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Getting through the border fence was easy; winning the right to stay won't be

By Maria Sacchetti
Getting through the border fence was easy; winning the right to stay won't be
Elen Euceda, 8, plays on the hammock temporarily set up in the living room of her aunt's home in Bakersfield, Calif. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Jenna Schoenefeld

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - President Donald Trump has deployed tear gas, military helicopters and miles of razor wire to stop migrant caravans from entering the United States. It took one day for Nubia Estrada's 8-year-old daughter, Elen, to discover a way in.

"Hold your breath," a group of men told Estrada as they helped her and her four children squeeze through a narrow gap in the fence on the westernmost part of the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a thick fog, with the Pacific Ocean lapping nearby, the family sprinted into California, joining thousands of migrants who have made their way into the country to seek asylum despite increasingly urgent government efforts to stop them.

In Trump's first two years in office, his administration has tried to narrow migrants' chances to qualify for asylum, slow the number allowed in at legal checkpoints and deny protections to those who crossed the border illegally. The government tried filing criminal charges for all who crossed illegally with their children, a measure that led to the separation of thousands of family members last spring.

But many of Trump's plans have been blocked or temporarily halted in federal courts, and the number of families coming in continues to rise.

Some, including Estrada's, seek the relative safety and minimal cost of a locally organized caravan, like the latest group that departed from Honduras this week. Others are smuggled through remote, rugged passes, including two young children who died in U.S. government custody last month.

Estrada's story illustrates why U.S. efforts to keep the families from entering the country are not succeeding - a combination of unrelenting demand, limited detention space, restrictions on how long children can be detained and how fast they can be deported.

It also makes clear the significant obstacles that migrant parents and children face once they arrive.

Trump took to Twitter Dec. 20 to berate the caravan in which Estrada traveled and claim that the military, and immigration and border agents, had successfully kept its participants out.

"Remember the Caravans?" he wrote. "Well, they didn't get through and none are forming or on their way. Border is tight."

At that moment, Estrada, 34, was 250 miles past the border, in central California, staying in the modest two-bedroom bungalow of a half sister and brother-in-law she barely knew.

She had a monitoring device on her ankle, no money or work permit, and a list of immigration check-ins and court dates piling up. Her children were frustrated, bored, unruly.

It was dawning on her that the caravan was only the first leg of a long and difficult journey.


The caravan had been Estrada's salvation, a way out of Honduras for herself and her four children that didn't require the $15,000 smuggler's fee.

She and her husband earned $8 a day baking bread in a firewood oven attached to their adobe house and selling it on the street in their town of Jícaro Galán.

But last year a robber put a gun to her daughter Sheyla's head on a bus and stole their money. A cousin, Jefferson, was shot 10 times and killed in August. And Estrada's husband was growing increasingly violent, her children say.

One night in October, Estrada and her children watched news of the caravan on television. The next day they boarded a bus to join it, carrying two clothes-filled backpacks and $40.

Estrada's sister in Honduras alerted a grown niece in Atlanta that the family was on its way. The niece called other relatives in America, who debated which of them could afford to take in a family of five. A cousin in Texas backed out. A different sister in California demurred.

That left Francisca Estrada de Espino, 56, who lives in Bakersfield, California, with her husband and his two sons and who hadn't seen Estrada in many years.

She watched the caravan trudging in the rain on television and wept.

"How could my sister do this? It's so difficult," she recalled saying about the trek.

Estrada de Espino and her husband had crossed the border decades earlier, in an era when few migrants paid smugglers or landed in jail.

Rogelio Espino arrived in 1984 from Mexico to pick grapes and obtained a green card under the amnesty offered by President Ronald Reagan. He successfully applied for U.S. citizenship in 1997 after California's governor, Pete Wilson - a Republican, like Reagan - attempted to crack down on undocumented immigrants.

"He did me a favor," saidRogelio, a 54-year-old apartment maintenance worker.

Now a different Republican president was working to curtail immigration in every way possible.

Estrada had intended to cross the southern border at the legal checkpoint in Tijuana, Mexico, where advocates and lawyers were available to help and guide migrants. But food was scarce, daily crossings were strictly limited, and she ended up No. 1,520 on a dubious waiting list kept in a tattered notebook. One night, protesters threw rocks at the sports complex that was housing her family and thousands of others.

She and the children were terrified of returning to Honduras. They heard whispers about a tiny beach not far from the stadium, where a rusty border fence vanishes into the Pacific Ocean. A taxi ride later, they were scouring the metal strips for weak spots, padding over the sand as if searching for seashells. Elen soon poked her tiny hands through a cracked metal sheet.

They crossed into California in late November and immediately surrendered to the Border Patrol. Officials released them to her sister and brother-in-law, who traveled by bus to get them since they couldn't all fit in the Espinos' battered blue Mazda. Together, they rode the bus back to Bakersfield, a city of 380,000 that sits 110 miles north of Los Angeles.

The rose-colored house, with a yard overflowing with scrap metal parts, was quickly engulfed in the chaos of two teenagers and two young children who had been on the road for the past six weeks.

Espino installed an extra refrigerator and filled it with eggs, tortillas and pizza. His wife packed plastic containers with clothes from yard sales and Ross Dress for Less. They hung a hammock in the living room for Estrada, over a bed where her children could sleep. Nine people share one bathroom.

"I want to help them," said Estrada de Espino, a housewife.

But there was no money for lawyers, and the long list of legal organizations Estrada had been given were all at least an hour's drive away. Her hosts had little time to ferry her to appointments.

With the caravan, Estrada had been decisive. When her teenagers disappeared in the crowd for two days, she commandeered another migrant's phone to find them. She lost the children's birth certificates but had copies texted to her and printed in Tijuana. A gum infection cost her a front tooth, but it did not stop her journey.

In California, though, her confidence faded. She had no money for Christmas gifts. The kids gobbled food she could not pay for. They stayed home all day, screaming or blasting music, as her sister pursed her lips in disapproval.

She couldn't summon the courage to ask to borrow her sister's phone to call nonprofits for help. "They're feeding me," she whispered. "How can I use their phone to call a lawyer?"


Her life, for now, was shaped by check-ins with Immigration and Customs Enforcement on a palm-tree-lined street in Bakersfield.

"How can I get a work permit?" she said she asked an officer on her first visit. Instead of an answer, she was handed the list of faraway lawyers.

She was told to stay home at her sister's the following Monday, when a case worker with the federal contractor BI Inc. would visit to verify Estrada's new address.

Estrada was also told to keep her ankle bracelet charged, another way for the government to track her whereabouts.

In Honduras people had talked about immigrants who snip off the bracelets and run away. But Estrada and her sister wanted to follow the rules. "It's better not to act incorrectly," Estrada de Espino said.

Estrada rose early that Monday to make breakfast and keep an eye on the front window, jumping when someone parked outside. The case worker was supposed to show up sometime between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.

The monitoring would eventually lead to an immigration court hearing that could determine the rest of their lives. But Estrada didn't want to tell a judge or anyone else that in addition to gang violence, she was fleeing a husband who had threatened to kill her and their children.

"He was a good person when he wasn't drunk," Estrada said softly, sitting on her sister's couch.

"She doesn't like to tell the story about him," 17-year-old Sheyla interrupted, sitting a few inches away. "When he came home drunk, we had to leave to find another place to sleep. He would come home and hit us."

Tears welled in her mother's eyes. But Sheyla's gaze was hard. She said her father would point to a rifle he owned for killing livestock and say, "I'll kill you with this."

Sheyla and 14-year-old Eiro said the threats happened "many times."

Estrada de Espino listened and handed her sister tissues.

"I don't like people to know my problems," Estrada said, clutching a teddy bear and watching the window.

At 12:12 p.m., a FedEx truck pulled up. At 3:08, the U.S. Postal Service arrived.


Sheyla cocooned herself in a blanket and texted her friends in Honduras; Eiro played an online soccer game. Erickson, 4, and Elen kicked soccer balls outside, stopping when they saw a group of schoolchildren pass. They hadn't been in school since mid-October.

At 3:27 p.m., a neatly dressed young woman from B.I. Inc. arrived at the front gate apologizing and holding a phone with a dead battery. Estrada finger-combed Erickson's hair and greeted her at the door.

After learning that a Washington Post journalist was with the family, the woman canceled the appointment without explanation and said she would come another day.

"Disculpa," the woman said in American-accented Spanish. "Excuse me."

The next day Estrada had another check-inwith BI Inc. Again, she asked about working. The employee, she said later, told her she needed a permit to legally get a job but also acknowledged that many migrants work without one. The employee warned her to show up for her immigration appointments, Estrada said, and told her, the rest is "up to you."

The next day Estrada and her sister took Elen and Erickson to enroll in school, walking several blocks in the crisp air.

Elen, excited, wore a frilly black-and-white dress from the plastic container in the living room. She smiled when they arrived at the school, where the signs were in Spanish and almost everyone seemed to be Latino - either immigrants or U.S.-born. The only disappointment came when the clerk said Erickson was too young for kindergarten.

"The houses are so pretty," Estrada said, gesturing to a small, tidy house with a pair of shade trees out front.

Even though her sister insisted she could stay as long as she needed, Estrada was anxious to start working, save money and get her own place. The sisters made plans to call a legal nonprofit, and Estrada asked whether she could find a job on a farm, maybe trimming grapevines for next season.

"I'll learn what I have to learn," Estrada said, "even if I have to collect garbage all day."

Her family's first immigration court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 31, but she received notices to appear in two different courtrooms, one of which is in a facility that immigration officials haven't used since 2012. The other is in San Francisco, a 4 1/2-hour drive away.

She still needs to check in periodically with immigration officials and spend one afternoon each week at her sister's house, waiting for the contractor to visit.

This month, her three older children started school.

Estrada missed being home for Christmas. She used to bring her mother fresh-baked bread, and a little money, every Christmas morning. She said she hoped to have the chance to go back to Honduras, at some safer time, and share the holiday with her mother again.

Returning home is a fantasy every immigrant shares, her sister told her, especially when they first arrive. But millions end up staying in America, with or without permission.

"That's how it is," Estrada de Espino said. "Once you leave, you don't want to go back."


The Washington Post's Sarah Kinosian contributed to this report.

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.


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.


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.

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Above all else, Trump is a bully

By eugene robinson
Above all else, Trump is a bully


(Advance for Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Monday, Jan. 21, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Robinson clients only)


WASHINGTON -- As the shambolic Trump presidency caroms and lurches into Year Three, a shameful governing philosophy has emerged: cruelty for cruelty's sake.

Let us take stock:

Roughly one-quarter of the federal government has been closed for a month, in the longest shutdown in U.S. history. An estimated 800,000 employees are either furloughed or being forced to work without pay, not to mention untold contract workers who are also idled. Prospects for a near-term solution to the impasse between President Trump and Congress range all the way from dim to dimmer.

Imagine going a month without a paycheck. Imagine lining up the bills and deciding which get paid and which don't -- mortgage, electricity, heating. Imagine having to commute to work at an "essential" government job and trying to scrape together enough money for gas.

All of these hardships, and many more, are being inflicted on hard-working public servants (BEG ITAL)for no earthly reason(END ITAL). From the beginning, Democrats have taken a reasonable position: Keep the government open, and let's have a debate and a negotiation about border security. Trump agreed -- until far-right pundits accused him of abandoning his border wall, which everyone knows will never be built.

So Trump made federal workers -- and other citizens who depend on government services -- into sacrificial lambs whose blood is an offering to the Trumpist base. Negotiations about a solution are at a standstill because Trump's self-proclaimed negotiation prowess comes down to taunts and tweets. The next time you take a flight, hope that the agents who inspect passengers' luggage and the traffic controllers who guide pilots through the sky are thinking about their work, not worrying how to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, we learned last week that the sadistic policy of separating would-be immigrants from their children has been far more extensive, and more shocking, than anyone suspected.

There was bipartisan uproar earlier last year when it was disclosed that more than 2,000 children had been effectively kidnapped by our government, in a mean and cynical attempt to deter undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers. Now, the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services reports that the family separations actually began in 2017 and that "thousands" more children were taken from their parents.

So haphazard and uncaring was this outrageous policy that there exists no full accounting of who these children are, where they are or whether they were ever reunited with their families. There is not even enough solid information for the inspector general to be more specific than "thousands" about the number.

Trump claims his imaginary wall is needed to address a "humanitarian crisis" at the border. The crisis is real, but it is of Trump's own deliberate creation. Given the administration's combination of malice and incompetence, it is safe to assume that some of the children who we snatched away will never see their parents again. They are mere props that let Trump demonstrate how far he will go to punish Latinos for daring to seek a safer, better life.

Trump cruelly gives the cold shoulder to those around the world who advocate respect for human rights. Perhaps Trump thinks this is how his base wants him to act. Perhaps his own myriad insecurities lead him to falsely equate callous indifference with strength.

Whatever the reason, he does not even pay lip service to the struggle for freedom, dignity and due process in countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Philippines. Public pressure from a U.S. president -- which costs nothing, in terms of domestic political support -- can save the lives of activists and journalists who heroically labor to hold autocratic governments accountable. Cold silence from a U.S. president can be fatal.

Such gratuitous cruelty is really this administration's only consistent policy. Trump tried his best, for example, to destroy the Affordable Care Act, not because he had a better idea about how to provide health care but apparently because he can't abide anything with President Obama's name on it. He failed, but in the process weakened Obamacare enough to make it less effective and more expensive.

Why would Trump injure innocent consumers? Why hurt stockholders of companies led by chief executives he does not like? Why seek to deny desperately needed help to Puerto Rico, where some politicians have been critical of Trump?

Why? Because he can.

Above all else, Trump is a bully. Like all schoolyard tyrants, he tries to project great strength in order to mask internal weakness. But remember the one universal truth about bullies: The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Eugene Robinson's email address is

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The Trumpification of the pro-life movement exacts a price

By michael gerson
The Trumpification of the pro-life movement exacts a price


(Advance for Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Monday, Jan. 21, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Gerson clients only)


WASHINGTON -- Through a blooming diversity of investigations, we will soon discover if the world that has always surrounded Donald Trump -- the sleazy fixers, the disposable women, the questionable deals, the gold-plated vanity, the viciousness to subordinates, the casual prejudice, the obsession with enemies, the shady international contacts, the nepotism, the ethical emptiness, the bottomless narcissism -- is also a criminal enterprise.

On the increasingly likely assumption that it is, how would institutions on the right be affected by Trump's corrupting embrace?

It won't be pretty for the Republican Party. It has become thoroughly braided into Trump's bigotry. In a nation where the chant of "Trump! Trump! Trump!" has become a racist jeer, the GOP has accepted a rebranding as his subsidiary. To many suburban voters, the party has become a symbol of intolerance. To many younger voters, an instrument of white privilege. At the national level at least, the GOP's fate is inseparable from the fate of the president.

Most members of the conservative movement will be tainted for flipping their inspiration from Ronald Reagan to George Wallace with hardly a moment's thought. This gives credence to charges of racial prejudice I once thought exaggerated.

But let me focus a moment on the pro-life movement, which has traditionally been in a different category. If you believe that a fetus is a member of the human family from its first moment -- and millions of Americans do -- then opposition to abortion is inherently a social justice issue. It is the defense of the weak and voiceless against violence.

I realize, of course, that millions of Americans don't believe this. And millions of other Americans would locate personhood in the later stages of a pregnancy. But since empathy requires imagination, imagine if you believed what pro-life people do. By your own lights, you would be defending human rights and dignity.

To be consistent, of course, you would need to care equally for the lives of women in crisis. And for the health and welfare of children after birth. But that is my point. Defending human dignity at every stage of human development is not a commitment currently embodied in either political party, or in either conservatism or liberalism. People who hold this view should be against Roe v. Wade and against the separation of children from their parents at the border. They should be opposed to the dehumanization of unborn children and the dehumanization of refugees and migrants. The legitimacy of pro-life sentiment is demonstrated by its consistency.

But it is not a coincidence that there were so many Make America Great Again hats at the March for Life, or that Trump made a prominent video appearance. The March for Life and the Susan B. Anthony List -- two major pro-life organizations -- have featured Trump at their major gatherings. The president of the SBA has pronounced Trump "the most pro-life president in our nation's history" and called it "a privilege to stand with him."

The issue here is complicated. Trump (BEG ITAL)has(END ITAL) governed as a pro-life president, especially in the appointment of two justices to the Supreme Court who more than pass Federalist Society muster. Gratitude here is natural and understandable.

But if the overturn or revision of Roe v. Wade comes, it will almost certainly return greater flexibility to states in the regulation of abortion. This will kindle dozens of debates across the country and become a contest of persuasion and organization.

It is then that the Trumpification of the pro-life movement will exact a price. There is a serious cost when a movement that regards itself as pro-woman associates with misogyny. There is a serious cost when a movement that claims to be expanding the circle of social inclusion associates itself with nativism and racism. There is a serious cost when a movement that needs to be seen as charitable and reasonable associates itself with the politics of abuse and cruelty.

This turns out to be a particularly pure test of transactional, single-issue politics. Would you trade a major political gain for a large chunk of your moral reputation?

I don't want to argue that such a choice is easy. Maybe gaining two justices is worth it. But I'm skeptical. The pro-life movement needs to be, and be seen as, advocating the defense of the weak against the strong. Trumpism is the elevation of the strong against refugees, and against migrant children, and against minorities. The gains of moral and political compromise are material; the costs are spiritual. We will see which matters more.

Michael Gerson's email address is

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Accepting Farrakhan isn't just anti-Semitic, it's racist

By richard cohen
Accepting Farrakhan isn't just anti-Semitic, it's racist


(Advance for Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Monday, Jan. 21, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Cohen clients only)


When and how did it become acceptable to be an anti-Semite? When did it become OK to socialize with and even praise a Jew hater? I am referring, of course, to Louis Farrakhan, who spouts the most vile things about Jews yet retains the admiration of many on the left, including, notably, leaders of the Women's March. They have now separated themselves from Farrakhan's bigotry, but not the man himself. He understands. They are doing what Jews want.

To an extent, they are. It has taken some pressure to get Women's March co-chairs Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour and others to distance themselves from Farrakhan's views. Yet Mallory for one will not condemn the man who holds these views. In this, she has plenty of company. On the stage with Farrakhan at Aretha Franklin's funeral in September were Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Bill Clinton. Franklin, apparently untroubled by Farrakhan's Jew hatred, had a friendly relationship with him, and he was at the funeral for that reason. Still, you could not imagine Jackson, Sharpton or Clinton sharing the stage with David Duke.

The Anti-Defamation League reports an upsurge in anti-Semitic incidents -- up nearly 60 percent in 2017. But the numbers are more shocking than they are troubling. More troubling -- if unmeasurable -- are the casually anti-Semitic statements or associations of figures such as Mallory and Sarsour. In 2012, Sarsour, who is Palestinian-American, tweeted: "Nothing is creepier than Zionism." This might be understandable from a Palestinian point of view, but not her following sentence: "Challenge racism." The slur that Zionism is racism must come as a surprise to the 135,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel, roughly 25,000 of whom were airlifted between 1984 and 1991.

Farrakhan is lauded for the good work his Nation of Islam does in certain black communities and in jails. But his message is anti-white, anti-gay and anti-Semitic. The fact that he does some good is no reason to ignore or overlook the bad that is attached. When it comes to Jews, he has the lurid imagination of a 1930s-era Nazi. He blames the Jews for most everything, including Hollywood movies that are "turning men into women and women into men." Mallory attended the rally where Farrakhan made that statement.

Eleven years ago, a writer for Harper's wondered what would happen to Farrakhan if I ceased writing about him. I ceased, and Farrakhan seemed not to notice. In fact, his brand of anti-Semitism became, if not acceptable, then unremarkable. In her forthcoming book, "Antisemitism Here and Now," the Holocaust historian Deborah E. Lipstadt gathers some of the more idiotic statements made by leftist Americans about Jews and, especially, about Israel. The country is routinely denounced as racist, colonialist, fascist and, of course, as segregated as South Africa in the apartheid era. None of this is true.

It is true, alas, that Israel persists in occupying the West Bank. But it is also true that many American Jews oppose this policy -- as do many Israelis. As do I. But at the same time, I recognize that Israel is not the vilest among nations, that it is a democracy that accords full rights to its Palestinian citizens, that the Muslim gays of Tel Aviv would not last a day in the Arab world and that the proposal to have Israel absorb Palestinian refugees is simply untenable. It would doom Israel as a Jewish state. It is an invitation to obliteration.

I go back to Farrakhan. That Harper's writer of years ago had a point: Farrakhan is not important. He leads a fringe sect that is as anathema to conventional Muslims as it is to Jews. It is not his anti-Semitism that worries me. More worrisome is the casual acceptance of his anti-Semitism by others that makes him somehow unremarkable -- the unstated agreement that Jews are all-powerful, all-controlling and somehow blocking black progress. This stands history on its head and mocks the 1964 deaths in Mississippi of Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who were among the many Jews who volunteered during the Civil Rights movement over the years.

In accepting Farrakhan, figures on the American left manage to combine anti-Semitism with racism -- a belief that blacks are too weak to matter and Jews too powerful to care. It robs African-Americans of their own agency by making their plight the work of evil Jews. As for Jews, it's an echo of what they've heard before. The leaders of the Women's March ought to study history to see that theirs are old ideas. They are marching in the wrong direction.

Richard Cohen's email address is

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Liked the wedding ring story? Here are further feel-good tales.

By alexandra petri
Liked the wedding ring story? Here are further feel-good tales.



(For Petri clients only)


If you liked the heartwarming story of the furloughed federal employee who pawned her wedding ring, only to have her family buy it back for her, don't worry! There are plenty more stories where that came from!

One of the more depressing angles of being alive in this wonderful corner of time is our relentless tendency to try to put a positive spin on horrifying situations: This isn't a horrifying story about someone without access to the medication they need to live; it's a heartwarming tale of how 50 strangers got together and bought insulin! This isn't a harrowing account of how teachers supply classrooms from their own pocket; it's a feel-good story about the Mom Who Bought 90 Glue Sticks and a Truck! (My friend Jessica M. Goldstein has written about this "Feel-Good Feel-Bad Story" phenomenon repeatedly.)

If we are going to continue this relentless insistence on presenting fundamentally alarming tales about the system's deep brokenness as uplifting stories of human friendship, here are a few more readers should love:

Beautiful! Down-on-Their-Luck Young Couple's Sacrifice Lets Them Surprise Each Other with Hair Accessories and a Watch Band

Heartwarming! With Help from Animals, Family Manages to Use Stable to Give Birth

Right in the Feels! This Little Match Girl Was Finally Reunited with Her Grandmother!

Inspiring! Unused Baby Shoes Find New Home

Heartwarming! After Fired Employee Dies on the Street, Former Factory Owner Takes in and Raises Her Child as His Own

Uplifting! Struggling Bohemian Rodolfo Selflessly Dumps Girlfriend So She Can Get Medical Care She Needs

Uplifting! Self-Sacrificing Employees Demonstrate for Shirtwaist Factory Owner the Importance of Keeping Doors Unlocked

Inspiring! 'The Jungle' Shows Neat Tricks Sausage Craftsman Uses to Reuse Wastewater and Stay on Schedule

Warm Fuzzies! When Winston Smith Was Forced to Spend Time Confronting His Fears, He Realized He and Big Brother Had More in Common than They Thought

Inspiring! Salesman's Whole Family Gathers to Support Him

Heartwarming! Black Beauty Draws Strength from Friendship with Fellow Cab-Horse

Inspiring! Fighting in World War I, Poet Wilfred Owen Gained New Perspective on Old Latin Verse

Beautiful! Boys Keep One Another Alive After Island Plane Crash, Mostly

Uplifting! After Spending Time with Allied Master Supercomputer, Ted Finds He Can't Complain

Heartwarming! One Guy Was Sort of Nice to Enslaved Violinist

Inspiring! Friends Share Food with Family Staying Free in Annex

Wow! Blanche DuBois Gets to Do What She Loves: Depend on the Kindness of Strangers

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The government that goes wrong

By dana milbank
The government that goes wrong


(Advance for Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Milbank clients only)


"The Play That Goes Wrong," a British slapstick comedy, finished a short run at the Kennedy Center this month, so most Washingtonians didn't get to see its characters stepping on each other, getting struck by falling objects and stymied by stuck doors, forgetting their lines, missing their cues, and eventually having the whole set fall down around them.

But that's okay. Here in the capital, we see a similar performance every day. Our version is The Government That Goes Wrong. President Trump is, if nothing else, a slapstick genius for the comically disastrous way in which he runs the country.

Large parts of the government have ceased to function for the longest time in U.S. history. Eight hundred thousand people are furloughed or forced to work without pay. Trump, who proudly said he would take blame for the shutdown, now says "the buck stops with everybody." This mayhem has been created in service of Trump's vision of a walled fortress on the border (an idea Trump's own chief of staff once called "almost childish") of the sort seen in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" ("Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!").

In the last several days alone:

Trump, hosting the Clemson football team, ordered Big Macs and Whoppers because White House food preparers are on furlough. His tweet about the fast-food fest misspelled hamburger as "hamberder."

Trump, after publicly disparaging Jeff Sessions, his old attorney general ("Mr. Magoo), for failing to protect him from special counsel Robert Mueller, was reportedly "startled" to learn on TV that -- uh oh! -- his nominee to be the new attorney general, William Barr, is a dear friend of Mueller's.

Trump's lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, undermined two years of Trump administration denials by telling CNN "I never said there was no collusion" between Trump's campaign and Russia.

Trump, in a fit of pique because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested he postpone his State of the Union address, used his awesome presidential powers to ... ground a government airplane that was supposed to take Pelosi to see U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

On top of this, Trump found himself assuring the public that he's not a Russian asset (after the New York Times reported the FBI investigated exactly that possibility), and BuzzFeed reported that Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about Russian contacts.

It would appear Trump is following the immortal advice of Curly Howard: "If at first you don't succeed, keep on sucking till you do suck seed."

Watching Trump's serial bumbling brings to mind the famous "Pink Panther" scene in which Inspector Clouseau flies off the parallel bars, tumbles down the stairs, destroys a suit of armor and a piano, strikes a beekeeper, burns himself, knocks himself in the head with a vase and falls on a shotgun, which fires.

Anybody who still believes in "American exceptionalism" will have to account for this week. How did the nation that liberated Europe and put a man on the moon come to be led by Peter Sellers?

But what if we could use Trump's status as international laughingstock to America's advantage? What if we could weaponize Trump's slapstick buffoonery?

In Syria, let us suppress Islamic State with precision-guided stink bombs. In Afghanistan, likewise, covert operatives can thwart the Taliban by putting Vaseline on their doorknobs, "accidentally" hitting them while carrying ladders and putting their fingers in warm water while they sleep.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who has earned a second meeting with Trump next month even though he hasn't denuclearized, will be weakened into making concessions when, at the summit, his bed is filled with itching powder and his side of the stage is strewn with banana peels. Other geopolitical foes will be neutralized by upturned rakes and strategically placed mousetraps.

Here at home, Democrats can likewise defeat Trump in his own style. Rather than postponing the State of the Union address, they should:

Leave fake dog poo on the lectern where the germophobic president will speak and put soy sauce in his Diet Coke. Pelosi will greet Trump with a shock ring and a water-squirting lapel pin. Vice President Pence will discover a whoopee cushion when he sits. Republicans will find themselves stuck to their seats with Krazy Glue. Trump will discover that his teleprompter has the lyrics to "I Feel Pretty."

After suffering through a dismal two-year run of The Government That Goes Wrong, this is the showstopper we deserve.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The Shutdown Trap: Hating government won't improve it

By e.j. dionne jr.
The Shutdown Trap: Hating government won't improve it


(Advance for Monday, Jan. 21, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Dionne clients only)

WRITETHRU: 9th graf, Reagan's quote: "In this present" sted "In the present"


"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.'''

Ronald Reagan's 1986 statement still invokes chuckles on the right and some nostalgia for the general good nature of his gibes.

But the sentiment behind it remains one of the most destructive forces in our politics.

If you bemoan the shutdown of so many federal agencies and regularly ask yourself why our two parties seem to be at sword's point on just about everything, you will not find an adequate explanation for our troubles in vague claims that "both sides" have become "extreme."

Our core problem is a dogmatic anti-government attitude, reflected in Reagan's quip, that arose in the 1970s and '80s. This makes it impossible for us to have a constructive debate about what government is for, what tasks it should take on, and what good it actually does.

In truth, the whole anti-government thing is fundamentally fraudulent. So is the conservative claim to believe passionately in states' rights and local authority.

In practice, conservatives regularly vote for lots of government -- so long as it serves the interests they represent. Start with farm subsidies, massive defense spending, regulations that disempower unions, and measures that sharply tilt the tax code in favor of corporate interests and the wealthy.

As for the power of states and localities, conservatives regularly propose federal action to override state governments that issue safety and environmental regulations that business regards as too robust. Somehow, they think we need national "consistency" on these matters but not on, say, voting rights. And right-wing state legislatures regularly pre-empt laws passed by more liberal local governments.

Hypocrisy is troubling enough, but the anti-government ideology is the source of even more problematic habits. Recall another famous Reagan line: "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

The shutdown reminds us that government is not the problem but the solution, or at least part of it, when it comes to many aspects of our common life.

We can see the damage done to the air transportation system, bureaus that gather useful economic statistics, the Internal Revenue Service, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Add in the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, the Forest Service and the Weather Service. And this is a very partial list.

The glee with which President Trump has talked about a shutdown for months reflects an old conservative trope: Government is so bad, plodding and, well, useless, that people won't mind if it disappears for a while. This faith explains why Republicans were equally cheerful when they shut down the government in the mid-1990s during a budget fight with Bill Clinton's administration.

Their assumption was as wrong then as it is now. Underlying the contemporary conservative view is a belief that government is oppressive no matter what form a political system takes.

Dick Armey, the Republican House majority leader during the Clinton-era shutdown, was as candid as anyone in revealing the hidden radicalism that serves a straitjacket on our politics.

"Beneath our New Deals and New Frontiers and Great Societies," Armey wrote in a book published in 1995, "you will find, with only a difference in power and nerve, the same sort of person who gave the world its Five Year Plans and Great Leaps Forward -- the Soviet and Chinese counterparts."

Sorry, but no. FDR, JFK and LBJ were not Stalin or Mao, nowhere close. Only by examining the anti-government view in its unabashed form can we understand why our two parties can't be seen as equivalent and why rational negotiations are so difficult. Trump's utter indifference to the basics of his job makes matters even worse, but the conservative neuroses toward government long predates his rise.

Some on the right are willing to call a halt to an argument that is serving us so badly. The work of both Jerry Taylor and Samuel Hammond at the libertarian-leaning Niskanen Center has aroused great interest because it faces up to what has long been true: Many "big government" countries (in Scandinavia, for example) are also among the freest nations on earth. It is time, Hammond argues, to blow up the "ideological axis" that runs from "'small government' libertarian'" to "'big government' progressive."

So it is. Sweeping aside misleading ideas won't guarantee us better politics. But abandoning them is a precondition to escaping the trap we're in -- and ending the madness of shutdowns.

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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