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Gabriela Hearst is dressing women for a new era of political power

By Robin Givhan
Gabriela Hearst is dressing women for a new era of political power
Fashion designer Gabriela Hearst wants to make clothes that become hand-me-downs, not castoffs. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Ben Sklar

NEW YORK - Suits don't usually cause a stir, but this one did - in part, because it looked so sharp and snazzy.

Teal-blue skinny trousers were matched with a trim jacket dubbed the Angela. Contrasting stitching outlined the blazer's pockets and its extra-wide lapels, giving it a retro aesthetic that called to mind the late 1960s and '70s, the heyday of black activist Angela Davis, after whom the jacket is named.

The suit was modeled by then-incoming Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., in the pages of Interview magazine. A stylist had paired the suit with the kind of spiky, high-heeled pumps that look incredible but feel awful, to create the perfect visual of power at its most romanticized, fine-tuned, Aaron Sorkinized best.

When critics pointed to the expensive suit as proof that Ocasio-Cortez was not the friend to the working class that she claimed to be, Ocasio-Cortez not so gently explained via Twitter that she didn't get to keep the suit just because she was photographed wearing it. She also defended her politics, and instead of apologizing for her fashion pursuits, she declared a discerning eye for style, an admirable and valuable skill.

That suit was created by Gabriela Hearst, an American designer who thinks that fashion, power and politics can be mutually beneficial. Hearst, who was born in Uruguay, launched her namesake company here three years ago premised on translating female authority into a fashion aesthetic.

"I'm trying to create something that is timeless," Hearst says. "People use this word, and sometimes they associate it with boring. But for me, timeless is a Greek earring done in the third century A.D. It's like a design that is so intriguing that it can't be put in one era."

Hearst's clothes are for women uninterested in fashion as daily costume or as the equivalent of a snuggie, but who instead view it as a tool that can help smooth the road to success - however that might be defined. Not a lot of brands aim to serve a woman who is in the thick of her life, who is done with adulting and is a full-blown, glorious adult. Of the few brands that did, many have cut and run.

Hearst stands firm. She is the rare designer who has set her sights on the professional woman who is proudly tethered to reality.

From the beginning, Hearst assumed that her clothes were not likely to appeal to the typical starlet or influencer looking to cause a social media stir. Her designs aren't flashy. Hearst was more attuned to a boardroom badass, a contemporary Georgia O'Keefe, a loudmouthed activist - and her mother.

Her cropped trousers, blanket pattern dresses and fringed throws are based on memories of her self-possessed mother roaming the family ranch in Uruguay on horseback. "My mom had some really beautiful clothes, but she didn't have a lot of it. When it was a special occasion, (she) would have some things done with the seamstress, and the nicest thing you could do was buy European fabric and make your own clothes," she says. "The clothes that she had were beautifully done, but not in abundance."

In the past two years, since the presidential election put Donald Trump in the White House, Hearst has also used fashion as a language of political engagement.

She's been inspired by rebel-rousers such as Davis, who wore wide-lapel jackets with turtlenecks. Hearst designed a "ram-ovaries" sweater, with a stylized depiction of the female reproductive system emblazoned across the front, to benefit Planned Parenthood. She has made handbags reminiscent of the lunchboxes that early female coal miners carried to work. She plastered images of Sens. Kamala D. Harris, D-Calif.,) and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., on her mood board for motivation.

Hearst's work is beautiful - not in an ostentatious, look-at-that-embroidery way, but quietly. The drape of a coat is luxurious. The lines of a blazer are well-defined. A sweater is as light as a cloud. Her handbags, with their distinctive geometric shapes, feel solid and substantial, without a burdensome heaviness.

The clothes are sometimes sexy, and unabashedly chic at a time when so many of the big luxury brands are trafficking in eccentricity, youthful transgression and a stubbornness to be as self-consciously ugly as possible. Fashion has been obsessed with pajama shirts, track pants and, most recently, prairie dresses. A modern power suit - an old-fashioned term but nonetheless an accurate one - is so rare that it might as well be the stuff of wide-eyed fantasies. Suits are a Hearst signature.

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Her fashion career began in a torrent of fringe and ruffles. In 2004, Hearst launched a line of relatively inexpensive women's clothes with a Bohemian sensibility and, in the process, learned a lot about manufacturing and production. When she decided to elevate the quality of her clothes, she realized she'd need to start all over, because the clothes she envisioned were going to cost a lot more - $1,000 for trousers and $3,000 for a blazer.

Hearst's goal was to manufacture clothes "the way that I remember my mom's clothes being made." Each piece should outlast the use of the original owner, she says, to become "a hand-me-down."

Hearst had always been drawn to the work of female designers - Elsa Schiaparelli, Chitose Abe of Sacai, Rei Kawakubo. She had also been a fan of Phoebe Philo at Céline. Philo crafted an aesthetic that spoke in a whisper, yet still commanded a room. And she attracted customers who were willing to pay handsomely for a white shirt with just the right proportions, or a pair of trousers with a perfect menswear slouch.

In 2017, Philo left her perch at Céline. She was replaced by Hedi Slimane, who gave the clothes his personal aesthetic, which might best be described as young-Hollywood-with-a-hangover. This staffing change roiled certain consumers like no other. Women decried the shift in aesthetics as symptomatic of an industry with few female creative directors at the most prestigious brands.

"There's not that many women designing for women," Hearst says. "I always say this as a joke, but it's kind of true: I understand water retention. Right? Right. Our bodies change through the month. They change through our lifetime. And I think being in the body of a woman gives you an advantage."

A handful of design houses are now angling to step into the void. Bottega Veneta and Jil Sander show streamlined collections in Milan. Dior's Maria Grazia Chiuri serves up her collections along with a feminist credo. Victoria Beckham injects a bit of working-mother pragmatism into her clothes. And The Row, with its $5,000 oversize cashmere sweaters, offers art-gallery-owner chic.

Hearst's clothes speak at a more pronounced volume than Philo's did, but in measured tones. The industry is screaming, Let your freak flag fly! Hearst's clothes quietly murmur: "You could change the world."

Hearst, and by extension her clothes, are part of a cultural conversation that revolves around institutional power and who has it. Fashion is not merely a guilty pleasure or the occasional symbolic gesture. From a historic crowd of pink pussy hats to the first lady's Zara coat, fashion is increasingly being used as an exclamation point at the end of a pointed statement, as a wordless introduction or a middle finger.

In December, for instance, when now-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi walked out of the White House, along with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., after an Oval Office confrontation with President Donald Trump, the high collar of her russet-colored MaxMara coat framed her face like a superhero's cloak. And in a certain quarter of social media, a funnel-neck coat became a new symbol of female strength.

Women believe in fashion's power - even when it outrages, frustrates and bewilders them. At a recent Georgetown dinner party, a group of excessively accomplished women lamented the challenge of packing for a business trip. The task left them exasperated, but compromising their style for the ease of mix-and-match black separates was not an option. And so, said the dinner's co-host, journalist Katty Kay, they were left resenting how much "brain time" is taken up trying to sort out a "perfect pack."

Hearst understands. "Women who are full professionals in their careers, they don't have time to think about what they're wearing," she says. "They're a little bit insecure because that's not what they do all day."

"I just want to give (women) uniforms for their lives so they feel comfortable in their power," Hearst says. "I don't want them to waste too much time thinking of what they're wearing. I want to give you like, tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk, you're done."

To that end, Hearst has a lot dresses in her collection that could fit under the category of perfect-for-every-occasion. They are comfortable knit dresses that always look sharp, not sloppy - the kind of dresses that live at the front of the closet. There are also dresses with sleeves that fend off roaring air conditioning. (And after all these years, how many more sleeveless sheaths can a woman stomach?) Her fine-knit sweaters slip easily under blazers. And, of course, there are suits.

They don't come in 50 shades of beige - they swagger in full color. They signify Establishment clout but without the stodginess. They are Establishment 2.0 or, perhaps, even 3.0: post-St. John Knits, post-Giorgio Armani.

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Hearst, 42, describes herself as a feminist, an environmentalist and a mother of five - ages 3 to 23. She's married to John Augustine Hearst, a grandson of the "Citizen Kane" Hearsts. She hesitated to use the Hearst name on the label for fear she'd be pigeonholed as a dilettante. But her maiden name, Perezutti, was a challenging mouthful, and her husband was also her business partner in the privately owned company.

Temperamentally, Gabriela Hearst comes across as sure-footed and blunt; accommodating but without a golden retriever's need to please. Physically, she has the sleek figure of a model, which she once was, and the kind of short, choppy haircut that makes bed-head cool.

Her modest showroom on the far West Side of Manhattan is filled with sample boards and bolts of fabric, and one table is covered with handbags. Her private office sits just off the workroom and is dominated by a large white cashmere sectional that makes her desk look like an afterthought. A photograph of her mother on horseback is the dominant artwork.

Hearst became a U.S. citizen shortly after the last presidential election and is evangelical about voting, which she did for the first time in November. "I felt very emotional to vote," Hearst says. "Uruguay was a dictatorship when I was born. ... The democracy came in 1984, and sometimes I don't know if Americans realize how fragile that is."

"Civic responsibility and professional responsibility and personal responsibility," she declares with a gentle thump on her desk.

Her company has tried to build sustainability into its business. A sweater is likely to have been knit from wool from her ranch's sheep. A coat might be constructed from remnants from a luxury fabric mill. The brand has set April as its deadline for using all biodegradable packaging, including recycled cardboard hangers.

"People say, 'Oh you know we need to save the planet.' No, no, no. Obviously you do not expose yourself to nature. You think you're going to save the planet? Nature is a natural force. We are going to get exterminated," Hearst says. "First it's going to happen to the people that have the least, but then it's going to happen to all of us."

Her lodestar on sustainability is the outdoor gear company Patagonia, with its recycling programs and environmental activism. "I have the luxury of selling people things that people don't need," Hearst says. "If we're going to do that, make sure it's good and that you're doing some good."

In the fall, Hearst opened her first store, in the Carlyle hotel on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The small boutique carries the full complement of her products, including her handbags, which she sells directly to consumers. She did the math and realized that with a 50 percent markup taken by retailers, "we needed to make double the amount of handbags, which means double the amount of natural resources, to make the same amount of money. And why would you do that if you're to get the same money at the end? The only reason you would do that is to become very well known, very quickly. But if you're doing this long-term, you want to pace yourself," Hearst says. "Obviously for us, we're a small company. It's easier to make these choices because we're not a publicly traded company."

On a winter evening, several women are browsing in the store; a gentleman is eyeing the shoes and a tourist is debating the sales tax advantage of shipping her purchases back to Texas.

The company is profitable, Hearst says, with wholesale revenue of $18 million in 2018. This month, Hearst announced an investment from LVMH Luxury Ventures, a division of the Paris-based luxury conglomerate, a sign that the industry sees potential in Gabriella Hearst LLC becoming a significant global business.

The designer has won awards and has been elected to the board of Save the Children. And there have even been red carpet sightings of her work on actresses such as Laura Dern, Danai Gurira, Diane Lane, Gabrielle Union and Zoe Kravitz. More than one of them was wearing a suit.

Lego collecting delivers huge (and uncorrelated) market returns

By Elena Popina
Lego collecting delivers huge (and uncorrelated) market returns
An employee assembles a model with Lego toy bricks in a rest area during the opening of the Robert Bosch Internet of Things campus in Berlin on Jan. 18, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Krisztian Bocsi.

A lot of fancy things can be built with Lego sets nowadays. Such as a diversifying portfolio that loads on the Fama-French size factor.

Collecting Lego -- yes, the plastic toys made of interlocking bricks that become cars and castles and robots -- returned more than large stocks, bonds and gold in the three decades ending in 2015, says a study by Victoria Dobrynskaya, an assistant professor at Russia's Higher School of Economics. Aspects of the performance even align with returns sought by owners of smart-beta ETFs.

While the premise sounds goofy, it's serious enough for the academy, especially in a world where intrepid investors will go practically anywhere for uncorrelated returns. You might not know this, but older Lego sets are often resold online for many times their original price. In one extreme case, a kit for Star Wars Darth Revan that retailed in 2014 for $3.99 went for $28.46 on eBay a year later -- a 613 percent premium.

And while quantitative investment firms spend hundreds of hours studying whether factors like size and momentum translate beyond the equity market, for Dobrynskaya, who wrote the paper with student Julia Kishilova, the inspiration was less theoretical.

"My son likes playing with Lego and I have a lot of it at home. At one point I thought: maybe I have a ready-made investment portfolio?" she said. "I know that Lego has nothing to do with multifactor models I spend my time focusing on. It doesn't mean the performance of Lego sets has absolutely nothing to do with factor investing. You'll be surprised to know that it does."

In a paper titled "Lego -- The Toy of Smart Investors," Dobrynskaya analyzed 2,300 sets sold from 1987 to 2015 to measure their price-return over time. She found that collections used for Hogwarts Castles and Jedi star fighters beat U.S. large-cap stocks and bonds, yielding 11 percent a year. Smaller kits rose more than medium-sized ones, similar to the size effect in the Fama-French model (though the relation isn't exact).

"The beta of the size factor is statistically significant and the dynamics of the Lego index we created for our research is similar to that of the size factor," Dobrynskaya said by phone from Moscow. "Lego sets don't show a significant correlation to the financial crises and can be seen as an attractive investment with a diversification potential."

Guess what? Not everyone loves the science. Trying to shoehorn Legos into model of factor returns strikes some people as a little silly and creates the potential for human judgment to distort findings. First among the hazards is the possibility that everything is explained by happenstance -- a criticism that looms over many factor models.

"If you think about all the academics in the world, there are a lot of them, and all of them are looking for something interesting to say and it's always going to be related to the Fama-French factor," said Roberto Croce, Managing Director, senior portfolio manager at BNY Mellon. "Someone is going to find something that is correlated. Purely by randomness that's going to happen. I'd take it with a grain of salt."

To determine the average yearly Lego return, Dobrynskaya gathered the initial price of 2,000 toys released between 1981 and 2014 and their cost in the secondary market in 2015. She analyzed price trends for links to risk factors like value, volatility and size in the models developed by theorists Eugene Fama and Kenneth French. While the first three weren't significant, returns did loosely resemble those attributed to the size factor. The Fama-French's "small-firm effect" that holds smaller-cap companies often outperform during sustained rallies.

The data showed that sets with a relatively few pieces, up to 113, returned 22 percent per year, almost 16 percentage points more than the group with about 860 bricks in each. The relation wasn't perfectly linear. Small sets yield the most, but those with 2,000 pieces do better than medium-sized ones. The large group contains less than 100 Lego sets compared with 1,600 in the small camp and can be potentially seen as an outlier, Dobrynskaya said.

"Smaller Lego sets could be more rare than larger sets produced en masse, though it's hard to know for sure," Dobrynskaya said.

Dobrynskaya, a 37-year-old London School of Economics PhD who spent years writing papers on carry trades and momentum investing, first looked at Lego as a topic for research after her son's hobby steered her to a community of investors discussing how to profit from buying and selling the toy.

Lego sets that focus on Super Heroes, Batman and Indiana Jones are among the ones that do best over time. The Simpsons is the only Lego theme that has lost value, falling by 3.5 percent on average. Newer sets have higher returns than older ones, though this can be due to a growing popularity of investments in Lego, Dobrynskaya said.

For Ayanna Pressley, the beauty of unexpected wins led to Congress and a historic office

By Kayla Epstein
For Ayanna Pressley, the beauty of unexpected wins led to Congress and a historic office
Freshman congresswoman Ayanna Pressley in her Capitol Hill office. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Melina Mara

From the outside, Room 1108 in the Longworth House Office Building is unremarkable. Inside, it's even less so. But to Ayanna Pressley - who is the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress - it is everything.

The office symbolizes a kind of spiritual lineage for her: Fifty years ago, the space was occupied by Shirley Chisholm, the nation's first black congresswoman.

"This is it! This. Is. It. OK? Come on, this is it! I love the vibe," boomed Pressley, as she strode in for the first time a few weeks before being sworn into office as part of the most diverse freshman class in congressional history. "I love the floor plan. I love the history."

For a space with such pedigree, Longworth 1108 is almost comically cramped. Open the front door too quickly, and you might thwack an aide.

Still, Pressley said she felt "an immediate soul tie to this space." Chisholm, who represented her New York district from 1969 to 1983, is a political icon for liberals and a kind of figurative godmother for Pressley.

But Pressley wasn't supposed to get Chisholm's office. She drew an inauspicious lot during the House room lottery (which took place on Chisholm's birthday, as Pressley proudly told the audience at the drawing).

She shrugged, her disappointment at the bad draw was evident, and later squatted in the office and feebly tried to keep other congressional freshmen from scooping up the space. "Lots of mice in here!" she and an aide joked at one point in an attempt to deter others who stopped in.

When another freshman, California's Katie Hill, inadvertently selected the room, Pressley had to settle for a fallback. But later, during an orientation session, Hill offered to swap offices with Pressley.

What had at first seemed out of reach was now hers. For Pressley, 44, the beauty of the unexpected win is now a familiar experience.

In 2009, she was the first African-American woman elected to the Boston City Council, beating most of a large field that at one point swelled to 15 candidates vying for four at-large seats. But just two years later, she was cast as a political underdog in her first re-election battle.

"The victory was an extraordinary feat for a first-term city councilor who had been expected by many to lose her seat," the Boston Globe wrote in 2011. When the results were tallied, she was the top vote-getter in all the at-large city council races that year.

"It was not a fluke," she said at the time, and the women of color who have since been elected to the city council credit her with paving the way.

In 2018, Pressley was once again the underdog when she challenged longtime Rep. Michael E. Capuano in the Democratic primary, an unusual move in Massachusetts politics.

Pressley had a reason for skipping her place in line, said Lydia Edwards, a Boston city councilor. "You cannot assume the same political machine that produced the same kind of politician - ethnically, in terms of gender - will suddenly produce you. You have to see that path, and form your own."

Pressley campaigned against Capuano - a popular liberal - by making the case that it was time for generational change and that the state's only majority-minority district should see itself reflected in its representative. Her slogan: "Change can't wait."

She trounced him.

After Pressley secured Chisholm's office, one of the first things her staff did was tape to the walls an illustration of Chisholm that had been colored in by Pressley's goddaughter. The sketch of Chisholm's portrait, curls high atop her head, her face frozen in a serious stare, wasn't far from a poster with a drawing of Pressley, who wears her hair in twists and can effect her own unflinching gaze.

The late congresswoman was elected in 1968 and represented Brooklyn, and when she ran for president, her slogan was "Unbought and Unbossed." Pressley set about building a career guided by Chisholm's example and other groundbreaking women, such as the late civil rights leader and congresswoman Barbara Jordan of Texas.

She got her start in politics after enrolling in Boston University 1992. After her mother fell ill and lost her job, Pressley dropped out to support her and found work with former repersentative Joseph P. Kennedy II, and later John Kerry, when he was a U.S. senator.

As an aide to Kerry, she advocated for constituents who didn't typically get - or even request - attention from Washington's most powerful.

"She came to work with her conscience helping her to guide her where we ought to go, what we ought to be doing," Kerry said. "An example would be Pine Street Inn, where homeless people and folks with serious challenges were finding shelter." The organization helps provide housing and emergency services in Boston, and in 2003, Kerry delivered an address to graduates of its job training program.

"She thought it was just as important to listen to them as it was to everyone else, and she was dead right," he said.

There are many political stars in the class of freshmen elected to Congress last year. Some are new to politics. Many will burn bright and fade. Pressley, who has worked in politics for more than 20 years, could be in Washington for the long haul.

She also arrives at a unique political inflection point along with the most diverse, and most female class in history. Decades ago, as Chisholm herself ran for president, she issued the challenge that "we cannot continue to take things as they are, when we see around us that government is not responsive to certain segments of the population."

Pressley said she wants see that vision made reality.

In December, she made headlines for her frank remarks at a fundraising meeting for the Democratic National Committee, warning them not to be complacent about their electoral gains and to "ask the tough questions about whether or not we provided" women and candidates of color with support "so we can break through more glass and concrete ceilings as rapidly as possible."

Already Pressley's become part of tightknit group of liberal House freshmen known on social media as "The Squad," including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. These liberal women have collectively pushed Democratic leadership to consider policies such as gun control, Medicare-for-all, and a "Green New Deal" focused on addressing climate change.

After Omar posted a photo with Pressley and other women on Instagram with the caption "They ain't ready," it went viral.

"For generations men have dominated every power, every narrative," Pressley said. "We're standing in our power and we're claiming our space and it's about damn time."

Their first challenge was a monumental one: They'd entered some of the most rarefied halls in government as that government remains partially shut down.

It gave Pressley - who tends to speak of her vision of government in sweeping, intersectional terms and rhetorical paragraphs - a very specific problem to attack. She wrote to congressional leadership to demand janitors and food service workers in the government's employ receive back pay.

Two days later, she took to the House floor and slammed Trump for the shutdown's impact on federal employees. "I see right through you and so do the American people," she said. "I rise today in solidarity with the thousands of workers with calloused hands and broken spirits working for no pay."

The minute-plus speech, delivered in her signature, deliberate cadence, was (politely) censored by a House colleague for her direct attack on Trump. But no matter: It triggered dozens of headlines and hundreds of thousands of views on social media.

Last week, Pressley left Chisholm's old office - the first of several offices the late Congresswoman had on Capitol Hill - to march in the cold with furloughed federal workers. As they strode to the gates of the White House, she spoke with marchers, and reporters flocked to her, hoping for a sound bite. She couldn't provide the workers present with much more than that because of the impasse between her party's leadership and Trump.

"It is true that it's unlikely that anything that they're proposing right now is going to become law," Michele Swers, a politics professor at Georgetown University, said of Pressley and other progressive freshmen elected last year. "Realistically, what they can hope for now is to try and set the agenda in a way that's going to influence future policy. You kind of lay down markers of, if Democrats have control, this is what it would look like."

Pressley's approach may be futile, said Genevieve Wood, senior adviser and spokeswoman for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. "You're going to see a lot of grandstanding on the left, trying to get their voices heard, trying to fulfill promises (they made) on campaign trail," she said.

Pressley did have promises on her mind on a recent Thursday afternoon.

Her desk displays a black-and-white photo of her late mother, the community organizer and social worker Sandra Pressley. A single mother, she sacrificed to send her daughter to a private school and had sparked Pressley's love of Chisholm in the first place. Pressley's journey to Congress, in many ways, had begun with her. Propped against the wall was a drawing of Pressley and slogan she often repeats: "The people closest to the pain should be the closest to the power."

She sat at the edge of her seat, behind a desk that was in front of a window that she likes to think Chisholm had looked out.

The furniture is too big for the space. There are too few electrical outlets. Temporary walls have been erected to carve out a small office for senior staff.

The office is by no means perfect, but it's still hers.

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The Washington Post's Jayne Orenstein and Alice Li reported contributed to this report.

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What Americans are fighting for in Manbij

By david ignatius
What Americans are fighting for in Manbij

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

By DAVID IGNATIUS

WASHINGTON -- If you wonder what the four Americans who were killed Wednesday in Manbij, Syria, were doing there, let me describe a few images from a visit to that city last February that illustrate their mission of helping stabilize this area after the Islamic State was expelled.

Think of a covered market thronged with shoppers: Until the Americans and their allies liberated Manbij in mid-2016, the only color most women dared wear in public was black; now, a rainbow of dresses is displayed on makeshift racks. While the jihadists ruled, people hid their valuable possessions; now, gold sparkles in the jewelers' stalls.

The market is near the restaurant where the four Americans had stopped to have lunch when an explosion took their lives. If you ask what their sacrifice achieved, think of the vibrant street where they died, which was once a monotone of misery.

Or take a walk to a girls' school nearby, and talk to the young women who couldn't attend classes until the Islamic State's power was destroyed by a Kurdish-led Syrian militia, backed by U.S. forces. The girls are wearing makeup and once-forbidden hints of color; one displays a pink hijab; another speaks of someday attending university in France.

As you consider these bright snapshots of a city that, with American help, emerged from darkness, you may understand why U.S. soldiers and civilians serving here have been so passionate about their jobs. They could see every day, in nearly every face, the difference they were making. It has been troubling that President Trump never seemed to appreciate how much America was accomplishing in northeast Syria, with so few resources, but maybe he'll understand better now.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put it well in his recent speech in Cairo. "America is a force for good in the Middle East. ... When America retreats, chaos often follows. When we neglect our friends, resentment builds." I hope Pompeo will have an honest talk with his boss about those truths, and what they mean for Syria policy.

The four American deaths this week shouldn't be used as a political club, one way or the other. The reality is that a ghastly attack like this could happen anytime. It's been a miracle that only two Americans had died in combat in Syria since 2015; that number has now trebled. The mission made sense before; it still does.

Americans will remain targets for as long as they're in Syria. But they'll be even more vulnerable in a pell-mell retreat. The most dangerous military operation can be a withdrawal of forces, like what Trump has ordered. Terrorists will be emboldened, now that they have taken American blood, and hoping to foster a panicked departure.

The Manbij attack carries several obvious lessons. The Islamic State, while driven from its physical caliphate, is far from dead. Intelligence reports say that the group has established "sleeper cells" across northeast Syria that could menace U.S. and allied forces. They've created an underground network, waiting for the moment when America tires.

It's clear, too, that coalition forces in Manbij were distracted from the Islamic State because the more immediate danger there came from Turkish-backed opposition groups. These pro-Turkish groups have assassinated or attempted to assassinate several leaders of the Manbij Military Council, the U.S. and Kurdish-backed group that's trying to stabilize the city. Worried about Turkish threats to attack, the local security forces couldn't concentrate full time on the Islamic State.

Turkey's obsession with the supposed Kurdish terrorist menace may have helped put U.S. forces at risk. Wednesday's tragedy should send a message to Ankara, as well as the White House: Stay focused on the mission of destroying the Islamic State until that job is closer to being finished.

As America should have learned, the Islamic State is like a cancer that hides in cells and bones and tissues, not quite extinguished. The moment you think it's gone, it pounces back, hungry as ever, devouring the healthy organs.

American troops shouldn't stay in Syria forever; Trump is certainly right about that. But he needs to be as careful about how the U.S. leaves Syria, or any other Middle East battlefield, as his predecessors were sometimes reckless about getting in.

For now, Trump should give U.S. commanders what they need in Syria: a small military force to sustain a clear, consistent U.S. policy of destroying what's left of the Islamic State -- and protecting our partners.

If a resurgent Islamic State were able to drag the newly thriving markets and schools of Manbij back into darkness, that truly would abandon the sacrifices Americans have made there.

David Ignatius' email address is davidignatius@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Pelosi seizes initiative in trench warfare with Trump

By eugene robinson
Pelosi seizes initiative in trench warfare with Trump

EUGENE ROBINSON COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Robinson clients only)

WRITETHRU: 2nd graf, last sentence: "her planned trip to Brussels and Afghanistan." sted "her planned trip to Afghanistan, Belgium and Egypt."

By EUGENE ROBINSON

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is driving President Trump nuts -- a very short drive indeed -- by doing something he simply cannot abide: She's stealing the spotlight.

She is also seizing the initiative in the trench warfare over Trump's government shutdown and his imaginary border wall, audaciously telling the president that the State of the Union address should be postponed, or perhaps forgone altogether, for reasons of security. It would be both unfair and unwise to ask Secret Service agents and other officers to protect the VIP-packed event, she contends, while they are not being paid their salaries. Trump retaliated Thursday by denying Pelosi military aircraft for her planned trip to Brussels and Afghanistan.

Pelosi's play was a stiletto-sharp reminder of how much power she wields -- and an illustration of how deftly she is wielding it. Democrats who demanded new leadership in the House should be thankful that they didn't get their wish. It is hard to imagine anyone better matched to the moment and the task.

Pelosi will go down in history as the first woman to hold the office that ranks behind only president and vice president. But this second tour of duty as speaker may prove even more consequential than the first, given the vandalism Trump is committing against our government institutions. Voters gave Democrats the power to constrain a corrupt, egomaniacal, incompetent, erratic and potentially compromised president. Pelosi has to figure out how.

So far, it is hard to fault a step she's taken. Her shutdown position is eminently simple and reasonable: Reopen the government, and then we can debate how best to protect the border.

After all, Congress already decided last month to give the Trump administration every penny it had initially asked for -- $1.6 billion -- for border security. But right-wing carnival barkers Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter goaded Trump into demanding more than $5 billion for a concrete wall or steel slats (or perhaps, as Pelosi has joked, "a beaded curtain or something") -- any tangible barrier he can point to as fulfillment of the ridiculous promise he made to his base.

So Trump waded into this fight having no idea how to win it. There's a reason why no previous president has deliberately forced a shutdown: The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse. Trump can't tell Pelosi what to do; and, given strong public opposition to the wall, he has no real leverage to pressure her. But he doesn't want to accept reality, so he keeps playing to his base -- and watching his approval numbers as they slide from low to abysmal.

Meanwhile, his own shutdown has put Trump on the defensive. He has had to stretch precedent, rules and probably laws to designate increasing numbers of furloughed workers as "essential" and force them to work without pay. The latest pressed into uncompensated service are thousands of Internal Revenue Service employees who are needed to process income-tax refunds, which many families depend on to pay bills racked up during the Christmas season.

Trump's attempt at using his bully pulpit -- last week's Oval Office address -- was desultory and ineffective. He could be expected to have another go during the State of the Union, with its setting of pomp and majesty. But only if Pelosi invites him.

"I'm not denying him a platform at all," she said Thursday at her weekly news conference, in a tone of voice suggesting she was shocked that anyone would think such a thing. "I'm saying let's get a date when government is open."

And she was reminding Trump that the Capitol is her house, not his.

Pelosi is still not a natural at performing for the television cameras. But we're seeing a bit more these days of Nancy D'Alesandro -- legendary Baltimore Mayor Tommy D'Alesandro's daughter, who grew up learning old-school politics at the feet of a master. She's a great storyteller, a precise tabulator of yeas and nays, and a leader who doesn't believe in giving any of her members a free pass on important votes.

She will need all her skills in the coming weeks and months. Trump's efforts to weaken the unity of Pelosi's caucus have thus far been pathetic, but he will surely keep trying. Ending the shutdown will require Trump to face reality, so it is impossible to know when that might happen. Meanwhile, Pelosi's committee chairmen are beginning to do their duty of holding the president accountable, and Trump will undoubtedly fight like a cornered banshee.

A rookie speaker would make rookie mistakes. Trump is being knocked around by Pelosi and, even more hurtful, the attention for now is on her.

Eugene Robinson's email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The EU is a great idea that has gone awry

By fareed zakaria
The EU is a great idea that has gone awry

FAREED ZAKARIA COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Zakaria clients only)

By FAREED ZAKARIA

NEW YORK -- As we watch Britain going through the paroxysms relating to Brexit, it is easy to view its decision to leave the European Union as an act of foolishness, a self-inflicted wound that will impoverish Britons for years to come. Europe is Britain's largest market, taking in almost half of the country's exports. Losing special access to it is a high price to pay for some symbolic gains in sovereignty.

But the Brexit debacle also shines a light on Europe itself, and what one sees is a continent and a political project that has stopped working -- at least for many of the people at its Western European core. I say this as an ardent supporter of the European Union. The United States and the EU have been the two main engines behind a world based on open markets, democratic politics, liberty and law, human rights and global welfare. These values will likely be eroded worldwide if the strength and purpose of either of these centers wanes further.

For the last three decades, the European project has been wandering off course. What began as a community of nations cooperating to create larger markets, greater efficiency and political stability became obsessed with two massive issues that have undermined its central achievements.

The first was -- in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse -- the rapid integration of many new countries that were far less economically and socially developed than the EU's original members. Since 1993, it has expanded from 12 countries to 28. Originally focused on opening up markets, streamlining regulations and creating new growth opportunities, the EU soon became a "transfer union," a vast scheme to redistribute funds from prosperous countries to emerging markets. Even in today's strong economic environment, spending by the EU accounts for more than 3 percent of Hungary's economy and almost 4 percent of Lithuania's.

This gap between a rich and poor Europe with open borders inevitably produced a migration crisis. For example, as Matthias Matthijs pointed out in Foreign Affairs, from 2004 to 2014, about 2 million Poles migrated to the UK and Germany and about 2 million Romanians moved to Italy and Spain. These movements put massive strains on the safety nets of destination countries and provoked rising nationalism and nativism. The influx into Europe of more than 1 million refugees in 2015, mostly from the Middle East, must be placed in the context of these already sky-high migrant numbers. And as can be seen almost everywhere, from the United States to Austria, fears of immigration are the rocket fuel for right-wing nationalists, who then discredit the political establishment that they deem responsible for unchecked flows.

The second challenge consuming the European Union has been its currency, the euro. Launched more with politics than economics in mind, the euro has embodied a deep structural flaw: It forces a unified monetary system on 19 countries that continue to have vastly different fiscal systems. So when a recession hits, countries do not have the ability to lower the value of their currency, nor do they get large additional resources from Brussels (as American states do from Washington when they go into recession). The results, as could be seen for years after 2008, were economic stagnation and political revolt.

Brexit should force Britons to think hard about their place in the world and make the adjustments that will allow them to prosper in it. But it should also cause Europeans overall to take stock of their project, a great idea that has gone awry. The European Union needs more than tinkering; it needs to return to first principles, rediscover its central purpose and question which aspects of its current system are no longer working, affordable or manageable. As Tony Blair told me in an interview this week for CNN, it's crucial that "Britain thinks again but Europe also thinks again."

Europe is foundering. While some Americans seem to delight in this prospect, it is bad for our country.

"By the middle of the century you're going to live in a multi-polar world," Blair said. "In those circumstances, the West should stay united and Europe should stand alongside America, because in the end … we're countries that believe in democracy and freedom and the rule of law. … Otherwise we're going to find that as this century progresses and my children and grandchildren work out where they stand in the world, the West is going to be weaker. And that's bad for them, and bad for all of us."

Fareed Zakaria's email address is comments@fareedzakaria.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Nancy Pelosi is lying about the State of the Union

By marc a. thiessen
Nancy Pelosi is lying about the State of the Union

MARC A. THIESSEN COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Thiessen clients only)

By MARC A. THIESSEN

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has written President Trump to suggest that he postpone his State of the Union address, citing her "security concerns" over the ability of the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security to protect government officials during the shutdown.

With all due respect, that is fake news.

Pelosi isn't worried about security. She invited the president to deliver the State of the Union on Jan. 3, 13 days after the partial government shutdown began. She did not ask the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service before writing the president whether they had concerns about their ability to provide security. Indeed, Politico reports that a planning meeting with the Secret Service was scheduled for the day after Pelosi sent her letter, and subsequently canceled. If Pelosi had bothered to ask, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen would have told her exactly what she said Wednesday on Twitter: "The Department of Homeland Security and the US Secret Service are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union."

Pelosi is using her faux security concerns as a pretext to do something unprecedented and outrageous: deny a president of the United States the opportunity to come to Congress and deliver his State of the Union address. Never in the history of our Republic has the House speaker invited, and then disinvited, a sitting president from addressing a joint session of Congress. Yet all those who constantly decry Trump for shattering of presidential norms seem to be perfectly fine when Pelosi is doing the norm shattering -- and lying about why she is doing it.

To the contrary, some have praised this is as a power move on Pelosi's part. No, it's not. Pelosi understands full well the power of a State of the Union address. Trump's first two addresses of a joint session drew 48 million and 46 million television viewers, respectively (plus millions more online). She knows that, if anything, the drama of Trump addressing Congress in the midst of the shutdown would likely increase interest. Trump has now twice demonstrated that he can use the venue effectively. So, Pelosi wants to stop him from speaking from the rostrum of the House of Representatives directly to tens of millions of Americans and calling her out for her refusal to compromise.

If she follows through on this threat, it could backfire. Right now, Democrats are brimming with confidence because polls show that a majority of Americans blame Trump for the shutdown. But according to a recent Hill-HarrisX poll, 70 percent of Americans want both sides to compromise, including 61 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats. Right now, Trump is the only one talking compromise, while Democrats are demanding unilateral surrender. A few weeks ago, Trump sent Vice President Pence to Capitol Hill with an offer that cut his wall request from $5.7 billion to $2.5 billion. Pelosi said she would be willing to give him "one dollar." She probably thought it was funny. But to millions of voters, it came across as cocky and insensitive to the hundreds of thousands of federal workers affected by the shutdown.

Then, to add insult to injury, Democratic lawmakers took a junket to Puerto Rico on the very day that federal workers stop receiving their paychecks. They had time to sun themselves on the beach at an exclusive resort with more than 100 lobbyists and executives and hang out with the cast of "Hamilton," but they could not be bothered to accept Trump's invitation to meet with him at the White House on Tuesday to find a way out of the crisis.

And now Pelosi is threatening to cancel the State of the Union address -- a move that will be seen by many Americans as petty and vindictive. If Democrats continue with this cavalier attitude and refusal to negotiate, eventually public opinion will turn against them.

Trump should tell Pelosi that, while he appreciates her concerns, the Secret Service has assured him that they can handle security and that he plans to deliver his address in person, as scheduled. Let her withdraw the invitation. If she does, it will be a turning point in our nation's history -- a moment when the last vestiges of comity in Washington were destroyed. It may also be the moment when Americans finally realized that Pelosi cares more about hurting Trump than she does about finding a compromise solution and doing what is best for the country.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

Anti-Catholic bigotry is alive in the U.S. Senate

By michael gerson
Anti-Catholic bigotry is alive in the U.S. Senate

MICHAEL GERSON COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Gerson clients only)

By MICHAEL GERSON

WASHINGTON -- Those who want to understand how Democrats manage to scare the hell out of vast sections of the country need look no further than the story of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and the Knights of Columbus.

In considering the confirmation of Brian Buescher to a federal judgeship last month, Harris and Hirono submitted written questions that raised alarms about his membership in "an all-male society comprised primarily of Catholic men." "Were you aware," Harris asked, "that the Knights of Columbus opposed a woman's right to choose when you joined the organization?" And: "Have you ever, in any way, assisted with or contributed to advocacy against women's reproductive rights?" And: "Were you aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed marriage equality when you joined the organization?"

For those who know the Knights of Columbus, this is a bit like accusing your Aunt Harriet's knitting circle of being a Mexican drug cartel. In most of the country, the Knights are a respected fraternal organization consisting of men who hand out coats to needy children, promote devotion to the Virgin Mary, support crisis pregnancy shelters and protest doggedly each year in the March for Life.

Hirono regards the traditional moral views of the Knights as "extreme positions." The difficulty with this line of reasoning is that they are exactly the same positions of the Catholic Church itself. So why wouldn't a judge's membership in the Catholic Church -- with its all-male clergy, opposition to abortion and belief in traditional marriage -- be problematic as well?

The difficulty with a (BEG ITAL)reductio ad absurdum(END ITAL) comes when people no longer find it (BEG ITAL)absurdum(END ITAL). Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has made the argument bluntly. In raising concerns in 2017 about appeals court nominee Amy Coney Barrett's Catholic faith, Feinstein said, "When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you."

So is it fair to say that Harris, Hirono and Feinstein would want judicial nominees to quit religious organizations that hold "extreme positions" or recuse themselves from all matters of morality that the senators regard as tainted by religious dogma? That sounds like an exaggeration. But here is a question that Hirono asked to both Buescher and Paul Matey, another appeals court nominee: "If confirmed, will you recuse yourself from all cases in which the Knights of Columbus has taken a position?"

This is not just a liberal excess, it is a liberal argument. Religious liberty, in this view, reaches to the limits of your cranium. You can believe any retrograde thing you want. But you can't act on that belief in the public square. And you can't be a member of organizations that hold backward views and still be trusted with government jobs upholding the secular, liberal political order.

The comparison of this view to America's long history of anti-Catholic bigotry has been disputed. Actually, it is exactly the same as this history in every important respect. A 19th-century bigot would have regarded Catholicism as fundamentally illiberal -- a backward faith characterized by clerical despotism -- and thus inconsistent with America's democratic rules. The same attitude seems currently present in the United States Senate.

And there is a strange twist to this argument in American evangelicalism. Evangelicals have largely gotten over their anti-Catholic bias. But many believe that Islam is fundamentally illiberal -- a backward faith characterized by clerical despotism -- and thus inconsistent with America's democratic rules. Little do they realize that an evangelical institution in Massachusetts is increasingly viewed like an Islamic institution in Mississippi. With suspicion.

The answer to all of this is a great American value called pluralism. The views and values of Americans are shaped in a variety of institutions, religious and non-religious. No one is disqualified from self-government by a religious test. So people who are members of the Knights of Columbus and members of the ACLU can participate on an equal footing.

There are limits, of course. Membership in a terrorist group or the KKK is disqualifying, because they are motivated by hate and seek the violent subjugation of their neighbors. But if liberal Democrats want to compare the Catholic Church to a hate group, good luck with that. They will offend the last religious traditionalists they haven't already, and alienate a good many others besides.

Michael Gerson's email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

There is nothing toxic about my masculinity!

By alexandra petri
There is nothing toxic about my masculinity!

ALEXANDRA PETRI COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Petri clients only)

By ALEXANDRA PETRI

STOP CALLING MY MASCULINITY TOXIC!

Shoo, American Psychological Association, with your guidelines, shoo! I am speaking loudly and carrying a Big Stick! Get away, commercials for razors!

DO NOT COME NEAR MY MANHOOD!

Are you saying masculinity is harmful? I WILL DUEL YOU, SIR!

I will duel you to the death with an enormous saber that was once a tiger's tooth, and we will see whose masculinity is toxic!

I would rather leave my son to be suckled at a wolf's teat as true men once were than attempt to plan a week's worth of meals or wait until the APA has completely explained its position before I begin to object to it.

Are you saying men can't do JUSTICE any longer? That men can't do COURAGE? That men can't fight fires but must instead become COLLABORATORS with the enemy FIRE? No? Oh. Well, I am NOT LISTENING! Listening is for females, whose lobes are better suited to it.

Are you saying all little boys should be shunned and made to feel ashamed of themselves and not given crayons of their desired colors?

No? I have decided (IT IS A MAN'S PLACE TO DECIDE) that this is what you are saying -- that you have called half the population sick. Well, I'm not sick! Or if I were, I could decide not to be, and come and cough at the workplace for a few weeks without covering my nose (MY NOSE IS NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF!).

Do not criticize my masculinity. It is far from fragile. Fragile is a teacup or the silence after your best bro shares a personal revelation to which you are emotionally ill-equipped to respond.

I'll show you fragile! Look, I am crushing a kestrel's nest with my hand. Let that sink in.

If there were a mammoth here I would be hunting it! We would not even be having this discussion! But instead I am going to go make a woman's life unpleasant online. If asked to discuss anything with a real woman, I will throw chocolate or Pandora charms at the problem (as the Internet requires) and then flee into the cave where I feast on spiders.

Stop telling me this is toxic or that I need to apologize! Apologies are for people who I disagree with and Obama's America!

Everything is broken here? NOTHING IS BROKEN HERE!

You were not complaining about all of it? I have not been listening to the nuances of your argument; nuance is for ladies and Tiny Tims.

I am sick of being told that yelling at a woman on a street or doing a harassment is a part of masculinity that is bad. Either masculinity is all good or it is all bad, so pick one!

Do not tell me that I am debating a straw man. Some of my best friends are straw men -- straw men are men, too, and they deserve our respect.

My point is, we are served well by this!

Why, I remember when an emotionally healthy response to good news was to tear off your silk pajamas and wave them like a flag. It was either an emotionally healthy response or something Stanley Kowalski did in "A Streetcar Named Desire," one of the two, PROBABLY BOTH!

I must go step on an anthill, for I am enraged by recent developments. Am mad. Am full of rage (ACCEPTABLE EMOTION). Wish to shout and bang and say (BEG ITAL)PEW PEW POW(END ITAL), but grit teeth in silent agony even as fox cub under my cloak chews through entrails. New guidelines about masculinity are very angry-making.

That would rather claw own eyes out than admit to simple warm, honest feeling is trait on which I pride myself. I wish to return to a time no one wore helmets unless they also carried a lance, when feelings were expressed in simple grunts.

This is a man's way. It requires no fixing, but if it did need fixing, I would know how, just, instinctively, and would require no instruction.

I think we can agree that we are all served well by this, that nothing of us is being crushed, that we are all being allowed the full range of humanity and that it would be better to continue in this way.

*bangs heavily on door with Big Stick*

There is nothing wrong with my masculinity.

Pardon me, miss, but no.

No?

NOTHING IS BROKEN HERE! By Zeus. By God. By Hibernian Jove, I am perfect and so is my manhood!

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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