The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Trips to Europe will need EU registration starting in 2021

When I first heard this morning that visa-free travel to Europe would end for US citizens in 2021, I was dismayed. I remember how time-consuming it was to get a visa before the visa-waiver program started in the late 1980s. And I figured that the US would retaliate, requiring visas from Europeans, which would essentially destroy tourism between the two regions.

The reality isn't really anything like that. In fact, it merely brings the EU in line with what the US has required of visa-free travelers for years.

Starting in 2021, Americans will simply need to register with the EU equivalent of our Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA:

Currently, US citizens can travel to Europe for up to 90 days without any sort of travel authorization. ETIAS will change that.

Visa-free travelers, including US citizens, will need to request ETIAS authorization before visiting the Schengen Area. They can complete an application and pay a service fee of 7 euros (about $8) online. The authorization is valid for three years.

"Completing the online application should not take more than 10 minutes with automatic approval being given in over 95% of cases," the European Commission said in a statement.

The United States won't be the only country affected by the changes. From 2021, citizens from 60 countries will be required to apply for the ETIAS before entering the Schengen Area. Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Israel and Mauritius are among those countries.

So this should not affect taking a last-minute trip on the Eurostar, or crossing from Northern Ireland into the Republic. And it's fair; we've required ESTA registration from all overseas visitors for many years. I'm annoyed particularly at NPR for getting the details totally wrong in their newscast this morning.

Weekend reading list

Just a few things I'm reading that you also might want to read:

And finally, it's getting close to April and the Blogging A-to-Z Challenge. Stay tuned.

Is my party drifting into Corbynism?

Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has made comments throughout her career that sound pretty clearly anti-Semitic. Three of my favorite columnists find this, and the party's response, alarming.

First, Bret Stephens, a Democrat:

Like many self-described progressives, Omar does not like Israel. That’s a shame, not least because Israel is the only country in its region that embraces the sorts of values the Democratic Party claims to champion. When was the last time there was a gay-pride parade in Ramallah, a women’s rights march in Gaza, or an opposition press in Tehran? In what Middle Eastern country other than Israel can an attorney general indict a popular and powerful prime minister on corruption charges?

For those who don’t get it, claims that Israel “hypnotizes” the world, or that it uses money to bend others to its will, or that its American supporters “push for allegiance to a foreign country,” repackage falsehoods commonly used against Jews for centuries. People can debate the case for Israel on the merits, but those who support the state should not have to face allegations that their sympathies have been purchased, or their brains hijacked, or their loyalties divided.

As the criticism of Omar mounts, it becomes that much easier for her to seem like the victim of a smear campaign, rather than the instigator of a smear. The secret of anti-Semitism has always rested, in part, on creating the perception that the anti-Semite is, in fact, the victim of the Jews and their allies. Just which powers-that-be are orchestrating thatcampaign? Why are they afraid of open debate? And what about all the bigotry on their side?

Second, Michele Goldberg, who is not a Democrat but is Jewish:

I think Omar deserves criticism. Criticism, however, is not the right word for what she’s faced. As one of the first two Muslim women in Congress — and the first to wear a hijab — Omar has been subject to a terrifying campaign of racist vilification, including a poster in the rotunda of the West Virginia Capitol linking her to 9/11. She is treated as a dangerous foreign interloper in American politics and the embodiment of anti-Semitism, even though her Republican colleagues routinely demonstrate far worse anti-Jewish bigotry.

House Democratic leaders have been widely panned for their handling of the Omar affair, but its contradictions put them in a near-impossible bind. To ignore her words would be to tolerate mild anti-Semitism, an unsavory proposition at any time, but especially now, when many Jews feel newly vulnerable in a country that’s long been a haven. To publicly rebuke her would mean joining in the over-the-top demonization of a black Muslim woman facing death threats. Ultimately, Democrats on Thursday settled on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination, and “bigotry against minorities,” a blandly inoffensive document that didn’t seem to satisfy anyone.

Every Democrat present backed the resolution, but 23 Republicans voted against it. It was a reminder that while Democrats sometimes fail to live up to the ideals of multiethnic democracy, Republicans don’t seem to recognize those ideas at all. Omar needs to do better, but right now there’s still only one political party in America that is a safe place for hate.

Finally, Andrew Sullivan, who is neither a Democrat nor Jewish:

It should be possible to criticize Washington’s relationship with Israel without deploying crude and freighted language like this. But it got me wondering: Is it possible to write honestly about the Israel lobby’s power in D.C. without using any anti-Semitic “tropes” at all?

The basic facts are not really in dispute. A very powerful lobby deploys the money and passions of its members to ensure that a foreign country gets very, very special treatment from the U.S. Many of its supporters are Evangelical Protestants who want to accelerate the Second Coming. Others spring from an older and very American form of Christian Zionism. Many others are also American Jews with a commitment to Israel that has its roots both in the Torah and in a vow never to allow a second Holocaust.

The first bill introduced into the Senate in this Congress was one that made it illegal for any American to boycott goods from the West Bank, without suffering real economic consequences from their own government. It’s a federal bill designed to buttress several state bans on Americans’ right to boycott Israeli goods. Now here’s a clear case of conflict between the free speech rights of Americans and Israel’s continuing occupation of the West Bank. And the Senate voted for Israel’s occupation over the rights of its own citizens by a margin of 77– 23. One recalls what a former AIPAC head, Steve Rosen, said to Jeffrey Goldberg over lunch in 2005: “‘You see this napkin? In 24 hours, we could have the signatures of 70 senators on this napkin.” He was too modest.

I think this grotesque distortion of U.S. foreign policy deserves a much wider debate, but is constrained by cheap accusations of anti-Semitism. To give an example, if a critic of Israel were to use the exact same words as Steve Rosen, and argue that AIPAC is so powerful it could snap its fingers and have 70 senators’ signatures on a bill within 24 hours, he’d likely be deemed a bigot. And that is part of the Israel lobby’s power: its capacity to punish anyone for opposing it. It seems to me that it is simply a fact that the Israel lobby uses money, passion, and persuasion to warp this country’s foreign policy in favor of another country — out of all proportion to what Israel can do for the U.S. That comes perilously close to anti-Semitic tropes, but it’s also the truth. AIPAC, like the NRA, is a uniquely American phenomenon, and again like the NRA, full of an intense fanaticism that sometimes beggars belief. In many ways, this passionate intensity is understandable. History matters. But it’s not a rational way for a great power to conduct foreign policy. The one-way street has also corrupted Israel, wrecked its moral standing, and enabled the country to keep ratcheting toward the far right in self-destructive ways.

We're still nowhere close to the rampant anti-Semitism in Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party, but Sullivan is right that we need to discuss this further. 

Gosh, who do you root for?

The Times is reporting that Michael Cohen has sued the Trump Organization for $1.9m in unpaid legal fees:

The lawsuit, filed in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, said that the Trump Organization had agreed to pay Mr. Cohen attorney’s fees or related costs connected to his work with the Trump Organization but had failed to live up to that promise.

Mr. Cohen is also seeking reimbursment for an additional $1.9 million he was ordered to pay in fines, forfeitures and restitution after he pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws, tax evasion and lying to Congress, the lawsuit said.

The complaint said that around July 2017, Mr. Cohen and the Trump Organization entered an agreement under which the company would pay for Mr. Cohen’s legal fees and costs connected to investigations being conducted by Congress and Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

This should be interesting. I wonder if Trump will plead that the contract was unlawful because it served a corrupt purpose?

Europe may end Daylight Saving Time...badly

The EU could vote this month to end Daylight Saving Time in 2021, but it turns out popular support for the measure may have been...überwiegend Deutsch:

Time is up for European Union-mandated daylight savings time. The European Commission and European Parliament have agreed on that. All the relevant committees in Parliament are for the change, according to Germany's conservative Christian Democrat (CDU) MEP Peter Liese, who has devoted a lot of time to the issue.

Now that the lead committee on transport and tourism has given its blessing, by a large majority, EU lawmakers could vote on the change by the end of March. After that, all 28 member states will need to rubberstamp the ruling.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's brash statement back in September, asserting that the amendment would go ahead quickly, has proven to be premature. At the time, Juncker was referring to an overwhelming response to an EU online survey, where an unexpected 80 percent of respondents said the practice of changing the clock twice a year was outdated.

But the survey was not representative, with 3 million of the 4.6 million votes coming from Germany. This led to diplomats from smaller EU countries complaining behind closed doors that the European Commission wanted to impose German will on the other states through sheer populism.

That's great, but some member states want to keep daylight saving time. Won't that be fun.

Chicago's sinking, but don't worry

Wherever a landmass had several kilometers of ice on top, it deformed. Glaciers covered much of North America only 10,000 years ago. Since they retreated (incidentally forming the Great Lakes and creating just about all the topography in Northern Illinois), the Earth's crust has popped back like a waterbed.

Not quickly, however.

But in the last century, Chicago has dropped about 10 cm while areas of Canada have popped up about the same amount:

In the northern United States and Canada, areas that once were depressed under the tremendous weight of a massive ice sheet are springing back up while others are sinking. The Chicago area and parts of southern Lake Michigan, where glaciers disappeared 10,000 years ago, are sinking about 10 to 20 cm each century.

One or 2 millimeters a year might not seem like a lot, but “over a decade that’s a centimeter. Over 50 years, now, you’re talking several inches,” said Daniel Roman, chief geodesist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It’s a slow process, but it’s a persistent one.”

While Chicago’s dipping is gradual, this dynamic could eventually redefine flood plains and work against household sewer pipes that slope downward to the sewer main.

The same phenomenon has affected the UK as well. Scotland is popping up and England is sinking, as are other pairs of regions similarly glaciated. (Sterling, however, has a long way to go...)

More winning by the administration! Well, the Putin administration, anyway

Paul Krugman points out how President Trump's alternating bluster and surrender over trade has left us "less trusted, less respected, and weaker than we were before:"

On U.S. unreliability, consider the way the current administration has treated Canada, probably the friendliest neighbor and firmest ally any nation has ever had. Despite generations of good relations and a free-trade agreement, Trump imposed large tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel, invoking national security as a justification. This was obviously specious — in fact, Trump himself basically conceded this point, justifying the tariffs instead as retaliation for Canadian dairy policy (which was also specious).

The lesson for the world is that America can’t be trusted. Why bother making deals with a country that’s willing to slap sanctions on the best of allies, and clearly lie about the reasons, whenever it feels like it?

Meanwhile, the sudden retreat in the confrontation with China shows that we talk loud but carry a small stick. It would be one thing if the U.S. had changed course on the merits. But backing down so easily, after all the posturing, tells the world that the way to deal with America is not to bargain in good faith, but simply to threaten the president’s political base, and maybe offer some payoffs, political and otherwise. (I’m still wondering about those floors China’s largest bank rents at Trump Tower.)

Meanwhile, Michelle Goldberg looks forward to the multiple congressional inquiries launched this week as "Trump's TV Trial."

As America and the West get weaker, Russia gets stronger. So much winning. Just not ours.

What about RICO?

Author Garrett M. Graff, writing for the Times, suggests that Rudy Giuliani's approach to prosecuting cases under the Racketeering-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) could provide the model for dismantling the Trump Organization:

Fighting the Mafia posed a uniquely hard challenge for investigators. Mafia families were involved in numerous distinct crimes and schemes, over yearslong periods, all for the clear benefit of its leadership, but those very leaders were tough to prosecute because they were rarely involved in the day-to-day crime. They spoke in their own code, rarely directly ordering a lieutenant to do something illegal, but instead offering oblique instructions or expressing general wishes that their lieutenants simply knew how to translate into action.

Those explosive — and arresting — hearings led to the 1970 passage of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO, a law designed to allow prosecutors to go after enterprises that engaged in extended, organized criminality. RICO laid out certain “predicate” crimes — those that prosecutors could use to stitch together evidence of a corrupt organization and then go after everyone involved in the organization as part of an organized conspiracy. While the headline-grabbing RICO “predicates” were violent crimes like murder, kidnapping, arson and robbery, the statute also focused on crimes like fraud, obstruction of justice, money laundering and even aiding or abetting illegal immigration.

The sheer number and breadth of the investigations into Mr. Trump’s orbit these days indicates how vulnerable the president’s family business would be to just this type of prosecution. In December, I counted 17, and since then, investigators have started an inquiry into undocumented workers at Mr. Trump’s New Jersey golf course, another crime that could be a RICO predicate; Mr. Cohen’s public testimony itself, where he certainly laid out enough evidence and bread crumbs for prosecutors to verify his allegations, mentioned enough criminal activity to build a racketeering case. Moreover, RICO allows prosecutors to wrap 10 years of racketeering activity into a single set of charges, which is to say, almost precisely the length of time — a decade — that Michael Cohen would have unparalleled insight into Mr. Trump’s operations. Similarly, many Mafia cases end up being built on wiretaps — just like, for instance, the perhaps 100 recordings Mr. Cohen says he made of people during his tenure working for Mr. Trump, recordings that federal investigators are surely poring over as part of the 290,000 documents and files they seized in their April raid last year.

Indicting the whole Trump Organization as a “corrupt enterprise” could also help prosecutors address the thorny question of whether the president can be indicted in office; they could lay out a whole pattern of criminal activity, indict numerous players — including perhaps Trump family members — and leave the president himself as a named, unindicted co-conspirator.

Of course, the President could try to pardon everyone but himself, even if that leaves himself open to state charges in New York and elsewhere. But for the time being, the Southern District of New York and other bodies seem to be laying out the larger RICO case just fine. Can't wait to see it.

Last blast of winter

It's March, meaning it's meteorologically spring, but this morning it doesn't feel that way. The overnight low at O'Hare bottomed out at -19.4°C, with a forecast high today around -9°C. We may even hit a record for the coldest March 4th in recorded history. Real spring-like weather won't come until Saturday, at the earliest, when it'll stay above freezing all day while it rains on us.

At least we have a pleasant side-effect to this Arctic high-pressure system squatting over Chicago right now:

How to cut 50% of our carbon emissions for only $14 trillion

Andrew Sullivan points to an energy source we already know how to build that can completely eliminate greenhouse-gas emissions wherever it comes online:

Here’s a suggestion: Focus on a non-carbon energy source that is already proven to be technologically feasible, can be quickly scaled up, and can potentially meet all our energy demands. What we need, given how little time we have, is a massive nuclear energy program. Sure, we can keep innovating and investing in renewables, and use as much as we can. But they are not going to save us or the planet in time. We know nuclear works and does so quickly. As argued in Scientific American:

The speediest drop in greenhouse gas pollution on record occurred in France in the 1970s and ‘80s, when that country transitioned from burning fossil fuels to nuclear fission for electricity, lowering its greenhouse emissions by roughly 2 percent per year. The world needs to drop its global warming pollution by 6 percent annually to avoid “dangerous” climate change in the estimation of [respected climate scientist James] Hansen and his co-authors in a recent paper in PLoS One.

What’s the catch? It’s superexpensive. While the price of renewables keeps falling, nuclear remains very costly. The plants take a long time to build, and they’re difficult to site. One estimate is that it would cost $7 trillion to build a thousand nuclear plants, which would allow us to get a quarter of our energy from this non-carbon source. For the U.S. to get half its energy from nuclear would cost around $14 trillion. But if we committed to a huge nuclear investment, and the innovation that comes with it, that cost would come down. Compared with one estimate of $93 trillion for the Green New Deal, it’s a bargain.

Illinois used to have a lot more nuclear power. Vermont, at one point, got 100% of its electricity from the Yankee One plant. Maybe we can get back there, and cut greenhouse gas emissions in the balance?