Opinion | The Joy of Being a Woman in Her 70s

When I told my friends I was writing a book on older women like us, they immediately protested, “I am not old.” What they meant was that they didn’t act or feel like the cultural stereotypes of women their age. Old meant bossy, useless, unhappy and in the way. Our country’s ideas about old women are so toxic that almost no one, no matter her age, will admit she is old.

In America, ageism is a bigger problem for women than aging. Our bodies and our sexuality are devalued, we are denigrated by mother-in-law jokes, and we’re rendered invisible in the media. Yet, most of the women I know describe themselves as being in a vibrant and happy life stage. We are resilient and know how to thrive in the margins. Our happiness comes from self-knowledge, emotional intelligence and empathy for others.

Most of us don’t miss the male gaze. It came with catcalls, harassment and unwanted attention. Instead, we feel free from the tyranny of worrying about our looks. For the first time since we were 10, we can feel relaxed about our appearance. We can wear yoga tights instead of nylons and bluejeans instead of business suits.

Yet, in this developmental stage, we are confronted by great challenges. We are unlikely to escape great sorrow for long. We all suffer, but not all of us grow. Those of us who grow do so by developing our moral imaginations and expanding our carrying capacities for pain and bliss. In fact, this pendulum between joy and despair is what makes old age catalytic for spiritual and emotional growth.

By our 70s, we’ve had decades to develop resilience. Many of us have learned that happiness is a skill and a choice. We don’t need to look at our horoscopes to know how our day will go. We know how to create a good day.

We have learned to look every day for humor, love and beauty. We’ve acquired an aptitude for appreciating life. Gratitude is not a virtue but a survival skill, and our capacity for it grows with our suffering. That is why it is the least privileged, not the most, who excel in appreciating the smallest of offerings.

Many women flourish as we learn how to make everything workable. Yes, everything. As we walk out of a friend’s funeral, we can smell wood smoke in the air and taste snowflakes on our tongues.

Our happiness is built by attitude and intention. Attitude is not everything, but it’s almost everything. I visited the jazz great Jane Jarvis when she was old, crippled and living in a tiny apartment with a window facing a brick wall. I asked if she was happy and she replied, “I have everything I need to be happy right between my ears.”

We may not have control, but we have choices. With intention and focused attention, we can always find a forward path. We discover what we are looking for. If we look for evidence of love in the universe, we will find it. If we seek beauty, it will spill into our lives any moment we wish. If we search for events to appreciate, we discover them to be abundant.

There is an amazing calculus in old age. As much is taken away, we find more to love and appreciate. We experience bliss on a regular basis. As one friend said: “When I was young I needed sexual ecstasy or a hike to the top of a mountain to experience bliss. Now I can feel it when I look at a caterpillar on my garden path.”

Older women have learned the importance of reasonable expectations. We know that all our desires will not be fulfilled, that the world isn’t organized around pleasing us and that others, especially our children, are not waiting for our opinions and judgments. We know that the joys and sorrows of life are as mixed together as salt and water in the sea. We don’t expect perfection or even relief from suffering. A good book, a piece of homemade pie or a call from a friend can make us happy. As my aunt Grace, who lived in the Ozarks, put it, “I get what I want, but I know what to want.”

We can be kinder to ourselves as well as more honest and authentic. Our people-pleasing selves soften their voices and our true selves speak more loudly and more often. We don’t need to pretend to ourselves and others that we don’t have needs. We can say no to anything we don’t want to do. We can listen to our hearts and act in our own best interest. We are less angst-filled and more content, less driven and more able to live in the moment with all its lovely possibilities.

Many of us have a shelterbelt of good friends and long-term partners. There is a sweetness to 50-year-old friendships and marriages that can’t be described in language. We know each other’s vulnerabilities, flaws and gifts; we’ve had our battles royal and yet are grateful to be together. A word or a look can signal so much meaning. Lucky women are connected to a rich web of women friends. Those friends can be our emotional health insurance policies.

The only constant in our lives is change. But if we are growing in wisdom and empathy, we can take the long view. We’ve lived through seven decades of our country’s history, from Truman to Trump. I knew my great-grandmother, and if I live long enough, will meet my great-grandchildren. I will have known seven generations of family. I see where I belong in a long line of Scotch-Irish ancestors. I am alive today only because thousands of generations of resilient homo sapiens managed to procreate and raise their children. I come from, we all come from, resilient stock, or we wouldn’t be here.

By the time we are 70, we have all had more tragedy and more bliss in our lives than we could have foreseen. If we are wise, we realize that we are but one drop in the great river we call life and that it has been a miracle and a privilege to be alive.

Mary Pipher is a clinical psychologist in Lincoln, Neb., and the author of the forthcoming “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age.”

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Opinion | The Last Movie My Dad Will Star In

After the initial shock of my dad’s death wore off, I found myself glued to Google. I Googled how long it takes for a body to decompose (you don’t want to know). I Googled the symptoms of grief (depression, loss of appetite, insomnia). I even Googled how many people get killed by falling coconuts each year. (I read somewhere that it’s 150 worldwide, but that could be an urban legend.) I don’t know why I Googled that. My dad’s death wasn’t coconut related.

Then I Googled which movies to watch when you grieve.

I have always found movies comforting. I have spent my life hunkering down with them: They’ve gotten me through breakups, awkward phases and most of my pregnancy. Movies are a perfect container for feelings. Which is probably why I started making them in the first place.

When I looked up what movies to watch when you grieve, a very long list of mainstream movies came up: “Rocky,” “Steel Magnolias,” “Marley and Me,” “Gravity.” But I didn’t want to watch a movie set in space, and I definitely didn’t want to watch a movie where a dog dies. I’m pretty sure that’s what happens in “Marley and Me.”

I decided I needed to make my own movie about grief. I called my mom to tell her the news.

“I’m making a movie about Dad dying,” I said.

“Like a revenge movie?”

“No,” I said.

My father died of a stroke. How could I possibly make a revenge movie about that? Someone would have to play the stroke. Which, once I thought about it, wasn’t a terrible idea. Curious about whom I might cast as the stroke, I asked my mom.

My mom thought about it for a moment and then said: “Idris Elba. I love Idris Elba.”

“You don’t think Idris Elba is too sexy?” I asked.

“He is sexy,” she said. Then she paused for a very long time. “But not too sexy. He’s smart, too,” she added. And then she said, “And gorgeous.”

It was settled, then. If I were to make a revenge movie about my dad’s death, Idris Elba would play the sexy, smart, gorgeous stroke that I had to pursue to set things right. It was starting to sound like a Liam Neeson vehicle. Maybe I could get Liam Neeson to play me.

The longer I thought about this idea, the less it appealed. The logistics alone. How would I, on a microbudget, coordinate with this A-list talent?

I called my mom again.

“I’m not making a revenge movie. I want to make a movie about my feelings.”

“Oh,” she said. “Hmm.”

Feelings have never been my mom’s thing. She’d rather clean the bathroom than talk about feelings. When my dad died and the coroner came, I could see two rooms from where I stood; One was the bedroom, where my dad lay dead, the other was the family room, where my mom tidied. My nephew Jacob pulled out his phone and read the mourner’s Kaddish while we watched the coroner put a toe tag on my dad and wheel him out on a cart. As they did that, my mom straightened pictures on the wall and moved a coffee table a few feet to the right.

I stood by the front door and waited for the elevator to come to take my dad away. When he was gone, my mom asked if we could help her clean up the bedroom. We said yes, of course. But, I said, first we need to have a drink and a chat about our feelings. It’s what my dad would have done.

When I was a kid, it was my dad who’d sit up with me in the middle of the night to talk. According to my dad, who was a psychotherapist, feelings were complicated and sometimes they were elliptical, meaning they didn’t always make sense.

Five months after my dad died, I started shooting the movie. I decided I’d use old footage that I had of him interwoven with new footage of me grieving in myriad ways. I was grieving at a dinner party, in the woods, in a loft, in a pickup truck, in bed. My mom was in the movie, too. I felt good when I was shooting. Productive! Like my grief was useful.

At one point I lay splat on the kitchen floor moaning, while I instructed my mom to cut mushrooms. From the cold kitchen floor, I directed my mom to do less.

“Do less?” she asked. “If I do any less, I’ll be dead.”

“Let me see what that looks like,” I said.

So she did. She hung over the kitchen counter like a wilting plant, barely alert, chopping mushrooms. I turned to look up at her. “Perfect,” I said.

Eight months after my dad died, I finished shooting my movie. I spent the next few months editing it with my husband. At times, he would just want a night off from editing, but the nights off were harder for me. Working on it, reviewing the footage, tweaking things — that’s what made me feel good. As if somehow making this movie would get me my dad back.

It’s not the way everyone would mourn. But in making the movie, which I called “Senior Escort Service,” I figured out how to keep my dad in my life almost every day that first year. I also figured out how to say goodbye.

On the one-year anniversary of his death, I showed the movie to my mom. She laughed at all of her parts and teared up a few times. When it was over she said, “It’s cute!”

“Cute?” I said. “You laughed! You cried! What more would you want from a movie?”

“A little Idris wouldn’t have hurt.”

Shaina Feinberg is a filmmaker.

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Opinion | Why I Didn’t Answer Your Email

I’m 47 years old. Two days ago, you sent me an email, which I did not answer. I didn’t answer it, in part, because I am 47 years old.

I appreciated your email. You are a person, who has written an email, and I am a person, who should reply to that email. However, your email arrived on Wednesday afternoon, and just as I opened it, my 16-year-old son came in. He wanted to describe to me an app he is in the process of developing. Then he showed me a funny article someone had sent him, and I showed him a funny article someone had sent me, and then I explained that I had work to do, that I needed, in fact, to respond to your email, and also to write 3,000 words in the next 36 hours. “I’ve only written 300,” I said.

“Then you just have to do that again," he said, “10 times.”

This seemed to me very encouraging. I reapplied myself to my computer, where your email was open on the screen, and he left, and then he returned.

“Actually,” he said happily, “you only have to do it again nine times.”

I was so inspired by this that I abandoned your email, and I applied myself to my work. I would have replied to your email after a few hundred more words, I am certain, except that my 11-year-old daughter came in, clutching some pieces of paper that I had earlier asked her to remove from the kitchen counter because I had accidentally started to butter one of them.

“That’s O.K.,” she’d said. “They’re supposed to look old.”

That explained the tea stains. Now, the papers having dried, she proposed to read them to me. “Dear Becky,” she began, “I take my pen in hand to tell you that I am well, but so afeard and worried, for we are going to the battle tomorrow.”

She looked up. “It’s a letter from Jeremiah, a solder in the Civil War,” she explained, unnecessarily. Only a few hours earlier, I had typed Civil War letters for her brother, who is in the same class, and just two years ago, I had listened to Civil War letters read by her older sister, and a little earlier still, just a few blinks of the eye, to historic missives drafted by the now-16-year-old. Those letters had the exact same match-burned edges and had been stained with the exact same tea.

My 11-year-old read on, while I wondered where she’d found the matches. I am afraid the story of Jeremiah did not go well, and he ended his third letter, the one written after he was wounded in the stomach, by imploring Becky to hear his voice in the wind in the trees. Jeremiah’s Civil War experience stood in stark contrast to that of Johnny, as penned by my youngest son. Johnny was a captain who had trained all his men perfectly and had plenty to eat and drink and was very excited about the battle, which he then enjoyed, thank you very much, dear Grandpa, with much love from Johnny.

Was there, I inquired, perchance another letter, detailing Jeremiah’s miraculous recovery?

“No,” my daughter said. “He got shot in the stomach, and that always kills you, because you can’t remove a stomach.” During this conversation, I did not answer your email.

I think that I would have answered your email if you had sent it earlier, by which I mean several years earlier, when these children were smaller and their conversation more repetitive. I would have been hidden in my office, a younger, more driven me, instead of sitting, as I often do now, in the middle of the house, an invitation to interruption. I would have put the contrast between Jeremiah and Johnny out of my mind and focused on the screen. Instead, after a lengthy discourse on dismembering delivered in the still-piping voice of my delicate fairy of a child, I found that I needed to go outside and walk aimlessly down the driveway, and then, filled with purpose, to the mailbox.

I also had to make dinner.

I almost answered your email later, after bedtime, which is when I have often answered emails. My laptop was perched on my bedside table. My husband was perched on his side of the bed, and he leaned back and asked me if I’d given any thought to whether the chickens would need to be kept away from the apple trees after he sprayed them with something to keep the bugs away.

We moved on to the children’s math grades, then to the way they just take their socks off and leave them, inside out, no matter where they are. I looked at the clock and saw that it was not as early as I’d thought, not for a lot of things, and so we turned off the light, and I did not answer your email.

Your email sat among emails from bosses and editors and orthodontists all through the next workday. My children were at school, and I had not yet managed to write 300 words nine more times. I thought about answering your email in the afternoon, while my older daughter and I waited outside the school for her sister to finish a piano lesson. My daughter probably would not have minded. She is almost 13, and sometimes, when she sits in the house texting while I try to talk to her, I squirt her with the bottle I keep on the counter to spray the cats when they start scratching the back of the sofa. I could have answered your email then. I admit it. We could have sat there, in peaceful silence, each staring at our phone. I had time to answer your email, and I did not.

I snuggled my youngest son at bedtime that night, because he asked. I snuggled him even though your email was calling, and some part of me wanted to pull away from the tedium of bedtime and reply. Replying would have felt fresh and new, while bedtime felt old and stale, although it has grown far less demanding of late, with no more reading out loud and no more splashing baths, many of which I spent answering emails, which was fine, because there were so many bedtimes and so many baths, so very, very many of them, until suddenly there weren’t, although there were still a lot of emails.

I would like to say I snuggled my son and did not give your email one single thought, but that would not be true, and it would also be rude, even though it is a state of mind to which many of us aspire. Instead, I hovered somewhere between mindful presence in the bedtime moment and awareness of your email and many others. I spend a lot of time in that gap, sometimes drafting mental responses to emails, which I am later surprised and dismayed to find I have not actually sent.

It is possible that I will answer your email later, in a few hours, or in a few years, maybe when I am 57, and I will be so happy to have your email. We will trade words, and those words will again seem so real to me, a whole world in my laptop, where I live, sometimes, because there is so much that is seductive in there, where time moves fast and yet never moves at all. I will take my laptop outside and I will sit among the trees, listening for the voices of children who are no longer home, and I will answer your email.

It is also possible that I will not — that I, in fact, will never answer your email. If that is the case, if the people and the places and the things around me still press upon me with more urgency than your email and so many others, I hope that you will forgive me. I have already forgiven myself.

KJ Dell’Antonia is the author of “How to Be a Happier Parent” and a contributor to the forthcoming “On Being 40 (ish),” from which this essay is adapted.

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Gerard O'Regan: 'Ashdown's parting sentiments point to unity of purpose forming in North'

It is one of the saddest things. Nobody intends it to be so. But in the age of all-pervasive social media, it can be a kind of unintended goodbye from somebody who has just died.

Reading the tweets of the recently departed has a poignancy. It’s impossible not to zone in on every word. Those final thoughts are a kind of last testament. Sometimes there is a chance to grasp the fleeting presence of a life once lived as it neared its end.

Paddy Ashdown was laid to rest on Thursday. The one-time leader of the Liberal Democrats has long been regarded as a steadying voice in British politics. Aged 77 and enjoying robust good health, he died just two months after a diagnosis of bladder cancer. Given the Brexit-dominated times, his reasoned moderation will leave a void in British politics.

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He may have been on the periphery of events in recent years. But on television and radio programmes, his contributions had the calmness and insight of a man who had certainly been around a bit.

His last tweet was on November 26 – just 30 days before he died. It was on Brexit, a subject which exercised him greatly. He was scathing about “vipers” in the Conservative Party, determined to stop at almost nothing in trying to get the UK out of the EU.

And in the second-last tweet before his death, he was even more forceful about the Tories: “Bad judgement, poor timing, overgrown egos, fantasy politics, prep school tactics – they are less a political movement, more a ‘Beano’ comic strip about Lord Snooty’s little rag-tag gang – throwing ink-balls at the headmistress.”

Ashdown was an unusual mix given his somewhat unorthodox family background. It was claimed he had a lineage linked to the 19th century political icon Daniel O’Connell. His father was a “lapsed Catholic” and his mother a Protestant. Born in India, he spent much of his childhood on a pig farm that his parents bought in Co Down. He was always called by his real name, Jeremy, before he was sent to boarding school in Britain. However, on account of his Irish accent he attracted the sobriquet ‘Paddy’. It remained for the rest of his life.

His father had been in the British army and Paddy joined the royal marines. Ironically, he spent the last years of his military service in Northern Ireland; at one point he was involved in the arrest of future SDLP leader John Hume. Yet he insisted he was proud to describe himself as an Irishman. But he found the tribal nature of politics north of the Border a chilling experience. He also realised discrimination against Catholics, in housing and jobs, would inevitably lead to rupture in a fractured society.

Now the cross-mixing of British and Irish identities is being played out once again. And a few weeks before he died, Ashdown wrote this tweet: “A wonderful beauty is being born (sorry Yeats). Ireland is becoming an advanced modern EU state. The effect on Northern Ireland should not be underestimated. My grandfather signed the Ulster declaration. But if the UK brexits and I lived in Northern Ireland, I would be hard-put not to consider re-unification.”

In one sense, the tone is condescending. It’s as if Ireland until recently was not a sophisticated place. Yet, as a result of recent events – the backstop and all that – Ashdown was clearly impressed with the way we are now disporting ourselves.

The views of this ex-British army officer from the unionist gene pool are worth noting. Hardline Brexiteers may be unwittingly prodding things in the direction of some form of unity of purpose on the island of Ireland. The fact that many Northern farmers and business people – deeply committed to the UK – are so unhappy with the DUP cannot be ignored.

David Lidington, effectively Theresa May’s deputy, has now warned a no-deal Brexit could threaten the link between Britain and Northern Ireland. “I want us to remain in a situation in which people living in Northern Ireland – who identify themselves as Irish but have fairly moderate political views – continue to support the union,” he said. “I am hearing from moderate people on the nationalist side, who have been content with the union, that they are becoming more anxious, more hardline, and more questioning of Northern Ireland’s constitutional status.”

Such cautionary asides chime in with those final fateful words from Ashdown. Arlene Foster should take note. The old mantra ‘Ulster Says No’ is surely of another time.

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Mary Kenny: 'We have only to look at our own past to grasp the Brexit mindset'

I have a vote in Kent, but I didn’t vote for Brexit, nor would I – it certainly isn’t in Ireland’s interest. But I am surrounded by those who did, here in strong Brexit country.

And those who would do so all over again, were there a second Referendum. I’ve even encountered people who voted Remain the first time who now say they would choose Brexit because they’re so cheesed off with the way the political establishment has mismanaged the process of leaving the EU.

“I’m no fan of Donald Trump,” a retired scientist told me, “but I wish to heaven we’d had him on our side in dealing with Brussels.

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“He understands that you can’t approach a deal as a supplicant. You have to start out by applying maximum leverage.”

It’s a puzzle to many Irish people that possibly up to half of the British electorate stubbornly sticks with Brexit when there are so many practical downsides: problems with trading, the threat to jobs, the logistics of moving goods in and out of ports like Dover, and the inevitability, it seems, of having to accept – or “align” with – EU rules anyway.

Don’t they see that, economically, they’re acting against their own interest? The Remainers certainly do grasp that and make the case repeatedly, even threateningly.

But Professor Matthew Goodwin of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), who has done 10 studies into why people voted as they did, says economics were not the Brexiteers’ priority. The main motive is “identity”. It’s not an economic rationale: it’s a “feeling”.

In the recent Channel 4 docu-drama ‘Brexit: The Uncivil War’, the Leave campaign mastermind, Dominic Cummings – played by Benedict Cumberbatch as an odd but weirdly inspirational character – cracked that feeling with the slogan he devised: ‘Take Back Control’. This was seen as control of sovereignty, but for some, it was also personal. People who felt they had been marginalised, ignored, considered to be “nothing”, left behind, sneered at and discounted, believed they could now “take back control” of at least one thing in their lives – their national identity.

Back in 1904, George Bernard Shaw wrote a political comedy called ‘John Bull’s Other Island’ (which, incidentally, Michael Collins saw, in 1915, along with Lady Lavery, and it seems to have impressed him).

It was regarded as hilarious because it reversed stereotypes between England and Ireland: it featured a rational, logical, and business-like Irishman in partnership with a romantic, impractical and easily-fooled duffer of an Englishman.

Audiences roared with laughter because everyone knew the Irish were dreamy poets, patriots and mystical romantics with little practical sense, while the English, formed by the hard industrial landscape and the practice of commerce, were down-to-earth, unimaginative pragmatists. What a scream!

Some 115 years later, the stereotype reversals seem to have come true. Irish people express their bewilderment at the sheer lack of practical economic sense of the British Brexiteers, dwelling in some la-la land where they think they can go it alone in defiance of geography, logistics and – above all – economics.

Today it’s the Irish who are giving tutorials to the Brits on how to be sensible and stop all this day-dreaming about “sovereignty”. Get real!

Yet, 100 years ago, the Irish nationalists who embarked on a War of Independence against the United Kingdom knew they would be economically disfavoured by breaking with the UK – but they believed independence to be worth it. They upheld the slogan “better to die on your feet than live on your knees”. They adhered to Pearse’s ringing words about “the right of the people of Ireland… to the unfettered control of Irish destinies”. Not too far from “Take back control”, then.

It was indeed heedless, and self-centred, for Brexiteers not to consider the impact on the Border in Ireland, a problem which has so far proved to be so intractable. But nations often are self-centred about acting in their own interests – even where they pledge to pool sovereignty. Italy, Hungary, Poland, even Denmark – currently maintaining a tough attitude towards migrants they regard as unacceptable – are all doing just that.

It’s true Brexiteers had varied motives. Some objected to the number of migrants entering the country – about half-a-million every year. Perhaps a few are old-fashioned types still fantasising about days of empire, though personally I can’t say I’ve encountered any.

In Kent, fishing rights are a big issue. And the young man who told me “we were being increasingly governed by laws we haven’t voted for – which no one voted for” represents a thoughtful democratic constituency.

Brexit is the divorce of a marriage that was never much of a love-match anyway. Britain was always semi-detached, demanding various opt-outs, rejecting the euro, retaining miles rather than switching to kilometres, even reluctant enough about the metric system – those obstinately trading in pounds and ounces elevated to the status of “metric martyrs”.

Ireland, for every rational reason, doesn’t like Brexit, but for old times’ sake a sense of understanding for that impulse of national sovereignty shouldn’t be beyond our ken.

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Opinion | Bypassing Congress to Build a Wall

To the Editor:

Re “White House Sees Storm Aid as Way to Pay for Wall” (front page, Jan. 11):

You have to give President Trump credit for creativity. Having devastated the lives of thousands of government employees who live on the financial edge in the best of times, he now wants to take relief funds away from victims of hurricanes and forest fires to pay for his medieval border wall.

Given his apparent lack of empathy and his instinct for cruelty, what can we expect next? Charging the parents of children taken into custody at the border for their cage and board?

William Baker
Stamford, Conn.

To the Editor:

Re “Ocean Temperatures Rising Faster, as Are Fears” and “White House Sees Storm Aid as Way to Pay for Wall”:

What a frightening juxtaposition of two articles on Friday’s front page. The first is about a real catastrophe ignored, even exacerbated, by President Trump. The second is about a completely unnecessary crisis manufactured by Mr. Trump.

Jack Holtzman
San Diego

To the Editor:

Re “An Emergency Offers an End, at Some Peril” (news analysis, front page, Jan. 10):

I continue to be amazed by the hypocrisy of the Republican Party. In 2014, when President Obama stated he would take executive action to protect four to five million immigrants from deportation, the House speaker, John Boehner, referred to the president as “an emperor” who had exceeded his constitutional authority. The point was amplified by Senator Ted Cruz, who described the president as a “monarch” whose actions were unlawful and unconstitutional.

Now, as President Trump considers employing executive power to build a border wall that the majority of the country does not support, the G.O.P. remains silent. For all of the right’s criticism of Mr. Obama’s use of executive authority, Mr. Trump’s attempt to manufacture a national security crisis to fulfill a campaign promise is a blatant abuse of executive power far more invasive than any taken while Mr. Obama was in office.

Laurence Jurdem
San Francisco

To the Editor:

Does our president have the power to declare a national emergency and build the wall in defiance of Congress? Several legal scholars and many from the left-leaning media are saying he does not.

This question has bounced around since the 1950s. During the Korean conflict, President Harry Truman attempted to seize the steel industry to support the war. The Supreme Court said no. Then in 1976, Congress passed the National Emergencies Act, which granted sweeping powers to the president. Since its implementation, this act has been used roughly 30 times, with little or no Democratic objection. In addition, federal regulations refer to an “immigration emergency” to deal with an “influx of aliens.”

Please support our president for the sake of our national security.

James W. Anderson
Talladega, Ala.

To the Editor:

Republicans should be careful what they wish for regarding getting funds to build a wall by calling it a response to a national emergency. What is to stop a future Democratic president from calling a national emergency in response to the tens of thousands of gun deaths and confiscating all guns, or in response to climate change and spending billions of dollars to build windmills all across the country? Both are clearly more serious threats to Americans.

Larry Feig
Newton, Mass.

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Opinion | Will the Media Be Trump's Accomplice Again in 2020?

“Pocahontas” won’t be lonely for long.

As other Democrats join Elizabeth Warren in the contest for the party’s presidential nomination, President Trump will assign them their own nicknames, different from hers but just as derisive. There’s no doubt.

But how much heed will we in the media pay to this stupidity? Will we sprint to Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker or Mike Bloomberg for a reaction to what Trump just called one of them and then rush back to him for his response to that response? Or will we note Trump’s latest nonsense only briefly and pivot to matters more consequential?

That’s a specific question but also an overarching one — about the degree to which we’ll let him set the terms of the 2020 presidential campaign, about our appetite for antics versus substance, and about whether we’ll repeat the mistakes that we made in 2016 and continued to make during the first stages of his presidency. There were plenty.

Trump tortures us. Deliberately, yes, but I’m referring to the ways in which he keeps yanking our gaze his way. I mean the tough choices that he, more than his predecessors in the White House, forces us to make. His demand for television airtime on Tuesday night was a perfect example: We had to weigh a request in line with precedent against a president out of line when it comes to truth. We had to wrestle with — and figure out when and how to resist — his talent for using us as vessels for propaganda.

We will wrestle with that repeatedly between now and November 2020, especially in the context of what may well be the most emotional and intense presidential race of our lifetimes. With the dawn of 2019 and the acceleration of potential Democratic candidates’ preparations for presidential bids, we have a chance to do things differently than we did the last time around — to redeem ourselves.

Our success or failure will affect our stature at a time of rickety public trust in us. It will raise or lower the temperature of civic discourse, which is perilously hot. Above all, it will have an impact on who takes the oath of office in January 2021. Democracies don’t just get the leaders they deserve. They get the leaders who make it through whatever obstacle course — and thrive in whatever atmosphere — their media has created.

“The shadow of what we did last time looms over this next time,” the former CBS newsman Dan Rather, who has covered more than half a century of presidential elections, told me. And what we did last time was emphasize the sound and the fury, because Trump provided both in lavish measure.

“When you cover this as spectacle,” Rather said, “what’s lost is context, perspective and depth. And when you cover this as spectacle, he is the star.” Spectacle is his métier. He’s indisputably spectacular. And even if it’s a ghastly spectacle and presented that way, it still lets him control the narrative. As the writer Steve Almond observed in a recently published essay, “He appears powerful to his followers, which is central to his strongman mystique.”

Trump was and is a perverse gift to the mainstream, establishment media, a magnet for eyeballs at a juncture when we were struggling economically and desperately needed one. Just present him as the high-wire act and car crash that he is; the audience gorges on it. But readers’ news appetite isn’t infinite, so they’re starved of information about the fraudulence of his supposed populism and the toll of his incompetence. And he wins. He doesn’t hate the media, not at all. He uses us.

Did that dynamic help elect him? There’s no definitive answer. But we gave him an extraordinary bounty of coverage, depriving his rivals of commensurate oxygen and agency. And while our coverage of him had turned overwhelmingly negative by the final months of the 2016 campaign, it by no means started out that way.

Thomas Patterson of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy has been analyzing that coverage since Trump declared his candidacy for the presidency in 2015. Patterson found that for much of that year, the number of stories about Trump in the country’s most influential newspapers and on its principal newscasts significantly exceeded what his support in polls at the time justified.

And those stories were predominantly positive. “The volume and tone of the coverage helped propel Trump to the top of Republican polls,” Patterson wrote in one of his reports about the election. In stark contrast, stories about Hillary Clinton in 2015 were mostly negative.

Through the first half of 2016, as Trump racked up victories in the Republican primaries, he commanded much more coverage than any other candidate from either party, and it was evenly balanced between positive and negative appraisals — unlike the coverage of Clinton, which remained mostly negative.

Only during their general-election face-off in the latter half of 2016 did Trump and Clinton confront equivalent tides of naysaying. “On topics relating to the candidates’ fitness for office, Clinton and Trump’s coverage was virtually identical in terms of its negative tone,” Patterson wrote.

Regarding their fitness for office, they were treated identically? In retrospect, that’s madness. It should have been in real time, too.

But we fell prey to a habit that can’t be repeated when we compare the new crop of Democratic challengers to Trump and to one another. We interpreted fairness as a similarly apportioned mix of complimentary and derogatory stories about each contender, no matter how different one contender’s qualifications, accomplishments and liabilities were from another’s. If we were going to pile on Trump, we had to pile on Clinton — or, rather, keep piling on her.

“It was wall-to-wall emails,” said Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of The Times and the author of a book about the media, “Merchants of Truth,” that will be published next month. She was referring to the questions and complaints about Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state. “When you compare that to the wrongdoing that has been exposed so far by Robert Mueller,” Abramson told me, “it seems like a small thing.” The considerable muck in Clinton’s background never did, and never could, match the mountain of muck in Trump’s.

Abramson, who had left The Times and was writing a column for The Guardian during the 2016 campaign, maintains that Trump also benefited from the media’s excessive faith in polls and its insufficient grasp of what was happening among Americans between the coasts. “The basic flaw of the press coverage, and I count myself in it, was the total assumption that Hillary would win,” she said. “The firepower of the investigative spotlight turned on Trump was a little bit less, because no one thought he would be the president, and that was a grave mistake.”

I’m not certain that more firepower would have made a difference. For one thing, there were many exposés of Trump’s shady history. For another, he appealed to voters who largely disregard the mainstream media and who thrilled to his exhortations that they disregard it further. And many of those voters were embracing disruption or rejecting Clinton; the tally of Trump’s sins had little bearing on that.

Regardless, he won’t get any pass along those lines in 2020. There are formal investigations galore into his behavior. The media needs only to track them — and is doing so, raptly.

We need to do something else, too, which is to recognize that Trump now has an actual record in office and to discuss that with as much energy as we do his damned Twitter feed.

By the time the 2020 election kicks into highest gear, Trump will have been president for more than three years, barring his impeachment, his resignation or his spontaneous combustion (with him, you never know). We’ll have evidence aplenty to demonstrate that he’s ineffective and incompetent, an approach more likely to have traction than telling voters that he’s outrageous. They already know that.

We just have to wean ourselves from his Twitter expectorations, which are such easy, entertaining fuel for talking — or, rather, exploding — heads. I’ve certainly been powered by that fuel, in print and on television, myself.

“You know what would be great?” said Amanda Carpenter, who worked as a communications adviser and speechwriter for Ted Cruz and wrote the 2018 book “Gaslighting America: Why We Love It When Trump Lies to Us.” “Instead of covering Trump’s tweets on a live, breaking basis, just cover them in the last five minutes of a news show. They’re presidential statements, but we can balance them.”

We can also allow his challengers to talk about themselves as much as they do about him. In 2016, Carpenter said, that didn’t happen. “It was deeply unfair,” she told me. “When the whole news cycle was microphones shoved in Republican candidates’ faces and the question was always, ‘What’s your reaction to what Trump just said?,’ there’s no way to drive your own message.”

And when journalists gawp at each of Trump’s tirades, taunts and self-congratulatory hallucinations, these heresies blur together and he evades accountability for the ones that should stick. I asked Rather what he was most struck by in the 2016 campaign, and he instantly mentioned Trump’s horrific implication, in public remarks that August, that gun enthusiasts could rid themselves of a Clinton presidency by assassinating her.

I’d almost forgotten it. So many lesser shocks so quickly overwrote it. Rather wasn’t surprised. “It got to the point where it was one outrage after another, and we just moved on each time,” he said. Instead, we should hold on to the most outrageous, unconscionable moments. We should pause there awhile. We can’t privilege the incremental over what should be the enduring. It lets Trump off the hook.

So does anything, really, that tugs us from issues of policy and governance into the realms of theater and sport. That puts a greater premium than ever on avoiding what Joel Benenson called “the horse-race obsession” with who’s ahead, who’s behind, who seems to be breaking into a gallop, who’s showing signs of a limp.

Benenson was the chief strategist and pollster for Clinton’s campaign, and he told me: “Cable networks have figured out that the most interesting television of the week is the National Football League pregame show, and that if you put enough experts on arguing about something that hasn’t happened yet, people will watch. And that’s what we’re doing with our politics. The media is not using their strength, their franchise, to elevate and illuminate the conversation. They’re just getting you all jazzed up about the game.”

That carried over into Trump’s presidency itself. To wit: Pew analyzed over 3,000 stories from 24 news organizations during his first four months in office to determine what the media gave the most coverage to. It wasn’t any legislative proposal or executive action such as the ban on travel into the United States from largely Muslim countries. It was his “political skills.”

I think that we’ve improved since then, and all along our efforts have included significant in-depth reporting. The Times’s acquisition and exhaustive analysis of confidential financial records of Trump’s from the 1990s — and its conclusion, in an epic story published in October, that he used questionable schemes to build his wealth — is a sterling example.

But the lure of less demanding labors (“Trump Calls Former Aide a Three-Toed Sloth Minus the Vigor!”) is always there, especially because readers and viewers, no matter how much they complain about the media’s shallowness, reward it. What they lap up most readily and reliably is Trump the Baby at the top of the newscast, Trump the Buffoon in the highlights reel, Trump the Bully in the headline. And that’s on them.

But it’s on us to try to interest them in more and to leaven that concentration of attention with full, vivid introductions to Trump’s alternatives. Dozens of Democrats are poised to volunteer for that role, and when we in the media observe — as I myself have done — that they must possess the requisite vividness to steal some of his spotlight, we’re talking as much about our own prejudices and shortcomings as anything else. We can direct that spotlight where we want. It needn’t always fall on the politician juggling swords or doing back flips.

It’s on us to quit staging “likability” sweepstakes — a prize more often withheld from female politicians than from male ones. We should buck commercial considerations to the extent that we can and give the candidates’ competing visions of government as much scrutiny as their competing talents for quips or proneness to gaffes. Every four years we say we’ll devote more energy and space to policy and every four years we don’t. But in an environment this polarized and shrill, and at a crossroads this consequential, following through on that vow is more important than ever.

It’s on us not to surrender to tired taxonomies that worsen the country’s divisions and echo Trump’s divisiveness. Black voters, white voters, urban voters and rural voters aren’t driven solely by those designations, and the soul of the country doesn’t belong exclusively to former factory workers in the Rust Belt.

“Their voices deserve to be heard, but so do the minority voices in urban America,” Rather said. “And I think we can do a better job as journalists not to overuse the phrase ‘average American,’ and also to expand the definition of it.”

The real story of Trump isn’t his amorality and outrageousness. It’s Americans’ receptiveness to that. It’s the fact that, according to polls, most voters in November 2016 deemed him dishonest and indecent, yet plenty of them cast their ballots for him anyway.

“Trump basically ran on blowing the whole thing up,” said Nancy Gibbs, who was the top editor at Time magazine from 2013 to 2017. “So what was it that the country wanted? It’s critically important that we find ways to get at what it is people imagine government should be doing and that we really look at what kind of leadership we need.”

Nicknames have nothing to do with it. So let’s not have much to do with them.

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

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

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Enel, SEAS-NVE line up final bids for $2.9 billion Danish power grid: sources

(Reuters) – Enel (ENEI.MI) and SEAS-NVE are among at least four bidders for the Danish power distributor and residential customer businesses being sold by energy group Orsted that could be worth about 2.5 billion euros ($2.9 billion), several sources said.

Italy’s Enel, increasingly focused on green energy and networks, made it to the second round of bidding, banking sources said. A deal would help Enel diversify from Latin America and Southern Europe, one source said.

A consortium of Allianz (ALVG.DE) and E.ON (EONGn.DE) was out of the running, but E.ON was still interested and might try to get back into the auction, the sources said. Allianz is no longer looking at the asset, one of the sources said.

Others through to the second round included a joint team of Danish utility SEAS-NVE and Denmark’s largest pension fund ATP, a consortium of Canadian pension fund manager OMERS with Danish pension fund PKA, and Canadian pension fund CDPQ, the sources said.

Orsted (ORSTED.CO) put its Danish power distribution and residential customer businesses up for sale in June to focus on developing its international renewable energy operations.

The cut-off price to reach the second round was 2.5 billion euros with highest bids between 2.7 billion and 2.9 billion euros, the sources said.

Danske Bank (DANSKE.CO) is advising Orsted on the sale of the businesses, which posted operating profit of 1.3 billion Danish crowns ($201 million) in 2017.

Final bids are expected around the second half of February, the sources said. Orsted has said it aims to pick a buyer by the end of June.

Orsted, ATP, SEAS-NVE, CDPQ, Enel, E.ON and Allianz all declined to comment. OMERS was not immediately available.

Australian investment firm Macquarie (MQG.AX), Brookfield Asset Management (BAMa.TO) and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), Canada’s biggest public pension fund, showed interest but withdrew from the bidding, sources said.

Macquarie, Brookfield and CPPIB were not immediately available for comment.

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Commentary: Trump’s Syria withdrawal – right idea, wrong time

President Donald Trump’s planned withdrawal of American troops from Syria, a move that prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, was the right decision in the wrong way and at the wrong time. Unless modified it could have disastrous consequences.

The American military has been overextended in the Middle East since 2003. Invading Iraq was a strategic blunder of the first order, perhaps the most costly in American history. Since 2008, first Barack Obama and now Trump have sought to begin extricating the United States from some of these commitments. Obama announced a pivot to Asia and a new concentration on the rising Chinese challenge. The Trump administration’s national security strategy, announced last year, extended this rebalancing in order to prioritize countering Russia as well as China.

Actually engineering these shifts has proved difficult. Places like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are sticky. They are not called quagmires for nothing. Commitments are made, obligations undertaken, solemn promises offered, coalitions built, local partners recruited. And everything which results rests upon the good faith and reliability of the United States.

In 2011, Obama pulled the plug on the American military presence in Iraq. He thereby abandoned the Sunni tribal militias that had helped U.S. forces defeat al Qaeda and drove the survivors into Syria to the mercies of a corrupt Shia-dominated government. In 2014, when those al Qaeda remnants, now reorganized as Islamic State, burst out of Syria, nothing appeared to stand between them and Baghdad. Only the combined efforts of the United States and Iran allowed the Iraqi government to hold its capital and eventually retake the rest of its territory.

Trump’s desire to withdraw from Syria is consistent with his and his predecessor’s national strategies, but the manner in which the decision has been taken is highly counterproductive. Surprise as a device to throw one’s adversaries off balance has utility, but this decision has only discomfited America’s friends. The United States leads a multi-national military coalition in Syria, none of whom were consulted. Several of Syria’s neighbors, notably Israel and Iraq, are going to be negatively affected. 

The most immediately impacted will be America’s partners on the ground, the Kurdish-dominated militias that have done most of the fighting and dying in the largely successful and still ongoing campaign against Islamic State. The minimum condition for withdrawal from Syria compatible with America’s honor and credibility is to help its Kurdish allies negotiate an arrangement with the Damascus regime (and with Turkey) that affords them some degree of political autonomy and allows them to continue to secure the population and suppress Islamic State in the east of the country. Simply walking away and allowing these former partners to be crushed between two hostile forces would be the worst debacle for the United States since the fall of South Vietnam. Yet American officials, operating on the assumption that U.S. forces would be remaining a while longer, have been dissuading the Kurds from seeking such an arrangement with the regime in Damascus. 

Another collateral victim of this decision is likely to be the peace negotiations on Afghanistan. American officials are currently in talks with the Taliban about an end to that war, an intra-Afghan dialogue leading to the inclusion of the Taliban in an expanded national government and the withdrawal of American and other NATO forces. Trump’s decision on Syria, and his reported desire to also begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, will pull the rug out from under the American and Afghan government negotiators, giving the Taliban every incentive to await a comparable move by the U.S. president on Afghanistan.

Despite his relative inexperience,  Trump has so far avoided the kind of military blunders that in the light of history have marred the performance of many of his predecessors – Presidents John F. Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs, Lyndon Johnson’s post-Tonkin Gulf escalation in Vietnam, Bill Clinton’s Black Hawk Down battle in Somalia, George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and Obama’s 2011 withdrawal from Iraq. This may be about to change.

Bob Corker, the Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has asserted that Trump’s withdrawal decision was made for political purposes. If true, this would not be the first time for this or any other president. But the apparently impulsive nature of this decision, heedless of evident consequences, uncoordinated with allies or even among the relevant U.S. agencies should be cause for alarm. With the arrival of a new Congress in January, American domestic politics are likely to become even more turbulent. If this turbulence spills over into the realm of national security, we could all be in for a very rough ride.

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Rachel Dugan: 'Less 'new me' and more just an upgrade'

After years of blocking out the ‘new year, new you’ brigade’s hectoring, I finally decided to tune in and have morphed into a walking, talking, Kale-munching cliché.

For a start, I’ve embarked on a January so dry it should come with its own climate-change warning. I have also dragged myself back to the gym three mornings a week, and have made the first tentative steps towards rebooting my running regime.

And after mainlining tidying guru Marie Kondo’s new Netflix show last weekend, I now find myself knee-deep in ‘stuff’, wading through the flotsam and jetsam of my life in a bid to find some kind of inner zen.

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But as I power-walk to the office each morning, mournfully watching the steamed-up bus trundle by and listening to Allen Carr’s dulcet tones extolling the virtues of my cigarette-free future, I can’t shake the feeling I’m a little late to the booze-free party.

It feels like most people have decided that in 2019, rather than opt for a strict new regime in the pursuit of a betterment, it’s all about comfort and self-care? It’s January, after all, a month defined mainly by its bleakness and the fact it’s not Christmas any more – why would we want to put ourselves through any more hardship, the argument goes.

But it’s too late for me. I am well on my way to an upgraded version of myself and none of you naysayers can derail me.

But I’m happy for you to try. Let’s discuss it – perhaps over a glass of red wine?

Peter Pan or sexist pig? It feels like a 50-50 call

We all know that in this age of social media, public figures have to be careful what they send out into the ether. Publicity is no longer a one-way street.

No doubt aware of this is French author Yann Moix, who last week sparked the ire of women globally when he told a magazine that “at 50 I am incapable of loving a woman of 50. I find that too old”.

Yann was supposed to be promoting a new book but ended up creating a social media storm that had the presumably not unwelcome by-product of a shedload of free publicity.

Clearly having learned little from the debacle (or perhaps a lot, depending on your level of cynicism), Yann decided to give another interview, this time bemoaning the reaction to his ill-judged admission.

“I would like 50-year-old women to stop sending me photos of their bottoms and breasts,” he told ‘The Times’ newspaper.

But Yann wasn’t in the mood for apologising, opting instead to put his remarks in context.

Apparently, his lack of interest in ladies of a certain age is down to inability to grow up and accept his age.

I guess it’s easier to be called Peter Pan than a sexist pig.

Food in nude fails to get enough bums on seats

For those of you who had yet to secure a seat at Paris restaurant O’naturel, I have some bad news – the naked eatery this week shut its doors after 15 months in business.

In fairness, 15 months isn’t a bad run, considering most new restaurants struggle to make it past the first year. In fact, I’m surprised it managed to keep its doors open so long.

I’m all about dressing down for dinner, but having nothing more than a napkin to cover your nether regions sounds about as appealing as, well, a third-degree burn in a particularly sensitive spot.

In the end, however, the nudist owners just couldn’t attract enough customers.

In the restaurant business, I guess it’s all about bums on seats.

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