to receive the newsletter each weekday.

Senator Marco Rubio wasn’t very pleased with yesterday’s edition of this newsletter.

“Left wing commentators have no shame just making things up,” he tweeted, along with a link to the newsletter. “This piece is a work of fiction. No one is stopping #Florida recount. Only thing we ask is they follow the law.”

It was the latest of many false charges that he has levied this week. I want to walk you through those falsehoods this morning. They’re important to debunk, because Rubio is doing something dangerous: Deliberately undermining people’s confidence in our electoral systems for partisan gain.

[Listen to “The Argument” podcast every Thursday morning with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]

Rubio, like President Trump, is part of a group of top Republicans who have been making baseless accusations against Democrats. “Now democrat lawyers are descending on #Florida. They have been very clear they aren’t here to make sure every vote is counted,” he tweeted Thursday. “They are here to change the results of election.” That same day, he accused lawyers of coming to Florida to “try to steal a seat in the U.S. Senate.” Yesterday, he repeated the charge, claiming “Dem lawyers” were trying to “steal an election.”

This simply isn’t true. Democratic lawyers — working for or with Senator Bill Nelson, the incumbent — are not trying to steal anything. They have filed lawsuits to make sure the state counts all votes, including ballots that were previously uncounted, misplaced or discarded for dubious technical reasons.

And the state of Florida should carefully count all of the votes. In an extremely close election, like Florida’s Senate race, it is not possible to do so on election night. Rubio, however, is trying to delegitimize a full counting of the votes — to make it look like fraud (a word he used on Twitter yesterday). His goal is transparently cynical. He knows his party’s candidate is currently ahead, and he is trying to make that lead look like the only fair outcome.

Along the way, he’s using a clever bait and switch. He has repeatedly criticized election officials in South Florida for running the vote-counting process poorly. On this score, he is correct. The process in Florida is often slow and sloppy. By now, no one should be surprised to hear that Florida could do a better job of operating its electoral bureaucracy.

But here is the crucial point: There is no reason to believe that this messiness systematically benefits Democrats or Republicans. Multiple Florida agencies have found no evidence of election-related fraud or criminal activity in the two South Florida counties Rubio has focused on. This week, a Florida judge — appointed by a Republican governor — denied a request from Rick Scott, the Republican Senate candidate, saying his campaign had produced no evidence of fraud.

Rubio is doing precisely what I described yesterday: making false accusations of nefarious activity to create political pressure that would halt a full counting of votes. While doing so, he is invoking all sorts of worthy principles — that only “legally cast” votes should be counted and that election officials should stick to deadlines. But he is mixing these principles with false conspiracy theories about scheming Democrats and county officials who are trying to help the Democrats.

There was a different path available. He could have pushed for the interpretation of election law most favorable to Republicans — like his argument that the state should not extend deadlines to count ballots — without lying about what Democrats are doing. That would have been a tough but fair brand of politics.

Instead, Rubio has chosen to employ a classic tool of autocrats. He is using the language of democracy to subvert democracy.

Senator, I may disagree with you on policy. But I’m honestly disappointed and surprised you would stoop to this level. You should be better than President Trump.

Related: The New Yorker’s Sue Halpern writes, “Although it is not clear what impact these false accusations of voter fraud may have in future elections, what they expose, right now, is a blatant attack on democracy itself.”

“Trump’s rhetoric about ballot-counting is his most dangerous rhetoric,” tweeted Eitan Hersh, a Tufts political scientist. “People who love this country and its democratic institutions should be raising hell over this.”

“Some Republican leaders want Americans to think that the only way they can be denied power is by chicanery,” The Times Editorial Board writes.

You can join me on Twitter (@DLeonhardt) and Facebook. I am also writing a daily email newsletter and invite you to subscribe.

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David Leonhardt is a former Washington bureau chief for the Times, and was the founding editor of The Upshot and head of The 2020 Project, on the future of the Times newsroom. He won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, for columns on the financial crisis. @DLeonhardt Facebook

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Opinion | Down Under, More Humane Private Prisons

About 35 years ago, America began turning prisons over to the private sector. The idea was that private prisons would be better and cheaper than government-run ones. “The great incentive for us, and we believe the long-term great incentive for the private sector, will be that you will be judged on performance,” Thomas Beasley said on “60 Minutes” in 1984. Mr. Beasley was president of the newly created Corrections Corporation of America.

Today about 9 percent of those behind bars in 28 states and in federal prisons — more than 128,000 people — are in prisons run by the private sector. More than half of all private prison beds are owned by CoreCivic, the new name for Mr. Beasley’s company. In addition to prisoners, about 70 percent of detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody are in private facilities.

But private prisons have turned out to be neither better nor cheaper. They have about the same recidivism rates as their government-run counterparts — nearly 40 percent. And the Government Accountability Office has concluded time and again that there is simply no evidence that private prisons are more cost-effective than public prisons.

Private prisons have come under tremendous political scrutiny because the more people they house, the more they profit. Most corrections contracts with the private sector merely ask the private operator to replicate what the government is doing.

Given how entrenched the private sector is in American corrections, the private prison industry is here to stay. But there are ways to improve these institutions. Currently they are rewarded according to the number of prisoners they house. What if private prison contracts were structured so that they made more money if they treated prisoners humanely with policies that helped them stay out of trouble once released? Prisons exist to lower crime rates. So why not reward private prisons for doing that? Judge them on performance, as Mr. Beasley said.

America doesn’t use performance-based contracts. But Australia and New Zealand are experimenting with these models. Two relatively new private prisons have contracts that give them bonuses for doing better than government prisons at cutting recidivism. They get an even bigger bonus if they beat the government at reducing recidivism among their indigenous populations. And prison companies are charged for what the government deems as unacceptable events like riots, escapes and unnatural deaths.

Although the contracts set specific objectives, they do not dictate how prison operators should achieve them. “If we want to establish a prison that focuses on rehabilitation and reintegration, we have to give the private sector the space to innovate,” said Rachael Cole, a former public-private partnership integration director for the New Zealand Department of Corrections. “If we don’t give them the opportunity to do things differently, we will just get back what we already have.”

I recently visited New Zealand’s Auckland South Corrections Facility, a low-lying yellow and white brick structure in the shadow of the local airport. It houses 970 men and avoids many of the dehumanizing elements typical of prisons. Prisoners are called by their first names instead of by number, and corrections officers are called reintegration officers.

Serco, a British company that operates prisons globally, manages the facility for the New Zealand Department of Corrections under the country’s first public-private prison partnership. Men who follow the rules, complete educational and vocational programs, and keep a positive attitude can move from the more traditional housing units into six-room cottages designed to prepare them for life outside prison. The residences, which house almost a quarter of the prison’s population, resemble dorm-room suites with desks and bookshelves in the bedrooms, carpeted living spaces, couches, windows without bars, microwaves, refrigerators, cooking utensils and a flat-screen TV. The men cook their own meals and do their own laundry.

Even those who live in more conventional cells manage their own affairs through a computer system to schedule family visits, medical appointments and their daily responsibilities. Each prisoner has a résumé and is expected to apply and be interviewed for jobs at the facility. The prison also responds to the job market. Noticing the growth in barista careers, Serco opened two cafes in the prison to provide on-the-job training.

New Zealand’s prison population has soared in recent years, reaching an all-time high of more than 10,600. The country also struggles with racial disparities, with an overrepresentation of Maori — the nation’s indigenous Polynesian people — in their prisons. Maori make up only about 15 percent of the country’s population but half of New Zealand’s prisoners. Aiming to reduce the Maori’s recidivism rate, Serco and its partners worked with indigenous groups to build a cultural center for the Maori prisoners at the Auckland South prison. When I visited, one Maori prisoner, a bald, bearded man dressed in the prison uniform of gray shorts and a burgundy shirt, was cleaning the cultural center to prepare it for a meeting. He said that the center hosts events like the Maori New Year celebration and that family members frequently join.

“The prison is designed for rehabilitation,” said Oliver Brousse, chief executive of the John Laing Investment Group, a member of the consortium that built Auckland South. “The strength of these public-private partnerships is that they bring the best practices and innovation from all over the world, allowing local authorities to benefit from not only private capital but also from the best people and best practices from other countries.”

In Australia, the Ravenhall Correctional Center near Melbourne is a 1,000-bed medium-security facility with 51 buildings spread across six acres. There is no razor wire. The prison is operated by the GEO Group, a global prison firm (with most of its facilities in the United States), under a partnership with the Victoria state government. Men live in five communities in small buildings similar to college dorms. Social workers and other clinicians meet with the men inside the communities; overall, the prison has more than 70 clinical programs. When I visited, a group of men whose good behavior had allowed them to progress to living in four-bedroom suites were making sandwiches for lunch and contemplating stir-fry for dinner.

“What makes Ravenhall different is that I didn’t think of it much as a jail,” said a man named Cameron, who was released in April and now works as a landscaper for Rebuild, a Y.M.C.A. program that trains prisoners in construction work and hires some of them when they leave the prison. “It is a place to be if you really want to change. You had to either be in a program or in education. You can’t just stay in the cottage and do nothing.”

Even the men who haven’t yet made it to these cottages live in more humane quarters than exist in most American prisons. Instead of bars on windows, there is thick glass, providing more natural light and a better view of the outside.

As in New Zealand, indigenous people in Australia are overrepresented in the prison system. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are only 2 percent of the adult population but account for more than a quarter of the incarcerated population. Ravenhall has six staff members who work primarily with indigenous prisoners to reconnect them with their cultural heritage. The programs also help the men to be better fathers and to recover from trauma.

The GEO Group decided that to cut recidivism, it needed to continue working with prisoners once they were out. At the Bridge Center, families meet with social workers to discuss what life could be like when their loved ones leave prison and return home. And those released from Ravenhall can meet with the same clinicians they might have bonded with while incarcerated, work with staff to find housing and in some cases receive vouchers to cover three months’ rent.

These prisons are so new — Ravenhall opened less than a year ago — that we don’t yet know if the system works, but corrections departments in both countries are optimistic. Auckland South opened in 2015, and an evaluation of Auckland South’s initial success in reducing recidivism will likely be released later this year.

If the prisons in Australia and New Zealand prove successful, could a similar approach work in the United States? It would require getting beyond simplistic views of private prisons, recognizing that their failures could be a result of the incentives they receive. And it would involve a leap of faith to allow the private sector some flexibility in how it chooses to reduce recidivism.

“This partnership is about moving away from the prescribed way of doing things,” said Jeremy Lightfoot, deputy chief executive of the New Zealand Department of Corrections, told me in his office in Wellington in July. “This prison is in our network. If it is succeeding, then we are succeeding.”

In America, the government tends to rely on the private sector only when it needs capital. In Australia and New Zealand, governments partnered with private industry to design the contracts themselves and fashion innovative practices to reduce recidivism.

“What you have to realize is that we are human beings as well,” Cameron said. “If you put the boys in the cage and treat the boys like an animal, they will think they are animals. But if you put them in an environment where things are peaceful and they are treated like humans, they can change.”

Reporting for this article was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Lauren-Brooke Eisen is a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at the N.Y.U. School of Law.

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Opinion | End the School Bus Nightmares for New York Families

On a bitterly cold day last winter, Sumaya’s mother placed her on her school bus in Brooklyn. Later that morning, her mother received a frantic call. Sumaya, a nonverbal 13-year-old with autism, had been found at a school far from the one she attended. The bus driver had left her, unsupervised, outside the wrong school. Luckily, instead of wandering off to the park across the street, Sumaya had walked into the school building, where she covered her ears and screamed repeatedly, until a staff member found her. A search of Sumaya's backpack turned up a notebook with her mother's phone number. Her mother still has nightmares about how differently the day could have ended.

Sumaya’s mother was particularly despondent because this occurred on the second day Sumaya had a new bus route, put in place to solve another problem: Her previous bus had routinely picked her up from home half an hour after classes began, causing her to miss speech therapy and special education instruction. To get the new bus route, Sumaya’s mother had called the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Pupil Transportation and made complaint after complaint. Finally, in December, several months into the school year, the transportation office placed Sumaya on a route that was supposed to get her to school on time — if only it had taken her to the right place.

I wish I were more shocked by Sumaya’s story. I work at Advocates for Children of New York, a group that provides legal and advocacy services for students from low-income backgrounds. Every year we hear from numerous parents desperate for help resolving transportation issues so their children can get to school safely. Parents tell us about children dropped off at the wrong stop; buses so late that they don’t arrive at school until after class has started; buses that never show up at all; buses that pick students up at school too early, forcing them to leave class before it is over; bus attendants who lack the training needed to assist children with disabilities, or have resorted to verbal or even physical abuse; routes that are hours long; buses that don’t have air-conditioning in the summer; and students in foster care denied busing altogether.

This academic year got off to a particularly rocky start for the 150,000 city children who rely on the school bus each day. Nearly 130,000 complaints were made to the transportation office call center in the first four weeks alone, an 18 percent increase from last year.

We were encouraged to hear Chancellor Richard Carranza state, at a packed City Council hearing last month, that he would not rest until students got the high-quality, safe and reliable bus service they deserved.

The problems with busing run deep and require bold action. As the city revamps school transportation, it must build a system that works for the students and families it is intended to serve.

The city must design routes that get children to school on time, ensure children can stay in school until the end of class and do not require children to sit on the bus for unreasonably long periods.

The city must ensure that well-vetted drivers and attendants get the training needed to transport children safely; to support students, including those with a variety of disabilities, while on the bus; and to take them to the right stops, including handing them off to parents or school staff members when the children’s needs require it.

The city must design a system that provides more information and better customer service to families. Mr. Carranza has talked about the importance of parent empowerment, but nothing is more disempowering than being met with silence when trying to get answers and assistance for what should be a straightforward problem.

The city should enact Councilman Ben Kallos’s bill to require the city to provide real-time GPS tracking to parents and schools so that parents will know when the bus is coming, what route it is taking and how long their children are on it. This information would allow parents and the school staff to hold the transportation office accountable; help find solutions to late buses or problematic routes; and provide peace of mind. This technology is available in other school districts around the country.

Finally, the city must consider children who need bus service but do not have access to it. While federal and state law require the city to provide transportation for students in foster care so they do not need to change schools when moved to different homes, the school system currently tries to meet this obligation by guaranteeing a MetroCard. While sufficient for many older students, a MetroCard is of no use to a kindergartner who cannot take the subway alone. The city took an important step nearly three years ago by guaranteeing bus service to kindergarten through sixth-grade students living in shelters, and it should extend this service to students in foster care.

As Mayor Bill de Blasio has stated, a quality education is “the most powerful tool we know for lifting one’s life chances.” But before students can learn, they have to be physically present in the classroom. For students who rely on bus service, the time for change is now.

Kim Sweet is the executive director of Advocates for Children of New York.

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Opinion | North Korean Nuclear Shell Game

President Trump, who styles himself a master deal maker and reader of people, claimed to have put an end to the North Korean nuclear threat with his meeting in June with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un. “We fell in love,” he swooned in September after an exchange of follow-up letters with Mr. Kim. Mr. Trump’s closest advisers remained dry-eyed, and the evidence is mounting that they had reason.

On Monday the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a respected Washington think tank, published a study by its “Beyond Parallel” program showing that even as North Korea was touting some half steps to dismantle a missile launching site, it was operating and improving at least 13, and possibly as many as 20, bases housing mobile ballistic missile launchers. One mountain base on which the study focused, just 84 miles from Seoul, was “active and being reasonably well maintained by North Korean standards.”

None of that was a surprise to American intelligence agencies, which have been reporting a continuing buildup of North Korea’s missile stockpile. Nor should it have surprised Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, until recently the director of the C.I.A., who acknowledged at a Senate hearing in July that North Koreans “continue to produce fissile material.”

For that matter, North Korea’s shell game is not even a violation of the agreement Mr. Trump signed with Mr. Kim, which proclaimed their meeting “an epochal event of great significance” but referred only to working toward a vague “denuclearization.” The skeletal agreement had no deadlines, no verification regime, no penalties for noncompliance.

The trouble is that Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim had totally opposite views of what the joint statement was supposed to mean. Mr. Trump apparently believed that American sanctions, plus his threats (“fire and fury”) and his irresistible persona, had driven Mr. Kim to abandon his nuclear aspirations. Mr. Kim apparently believed that approaching the capacity to strike the United States had compelled Mr. Trump to agree to lift sanctions in exchange for a gradual stand-down of the North’s program.

Pyongyang now seems to have understood its error. Mr. Kim’s envoy skipped a scheduled meeting with Mr. Pompeo last week, and Mr. Trump’s special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, has yet to meet a North Korean official more than two months since his appointment. Recent statements from North Korea speak of resuming work on its nuclear program unless sanctions are lifted. The Trump administration continues to demand complete denuclearization before any sanctions are lifted. In other words, virtually nothing has changed.

And Mr. Trump? He appears still happily convinced that love had conquered all. “We fully know about the sites being discussed, nothing new — and nothing happening out of the normal,” he said on Twitter on Tuesday. “Just more Fake News. I will be the first to let you know if things go bad!”

How bad they have to go before Mr. Trump abandons his delusions of an epochal achievement is anybody’s guess. But once he does, it is easy to imagine him unleashing even more of the apocalyptic language that raised tensions in 2017. The difference is that this time he will probably not have the support of China, Russia or South Korea, which took the June summit meeting as a signal to improve relations with North Korea and are not likely to turn back.

The challenge for Mr. Pompeo and other sober hands in the administration is to prevent a slide back to fire and fury and to put the denuclearization talks on a more practical and realistic footing than love, which, as Erin Morgenstern noted in her novel “The Night Circus,” is “rarely a solid foundation for decisions to be made upon, in any game.” In the disarmament game, it can be deadly.

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Opinion | The Real Florida Recount Fraud

Given the size of Rick Scott’s lead in the race for a United States Senate seat from Florida and Ron DeSantis’s lead in the race to be the state’s governor, most election experts agree there’s little chance that even the most exquisitely careful recount would deny these two Republicans victory.

Yet both men are not only acting as if it’s 2000 all over again, when control of the White House hinged on a few hundred votes in Florida, they are also fanning conspiratorial flames with claims of outrageous fraud, seconded by President Trump.

The flimsiness of their charges can be measured by the response they’ve gotten not from their political adversaries but from some of their allies.

Mr. Scott, who as governor is overseeing his election to become senator, asked his Department of Law Enforcement to investigate this supposedly rampant fraud in Democratic-controlled Broward County. No real accusations to investigate, he was told. At a court hearing at which Republicans asked him to impound voting machines in Broward County, a county judge who had been appointed by a Republican governor, Jeb Bush, told everyone to calm down.

“We need to be careful what we say,” the judge, Jack Tuter, said. “These words mean things these days, as everybody in the room knows.”

The meaning of those words is that some Republican leaders want Americans to think that the only way they can be denied power is by chicanery.

Not all Republicans have gone down this path. As the lead in a Senate race in Arizona swung back and forth over a few thousand votes, the president raised the specter of fraud. But candidates and officials in the Republican-controlled state stayed calm. And, when the result was clear, but some votes remained to be counted, the Republican candidate, Martha McSally, was a model of decency and dignity, congratulating her Democratic opponent, Kyrsten Sinema, on her victory.

In Florida, no one has offered evidence of widespread election fraud, and the recount is mandated by law and was ordered by the Florida secretary of state. Yet Mr. Scott said of Bill Nelson, the three-term Democratic senator he’s hoping to unseat, “Senator Nelson is clearly trying to commit fraud to try to win this election.”

The counting itself, and not vote-rigging, seems to be the true catalyst of Mr. Scott’s panic and at least five separate lawsuits: As of Sunday, his lead over Mr. Nelson had withered significantly.

Advocacy groups have also gone to court, seeking to force Mr. Scott’s recusal from any role in election oversight. This is a sensible move. His alarmist stance, as opposed to the position of Mr. Nelson and the Democratic candidate for governor, Andrew Gillum, that all votes be counted, makes that clear.

Sowing doubt in the integrity of the recount is part of a Republican strategy that involves lawyers and operatives on the ground, much like what happened in the 2000 election, and a preview of what’s likely to happen leading up to the 2020 election.

We caught glimpses of this playbook — of dreaming up fraud where none exists — when Mr. Trump prejudged the outcome of the 2016 campaign, by calling the election “rigged,” refusing to say if he’d accept a loss to his rival, and deputizing his supporters to police polling places in Democratic strongholds, like Philadelphia. Mr. Trump tried to keep this alive with his short-lived, fruitless commission to root out election fraud. (The vice chairman of that sham commission, Kris Kobach, just lost his race for governor in deep-red Kansas.)

For all the fact-free doomsaying about rigged elections, democracy did remarkably well last week. For that we do have evidence: National turnout was the highest ever for midterm contests in the modern era, states made the franchise more accessible for millions and gerrymandering took a hit at the ballot box.

May those important victories, and not baseless claims that undermine the legitimacy of American democracy, be the guiding lights of a recount process that’s as lawful as it is critical to free and fair elections.

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Iconic oil derrick at south entrance to Edmonton to be taken down, relocated

It’s been an iconic fixture welcoming people to Edmonton for decades, but the oil derrick on the QEII highway on the city’s southern limit is coming down.

The Leduc #1 oil rig has been located at the Gateway Park visitor centre since 1987. But after the visitor centre closed in 2014, the city thought the artifact deserved a home where it could be appropriately viewed.

As such, the decision was made the dismantle the rig and relocate it to its original home, the Leduc #1 Energy Discovery Centre.

The derrick is a significant piece of Alberta’s rich oil history dating back to the late-1940s. After drilling 133 dry wells, members of the local drilling crew were about to give up, expecting the Leduc #1 to also come up dry.

Desperately needing to discover new sources of crude oil, Imperial Oil decided to give it one last shot. And on Feb. 13, 1947, the well erupted with enormous amounts of clear, light crude, forever changing Canada’s energy sector.

Until now, the Leduc discovery centre has displayed a replica of the oil rig.

Work to dismantle the rig began at the old visitor centre early last week. Crews were back at the site Tuesday afternoon, where much of the oil derrick had been taken apart.

Once the derrick is removed it will go through some restoration work. The plan is to have the rig ready for public viewing in Leduc by the summer of 2019.

The iconic Leduc #1 oil derrick on the QEII heading into Edmonton from the south is being taken down, restored and relocated.

The iconic Leduc #1 oil derrick on the QEII heading into Edmonton from the south is being taken down, restored and relocated.

The iconic Leduc #1 oil derrick on the QEII heading into Edmonton from the south is being taken down, restored and relocated.

The Leduc #1 oil derrick at the Gateway Park visitor centre in Edmonton in October 2014.

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Opinion | The Alt-Right’s Favorite Meme Is 100 Years Old

At the chilling climax of William S. Lind’s 2014 novel “Victoria,” knights wearing crusader’s crosses and singing Christian hymns brutally slay the politically correct faculty at Dartmouth College, the main character’s (and Mr. Lind’s) alma mater. “The work of slaughter went quickly,” the narrator says. “In less than five minutes of screams, shrieks and howls, it was all over. The floor ran deep with the bowels of cultural Marxism.”

What is “cultural Marxism”? And why does Mr. Lind fantasize about its slaughter?

Nothing of the kind actually exists. But it is increasingly popular to indict cultural Marxism’s baleful effects on society — and to dream of its violent extermination. With a spate of recent violence in the United States and elsewhere, calling out the runaway alt-right imagination is more urgent than ever.

Originally an American contribution to the phantasmagoria of the alt-right, the fear of “cultural Marxism” has been percolating for years through global sewers of hatred. Increasingly, it has burst into the mainstream. Before President Trump’s aide Rich Higgins was fired last year, he invoked the threat of “cultural Marxism” in proposing a new national security strategy. In June, Ron Paul tweeted out a racist meme that employed the phrase. On Twitter, the son of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s newly elected strongman, boasted of meeting Steve Bannon and joining forces to defeat “cultural Marxism.” Jordan Peterson, the self-help guru and best-selling author, has railed against it too in his YouTube ruminations.

“Cultural Marxism” is also a favorite topic on Gab, the social media network where Robert Bowers, the man accused of shooting 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh last month, spent time. Mr. Lind may have only fantasized about mass death as a comeuppance for cultural Marxists, but others have acted on it: In his 1,500-page manifesto, the Norwegian far-rightist Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011, invoked “cultural Marxism” repeatedly. “It wants to change behavior, thought, even the words we use,” he wrote. “To a significant extent, it already has.”

According to their delirious foes, “cultural Marxists” are an unholy alliance of abortionists, feminists, globalists, homosexuals, intellectuals and socialists who have translated the far left’s old campaign to take away people’s privileges from “class struggle” into “identity politics” and multiculturalism. Before he executes the professors, the protagonist of Mr. Lind’s novel expounds on his theory to their faces: “Classical Marxists, where they obtained power, expropriated the bourgeoisie and gave their property to the state,” he says. “Where you obtained power, you expropriated the rights of white men and gave special privileges to feminists, blacks, gays, and the like.” It is on the basis of this parallel that the novel justifies carnage against the “enemies of Christendom” as an act showing that “Western culture” is “recovering its will.”

Some Marxists, like the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci and his intellectual heirs, tried to understand how the class rule they criticized worked through cultural domination. And today, it’s true that on campus and off, many people are directing their ire at the advantages that white males have historically enjoyed. But neither the defense of the workers nor of other disempowered groups was a conspiracy on its own, and never was there a malignant plot to convert the first into the second — which is what “cultural Marxism” implies. Deployed to avoid claims of injustice, the charge functions to whip up agitated frenzy or inspire visions of revenge.

And while increasingly popular worries about cosmopolitan elites and economic globalization can sometimes transcend the most noxious anti-Semitism, talk of cultural Marxism is inseparable from it. The legend of cultural Marxism recycles old anti-Semitic tropes to give those who feel threatened a scapegoat.

A number of the conspiracy theorists tracing the origins of “cultural Marxism” assign outsize significance to the Frankfurt School, an interwar German — and mostly Jewish — intellectual collective of left-wing social theorists and philosophers. Many members of the Frankfurt School fled Nazism and came to the United States, which is where they supposedly uploaded the virus of cultural Marxism to America. These zany stories of the Frankfurt School’s role in fomenting political correctness would be entertaining, except that they echo the baseless allegations of tiny cabals ruling the world that fed the right’s paranoid imagination in prior eras.

The wider discourse around cultural Marxism today resembles nothing so much as a version of the Judeobolshevik myth updated for a new age. In the years after the Russian Revolution, fantasists took advantage of the fact that many of its instigators were Jewish to suggest that people could save time by equating Judaism and communism — and kill off both with one blow. As the historian Paul Hanebrink recounts in an unnerving new study, according to the Judeobolshevik myth, the instigators of communism were the Jews as a whole, not some tiny band of thinkers, conniving as a people to bring communist irreligion and revolution worldwide.

The results of such beliefs weren’t pretty. According to Professor Hanebrink, many aspects of the Judeobolshevik fantasy survived the Holocaust it helped bring about, just with the role of the Jews implied more euphemistically or replaced by new adversaries. As in Judeobolshevism, cultural Marxism homogenizes vast groups of shadowy enemies and assigns them a secret design to upend society. As in Judeobolshevism, those supposedly under threat are invited to identify themselves with “the Christian West” and surge in self-defense before it is too late.

The defense of the West in the name of “order” and against “chaos,” which really seems to mean unjustifiable privilege against new claimants, is an old affair posing as new insight. It led to grievous harm in the last century. And though today’s critics of “cultural Marxism” purport to be very learned, they proceed seemingly unaware of the heavy baggage involved in alleging that conspiracies have ruined the land.

That “cultural Marxism” is a crude slander, referring to something that does not exist, unfortunately does not mean actual people are not being set up to pay the price, as scapegoats to appease a rising sense of anger and anxiety. And for that reason, “cultural Marxism” is not only a sad diversion from framing legitimate grievances but also a dangerous lure in an increasingly unhinged moment.

Samuel Moyn (@samuelmoyn) is a professor of law and history at Yale and the author, most recently, of “Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World.”

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California, Stan Lee, Amazon: Your Tuesday Briefing

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Good morning.

Here’s what you need to know:

California wildfire sets a grim record

The Camp Fire, already the most destructive in the state’s history, has now killed at least 42 people and burned through 117,000 acres in Northern California. Outside Los Angeles, the Woolsey Fire has killed two and burned nearly 100,000 acres. As of Monday night, both fires were just 30 percent contained. You can find updates here.

The Hill Fire, which has destroyed 4,500 acres in Ventura County, is 85 percent contained.

One of our correspondents, a former Baghdad bureau chief, writes that the scorched landscapes are reminiscent of war zones — not just in how they look, but in how they make people feel.

Dispatch: We visited a mobile home park in Paradise, Calif., where people who escaped the Camp Fire waited anxiously for news of their neighbors.

Fact check: President Trump has blamed poor forest management for the infernos, but his statements oversimplify things.

Delays, and results, in tight races

The contests for a few Senate seats and governorships were really, really close. And the drama isn’t over.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott says the recount of his Senate race is rife with fraud. His strategy is “strikingly similar” to one the George W. Bush campaign adopted after the 2000 presidential election, our reporters write.

A federal judge in Georgia has ordered a delay in the certification of the state’s election results, citing concerns about voter registration and the handling of provisional ballots. The decision, in effect until at least Friday evening, deepens turmoil in the acrimonious governor’s race.

And in Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat and former social worker, was declared the winner of a close Senate race in a state that has long been a Republican bastion.

The new class: House Democrats arriving in Washington for orientation this week are the most diverse in history. Can they build a unified legislative agenda despite ideological differences?

New details on killing of Jamal Khashoggi

“Tell your boss” that the mission is complete.

That’s what an operative said over the phone after the killing last month of the dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, our reporters have learned. Was the operative referring to the powerful Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman?

Suspects in the case have ties to the prince, and a former C.I.A. officer told The Times that the recording was “pretty incriminating evidence.” Yet American officials note that there is no irrefutable proof of Prince Mohammed’s involvement.

Why it matters: News of the recording will intensify pressure on the White House to take more punitive action against Saudi Arabia, a crucial Arab partner.

A “safe” Afghan district is falling

Times journalists traveled to the site of a Taliban assault — in a district widely considered the country’s safest — expecting to witness American-trained government commandos taking a fierce stand against insurgents.

Instead, they found wounded commandos wandering in despair. And by day’s end, the reporters were fleeing the Taliban along barely visible mountain tracks.

On the ground: “Nearly all of the traffic was one way, cars and even dump trucks packed with families,” our reporter writes.

The brains behind Spider-Man

Stan Lee, a writer and publisher who played a central role in the creation of Spider-Man and other Marvel Comics characters, died on Monday in Los Angeles. He was 95.

Working in New York in the 1960s, Mr. Lee helped create Iron Man, Black Panther, the Hulk and other larger-than-life heroes who have come to define much of popular culture into the early 21st century. He wrote in a Barnumesque style, but also humanized his characters by imbuing them with insecurities.

Video: Mr. Lee sat down with The Times in 2015.

A fitting tribute: A writer and two illustrators reflected on Mr. Lee’s career in the form of a comic.

Listen to ‘The Daily’: Diplomacy and Deception From North Korea

Business

Amazon is expected to formally announce today plans for headquarters in Northern Virginia and in Long Island City, Queens. One of its neighbors in New York would be the country’s largest public housing project.

How should Americans think about tech’s migration into major cities? Our architecture critic weighs in.

WeWork is to release third-quarter results today. Has the company, which attained a $20 billion valuation in eight years, become too big to fail?

• The $1.5 trillion tax overhaul signed into law nearly a year ago helped lift the American economy. Accounting for inflation, wage growth has yet to pick up.

U.S. stocks fell sharply on Monday. Here’s a snapshot of global markets today.

Smarter Living

Tips for a more fulfilling life.

Winter squash is tasty and versatile. Here’s a guide.

You don’t need many wires to get better TV sound.

Recipe of the day: Paprika steals the show in chicken paprikash.

Noteworthy

The cost of a botched spy mission

Israel and Hamas exchanged intense fire after a covert Israeli operation went awry. The resulting fighting threatened to scuttle peace talks.

Trump appointment faces a court challenge

Maryland is expected to ask a federal judge today to declare that the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, is the rightful acting attorney general — not Matthew Whitaker, President Trump’s choice.

A surprising delay

In Baltimore, American bishops appeared stunned by a last-minute instruction from the Vatican to delay voting on a package of measures intended to curb a sexual abuse crisis.

“It’s a trap for fauna”

Highway BR-262, which snakes through a lush corner of Brazil, is among the deadliest roads in the world for wildlife.

Here’s more from this week’s Science section.

Best of late-night TV

Seth Meyers joked that Republicans might struggle to find a House leader: “No one in the Republican Party wants to have the word ‘minority’ in their title.”

Quotation of the day

“All they give us is promises, but what can we do with promises? Twenty from my family are dead.”

Sayid Hussein, a member of the Hazara ethnic minority in an Afghan district that was attacked by the Taliban.

The Times, in other words

Here’s an image of today’s front page, and links to our Opinion content and crossword puzzles.

What we’re reading

“Time Bandits of Southern California” in GQ. As Alan Henry, a Smarter Living editor, describes it: “These men stole about $1.6 million worth of luxury watches and would have gotten away with it, if not for one special agent who doggedly tracked them down. Eventually, this will be a movie, for sure.”

Back Story

In 2016, The Times introduced its secure, multichannel tip line.

Within 24 hours, the line proved its worth. We received the audio of a closed-door speech in which Hillary Clinton asserted that Vladimir Putin’s “personal beef” with her explained some Russian hacking. News of the F.B.I. raid of Michael Cohen’s office also came via a tip.

We’ve received thousands of communications on everything from corporate fraud to sexual harassment.

But sometimes, the focus is different.

Dick Marquette, 91, recently sent photographs he took as a G.I. in the Philippines during World War II, including the one above. “The fellow was my best friend Abbie Cohen,” he wrote. He’d promised to send copies, but life got in the way.

“I have no way to find if he is still alive,” Mr. Marquette wrote, “but I hope he is and perhaps the pictures could be put in the paper and boy, wouldn’t his kids be surprised.”

Grace Ashford, a researcher for investigations, wrote today’s Back Story.

_____

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Tencent-backed Chinese travel firm slashes HK IPO size amid weak markets

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Tencent Holdings-backed online Chinese travel firm Tongcheng-Elong launched a far smaller than expected Hong Kong IPO of up to $233 million on Tuesday, amid a weak stock market and a string of poor performances from recent listings in the city.

Tongcheng-Elong, which is also backed by travel website Ctrip.Com International (CTRP.O), is selling about 143 million shares at a price range of HK$9.75-HK$12.65 ($1.24-$1.61), giving it a potential valuation of $3.65 billion, according to a term sheet seen by Reuters.

The company had earlier been seeking to raise up to $1 billion, but weak markets and a slide in Ctrip’s share price forced it to slash the size of the IPO, according to Refinitiv publication IFR.

Online parenting firm Babytree Group, backed by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding (BABA.N), was also due to hold an IPO press conference on Tuesday but cancelled it on the day. Babytree didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hong Kong has seen a wave of Chinese tech companies seeking to go public this year, with a total of $27.7 billion raised in the financial hub in the first three quarters of the year, an increase of around 300 percent compared to the same period in 2017, Refinitiv data shows.

But markets have been rattled by trade tensions between the United States and China, which have hit emerging markets particularly hard.

Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng index .HSI is down almost 16 percent this year.

The market slump has prompted many companies to put their IPO plans on hold, such as Tencent’s (0700.HK) music streaming arm which is still deciding whether to launch its $2 billion IPO this year, according to sources close to the deal.

Tongcheng could raise as much as $268 million if a greenshoe, or over-allotment option, is exercised within one month of the start of trading.

Books are scheduled to close on Nov. 19 and the company is expected to start trading on Nov. 26.

Tongcheng plans to use the proceeds of the IPO to enhance products and service offerings as well as to fund potential acquisitions and investments.

The company made a profit of 194 million yuan ($27.86 million) in 2017, compared to a loss of 2.16 billion yuan in 2016, according to its prospectus.

CMB International, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley are joint sponsors for the deal.

($1 = 7.8336 Hong Kong dollars)

($1 = 6.9627 Chinese yuan renminbi)

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