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Lost sea creatures wash up on California shores as climate shifts

By Scott Wilson
Lost sea creatures wash up on California shores as climate shifts
Jacqueline Sones, left, and Eric Sanford walk through the tide pools at Horseshoe Cove in Bodega Bay, California. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Michael Robinson Chavez.

BODEGA BAY, Calif. - The Pacific Ocean off the California coast is mixed up, and so are many of the animals that live there.

The violet, thumbnail-size snails washing up here in Horseshoe Cove have never been seen this far north. By-the-wind sailors, a tiny relative of warm-water jellyfish, sprinkle the tideline by the dozen.

And in the tide pools along the cove's rocky arms, as harbor seals about to pup look languidly on, a slow-motion battle is underway between native Giant Green and Starburst anemones, a species common in Mexico. The southern visitors are bludgeoning their northern hosts with poisonous white-tipped tentacles.

Then there are the whales.

As many as five at a time have been foraging in the San Francisco Bay, the vast inlet about an hour south of here along the wild Sonoma and Marin coasts. The number is far larger than in a normal year, when one or two might wander in beneath the Golden Gate Bridge for a day or two at most.

These whales now are staying for as long as a month. And, for the first time ever, there are two species in the bay at the same time - grays and humpbacks, both usually speeding north to their Bering Sea feeding grounds this time of year.

Instead, whale-watching boats are having more luck in the opaque waters off Berkeley on the bay's eastern edge than in the open ocean. Three grays have also washed up dead on bay shores in recent weeks, their stomachs empty.

"Our guess is that they are superhungry, maybe looking for a little food before continuing north," said Bill Keener, a marine mammal biologist who has been tracking whales, dolphins and porpoises in the bay for decades as head of Golden Gate Cetacean Research. "But why are they staying this long? We can't really figure out what these guys are doing."

The likely culprits: "the blob" and "the boy."

Five years ago, the Gulf of Alaska warmed to record temperatures, likely due to a sudden acceleration in the melting of Arctic sea ice. Usually, a cold southern current flows along California. That year, the warm "blob" spread down the coast and, instead of blocking tropical species from moving north, it served as a balmy welcome to a variety of animals far from home.

Then came El Nino, the roughly once-a-decade temperate current that flows north and east from the equatorial Pacific to the California coast. The two warm-water events came together - one rare but understood, one unprecedented and baffling - to form an ocean heat wave whose real-time and lingering effects may have permanently scrambled California's coastal ecosystem.

"This was like opening a door temporarily for southern species to move northward," said Eric Sanford, a professor of biological sciences who runs a lab here at the Bodega Marine Laboratory of University of California, Davis. "And the longer you hold the door open, the more opportunity you give southern species to move north."

The door was not just ajar but wide open for several years. Today, there are still pockets of unusually warm water off California, doggy doors that continue to beckon tropical species that are strangers to its usually chilly 840-mile coastline.

Last year, scientists identified a yellow-bellied sea snake that had washed up on Newport Beach in Orange County, the first time the tropical species had been found in California in a non-El Nino year. Then, last month, an olive Ridley sea turtle was spotted by lobster fishermen off Capistrano Beach, in part because a sea gull was resting on its back. The turtle migrates on warm currents, one of which may have swept it so far north.

Things got even weirder a few-hours' drive north in Santa Barbara County, where a hoodwinker sunfish washed up last month. The fish, about 7 feet long and weighing a ton, is among the more bizarre-looking creatures of the sea. So, too, was its place of death: A hoodwinker had not been seen in the northern hemisphere for more than a century.

"These extreme events exaggerate the rate of change that is taking place in our oceans," said Jacqueline Sones, the research coordinator at the Bodega Marine Reserve, referring to the back-to-back blob-El Nino phenomenon. "And if you have more of these extreme events, you will see an even greater rate of change."

Sones and Sanford, research partners as well as spouses, published a paper with several other scientists in Nature last month that identified 67 marine species now pushing the northern boundary of their commonly known habitat.

Of those, 37 species had never been found as far north as Bodega Bay, a seaside town best known in popular culture as the place where Alfred Hitchcock filmed "The Birds." Another 21 species had only been found so far north during El Nino years or during other unusual warm-water events - boundary pushing that Sones tracks in part through her blog, where she posts be-on-the-lookout photos of species for those even farther north to identify.

The findings suggest that some of these species are here to stay, a relocation that Sanford and Sones do not necessarily believe is a bad thing but one with uncertain long-term effects.

"This really is a striking barometer of change," said Sanford, who has been at the blufftop lab here for 14 years. "That's a short window of time. Our oceans are changing pretty quickly."

- - -

Following the food

The consequences are also visible in the well-scrubbed pens of the Marine Mammal Center, a laboratory, emergency-response center and hospital that sits atop a Cold War-era Nike missile installation in the Marin Headlands just north of San Francisco.

The hospital - the largest of its kind in the world - is bracing for its busy season.

In the past two weeks, the number of patients has doubled to 90. Most are northern elephant seals, many of them weak from malnourishment and about a third the size they should be three or so months into life.

At the hospital, they live in spacious pens - clean seawater pools in the middle - where they are fed, tested and given medicine when needed. The place is a mad chorus of yelps and groans, a whirl of cleaning and feeding and transporting patients from pens to exams in four-wheeled "seal barrows."

Before release into the rough Pacific, the seals attend "fish school," hands-on coursework that teaches them how to find and capture food in the open ocean. In the hospital, they collectively consume a half-ton of herring a day.

"It's very obvious to us when the cycle gets thrown off," said Shawn Johnson, the center's director of veterinary science. "We're basically on the front lines of ocean health, and mammals are very sensitive to even minor changes in the ocean's health."

In 2015, at the ocean heat wave's peak, the hospital, which monitors 600 miles of California coastline, took in 1,800 seals and sea lions. That was three times the average.

While the numbers have declined since then, they remain higher than pre-blob days.

The center receives 10,000 calls each year on its rescue hotline from as far away as San Luis Obispo County, hundreds of miles to the south. On this day, three elephant seals - named Dayzend, Yazzy and Washbean by the emergency crews - are scheduled for rescue.

The reason for the continuing high numbers is the mystery around food.

Even before the blob, the supply of anchovies and sardines, the staple of many marine mammal diets, was low and declining. The warming served as a wild card.

Many of the seals and sea lions breed on the Channel Islands, a protected chain that runs off Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. They then roam for food in the summer months with sardines as their prime prey.

But sardines remain scarce, even though they are considered a warmer-water fish. Studies have found that adult seals and sea lions are traveling much farther for food, leaving pups to fend for themselves closer to shore. Many end up in the hospital.

Elliott Hazen, a research ecologist with NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Monterey, California, said "a lot of signals point to the fact there is just not enough food to support some of these sea lion habitats."

"Part of what was so unique about the blob is that it was warming we had never seen before, so there was no antecedent to compare it to," Hazen said. "And it may be true that not all warm water is equal in its effect on fisheries."

What have rebounded are anchovies, a dietary staple of the humpback, which has the rare ability to feed on small fish and krill. But anchovies are behaving differently, too.

Hazen said the fish are moving closer to shore, maintaining a density that is appealing to humpbacks, which are becoming increasingly reliant on anchovy as part of their diet. This may explain why humpbacks, not seen in San Francisco Bay until three years ago, are moving in now.

- - -

Skinny whales

The Pacific was calm on a recent morning, a chilly breeze scalloping the surface, lit by sunlight fighting through low clouds. Lands End park sloped into the sea on the far side of the bay's opening, and from high in the Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate Bridge appeared below with the city skyline in the middle distance.

Just off Kirby Cove, a spout rose from the smooth sea. Then a humpback leaped, breaching momentarily, before a several-minute dive for food. The uncommon is now common, the wait for a whale sighting from land just minutes long.

But the close-to-shore migrations in search of food have increased risks to the whales. Of the 11 recorded whale deaths in the region last year, the vast majority were the result of the animals being hit by ships or entangled in fishing nets.

Those dangers are amplified this year. But Keener, the marine mammal biologist who tracks whales in the bay, is equally concerned by the bizarre gray whale behavior and appearance.

"We're just seeing a big number of skinny whales," he said.

Gray whales, once endangered, have made a remarkable recovery in the past half-century. They are still a "threatened" species, mostly because of the dangers posed by nets off the California coast.

As their numbers have risen, though, their food has declined with increased demand and as varying ocean temperatures may be pushing krill outside of migration routes. In the San Francisco Bay, the grays are hanging around Angel Island, once the main point of entry for Asian immigrants arriving on American shores.

The undeveloped island sits off Tiburon, among the most sought-after real estate in a region of sought-after real estate, where residents can now whale-watch from living rooms. The high-speed commuter boat from San Francisco's Ferry Building to Larkspur now must navigate around whales, something it has never had to do.

Keener's phone buzzed with a photo from a friend who operates a whale-watching boat in the bay. It was a picture of his "fish finder," which provides a kind of MRI of the water near a boat. This one showed thick red bands of anchovy just east of Alcatraz.

The carcass of a gray had also washed up that day even farther east. A team from the Marine Mammal Center would head there a few hours later, performing the necropsy and then letting it decompose into nutrients for other animals stalking the bay for food.

"They just keep heading east," Keener said. "And that is a really bad sign."

I wanted to love this Leonard Cohen exhibit, but was overwhelmed by gimmicks and kitsch

By Sebastian Smee
I wanted to love this Leonard Cohen exhibit, but was overwhelmed by gimmicks and kitsch
Leonard Cohen is the focus of a new exhibition,

NEW YORK - Leonard Cohen died the day before Donald Trump was elected president. I mention this only because one of the works in "Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything," a giddily hagiographic exhibition at the Jewish Museum, is a found object, in the tradition of Marcel Duchamp's urinal. But instead of a urinal, or a bicycle wheel, the found object selected for display by artist Taryn Simon is a back issue of the New York Times, from Nov. 11, 2016.

Why that particular issue?

Because the front page that day led with a photograph of President-elect Trump shaking hands with President Barack Obama and because, below the fold, was a photo of Leonard Cohen. It ran alongside an obituary with the headline "Writer of 'Hallelujah,' Whose Lyrics Captivated Generations."

What, apart from the serendipities of breaking news, does the death of Leonard Cohen have to do with the election of Donald Trump? And why is this presented as art?

I wish I could tell you.

I love Leonard Cohen. Lines from his poems and song lyrics occasionally skitter through my brain. I even play a few of his songs on my guitar.

It's true, his deep voice and monotonous melodies can begin to grate. But when you tire of Cohen's music, there is still the idea of him - this dapper, doleful, ironic, gracious, anxious, reclusive, theatrical, seductive Jewish Canadian troubadour - to fall back on. It's a tremendous tonic.

So I came to this show as many will come: to have my feelings rekindled, adjusted, enhanced.

Instead, I was plunged into a Jacuzzi of kitsch. I tried, in the spirit of Cohen's own poetry, to feel free - "like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir" - but instead felt squeezed dry of all but secondhand sentiments, my best thoughts hijacked at every turn by a pantomime of feeling, a parody of catharsis.

Simon's presentation of the front page of a newspaper juxtaposing the election of Trump with Cohen's death - as if the two things had anything to do with each other - is the simply most egregious example. It's pure emotional manipulation, with a presumed audience in mind.

Leonard Cohen was a poet. This is an attempt to collapse poetry into groupthink.

"Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything" is not intended as a documentary-cum-shrine, in the tradition of last year's "Watching Oprah" exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It is an art exhibit.

The problem is that, by and large, the art is blah. That's a shame, because there is some great Leonard Cohen-inspired work out there that's fresh, uncomplicated, poetic and true. It's just not in this show.

Organized by John Zeppetelli and Victor Shiffman of the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, "A Crack in Everything" opened in Montreal in November 2017. Montreal is Cohen's hometown, so the show there spoke to aspects of Canadian and Jewish identity that Cohen was always alive to. (He used to return to Montreal, he liked to say, to "renew my neurotic affiliations.")

In New York, the show is slimmer, with work by just a dozen artists. Still, to see it all you would need more than three hours. And if you want to listen to covers of Cohen songs playing on a loop in a chillout room on the third floor, add at least an hour.

Most of the art is video. Some of it is interactive. In one piece, Ari Folman's "Depression Chamber," you are cordially led, one at a time, into an antechamber, and from there into a crypt-like room. You lie on a sofa and see an image of yourself projected onto the ceiling. As Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat" plays, the lyrics morph into symbols that swim across the walls and up to the ceiling, where they slowly form a shroud covering your image.

It sounds impressive, but it felt digital and tacky. When the dirge finally ended, I rose to my feet with relief.

Upstairs, you enter a room with an octagonal wooden bench. Dangling from the ceiling are microphones. It's a "participatory audio installation" called "Heard There Was a Secret Chord" by the collective Daily Tous Les Jours.

The lyric, of course, is from "Hallelujah," which is described in an enjoyable catalogue essay by Sylvie Simmons as "the all-purpose hymn for the millennium, the feel-good singalong/treatise on the bleakness of human relations and go-to vocal workout on TV talent contests."

You sit or lie on the wooden bench and hum "Hallelujah" into one of the microphones. Your voice accompanies a virtual choir of humming voices created by - what else? - an algorithm. The number of voices in the "choir" corresponds to the number of people listening on a website - asecretchord.com - that functions as a one-song radio station. It all amounts to an excellent definition of hell.

But it gets better. The seat beneath you vibrates in proportion to how loudly you sing into the microphone, thereby "closing the circuit of collective resonance," says the wall label, and connecting you to "the universal Cohen magic."

Let me reiterate: I love Leonard Cohen.

But I wanted to puke.

There are better things in the show - Christophe Chassol's "Cuba in Cohen," for instance. The 15-minute video takes footage of Cohen reciting his 1964 poem "The Only Tourist in Havana Turns His Thoughts Homeward" and sets it to melody, throwing in an underlying drumbeat and bass line for good measure. It's weirdly riveting.

But unless you're in the mood to sit through hours of spliced footage of Cohen, there's not much else. Thanks to some flaw in its very conception, the exhibition reduces even good artists, such as the British filmmaker Tacita Dean, to uncharacteristic glibness.

Dean's 16mm film "Ear on a Worm," commissioned for this show, alludes to Cohen's "Bird on a Wire." Projected onto a small patch of high-up wall, it shows a house finch on a wire against a blue sky. After exactly 3 minutes and 33 seconds, the bird flies off. And then the film begins again.

It's a lovely visual haiku, I suppose. But its imaginative poverty is plain when compared with the song's lyrics, a brilliant succession of poetic images, bursting with surprise and concision.

Candice Breitz, an artist with a knack for taking singalong cliches and shifting them up a gear into something more interesting, has a video installation called "I'm Your Man (A Portrait of Leonard Cohen)." Breitz separately filmed 18 aging men passionately performing Cohen's 1988 comeback track, "I'm Your Man," in a recording studio. She also persuaded an all-male synagogue choir, from the Montreal congregation to which Cohen belonged, to sing its own arrangement of the album's backing vocals a cappella.

There is comedy and not a little pathos in the sight of old hippies singing "I'm Your Man." But the work feels more like a joke at their expense. And it's missing the element that makes most jokes good: brevity.

Breitz's work shares with the exhibition as a whole an element of kitsch to which I seem to have had an allergic reaction. What is kitsch?

Milan Kundera provided a famous explanation in his novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being." "Kitsch," he wrote, "causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass.

"It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch."

These days, kitsch floods the field when cultural icons die. We shed our tears, then straightaway succumb to the warm glow, the social-media-induced satisfaction, of watching ourselves weeping together.

All of which is perfectly human. Mourning, after all, is a communal activity. But who or what are we mourning? Did you know David Bowie or Aretha Franklin? What about Leonard Cohen? I know I didn't.

The idea of these people we admire - the image we have of them - might act as a tonic. But mourning their loss has nothing to do with their art. The art affects us individually, in ways that are often incommunicable. That art was the same the day before the artist died and remains the same the day after. It has nothing to do with who, meanwhile, became president.

Cohen saw poetry as "the ashes of something that's burning well." He didn't want to confuse the issue, as so many poets do, by trying "to create ashes instead of fire."

This show suffers from that very confusion. It's more about the ashes than the fire.

---

"Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything"

Through Sept. 8 at the Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Ave., New York. thejewishmuseum.org.

Cyclone survivors in Zimbabwe burn church pews to keep warm

By Brian Latham and Godfrey Marawanyika
Cyclone survivors in Zimbabwe burn church pews to keep warm
A residential house lays destroyed following a landslide in Ngangu, Chimanimani, Zimbabwe, on April 13, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Brian Latham.

On March 15, the earth shook so violently in Ngangu that people thought an earthquake had struck. It turned out to be thousands of tons of rock plowing through the eastern Zimbabwean village as rains and floods caused the surrounding hills to collapse.

"It sounded like a hundred trains were in the house," said Loice Seremani, a mother of two. "Pots were falling from their shelves and no matter how hard I shouted, my children could not hear me and I could not hear their screams."

Ngangu, the broader Chimanimani district and the southern parts of Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands region would eventually receive 30 inches (750 millimeters) of rain in 48 hours because of Tropical Cyclone Idai. That's about the same amount that the country's capital, Harare, gets in a year. The landslides in Ngangu and in Kopa, an urban settlement in the adjacent Rusitu Valley, killed at least 344 people, though no one knows how many more bodies lie buried beneath the rock.

Idai affected more than 3 million people in Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe and will cost the southern African nations more than $2 billion to repair the damage, the World Bank said this month. At least 1.6 million children need urgent help with healthcare, nutrition and sanitation a month after the cyclone devastated parts of the countries, according to the United Nations Children's Fund. Thousands of people are suffering with cholera and malaria.

The devastation comes as Zimbabweans face an economic crisis and shortages of bread, fuel and foreign currency. Gross domestic product will contract this year for the first time since the era of hyperinflation, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, the nation's biggest mobile-network operator, is coordinating relief efforts from a farm owned by Tanganda Tea Co. in Chimanimani. That's the worst-hit district and was a rich coffee- and tea-growing area before government-backed invasions of commercial farm land.

The company has erected large tents -- guarded by the military -- containing food, bedding and donations. It won't say how much it's spent on aid, which includes scores of new tractors, 10,000 wheel barrows, thousands of liters of aviation fuel and as much as $100,000 a day keeping as many as six helicopters in the air, spokesman Lovemore Nyatsine said. It plans to build 300 homes for widows and the elderly.

Econet has hired scores of heavy trucks to ship in food and supplies in addition to the six helicopters. Outside each distribution point, rows of shiny New Holland tractors are lined up, their seats still wrapped in plastic.

Ordinary Zimbabweans have responded to the crisis in their thousands, donating truck loads of food, blankets, mattresses and medical supplies and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. By default, Econet's Nyatsine ended up coordinating much of the relief effort, leaning heavily on the army and air force.

He gets testy when people say he's been heroic. "It's not about us, it's about the survivors and victims," Nyatsine said.

Some areas remain cut off because bridges have yet to be repaired and a few roads are still blocked by landslides. Most, though, are open, with makeshift bridges across rivers. Local government, the areas' disaster committees and businesses had bulldozers on the ground the day after Cyclone Idai hit.

In a Methodist church in Ngangu, Rev. Steven Chitiyo said they burned the church pews to keep survivors warm.

"Just 15 meters (49 feet) from this church, everything was obliterated," he said. "Rocks are all that remain, but the human spirit doesn't die. We will recover."

A short walk from Chitiyo's parish, half a house remains. The rest, along with two vehicles, was crushed. The cars had carried a family to Ngangu for wedding preparations. The bride, groom, in-laws and siblings all died the night the mountain fell.

At St. John's Roman Catholic church in Ngangu, the dead and survivors were housed side by side.

"We had to make hard choices here," said Talkmore Maziya, an elder at the parish. "We moved the dead into the church by the pulpit. There were 42 bodies in there. The living were also sheltering inside, and we had to take blankets we'd given to children and make a curtain because we thought it's better they're cold than seeing the bodies, many mutilated, being brought inside."

The community decided to leave the dead still beneath the rocks "to rest there in peace," Maziya said "It wouldn't be right to disturb them further."

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

The cathedral and the path to renewal

By e.j. dionne jr.
The cathedral and the path to renewal

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

(Advance for Thursday, April 18, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Wednesday, April 17, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Dionne clients only)

By E.J. DIONNE JR.

EDITORS: Note spelling of "Alleluia" in final graf. In the interest of accuracy, the spelling is taken directly from the Catholic Easter liturgy.

WASHINGTON -- The burning of Notre Dame Cathedral, a monument to human creativity and divine inspiration, invites first a mournful silence and then a search for meaning. This often involves efforts to understand the inexplicable by reference to metaphor.

That this ancient place of worship burned during Holy Week invites, perhaps paradoxically, hope. A time when Christians remember suffering and death and then celebrate resurrection speaks to the yearning for deliverance and renewal. Because Notre Dame was not completely destroyed by this tragedy -- or by centuries of neglect, or by political threats -- it can be reborn.

And the possibility of revival instructs us about tradition and its endurance. We are learning from experts in restoration and repair that a reconstructed building is never the same as it was before. We are also learning that when structures are hundreds of years old, they are not the product of a single time or a single culture. They are the creations of many tastes, many insights and many minds.

Traditions are built that way, too. They survive because those who honor them work mightily to protect them -- but also because living traditions never fear adapting when change demands it.

In a stirring piece of journalism, The Financial Times' Edwin Heathcote reminds us that great structures come to be hallowed for more than their magnificence. We appreciate them as well because they have embedded themselves in the lives of individuals and communities. He notes that architecture is often "revered as an art object or an artefact rather than a working component of everyday life."

And he asks of Notre Dame: "But how much of that fabric is actually medieval? Cathedrals took centuries to build and they are always works in progress, accretions of layers from across the ages. The urgent questions then are: where do you start and what, exactly, do you rebuild?"

Which invites the other, more disturbing metaphor that has been invoked often in recent days: Notre Dame burned at a time when the Roman Catholic Church, to which it owes its life, is also burning in a different way.

Perhaps this is too easy a leap to make, but who can question that there is a deep crisis in the church, brought about by the failure of its leadership to protect its most vulnerable members? Who can miss the debilitating divisions in the church, reflected most recently by Pope Emeritus Benedict's letter that was widely interpreted (I think accurately) as a challenge to Pope Francis' worldview and his handling of the crisis?

Notre Dame's near destruction brought home why this crisis has, of late, left me close to silent. As a struggling, run-of-the-mill believer who is neither particularly holy nor doctrinally pure, I have -- like many Catholics, I suspect -- found it impossible to break with an institution that has been profoundly, at times wickedly, flawed yet still kindles acts of mercy, moments of transcendence and works of beauty.

From my first visit to Notre Dame just before Christmas in 1973 and continuing through many others, I always found the cathedral at once wondrous and welcoming. It was a blend of the sacred and the profane as bustling tourists made their way by pews where the devout and the doubting offered their prayers to a God they hoped was listening.

When I was there, I was always aware of French Catholicism's morally bifurcated history. It was a force for both shameful collaboration with the Nazis and the Vichy regime during World War II, and also heroic resistance. So we should not be shocked by this very human institution's more recent failures. There have been lies told to cover up corruption, but truths preached in the name of love and justice.

At times, I think that those who are leaving the church -- the outraged parents, the women and LGBTQ people who feel excluded from its concern -- may simply have more courage than I do. Yet I still want to place my bet with those who insist the church can be delivered, who remember, as with Notre Dame, that it is a work in progress about which we always have to ask, "What, exactly, do you rebuild?"

No matter how skeptical I get, I find myself joyful at Easter Mass, year after year, when we first hear the words, "He is risen, Alleluia!" It will take time and care, but I know Notre Dame will have its Alleluia moment. I pray there will also be one for the church that inspired its creation.

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

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Brexit and Trump are flailing. But the establishment shouldn't relax yet.

By megan mcardle
Brexit and Trump are flailing. But the establishment shouldn't relax yet.

MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For McArdle clients only)

By MEGAN MCARDLE

WASHINGTON -- Global politics in recent years has had more twists and turns than a Hollywood thriller. Three years ago, British and American populists were staging an insurgency against their out-of-touch political establishments. Two years ago, they were taking victory laps. But, as any war movie will teach you, the fortunes of battle are fickle, and right now the populists seem to be getting the worst of it. At best, the establishment has battled them to a draw; at worst, they are on the verge of a rout.

Even on immigration, where Trump supporters could credibly argue that the president had a mandate for sweeping change, Trump has been comprehensively stymied. Courts have quashed his attempts to radically transform immigration policy with a stroke of the executive pen. Meanwhile, a pre-existing body of law and court orders has left him unable to do more than rail impotently on Twitter as the asylum process has turned into a sort of open-borders lite for migrants willing to drag their children north to the U.S. border. Well-crafted legislation could conceivably cut down on the revolving door for migrants with children, but Trump has shown little interest in the legislative process, and no aptitude at all for bending it to his will.

But now the plot seems to be lagging a bit. Having fought Trump to a draw, the establishment now seems content to wait out the next two years. Trump's approval ratings are lackluster, and any Democrat with a halfway-decent filter between their lizard brain and their mouth ought to be able to mop the floor with him. So the panicked talk of flight to Canada that one heard in November 2016 has given way to the grim watchfulness in an ER waiting room -- (BEG ITAL)after(END ITAL) the doctor has told you Mom's going to survive her fall.

Across the Atlantic, where the United Kingdom is in the third year of the two-year Brexit process, one sees a similar phenomenon. The European Union has refused its assent to any deal that could possibly command a majority in the British Parliament, and Remainers in Parliament have refused their assent to any deal that might pass muster with the E.U. Together, they have thus forced Prime Minister Theresa May to punt on Brexit until Halloween, and they are not shy about expressing their hopes that Halloween will turn into never.

The story's ending could be written in any number of ways. It could be framed as right-thinking people doing the right thing for their country and thereby earning their just victory over a crudely reactionary insurgency. If Trump loses on schedule, and if Brexit slips into a twilight existence of perpetual delay, then this is undoubtedly the story that the establishment will tell, because in that version, they're the heroes.

Then again, the story's moral could be factual rather than spiritual: Politics is hard, which is why populist insurgencies tend to burn out before realizing their goals. It's easy to tell voters that everything ought to be different but fiendishly difficult to make it so, because any new policies must be pushed through the institutions of government, which run on precedent and procedure, not passion.

But what if the story isn't over? What if Trump and the Brexiteers are not about to exit stage right after their humiliation? It's possible that we're still in the middle of Act Two, approaching what screenwriters call the false victory -- that halcyon moment when everything seems to be going fantastically well, right before it all goes to hell.

To see what the ending of (BEG ITAL)that(END ITAL) story might look like, we could peek at France. A couple of years ago, France had its populist moment along with everyone else in the Western world, when the far-right National Front reached the runoff of the 2017 French presidential election. The populists were decisively put down by Emmanuel Macron, who is almost the distilled essence of everything populists hate: a banker, a technocrat, a centrist cosmopolitan.

Members of the French establishment enjoyed a year or so of congratulating themselves for not having gone the way of Britain and the United States. Then last fall came the "yellow vest" riots and the weekly protests that still roil France. Macron's election turned out not to have tamed populist passions. They were only temporarily dammed up, gathering destructive force before the inevitable flood.

The gilets jaunes may end up merely a footnote when the victors write the history of this populist era. But having appeared, like a good plot turn, out of nowhere, the protesters force the establishment to at least consider a troubling possibility: that its members may not be cast as the story's heroes but as the well-meaning fools who ultimately lost by mistaking the battle for the war.

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

How long until we're all happy?

By robert j. samuelson
How long until we're all happy?

ROBERT J. SAMUELSON COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Samuelson clients only)

By ROBERT J. SAMUELSON

To: David Brooks

Columnist, The New York Times

Dear David,

We have met a few times over the years while covering the same events. I'm a big fan. You write beautifully and, more often than not, have insights about our politics, lifestyles and beliefs that others have missed. But as time passes, you have grown increasingly somber about our national condition. Your most recent column, based on your new book "The Second Mountain," is downright depressing.

Here's a brief summary: "The whole country is going through some sort of spiritual and emotional crisis. ... We've created a culture based on lies." One is that "[c]areer success is fulfilling." Not so, you say. "Everybody who has actually tasted success can tell you that's not true." Another related lie is that "I can make myself happy" through "individual accomplishment. ... The message of the meritocracy is that you are what you accomplish. ... You are not a soul to be saved but a set of skills to be maximized."

As a rule, I rarely respond directly to other columnists. Many columnists do the same. It's a good rule because, if abandoned, it would make commentary even more personal and shrill. But sometimes rules need to be broken. This is, I think, one of those times.

So, David, let me respectfully suggest: Lighten up.

To be sure, most of your insights are true. But they're also utopian. You argue that we've lost our moral compass and have surrendered to delusional beliefs that rationalize a cultural emptiness. You seem disappointed that we haven't arrived in some Garden-of-Eden paradise where almost everyone is happy, fulfilled, responsible and respected. I yearn for this as well, but I have reconciled myself to the inevitability of imperfection.

Our job as journalists is not simply to point out untruths, injustices and societal problems. It is also to illuminate the inconsistencies, contradictions and confusions of our national condition. It is, in short, to be realistic, especially when being realistic is politically and intellectually unpopular -- as it is now.

We have a culture of complaint, where nothing works, selfishness is rampant, disillusion is widespread and hatred -- practiced across the political spectrum -- is common. There is no virtue in feeding this frenzy of pessimism, just because it fits the temper of the times. We need to recognize the limits of our condition. Many legitimate problems can't be solved, and some problems aren't worth solving.

It is also worth acknowledging that things could be worse. Most Americans who want jobs have them; we are not engaged in a major war; millions of households are doing the difficult work of balancing the duties of child-rearing with the rigors of their job schedules. The Trump presidency has turned up the heat on public and private discourse without (yet) leading to a breakdown of debate. Crudely, the nation's institutions seem to be working.

David, here are a few comments on the "lies" that you describe as polluting today's American dream:

-- Ambition is America's blessing and curse. It is a blessing because it encourages people to try new things, to stretch their abilities and to see how much more they can achieve. It fosters a vibrant economy, even if the most ambitious people are often unattractive as human beings. That's the curse. Great ambition often causes great character flaws. Obsessed with their projects and themselves, people mistreat co-workers and family. They're creatures of their ambitions, which can be both frustrating and fulfilling.

-- Happiness is not a practical goal of public policy, even if governments sometimes reduce or eliminate some conditions that make people unhappy or miserable. But if some sources disappear, others may arise. There are too many factors (personality, religion, schools, luck, parents -- or lack thereof -- and much more) that determine outcomes. Pursuing happiness should remain, mostly, a personal responsibility. Making it a public responsibility would ensure failure.

-- The meritocracy -- frequently criticized -- is not nearly so sinister as it's portrayed. Of course, it creates stress among its members. They're constantly being measured and prodded to do better, or to lose out to the students, workers and athletes next door. But the meritocracy's principles, even if sometimes violated, are the right ones to govern our institutions. We want people who know what they're doing; competition is not a bad way to make the selections. What are the alternatives? Would we be better off if social connections, race or political affiliation assumed a larger role?

Finally, there's the matter of work. Everyone complains about it, but without it, most of us would die of boredom. Learning new stuff, the essence of journalism, is inherently rewarding, and, David, you and I are paid to do it. The virtues outweigh the vices.

So, let's keep perspective. We don't live in an ideal world and never will. But things could be worse, maybe quite a bit worse. Let's try to avoid that.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

How Xi overplayed his hand with America

By david ignatius
How Xi overplayed his hand with America

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, April 17, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, April 16, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

WRITETHRU: 8th graf, 1st-2nd sentences: ""The strategy was formalized in a 2017 speech by Xi. "Made in China 2025" is a roadmap" sted "The strategy was formalized in Xi's announcement two years ago of "Made in China 2025," a roadmap"

By DAVID IGNATIUS

WASHINGTON -- In the rebalancing of Sino-American relations that's underway, the usual roles are reversed: China's normally deft President Xi Jinping appears to have badly overreached in seeking advantage. And President Trump, who often seems tone-deaf on foreign policy, is riding a bipartisan consensus that it's time to push back against Beijing.

The two nations will probably make a trade deal soon, patching together a working relationship that has been frayed by a year of tariffs and economic brinksmanship. Experts predict an agreement that will boost U.S. exports to China, improve market access for American firms and reduce the power of Chinese state-owned enterprises -- and offer some modest new legal protections for American companies whose commercial secrets have been plundered by Beijing for a half-century.

But as Xi jockeyed for position against America, many U.S. experts argue that he misplayed his hand. After decades of what was known as a "hide and bide" strategy of cautious cooperation, the Chinese leader moved to directly challenge American primacy in technology. This eventually triggered a sharp, bipartisan American response, which Trump has harvested.

"In an incredibly divided Washington, one of the only areas of agreement is that China policy needs to be less accommodating and more resolute toward Beijing," says Kurt Campbell, who oversaw Asia policy in the Obama administration. He credits Trump for recognizing Xi's weakness: "China is not yet ready to take on the U.S., and Trump recognizes this."

The Chinese-American confrontation is partly a spy story, but very different than the cloak-and-dagger escapades of the Cold War: China operates its espionage net partly through universities, research institutes and benign-sounding recruitment plans. Until recently, American companies often didn't realize that their pockets had been picked until it was too late.

China's over-aggressive strategy dates back to the 2008 financial crisis, which Beijing saw as "a strategic window of opportunity for China to become a global superpower," according to Greg Levesque, managing director of Pointe Bello consultants. Using internal Chinese documents, he recently explained to a congressional commission how China targeted "key core technologies" in the West.

An innovative early feature was the "Thousand Talents Plan," established by Beijing in 2008. The program sought to recruit "global experts," in particular those with Chinese ancestry, to join what the plan's website called "National Key Scientific and Technological Projects." By 2014, says the website, more than 4,180 overseas experts had been recruited.

The strategy was formalized in a 2017 speech by Xi. "Made in China 2025" is a roadmap for dominating key technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and biopharmaceuticals. Xi mobilized China's nominally private companies through an approach known as "Military-Civil Fusion."

The system for recruiting overseas talent was explained by an article posted April 16, 2018, by a Communist Party organization at Wuhan University People's Hospital, describing how cadres there created an "Overseas Talent Recruitment Station" at a gathering in Dallas of Chinese-American medical researchers.

A Wuhan party official told the Dallas group that he "hoped that more overseas talent would return to the motherland and develop" high-tech projects. (The article was shared with me by a U.S. security-consulting firm.)

Bill Priestap, the FBI's former head of counterintelligence, described the "Thousand Talents Program" in congressional testimony last December as an example of "non-traditional espionage." He said the goal was "luring both Chinese overseas talent and foreign experts alike to bring their knowledge and experience to China, even if that means stealing proprietary information."

The problem for the Chinese is that this so-called "brain gain" effort was so aggressive that it backfired. The New York Times reported this week that the FBI has recommended denying visas to some Chinese academics suspected of having ties to Chinese intelligence. The Energy Department recently banned anyone involved in China's talent-recruiting programs from working in DOE laboratories.

There's blowback in the trade negotiations, too. Lorand Laskai of the Council on Foreign Relations noted last year that the Trump administration mentioned "Made in China 2025" more than 100 times in its Section 301 trade complaint against Beijing. A newly wary China has stopped referring to the Thousand Talents Plan or mentioning award recipients, according to recent reports by Bloomberg News and Nature, respectively.

The Trump administration still doesn't have a consistent, comprehensive strategy for dealing with China. Among other things, it lacks a coherent regional economic framework, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that Trump scuttled. But now is the right time to confront China's bad behavior, before Beijing gets any stronger, and Trump has the political wind at his back.

Contact David Ignatius on Twitter @IgnatiusPost

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Unauthorized immigrants help prop up America's economy

By esther j. cepeda
Unauthorized immigrants help prop up America's economy

ESTHER CEPEDA COLUMN

(Advance for Thursday, April 18, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Wednesday, April 17, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Cepeda clients only)

By ESTHER J. CEPEDA

CHICAGO -- Whenever I see a viral video of a racist person harassing a Spanish speaker with brown skin because they seem "illegal," I comfort myself with the vivid image of millions of Latinos watching the spectacle with bafflement as they fan themselves with a stack of $100 bills.

It's not silly.

People act like unauthorized immigrants are the biggest pox upon the Great American Experiment, but the fact is that immigrants pour billions of dollars into the tax coffers of local and state governments every year. In fact, they paid an estimated $11.7 billion just in 2014, according to the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy. This includes an estimated $1.1 billion in state income taxes and $3.6 billion in property taxes.

Federal taxes can be added on top: The IRS estimated in 2015 that 4.4 million income-tax returns came from workers with no Social Security numbers, resulting in $23.6 billion in income taxes. This, of course, doesn't include payroll taxes or the taxes paid by immigrants who work on someone else's Social Security number.

For years, it's been an open secret that unauthorized immigrant workers are propping up the Social Security retirement trust fund and Medicare systems -- even though they can't access benefits from either of those programs.

Most people don't know that there's been a system in place for unauthorized immigrants and other foreign-born people to get Taxpayer Identification Numbers with which to file income taxes since 1996.

Moreover, schemes to legalize immigrants have often hinged on requiring them to prove they have a track record of paying their taxes. This has, at least in part, resulted in a windfall for the government.

You also have to stop to consider that unauthorized immigrants represent but a small percentage of all the Latinos in our country -- as a whole, all immigrants represent only about a third of all Hispanics.

And make no mistake: Latinos have money. They also have property.

"Over the past decade, Hispanics have accounted for 62.7% of net U.S. homeownership gains, growing from 6,303,000 homeowners to 7,877,000, a total increase of 1,574,000 Hispanic homeowners," according to the 2018 State of Hispanic Home Ownership report from the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals.

This same report calculated that the median household income for Hispanics rose to $50,486 in 2017, accounting for the largest increase in income (3.7%) among all racial or ethnic population groups.

As if this weren't enough, we're just sunnier about our finances than almost anyone else. In a recent analysis of national survey results, Florida Atlantic University found that 67% of Hispanics said they are financially better off today than a year ago, and 74% said they'd be better off over the next year. Meanwhile, 59% said they expected the country as a whole to experience good business conditions in the upcoming year.

Only people with a vested interest in a business would forecast economic conditions for the year ahead, folks.

None of these numbers fits with the impoverished, downtrodden and marginalized people you might imagine if your only exposure to immigrants is what you see on cable TV.

But, alas, well-to-do Hispanics who are the third or fourth generation in a family to attend a good college -- or who are simply successful in life without having been traumatized at the border or otherwise harmed -- are not of great interest to lots of people in the mainstream media who have the power to tell stories about middle- and upper-class Latinos.

To borrow the tortured cliché about how Hispanic voting power is a "Sleeping Giant," many Latinos are unaware of the strength they wield in the marketplace as well. And, alas, so far they are unable or unwilling to transform their considerable economic clout into the kind of political power that stops prejudiced people from attacking those who "look" or "sound" like an unauthorized immigrant.

Don't let ignorance get you down, though.

Remember: There are way more Latinos who have the capacity to use fistfuls of hundred-dollar bills to cool themselves than there are close-minded bigots who think they're entitled to harass someone just based on the color of their skin or their ability to speak a second language.

Esther Cepeda's email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com, or follow her on Twitter: @estherjcepeda.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

"Mayor Pete" comes out swinging

By ruben navarrette jr.
"Mayor Pete" comes out swinging

RUBEN NAVARRETTE COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, April 17, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, April 16, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Navarrette clients only)

By RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.

SAN DIEGO -- I confess that it took me awhile to convert to the Church of Pete. But now, I'm listening to the sermons. And I'm becoming a believer.

This is not to say that the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana -- who recently entered the race for the Democratic presidential nomination -- is my choice. It's too early to pick a horse in this race. Everyone is playing to their strengths. But the weaknesses have yet to be revealed; the likable candidate might not be very smart, and the smart one might prove to be not very likable.

All I know is that I'm in the market for a Democrat who can save the country by defeating Donald Trump.

It's not enough to nominate someone who is "unlike" Trump. The idea is to pick someone who can unseat Trump.

In fact, the ability to trounce Trump is the second most important quality in a candidate. The first one is authenticity.

Pete Buttigieg has that base covered. With a Bill Clinton-like blend of book smarts and emotional intelligence, the fiery but plainspoken Harvard graduate, Rhodes Scholar and Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan -- hailing from a Red State -- offers something that doesn't seem fake or pre-packaged.

Mika Brzezinski nailed it. The co-host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" drew a contrast between Buttigieg and the candidate formerly known as Robert Francis O'Rourke -- who prefers to spice things up by going by "Beto."

Referring to "this Kennedy concept, this young new millennial candidate concept" that some Democratic presidential hopefuls are selling, Brzezinski pushed back against the manufactured nature of Beto-mania.

"I feel like that concept has been forced on me," she said. "I'm not comfortable. Like don't tell me that this candidate is 'the one.' You hear about all these Democratic operatives flocking to Beto, and you feel this sort of contrived candidacy."

Tell me about it. Imagine you're Mexican-American and you're being told by Beto Bots and the liberal media not to worry, that a rich white guy from El Paso who speaks Spanish will stand in for you. You talk about contrived.

Yet something different is brewing in South Bend.

"Then you look at Mayor Pete, who has literally come out of nowhere, and it feels much more natural," Brzezinski said. "It feels real. You hear him, and he touches you."

It does feel natural. Buttigieg first landed on my radar about a month ago, thanks to his sharp intellect. His answers during a March 10 "CNN Town Hall" were sophisticated but honest. I was impressed that he speaks multiple languages; this week, he expressed sympathy to the French people for the destruction caused by the fire in the Cathedral of Notre Dame -- (BEG ITAL)in French(END ITAL). I loved that he learned to speak Norwegian so he could read a book in its original language.

But I wasn't sold yet. As I delight in telling Democrats who still don't understand how Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, running for president is not a spelling bee. The smartest person doesn't always win. I needed more.

For me, Buttigieg's brave and defiant remarks at the LGBTQ Victory Fund's annual brunch in Washington did the trick. He aimed his comments at the "Mike Pences of the world" -- a reference to Vice President Mike Pence, an opponent of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ civil rights. Buttigieg, who is openly gay, took no prisoners. A church-going Episcopalian, he said that marrying Chasten Glezman, a 29-year-old Montessori teacher, made him "a better man" and moved him "closer to God." He also opened up about coming out and said there was a time in his life when, if he could have identified what made him gay, he would "cut it out with a knife." Finally, he said to the bigots: "If you've got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator."

Ouch. That's going to leave a mark.

Good for you, Pete. This is the kind of real talk that I've been hungry for. This is not how most politicians talk to the LGBTQ community -- or any community. But this is how regular people talk to each other.

With white privilege flaring in both parties, white nationalism camped out at a cable network, and white liberals trampling those they claim to represent, the race for president needs color. And what's more colorful than a rainbow?

Ruben Navarrette's email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, "Navarrette Nation," is available through every podcast app.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

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