Flight: American on the Moon: Remembering Neil Armstrong


September 24, 2018

Flight: Neil Armstrong

https://www.newyorker.com

Erin Overbey and Joshua Rothman, archivists

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At 10  P.M. on July 20, 1969—a Sunday—around twelve hundred people stood in the rain at the intersection of Fiftieth Street and Sixth Avenue. Their eyes were fixed on a fifteen-by-fifteen-foot screen displaying the surface of the moon. The atmosphere was buoyant. Venders “moved through the crowd selling pennants, souvenir buttons, pretzels, and ice cream.” Then, as the landing approached, the crowd grew quiet. At 10:56, Neil Armstrong’s foot touched the surface of the moon, and everyone cheered. A few hours later, about three hundred people were left to hear Mission Control advise the astronauts that it was time to return to the Lunar Module: “This is Houston. You’ve got about ten minutes left now prior to commencing your E.V.A. termination activities. Over.” At these words, “a young couple turned to each other and kissed.” These scenes appear in “The Moon Hours,” a special Talk of the Town section in which New Yorker writers captured the Apollo 11 moon landing as it was experienced around New York City.

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This week, we’re bringing you “The Moon Hours,” along with eight more glimpses of the world of flight. You’ll find a 1930 Profile of Orville Wright, of the Wright Brothers, and a 1946 interview with the pilot whose bomber dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, as well as chronicles of the Apollo 13 and Challenger disasters from 1972 and 1986, respectively. John McPhee takes to the air with his doppelgänger, a Maine bush pilot who is also named John McPhee, in a story from 1984. Roger Angell, writing in 1997, explores the case of the B-52 bomber pilot Kelly Flinn and confronts the problem of sexism in the Air Force. Judith Thurman reflects on the aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, who “was many things before—and after—her career as a pilot was cut short,” in “Missing Woman,” from 2009. Finally, in “The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair,” from 1998, George Plimpton meets Larry Walters, who used weather balloons and a piece of outdoor furniture to reach fifteen thousand feet. We hope that these pieces bring a sense of excitement and possibility to your Sunday.

—Erin Overbey and Joshua Rothman, archivists

 

 

Michael Bloomberg calls ‘epidemic of dishonesty’ bigger threat than terrorism


September 23, 2018

Michael Bloomberg calls ‘epidemic of dishonesty’ bigger threat than terrorism

  • Ex-New York mayor: democracy at risk from ‘endless barrage of lies’
  • Bloomberg does not name Trump in Houston university speech
Michael Bloomberg: ‘How did we go from a president who could not tell a lie to politicians who cannot tell the truth?’ Photograph: Christophe Ena/AP

Americans are facing an “epidemic of dishonesty” in Washington that is more dangerous than terrorism or communism, according to former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In a commencement speech on Saturday at Rice University in Houston, the billionaire said “an endless barrage of lies” and a trend toward “alternate realities” in national politics pose a dire threat to US democracy.

The 76-year-old, who flirted with an independent presidential run in 2016, did not call out any politicians by name. Although he derided Donald Trump as “a con” and a “dangerous demagogue” before his election, in an interview before the speech at Rice Bloomberg refused to comment specifically on the president. Fact checkers have determined that Trump has made hundreds of false and misleading statements since entering the Oval Office.

“This is bigger than any one person,” Bloomberg said. “It’s bigger than any one party.”

In his speech, Bloomberg evoked the legend of the nation’s first president, George Washington, who as a boy supposedly said he could not tell a lie when asked if he cut down a cherry tree.

“How did we go from a president who could not tell a lie to politicians who cannot tell the truth?” Bloomberg asked. He blamed “extreme partisanship” for an unprecedented tolerance of dishonesty in US politics and said people were now committed more to their political tribes than the truth, suggesting that the nation is more divided than any time since the civil war.

“There is now more tolerance for dishonesty in politics than I have seen in my lifetime,” Bloomberg said. “The only thing more dangerous than dishonest politicians who have no respect for the law is a chorus of enablers who defend their every lie.”

For example, he noted that Democrats spent much of the 1990s defending President Bill Clinton against charges of lying and personal immorality, just as Republicans attacked the lack of ethics and honesty in the White House. The reverse is happening today, he said.

In one jab at Trump, he noted that the vast majority of scientists agree that climate change is real. Trump and his Republican allies have repeatedly called climate change a hoax promoted by America’s adversaries.

“If 99% of scientists whose research has been peer-reviewed reach the same general conclusion about a theory, then we ought to accept it as the best available information – even if it’s not a 100% certainty,” Bloomberg said. He added, in a direct reference to Trump’s past remarks: “That, graduates, is not a Chinese hoax.”

He warned that such deep levels of dishonesty could enable what he called “criminality”. Asked what specifically he meant, Bloomberg noted “lots of investigations” going on, but he declined to be more specific.

Several Trump associates are facing criminal charges as part of a federal investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Three have pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI. Federal investigators want to interview Trump himself, although the president’s legal team has resisted so far.

“When elected officials speak as though they are above the truth, they will act as though they are above the law,” Bloomberg told graduates. “And when we tolerate dishonesty, we get criminality. Sometimes, it’s in the form of corruption. Sometimes, it’s abuse of power. And sometimes, it’s both.

“The greatest threat to American democracy isn’t communism, jihadism, or any other external force or foreign power. It’s our own willingness to tolerate dishonesty in service of party, and in pursuit of power.”

 

3 scenarios for post-election Malaysia


September 23, 2018

3 scenarios for post-election Malaysia

Yang Razali Kassim / Khmer Times Share:
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The shocking fall of the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional government in the recent general election was not only historic but also game-changing. As Malaysians usher in a new era, three evolving scenarios are worth watching, writes Yang Razali Kassim.

The ruling juggernaut, the UMNO-led coalition, had never been defeated since independence in 1957. The coalition finally lost power at the hands of the country’s most potent political duo: Mahathir-Anwar. In the aftermath, at least three evolving scenarios are worth watching:

Scenario 1: A New Order?

If the newly-elected Pakatan Harapan (PH, Alliance of Hope) coalition government can last at least two terms, we will see a different political order take hold. The people’s rejection of the governing Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition and UMNO is a new phenomenon in Malaysian politics. Increasingly, the emerging narrative is that of a “New Malaysia”.

What this New Malaysia is, however, has yet to be clearly defined, as it seems to mean different things to different people. The popular view is that it is simply the antithesis of the old era; anything that was bad about the old must not be part of New Malaysia. Even Mr. Mahathir himself has called for a break from the past:

“The New Malaysia should even be an improvement on the period during which I was prime minister for 22 years.” The government should “have to go back to democracy and the rule of law and respect the wishes of the people.”–Mahathir Mohamad

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Two wishes in particular: First is cleaning up the mess of corruption left behind by the Najib administration. Reformism will be the order of the day, possibly leading eventually to some form of systemic change. Ironically, Mr Mahathir, who was known as an autocrat, has become the “New Reformer,” embracing Anwar Ibrahim’s battle-cry of ‘Reformasi’.

Second, Mr Mahathir and his team will be under pressure to prove that the new government can fulfill the people’s expectations. The previously disparate alliance will have to demonstrate that it will not be a photocopy of the old regime.

Scenario 2: Existential Crisis

All that said, the power vehicle the PH alliance overthrew is not to be trifled with. At the core of the dethroned BN coalition is UMNO, the linchpin party that won independence from the British. Once thought to be invincible, BN disintegrated as soon as it lost power. Several partners deserted it, leaving only three original component parties, the pillar of which is UMNO.

UMNO itself is facing an existential crisis. It is under threat of being deregistered for failing to hold internal party elections, in breach of political regulations. Should it be struck off, this will not be the first time after surviving one in 1987, ironically when Mr. Mahathir was its president; but the political impact of a replay will be far-reaching, as the party, though out of power, still symbolises the aspirations of the majority ethnic group.

In this battle for survival, UMNO is going through an internal debate over direction and its own identity. The future of UMNO now depends very much on how far the younger generation will succeed in taking over the leadership and charting a new course. Nevertheless, the introspective search for a new identity for UMNO is unprecedented, reflecting the country’s new terrain.

The course taken by UMNO will partly be influenced, if not defined, by the broader political landscape now dominated by the Mahathir-Anwar leadership 2.0. Collectively, the deadly duo has come to symbolise a political ethos around “post-identity”. If PH succeeds, Malaysian politics may increasingly move away from primordial attachments towards a common centre, where greater acceptance and tolerance of each other will be the new norm. How far this will go will also depend on how effective the pushback is from a tentative UMNO alliance with the Islamist opposition PAS.

Scenario 3: Beyond the Border

The political shifts do not stop at Malaysia’s border. As one of the most developed economies in Southeast Asia, the country’s political dynamics – especially those that affect its stability and security – will be of importance to its neighbours in the region and beyond.

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Nothing underscores this better than Mr Mahathir’s wooing of Indonesian President Jokowi for a partnership to stave off European pressures on their palm oil industry.

With neighbouring Singapore, Mr Mahathir also created some ripples when he threw a spanner in the works of a joint high-speed rail project signed by the Najib government, though this has been deferred for now. Mr Mahathir also suggested renegotiating the long-standing supply of water from Malaysia’s Johor state, a strategic resource for Singapore.

Mahathir’s biggest challenge is, however, further afield, in Beijing. China is at the heart of some financially troubling megaprojects initiated by Mr Najib. Mr Mahathir has taken issue with the Asian giant for financing these projects, which were placed under investigation in Kuala Lumpur following the defeat of the BN administration.

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Mr Mahathir himself traveled to Beijing in August to re-negotiate with Chinese leaders the China-funded projects in Malaysia, part of a larger goal to cut down on the massive national debt inherited from the previous government.

At the end of his trip, Mr Mahathir announced at a press conference in Beijing that Malaysia would now cancel the frozen projects – only to tone it down later to “defer” them instead – a decision he said Chinese leaders had “agreed” on. “We do not want a situation where there is a new version of colonialism,” said Mr Mahathir after his meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang.

What is equally troubling Mr Mahathir is the Chinese model of economic collaboration. At issue is Beijing’s preference for extending loans with high interest rates rather than investing directly in the projects, and for payments to Chinese contractors based on timelines rather than project deliveries.

Another is the Chinese propensity to use their own resources, workforce and expertise for the projects, instead of relying on local firms and creating jobs domestically. This model that some call Beijing’s “debt trap diplomacy” has also been questioned in several countries in Asia and Africa for the problems and social tension they generate.

Mr Mahathir, however, is striking a careful balance in resolving the mountain of debt left behind by his predecessor. Important to him also is preserving good relations with a rising economic superpower that is a significant market for Malaysian products. “We do not blame the Chinese government because their companies signed an agreement or several agreements with Malaysian companies under the auspices of the government of the day,” Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah told The Straits Times.

Unlike in the past, the political earthquake in Malaysia this time is clearly reverberating beyond Malaysia’s border. Before he finally calls it a day again expect Mr Mahathir to make more waves as he brings his assertive persona to the international stage, perhaps even to the United Nations. It’s in his DNA.

Yang Razali Kassim is senior fellow with the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. This is part of an RSIS series on Malaysia’s 14th general election and its aftermath.

Anwar as Port Dickson MP


September 20, 2018

 Anwar  as Port Dickson MP

Opinion  |

COMMENT | If Anwar Ibrahim does make the cut, invariably, as the Member of Parliament of Port Dickson, perhaps something akin to a healthy rivalry with Langkawi island MP Dr Mahathir Mohammad will be immediately triggered.

Key government events should be held in Langkawi, either to brainstorm on the revival of Malaysia, or, the various ministries. Such events are bound to catch on in Port Dickson, too, which is just a short distance away from Putrajaya.

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Indeed, high-end hotels, over the last 15 years, have also sprung up on Langkawi island (pic above), including the globally renowned Four Seasons. From time to time, it is not rare to see Indian families touring in huge numbers in Langkawi, too, often booking all their suites and rooms at one go.

Although Langkawi has also catered to the tourists of Scandinavia and Germany, who can often be seen basking in the sun, no discernible (foreign) presence has been seen at Port Dickson’s beaches as yet.

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Port Dickson Chalets

This is where Port Dickson has to stand out. Making its seas and shorelines pristine would make Port Dickson an ideal destination for families and international group tours beyond what has generally been provided to Malaysians.

If Anwar Ibrahim does somehow attract more Chinese to the beach town, the facilities in Port Dickson would have to be significantly scaled up – without which, the residents of Port Dickson would be looking at immense traffic bottlenecks and congestion.

Such negative externalities of tourism cannot be ruled completely. Polluted air, crowded bazaars, shortage of proper food and medical facilities, too, can all be a turn off to well-heeled Malaysian tourists.

In fact, without an iconic landmark, Port Dickson would be at a disadvantage, compared to Langkawi island. Langkawi, for example, hosts one of the longest cable cars in Southeast Asia that allows thousands of tourists to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the whole island.

Port Dickson, being flatter, is only known for its small-town feel and delicious local food. Perhaps a high tower should be built that would permit Port Dickson visitors to peer into the Straits of Malacca, and the thousands of ships that pass through it. It would seem that such a service should be introduced, in order to allow Malaysians to take a peek into what goes on in one of the busiest straits in the world.

The depths of the quays in Port Dickson should be constantly dredged and deepened, to allow bigger ships and vessels to berth, ideally ships that can ferry passengers across to Sumatera, Indonesia, which is just across the shores of Malaysia.

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To be sure, friendly ecological themes have to be worked into the grand schemes for all arrangements. Otherwise, a tourism scheme that is merely heavy on sheer human traffic alone is bound to create many side effects, beyond overcrowding, noise pollution, and inadequate waste disposal.

Either way, it is first time in the history of Malaysia that a reigning Prime Minister is an MP of a touristy constituency, indeed a tax-free zone to boot, which is Langkawi island. Should Anwar win the Port Dickson seat, the eighth prime minister of Malaysia would have to transform Port Dickson into a major township.

Port Klang was previously known as Port Swettenham, in recognition of the tenure of Resident Frank Swettenham in the 19th century. Over the years, Port Klang has morphed into a seafood attraction and high-density port.

No one knows if Port Dickson can become the hub of “bunkering,” a business that caters to refueling the ships and vessels that traverse through the Straits of Malacca.

If it does, this is an economic sector that is worth no less than US$1 billion a year. At least that is the current size of the bunkering business in Singapore, an idea that was ironically coined by Dr Mahathir previously.

It would help if Anwar Ibrahim could come up with such an industry-relevant solution, beyond merely looking to boost tourist numbers in Port Dickson.


PHAR KIM BENG was a multiple award-winning Head Teaching Fellow on China and Cultural Revolution in Harvard University.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

China is Losing the New Cold War


September 9, 2018

China is Losing the New Cold War

https://www.project-syndicate.org

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In contrast to the Soviet Union, China’s leaders recognize that strong economic performance is essential to political legitimacy. Like the Soviet Union, however, they are paying through the nose for a few friends, gaining only limited benefits while becoming increasingly entrenched in an unsustainable arms race with the US.

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HONG KONG – When the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, the Communist Party of China (CPC) became obsessed with understanding why. The government think tanks entrusted with this task heaped plenty of blame on Mikhail Gorbachev, the reformist leader who was simply not ruthless enough to hold the Soviet Union together. But Chinese leaders also highlighted other important factors, not all of which China’s leaders seem to be heeding today.

To be sure, the CPC has undoubtedly taken to heart the first key lesson: strong economic performance is essential to political legitimacy. And the CPC’s single-minded focus on spurring GDP growth over the last few decades has delivered an “economic miracle,” with nominal per capita income skyrocketing from $333 in 1991 to $7,329 last year. This is the single most important reason why the CPC has retained power.

But overseeing a faltering economy was hardly the only mistake Soviet leaders made. They were also drawn into a costly and unwinnable arms race with the United States, and fell victim to imperial overreach, throwing money and resources at regimes with little strategic value and long track records of chronic economic mismanagement. As China enters a new “cold war” with the US, the CPC seems to be at risk of repeating the same catastrophic blunders.

At first glance, it may not seem that China is really engaged in an arms race with the US. After all, China’s official defense budget for this year – at roughly $175 billion – amounts to just one-quarter of the $700 billion budget approved by the US Congress. But China’s actual military spending is estimated to be much higher than the official budget: according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China spent some $228 billion on its military last year, roughly 150% of the official figure of $151 billion.

In any case, the issue is not the amount of money China spends on guns per se, but rather the consistent rise in military expenditure, which implies that the country is prepared to engage in a long-term war of attrition with the US. Yet China’s economy is not equipped to generate sufficient resources to support the level of spending that victory on this front would require.

If China had a sustainable growth model underpinning a highly efficient economy, it might be able to afford a moderate arms race with the US. But it has neither.

On the macro level, China’s growth is likely to continue to decelerate, owing to rapid population aging, high debt levels, maturity mismatches, and the escalating trade war that the US has initiated. All of this will drain the CPC’s limited resources. For example, as the old-age dependency ratio rises, so will health-care and pension costs.

Moreover, while the Chinese economy may be far more efficient than the Soviet economy was, it is nowhere near as efficient as that of the US. The main reason for this is the enduring clout of China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs), which consume half of the country’s total bank credit, but contribute only 20% of value-added and employment.

The problem for the CPC is that SOEs play a vital role in sustaining one-party rule, as they are used both to reward loyalists and to facilitate government intervention on behalf of official macroeconomic targets. Dismantling these bloated and inefficient firms would thus amount to political suicide. Yet protecting them may merely delay the inevitable, because the longer they are allowed to suck scarce resources out of the economy, the more unaffordable an arms race with the US will become – and the greater the challenge to the CPC’s authority will become.

The second lesson that China’s leaders have failed to appreciate adequately is the need to avoid imperial overreach. About a decade ago, with massive trade surpluses bringing in a surfeit of hard currency, the Chinese government began to take on costly overseas commitments and subsidize deadbeat “allies.”

Exhibit A is the much-touted Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a $1 trillion program focused on the debt-financed construction of infrastructure in developing countries. Despite early signs of trouble – which, together with the Soviet Union’s experience, should give the CPC pause – China seems to be determined to push ahead with the BRI, which the country’s leaders have established as a pillar of their new “grand strategy.”

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An even more egregious example of imperial overreach is China’s generous aid to countries – from Cambodia to Venezuela to Russia – that offer little in return. According to AidData at the College of William and Mary, from 2000 to 2014, Cambodia, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe together received $24.4 billion in Chinese grants or heavily subsidized loans. Over the same period, Angola, Laos, Pakistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela received $98.2 billion.

Now, China has pledged to provide $62 billion in loans for the “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.” That program will help Pakistan confront its looming balance-of-payments crisis; but it will also drain the Chinese government’s coffers at a time when trade protectionism threatens their replenishment.

Like the Soviet Union, China is paying through the nose for a few friends, gaining only limited benefits while becoming increasingly entrenched in an unsustainable arms race. The Sino-American Cold War has barely started, yet China is already on track to lose.

Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and the author of China’s Crony Capitalism.

US Foreign Policy: Look Beyond CrazyTown, says Fareed


September 9, 2018

US Foreign Policy: Look Beyond CrazyTown, says Fareed

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/9/6/we-have-to-look-beyond-the-madness

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For those few people who still believe that President Trump is unconventional but canny, that there is a method to the madness, the revelations of this week should clarify. Bob Woodward’s new book and the New York Times op-ed written by an anonymous official make plain that behind Trump’s ranting, impulsive, incoherent and narcissistic facade lies a ranting, impulsive, incoherent and narcissistic man. But while the great presidential psychodrama captivates us, let’s remember that there are real things in the real world that continue — trends that will prove important and consequential, whether or not they get talked about on television.

Perhaps the main reason we are not peering too far behind the curtain is that, in general, things look good. Broadly speaking, the world is experiencing peace and prosperity. The U.S. economy in particular is robust, with strong growth and low unemployment. Why is this? No one is quite sure. But it’s worth keeping in mind that since World War II, growth has been the norm. Martin Wolf of the Financial Times points out that since the early 1950s, the world economy has grown every year and, other than a few exceptions, always at 2 percent or higher. Political issues (short of major war) rarely have much impact on the economy. The U.S. economy is a vast, complex $19 trillion beast that is shaped more by large, structural trends than by a few policy changes in Washington.

The U.S. economy is growing a bit faster than expected. Trump tries to take credit for this nearly every day. And some credit is justified. The widespread deregulation taking place under his administration has probably eased constraints on business activity. The sweeping tax cut freed up cash for businesses. The infusion of money, however, is likely to produce only a temporary bump for the country, a sugar high that comes at the cost of a massive increase in deficits and deepening inequality.

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CrazyTown’s Commander-in-Chief and Fearmonger

The three broader trends shaping the world are peace, globalization and technology. Peace among the major powers allows for the continued surge of economic activity in most of the world. The “rise of the rest,” the growth of once-poor countries outside the West, remains the largest force powering world economics. This globalization and an ongoing technological revolution have allowed growth to persist without the one economic factor that has almost always stopped it in the past — inflation. It is hard for prices to rise when goods and services can be supplied cheaply by a person in some developing country or through automation. The absence of inflation over the past 25 years is still the most remarkable trend that keeps the global growth engine chugging.

But look below the surface, and the forces producing these benign circumstances all seem to be increasingly under pressure. The United States, the world’s leading architect of the international order and stability, seems determined to disrupt it. Trump is at heart an isolationist who constantly questions the value of the alliance structure that has kept the world peaceful and stable since 1945. He seems to want the United States to either withdraw from the world or turn its international role into a profitable, quasi-colonial enterprise, such as by extracting payments from Europe, Japan and the Gulf States and confiscating the oil resources of Iraq. His administration has been in major trade disputes with the United States’ top trading partners — the European Union, China, Canada and Mexico.

That leaves the technological revolution that has transformed the world. But here also the trends are not entirely promising for the United States. First, the country is living off seed capital. Investments in basic science and research that were made in the 1960s and 1970s continue to undergird U.S. technology companies today. Could Amazon, Facebook and Apple have dominated the world without the Internet and GPS, both technologies developed by the U.S. government? The next wave of massive investment in science and technology is indeed taking place — but in China.

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And then there is the rising backlash to technology. We are in a very different world than just five years ago. Technology companies are increasingly seen as having monopoly or oligopoly power, crushing competition, ransacking consumer data and then profiting from it, intruding on privacy and being part of an elite that is utterly divorced from the rest of society. The best evidence for this is that Trump, who does have good instincts for where and when to pander, has taken to tweeting against the tech giants with regularity.

Despite the Trump freak show, we are living in peaceful and prosperous times. But beneath the surface, there are currents that could disrupt the calm, especially for the United States.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group