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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.

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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.

ALEXANDRA PETRI COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Petri clients only)

By ALEXANDRA PETRI

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

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

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

(For Milbank clients only)

By DANA MILBANK

"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

Reality checks in with congressional fresh(wo)men

By kathleen parker
Reality checks in with congressional fresh(wo)men

KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

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

(For Parker clients only)

By KATHLEEN PARKER

WASHINGTON -- As the new freshman class of congressional women bopped, hopped and doo-wopped into town, old sourpusses smirked -- (BEG ITAL)they'll meet reality soon enough(END ITAL).

Actually, 'twas I who said this to herself. And, well, not to brag or anything.

The gals were barely through orientation before the powder room became a powder keg, with some of the more lively issuing brash statements that many have interpreted as anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, anti-Republican, anti-President Trump, and even anti-Sen. Lindsey Graham -- all steeped in self-identity with an occasional dash of profanity.

Remember when women just wanted to roar? Now they want to impeach the "mother------." So said newly sworn-in Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. She was only speaking to a MoveOn.org reception, so she was given a break. Besides, women hardly have the corner on stupid, overreaching, profane commentary. Tlaib's bigger problem out of the gate is her apparent preference for a one-state solution to a negotiated, two-state Israel and Palestine, which came as a bit of a surprise.

Tlaib initially campaigned as a pro-two-stater, for which she received the support of J Street, a nonprofit, pro-Israel organization. But after winning the Democratic primary, she seemed to drop Israel from the map. In an August interview with In These Times magazine, she was unequivocal: "One state. It has to be one state. Separate but equal does not work."

J Street withdrew its endorsement soon thereafter.

Whatever remains to be seen, it's clear that Tlaib is a pro-Palestinian Palestinian, which she proudly clarified in a tweet earlier this month. "Right wing media targeting me again rather than focusing on the President's reckless government shutdown. Yes, I am Muslim and Palestinian. Get over it."

She's got a point there. But her approach is further complicated by her support of the controversial boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement aimed at shunning Israeli products and services because of the nation's alleged human rights violations against Palestinians.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. -- the first Muslim woman to wear a hijab in Congress -- also sympathizes with BDS. But her greater offense (to some) was last week's comment that Lindsey Graham is "compromised," insinuating that he was somehow beholden to Trump and was being essentially blackmailed into supporting the president.

If it were true that Trump is hanging something over Graham's head, this would at least help explain why the media's favorite senator has all but abandoned his former, jovial self. But the real explanation is much simpler. He can't get re-elected without the president, who remains popular among Graham's core constituency: South Carolina Republicans.

Not least (and by far most fun), the youngest woman ever elected to the Congress, 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., danced her way into her office a day after being sworn in. This self-parody was in response to a video that right-wing critics had surfaced of her dancing on a rooftop during college. A proud socialist, Ocasio-Cortez says whatever pops into her head and is quickly becoming a quote collector's favorite. Who doesn't want to watch?

One of the greatest hazards to politicians is the temptation to buy into his or her own myth. And in politics as in real life, it's always a good idea to take the temperature of a room before opening one's mouth. In 2019, it's also prudent to pay homage to the queen, in this case Speaker Nancy Pelosi, before trying to burn down the House. For your further consideration, note that the rise of this new class of young women coincides with the victorious return of the 78-year-old Pelosi to the speakership. Chew on that for a while.

The combustion of exuberance and overnight fame, thanks to the media's excessive coverage of the rookies, could explain the giddy gall of some new members. And, really, who but the witless or numb could fail to appreciate that two women of the Islamic faith will bring strong voices to the floor for Muslim women (and men) around the world to hear? Or, that two Native American women will be among those guiding their country?

As history-making and fun as the past few weeks have been, the reality part is about to hit the rest of America in the face. No matter what the new members say, their governing philosophy by and large is several longitudinal notches to the left of mainstream Democrats, as we've understood them. The reality is that for now, these women, who will be driving a lot of the action and attention, (BEG ITAL)are(END ITAL) the mainstream.

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

What I meant when I said there was no collusion

By alexandra petri
What I meant when I said there was no collusion

ALEXANDRA PETRI COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Petri clients only)

By ALEXANDRA PETRI

"I never said there was no collusion between the campaign! Or between the people in the campaign. ... I said the president of the United States -- there is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you could commit here: conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC."

-- Rudy Giuliani to CNN anchor Chris Cuomo

"I represent only President Trump not the Trump campaign. There was no collusion by President Trump in any way, shape or form. Likewise, I have no knowledge of any collusion by any of the thousands of people who worked on the campaign."

-- Rudy Giuliani, in a clarifying statement

When I said there had been no collusion, I obviously did not mean that (BEG ITAL)no one(END ITAL) in the campaign was colluding.

When I said there was no collusion by the president, I meant the president AT THE TIME.

When I said nobody was colluding, I meant literally nobody was colluding at the moment you were asking.

When I said there was no collusion, I became temporarily confused and thought you were asking if I wanted hot water, and I didn't, so I said no.

I thought you were asking if there was NOW collusion. There is NOW collusion, is what I said.

When I said there was no collusion, I meant there definitely wasn't not not no collusion never!

When I said there was no collusion, I meant we did not collude in our hearts.

When I said there was no collusion, I meant we did not inhale any collusion.

When I said there was no collusion, I was actually thinking of collation, an old-fashioned word for snacks! I hate old-fashioned snacks!

When I said there was no collusion, what I actually said was there was no collision; my phone autocorrected it and then I said it out loud. Yes.

When I said there was no collusion, I meant there was no call, oooo, Sean. I think that's clear.

I meant there was no Calloo Shun. In the campaign, they frequently said things like "Calloo!" and "Callay!," especially in response to frabjous news -- like, if a foreign power had volunteered to help, that might have occasioned a "Calloo!" Shun the frumious Bandersnatch? Sure. Calloo shun? No!

I meant there is snow! Collusion! I was just saying the word "collusion" randomly, but we can all agree that there is snow. Collusion! See, I just love to shout the word for no reason! Collusion!

When I said no collusion, I meant no ablution (We were not pure ritually or otherwise.), allusion (We are very poorly read and as such made no references to anything.) or Lilliputian (That word doesn't even sound alike, but I wanted to be clear we had none of them!).

When I said there is no collusion, I was just being polite, you know sometimes you just want to be polite to get out of an unpleasant conversation.

I meant specifically that no one ever came up to the campaign and said, "Would you like to collude?," although, to be fair, if that had happened, folks might have said yes, that was just the sort of campaign it was, in fact maybe that did happen and maybe they did say yes, but, uh, the point is, I forget the question.

When I said that there was no collusion, I meant there was some collusion.

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The late John Bogle's financial product was a hit with ordinary people

By megan mcardle
The late John Bogle's financial product was a hit with ordinary people

MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For McArdle clients only)

By MEGAN MCARDLE

WASHINGTON -- Unless you work in finance, you've probably never heard of John Bogle. But if you have a retirement account, you nonetheless owe him a large debt of gratitude.

Bogle, who died Wednesday at age 89, was responsible for one of the most remarkable financial innovations in modern history: the index fund, a low-cost mutual fund that doesn't try to actively manage investor money but simply buys stocks or bonds in proportion to their representation in a target index, such as the S&P 500.

Bogle didn't invent the idea -- that credit should go to Nobel prize-winning economist Paul A. Samuelson -- but Vanguard, the company Bogle founded, turned an academic subject into a financial product available to ordinary consumers.

Before Bogle, the best option those investors had was a mutual fund, run by a manager who chose individual investments. On average, it turned out, those actively managed mutual funds actually underperform the broader market, once the various costs of all that management activity, such as trading fees and managerial salaries, have been taken into account.

Vanguard promised something different: The company wouldn't try to manage your money but would simply buy whatever was in a broad market index. You couldn't outperform the market, but you couldn't underperform it either, and you could save a bundle on fees. This was a much better deal, which is why index funds now hold more than 17 percent of the U.S. stock market.

Yet revolutions, even benign ones, have a way of devouring their children. You see, there is a marvelous paradox about financial markets: Investment strategies frequently work only because most people believe they don't.

Say you have a strategy that will reliably generate returns higher than the S&P 500, with less risk. That's great news ... until someone notices all that money you're making and tries to copy you. Soon a legion of imitators is bidding up the prices of the assets you want to buy, competing your excess returns down to nothing.

In the case of index funds, the problem isn't that too many index funds bid up the prices of the underlying stocks; it's that an index fund strategy implicitly assumes someone's out there figuring out what those prices should be. However useless active managers might be to their clients, they're still doing the market a valuable service, ensuring that stock market prices bear some relationship, however imperfect, with what's going on at publicly traded companies. Without that work, indexing could become a lot riskier.

As his invention grew in market share, even Bogle began to wonder if that wasn't a problem, not because of the potential for pricing anomalies but for the effect that it would have on corporate governance. Bogle noted in The Wall Street Journal last year that just three companies dominate index funds, collectively controlling 81 percent of index fund assets; Vanguard alone controls 51 percent. If the popularity of index funds keeps rising, a handful of investment managers could end up with a controlling share of most of the major companies in the United States.

It's hard to say exactly what would happen next, but two worrying possibilities immediately present themselves. The first is "business as usual." The passive managers of index funds don't earn enough in fees to justify spending time on corporate oversight, so they've generally left that to active managers. As active management declines, that might leave corporate managers free to get up to all sorts of mischief -- especially since the rules of indexing mean that investors won't sell unless you run things so badly that the company implodes and drops out of the index.

But it could be even worse if index fund managers did decide to get more involved, because their supervision might look far different from the supervision traditionally practiced by activist shareholders.

An individual shareholder with stock in an automaker wants that company competing hard against all other automakers. But what if a handful of index funds owned controlling shares of all the automakers? Wouldn't it be more relaxing for everyone to stop competing so hard on price and quality?

That kind of corporate power isn't good for consumers, or for America -- even though indexing remains by far the best option for individual investors.

And so the man who simplified finance for ordinary people has left us an extraordinarily complicated legacy: The product he invented is so very good that it might eventually become really bad. And the bigger it gets, the more likely it is to be destroyed by its own success.

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The risks of a recession are rising -- and Trump might be to blame

By catherine rampell
The risks of a recession are rising -- and Trump might be to blame

THE MILLENNIAL VIEW

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Rampell clients only)

By CATHERINE RAMPELL

WASHINGTON -- Presidents get too much credit when the economy is good, too much blame when the economy is bad.

That has been my mantra for months and months whenever people ask about unemployment, stock markets or any other economic or financial measure, and how President Trump stacks up to his predecessors. Presidents can't power-steer economies, I always say: They can affect things on the margins, through policy choices and leadership, but ultimately, business cycles are driven by forces beyond their control.

But given how many serious policy mistakes Trump has made lately, I'm starting to rethink that response.

To be clear, the economy today still looks strong, according to most headline economic measures (well, at least the few measures not suspended by the government shutdown -- more on that in a bit). Unemployment remains close to a 50-year low, for instance.

Even so, the risks of a recession in the near term appear to be rising. In a recent Wall Street Journal survey of economists, more than half said they expected a recession to start in 2020. The risk of recession in the next year predicted by the Treasury spread -- the difference in yields of government bonds of different maturities -- has climbed to 21 percent.

And what could be to blame? Here's how Deutsche Bank chief international economist Torsten Slok puts it: "If the shutdown and trade war continue with no end in sight, it could cause a recession in the U.S. economy later this year."

The shutdown -- which, lest readers have forgotten, began because Trump abruptly changed his mind about a wall-free funding bill (BEG ITAL)after(END ITAL) it had passed nearly unanimously in the Republican-controlled Senate -- is shaving a tenth of a percentage point off economic growth every week. That's according to an estimate from the White House's own Council of Economic Advisers.

Little wonder why: Eight hundred thousand federal workers aren't getting their paychecks. An estimated 1 million workers employed on government contracts with currently unfunded agencies are also at risk. Also suffering are the many ancillary companies -- not just Delta Air Lines but also lots of smaller businesses, such as rest stops near national parks or food trucks in downtown Washington -- that count on the government being open.

And then there are knock-on effects into other industries, as these workers have less money available for groceries, bills, haircuts and other daily spending.

Then there's the trade war with China, which economists in an earlier Journal survey had identified as the biggest threat to the U.S. economy in 2019. The temporary truce agreed to in December still left existing 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods in place. If there isn't a deal by March 1, tariffs on Chinese imports will rise to 25 percent, which would be even more painful for the universe of U.S. firms that rely on Chinese inputs to manufacture their own products.

Recall also that the China trade war has been going on concurrently with other trade (BEG ITAL)wars(END ITAL), plural, including our still near-global tariffs on steel and aluminum. These, too, have raised prices for U.S. manufacturers, especially relative to their competitors abroad. Steel prices, for instance, are 75 percent higher in the United States than they are in China, according to the most recent SteelBenchmarker report.

Retaliatory tariffs from China, Europe, Canada and elsewhere have also effectively locked many U.S. manufactured goods and agricultural products out of lucrative markets. The farm bailout was intended to allay some of this pain -- but that, too, had been stalled by the government shutdown.

Twenty-five percent tariffs on foreign cars and car parts are also looking more likely, according to Trump ally Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa.

With trade policy uncertainty climbing, businesses may become increasingly hesitant to make major decisions about investments and hiring. Which could drag on growth at precisely the same time that the sugar-high fiscal stimulus of the Trump tax cut fades.

Those are hardly the only unforced errors.

Meanwhile, thanks to the shutdown, the government isn't releasing many of the critical data points economists normally examine for signs of trouble. Thankfully, the Labor Department wasn't affected by the partial shutdown (and its next jobs report, due Feb. 1, will reveal just how many people were laid off nationwide because of Trump's temper tantrum). Funding lapses in (BEG ITAL)other(END ITAL) departments, however, have indefinitely delayed releases for trade, retail sales, building permits, the budget, crops and other crucial metrics.

But let's be honest. If you're Trump -- and if the shutdown continues much longer -- this data blackout may be a feature, not a bug.

Catherine Rampell's email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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