The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The Caribbean recovers

Climate change, in part, destroyed two of my favorite places in the world last year, but they're recovering slowly. Yesterday, the New York Times reported on the progress of both. First, Sint Maarten:

Passengers arriving at Princess Juliana International Airport, on the Dutch side of the island earlier this month, were directed onto the tarmac, past the battered terminal to a white wedding-style tent for immigration. Outside the parking lot, the Pink Iguana, a tugboat turned dockside bar, remained capsized in the water. Down the road, Maho Village (http://www.mahovillage.com/) was practically a ghost town. Of the roughly 40 bars, shops, restaurants and clubs along its entertainment strip, only a pharmacy, grocery store, real estate office and a few restaurants had reopened. All four of its seaside resorts — Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Casino & Spa, Sonesta Ocean Point Resort, the Royal Islander Club La Plage and Royal Islander Club La Terrasse — are undergoing major reconstruction. None are scheduled to open before summer or fall.

Yet with another hurricane season fast approaching, much of the tourist zone is not only rebuilding, but undergoing a multimillion-dollar face-lift. The Maho Group alone is putting more than $50 million into a revamp of the Sonesta Resorts, including overhauling the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, and incorporating a new contemporary design. Sonesta’s Casino Royale, the largest on the island, with more than 21,000 square feet of gaming, plans to reopen this summer with two new bistro-style al fresco restaurants and a rooftop bar and lounge. Shiny new rental cars awaits visitors at the Alamo rental office. The Rainbow Café (http://rainbowcafe.fr/en/home/) in Grand Case has a new whitewashed deck, a reconfigured layout, and chic red-and-white furnishings. “Everything is destroyed, so I tried to do something better,” the owner, Gobert Douglas, said with a French accent. Pointing out that he could have spent less on the renovation, he said, “I prefer to do this, change the floor, all the seating, all the style of the restaurant to make it new.”

I'm glad to see it. When I last visited the island, I spent some time outside the tourist regions and interacting with the people who lived there. It's not an easy life at the best of times. With tourism almost destroyed and their own infrastructure barely usable, it's no wonder both countries on the island have come together to restore what they could. I hope to visit again within the next year.

Vieques, which is part of the United States, also suffered tremendously in the last hurricane season. They've started putting the pieces back together as well:

Locals in frayed T-shirts and dreadlocks rubbed shoulders with people who’d arrived on dinghies from sailboats bobbing in deeper water, and a few other visitors from colder climates. The first one I met, Stephen, from Atlanta, had been a regular visitor since 2000.

“I’ve always thought of Vieques as ‘my’ island,” said Stephen, who was making his second visit since the storms. He’d discovered it when he was living in Boston and spotted a cheap flight to San Juan. “My copy of ‘Let’s Go’ suggested Vieques as a pretty good day trip. So I left my rental car on the ferry dock in Fajardo, figuring I’d be back that night. I ended up staying the whole week.”

Others lured by Vieques’s beauty, lack of pretension and low cost of living, have lived here for decades: In my short stay I ran into a museum director, an academic, artists, a retired nurse and a couple from Colorado, Norm and Deb, who had retired early and moved to the island sight unseen to live, as they put it, “on purpose.” Stephen was staying at El Blok, a Brutalist-style cement hotel at one end of the Malecón. When it opened in 2014 it was hailed as hip, chic and a little fancy, with a menu created by a famous chef — something of an anomaly on Vieques. Now the building has a plywood facade painted with the slogan “Vieques Se Levanta” — Vieques Will Rise. Workers head to the bar after sunset, and the vibe is friendly and a little raucous.

That the rest of the U.S. has made it so difficult for Vieques to rebuild is, I think, criminal. Especially if you put "America First," though those are exactly the people who have prevented restoration funding from flowing to the island.

If you're interested, click through for some of my earlier posts about Vieques and Sint Maarten.

Politically-motivated Spam from an island nation's PR department?

Over the past few weeks I've gotten several emails from someone purporting to be "Jess Miller" in New Zealand, mentioning she'd noticed a post I did on the Maldives in 2012. That post reported on the violent coup d'état that overthrew the democratically elected government of the island nation just southwest of the Indian subcontinent. And just a few weeks ago, the military dissolved Parliament and threw the country into more unrest. The U.S. State Department has issued a level-2 caution. Understandably, tourism has declined somewhat, which is a pity because it's unlikely the country will exist after another 50 years of climate-change-induced sea-level rise.

Anyway, "Jess" sent me an email about my "wonderful blog post" and called out "a solid blog post [she'd] read in the past," which turned out to be the U.K. Foreign Office travel warning about the place.

Then there's the punchline: "Jess" wants to cross-post with her "best things to do in the Maldives" article on her own site.

I think the best thing to do in the Maldives right now is not to go there.

So, "Jess," your article is very attractive and I think a wonderful list of things to do once the government of the Maldives returns to civilian control, their economy stops its free-fall, tourists stop getting robbed in their hotel rooms, and climate change goes into reverse so they stop suffering the existential peril that is driving all these problems.

Any takers on a bet that "Jess" has funding from a Maldives tourist agency?

Ides of March reading list

I'm writing a response to an RFP today, so I'll have to read these when I get a chance:

There were two more stories in my inbox this morning, but they deserve their own post after lunch.

Hell of a week

In the last seven days, these things have happened:

Meanwhile:

Can't wait to see what the next week will bring...

Gun stupidity

Soon-to-be-ex-Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill that would have required licensing for gun stores:

The governor, who is a hunter and told the station he is a member of the National Rifle Association, noted that the federal government already regulates firearms retailers. He said the proposal would create bureaucracy "that doesn't really keep our communities safer."

The Democratic-controlled General Assembly sent the bill to Rauner a couple of weeks ago, and the governor could have waited to act until after his March 20 primary matchup against state Rep. Jeanne Ives. She voted against the legislation and pushed Rauner not to sign it. Instead, the governor’s veto will come a week before the election and could take a line of attack away from the more conservative Ives.

In the weeks since the bill landed on Rauner’s desk, Democrats including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago aldermen have pressured the governor to sign it.

“The governor's decision was cruel, it was cold and it was calculated to benefit his own politics at the expense of public safety. "When is the right time? Only one person can answer that," Emanuel said in a statement Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in Florida, a gun-rights activist who touted her shooting skills was shot in the back by her toddler.

Long weekend; just catching up

Saturday and Sunday, the Apollo Chorus sang Verdi's "Requiem" three times in its entirety (one dress rehearsal, two performances), not including going back over specific passages before Sunday's performance to clean up some bits. So I'm a little tired.

Here are some of the things I haven't had time to read yet:

Other stuff is going on, which I'll report when I have confirmation.

A lie wrapped in a fabrication, lacquered over with a falsehood

In a powerful June, 2016, column for Slate, Dahlia Lithwick laid out the NRA's (and the right's) second-amendment hoax. It's worth revisiting:

The Supreme Court ... most famously in a 1939 case called U.S. v. Miller [ruled] that since the possession or use of a “shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length” had no reasonable relationship to the “preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia,” the court simply could not find that the Second Amendment guaranteed “the right to keep and bear such an instrument.” Period, full stop. And that was the viewpoint adopted by the courts for years.

What changed? As Cass Sunstein and others have explained, what changed things was a decades-long effort by exceptionally well-organized, well-funded interest groups that included the National Rifle Association—all of whom “embarked on an extraordinary campaign to convince the public, and eventually the courts, to understand the Second Amendment in their preferred way.”

The larger fabrication is the idea that the Second Amendment—unlike other provisions of the Constitution—cannot be subject to any reasonable restriction.

Hoax number three: Obama, Clinton, Democrats, liberals, the media, whomeverare coming for your guns. They are Coming. For your Guns!!! This is the crunchy candy shell that makes the other two lies seem almost reasonable.

Meanwhile, as Lithwick and others keep saying, we're the only country in the OECD where you're more likely to get shot than get hit by lightning. (Seriously, in every other country the incidence of gun death is less than 0.5 per 100,000—about the incidence of being injured or killed by lightning. In the U.S., the incidence of gun murder, not just getting shot, is around 3.6 per 100,000.)

And to think, this is all driven by a trade association. Imagine if the National Association of Dental Hygienists had that much power.

And kudos to Lyft, who announced they'll give free rides to anti-gun rallies. This is one more reason I use them and not the other guys.

Why does Russia care about our politics?

An op-ed in today's New York Times provides more context to help understand Josh Marshall's observation in my last post. Former Obama deputy secretary of state and former Biden national security adviser Antony Blinken says that Russia is actually very weak under Putin, so putting a wedge between their two biggest threats—The E.U. and the U.S.—gives them breathing room:

When it comes to sowing doubt about democracy and fueling dissension among Americans, Mr. Putin is eating our lunch. And Russia retains the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, with new weapons in the works that Mr. Putin saw fit to brag about during last week’s state of the nation speech — even if his rhetoric far outpaced their technical reality.

But elsewhere, Russia’s adventurism is feeding a growing, gnawing case of indigestion. And it masks a deep-set rot in Russia itself. Mr. Putin is a masterful painter of facades. But his Russian village looks increasingly less Putin and increasingly more Potemkin.

NATO is more energized than it has been in years — not because of President Trump’s browbeating, but in response to Mr. Putin’s aggression. The alliance now has forces on regular rotational air, land and sea deployments along Russia’s border, and its budget is increasing, in part with a sustained infusion of funds from the United States. The European Union has revived the idea of strengthening its own defense capacity, spurred on by Mr. Putin’s threats and Mr. Trump’s rhetorical retreat from America’s commitment to Europe’s defense. Europeans are getting more serious about energy security. They are multiplying new routes, connections and sources for fuel and renewable power. That’s making it harder for Mr. Putin to use oil and gas as strategic levers. American-led sanctions, despite Mr. Trump’s reluctance to impose them, have done real, sustained damage to Russia’s economy.

As for keeping Russia’s fist on Ukraine’s future, Mr. Putin has managed to alienate the vast majority of its citizens for generations. Systemic corruption is now a bigger bar to Ukraine’s European trajectory than is Moscow.

Keep in mind, one of the principal aims of Russia's interference with our government is to get rid of the sanctions we imposed on them when they invaded our ally Ukraine. They could get the sanctions reduced or eliminated by ending their occupation of Crimea, of course, but that would expose Putin's fundamental weakness.

Authoritarian governments are corrupt, full stop. The whole point of authoritarian systems is to protect thieves from the rule of law. Russia has been in this state for more than 20 years now. Let's not follow them.

One sentence that sums everything up concisely

From Josh Marshall:

[D]ecoupling the United States from the major states and economies of Western Europe has been the central foreign policy goal of Russia for about 70 years.

We defeated the Soviet Union by allying ourselves with most of the world. Now the President of the United States is undoing 70 years of work and handing Russia their own sphere of influence.

Great work, Mr President.

How to buy a gun (International edition)

The New York Times outlines what you need to do in various countries to obtain a firearm:

United States 1. Pass an instant background check that includes criminal convictions, domestic violence and immigration status. 2. Buy a gun.

Canada 1. To buy a handgun, prove that you practice at an approved shooting club or range, or show that you are a gun collector. 2. For any gun, complete a safety course and pass both a written and a practical test. 3. Ask for two references. 4. Apply for a permit, and wait 28 days before processing begins. 5. Pass a background check that considers your criminal record, mental health, addiction and domestic violence history. 6. Buy a gun. If you bought a handgun, register it with the police before taking it home.

Israel 1. Join a shooting club, or prove that you live or work in a dangerous area authorized for gun ownership, including certain settlements. 2. Get a doctor’s note saying you have no mental illness or history of drug abuse. 3. Install a gun safe. 4. Release your criminal and mental health history to the authorities. 5. Buy a gun and a limited supply of bullets, usually around 50. 6. Demonstrate that you can use your gun or a similar gun at a firing range before taking it home.

Actually, there is one place in the world where it's easier than in the U.S.: Yemen. But that's because they have no functioning government. We're in great company.