As you may recall, now-President Trump went to Mexico during last year’s campaign, and, after he took over the press conference, both Pres. Peña Nieto and he stated that NAFTA should be renegotiated.

If you look up the history of NAFTA, you find:

The United States commenced bilateral trade negotiations with Canada more than 30 years ago, resulting in the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement, which entered into force on January 1, 1989. In 1991, bilateral talks began with Mexico, which Canada joined. The NAFTA followed, entering into force on January 1, 1994.

Considering the changes in technology and global markets that have taken place during the past 23 years, it’s not unreasonable to take a second look at the treaty.

The next round of talks starts today (emphasis added)

One provision designed with that objective is a “sunset” clause that would force Nafta’s expiration in five years unless all three countries act to renew it, said people briefed on the plan.

Other proposals, these people said, would weaken or eliminate the mechanisms aimed at settling disputes between the three countries and curbing the unilateral threats and sanctions that frequently roiled trade ties in earlier years.

More importantly,

None of the U.S. proposals would alter the specific trade terms that have spurred a quarter-century of commercial integration between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, such as tax-free trade across borders.

The Trump administration’s goal appears to be to reduce the incentive to outsource by watering down the pact and reduce its influence on American companies through measures such as undoing the current policy of treating the three economies – Canada, U.S, Mexico – as one, narrowing the amount of U.S. federal spending to the same dollar amount as the trading partners (“dollar for dollar”), and requiring that some products contain not just a certain level of Nafta-regional content, but U.S.-specific content.

This goal goes hand-in-hand with the administration’s deregulation strategy to improve U.S. manufacturing. And, as the WSJ said in the above article, “None of the U.S. proposals would alter the specific trade terms.”

Since the new round of talks starts today, this of course does not mean that is what NAFTA will look like at the end.

However, I would love to see – if only once – an international treaty with an actual sunset clause.

A woman can dream.

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

Remember last year’s Rio Olympics?

They started with a lame Marxist opening ceremony (complete with video that included the flooding of South Florida and other areas), had mishaps involving underwater sofas tripping kayaks, accusations against Ryan Lochte, plus Zika and security worries, but evolved relatively well.

The country could hardly afford the games, but, as Frances Martel put it,

The IOC chose Brazil at a time in which the nation had swung radically left, and comments by IOC officials at the time indicate that they were more interested in rewarding Brazil for making Lula their head of state than rewarding the nation with the best bid to host the Olympic Games.

More than just a symbolic reward was involved: Carlos Nuzman (emphasis added), The man in charge of last year’s Rio Olympics was arrested yesterday as it was alleged 16 gold bars worth $2m (£1.53m) that were stored in a bank in Switzerland were among his hidden assets.

Sixteen bars of gold; had Nuzman been listening to William Devane’s ads?

But I digress.

The Guardian reports that Nuzman allegedly served as Olympic bag man,

Nuzman, a well known figure in Olympic circles, is suspected of acting as a facilitator, organising a $2m payment made by a wealthy Brazilian businessman into the account of Papa Massata Diack just two days before Rio won the right to stage the Games.

Massata Diack – who recently lost an appeal against a life ban from athletics over corruption allegations – is the son of the disgraced former IOC member Lamine Diack, who it is believed voted for Rio to host the Summer Games at an IOC session in Copenhagen in 2009 in exchange for the money.

As it turns out,  it’s not just Brazilian prosecutors looking into the case,

They are coordinating efforts with French authorities investigating corruption surrounding the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Olympic bids.

Small wonder that people want to end the Olympics.

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

Here is a transcript of  his remarks.

CNN’s John King Slams Trump Press Conference as ‘Love Fest’. Resident Commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez traveled to the island on Air Force One with the President.

My FB and Twitter feeds lit up over Trump’s remark on the budget. Here’s the actual quote (emphasis added),

Now, I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico, and that’s fine. We’ve saved a lot of lives.

Trump also stated that “we’ll have to say good-bye” to Puerto Rico’s debt

“They owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street and we’re going to have to wipe that out,” Trump told Rivera. “You can say goodbye to that.”

Puerto Rico was facing a $74 billion public debt load prior to Maria and was struggling to recover from a decade-long recession that has caused hundreds of thousands of residents to leave for the U.S. mainland.

I expect there will be a lot of discussion on the debt restructuring.

Right after the hurricane I posted that

You can kiss the debt good-bye.
. . .
Puerto Rico has no money.

Most of the island has been destroyed by the elements.

I thought that was pretty obvious, but received several emails and comments at my blog from people who thought that meant that Puerto Rico should bear no responsibility. To the contrary, on the same post I clarified that reconstruction efforts should entail outside supervision and full transparency.

Any debt restructuring should require strict federal oversight.

Puerto Rico must, in order for any rebuilding to work, embrace full transparency and accountability, and end corruption. That is a bigger task than any rebuilding.

Meanwhile, help continues to arrive: The Mercy-class Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) arrived in Puerto Rico to assist in humanitarian relief efforts, Oct. 3.

Comfort is a seagoing medical treatment facility that currently has more than 800 personnel embarked for the Puerto Rico mission including Navy medical and support staff assembled from 22 commands, as well as over 70 civil service mariners.

The hospital ship has one of the largest trauma facilities in the United States and is equipped with four X-ray machines, one CAT scan unit, a dental suite, an optometry lens laboratory, physical therapy center, pharmacy, angiography suite and two oxygen-producing plants.

Here’s a photo with the official caption,

171003-F-EK767-0002
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Oct. 3, 2017) The Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) arrives in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Oct. 3, 2017. Comfort will help support Hurricane Maria aid and relief operations. The Department of Defense is supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal agency, in helping those affected by Hurricane Maria to minimize suffering and is one component of the overall whole-of-government response effort. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Capt. Christopher Merian/Released)

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

While we fight the kneeling culture war and NFL ticket sales plummet, it’s been an interesting week in the news.

Appeasement never works: Following Obama’s deal, now the U.S. plans major withdrawal of staff from embassy in Cuba. Why? Because of mild traumatic brain injury, permanent hearing loss, loss of balance, severe headaches and brain swelling among embasssy staff (emphasis added),

Diplomats have complained about symptoms ranging from hearing loss and nausea to headaches and balance issues after the State Department said “incidents” began affecting them in late 2016. In total, the State Department says there are 21 medically confirmed cases. The attacks were directed at their homes, which the Cuban government provides. The last reported incident was in August.

The Communist regime says it’s not involved with whoever is trying to fry the Americans’ brains.

Over at the Old Country: Spain and Catalonia are at loggerheads over Catalonia’s upcoming independence referendum. This is a dispute that goes back to the days of Ferdinand, King of Aragon, and his wife Isabella, Queen of Castile, but, adding a modern twist, now El País reports that Russian “hackers” help keep banned Catalan referendum census site online. Mueller? Mueller?

Good news: The percentage of Argentines living in poverty fell to 28.6%, indicating that President Macri’s policies have begun benefiting lower-income families, says the WSJ. This is very good news, as it marks a departure from the prior administration’s ruinous 21st Century Socialism economic policies in one of South America’s larger economies.

Disingenuous news:

North Korea claims that 4.7 million of its citizens have volunteered to join or re-enlist in the military since leader Kim Jong Un threatened to “tame” President Trump “with fire” last week, North Korean state media reported.

Not that any North Korean citizen – including Kim Jong Un’s uncle – ever has any choice.

It would be a grave mistake for North Korea to shoot down an American aircraft.

I keep hoping that whatever bomb Kim has, won’t make it off the launch pad.

All this and a volcano, too: Mount Agung in Indonesia is likely to erupt, but no one can say when. A massive 1883 volcano eruption in Krakatoa affected the weather worldwide.

So far so good:

Two books for your weekend reading: Snowbirds are arriving in Florida, and, as I sit in the back porch watching them ride their carts on the golf course, I’ve been reading The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt, a quick read with useful practical advice. (No, not reading it because of the snowbirds’ arrival. But it may be useful.)

I’ve also started Daniel Silva’s The Unlikely Spy, a WWII thriller. A word of caution: Silva’s addictive!


Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

UPDATE 9/28/17

Trump temporarily lifts Jones Act to bolster Puerto Rico relief
THANK YOU MR. PRESIDENT

While the NFL self-destroys, there are 3.5 million Americans who have more immediate concerns: The ones living in Puerto Rico.

Seven days after Hurricane Maria, most of the island has no electricity, no running water, no internet. Cell phone communications  are going through the US military satellites, since the towers are gone. The storm destroyed airport radar systems. Most roads look like this,

Roads in the mountain areas are worse yet, due to landslides.

Not that you can drive too far, since gasoline can not be delivered to gas stations.

A Facebook friend’s sister described,

our town doesn’t look like a hurricane came through, it looks like a fire burned everything down.

In another town, my grandfather’s house is still standing, roof, doors and windows blown out for the first time in its 100-yr history.

Navy and Marine Corps are working around-the-clock to reopen airfields and clear debris from the main roads of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Thousands of relatives and friends are sending help, among them the rapper Pit Bull, who is sending a private jet to transport cancer patients to the States for treatment – as soon as the airports are functioning.

The governor, Ricardo Roselló, thanked the Trump administration for their prompt response, Patrick Poole lists,

  • Six commercial barges transported and delivered meals, water, generators, cots, and other commodities to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • An air bridge is established, flying three flights per day to St. Croix, each carrying approximately 33,000 meals.
  • The logistics support ship SS Wright arrived carrying more than 1.1 million meals, and nearly one million liters of freshwater.
  • Two shipping barges with 1.2 million liters of water, 31 generators, and more than 6,000 cots arrived in St. Thomas.
  • Two additional shipping barges loaded with food, water, and emergency relief supplies are en route to the Caribbean Sea from Florida.
  • Millions of additional meals are being flown to Puerto Rico from staging areas in Kentucky and Florida.
  • The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) is transporting a shipment of 124,000 gallons of diesel fuel to Puerto Rico, with arrival in the coming days.

In the very short term, the best thing the Trump administration can do is to waive the Jones Act (a.k.a. Merchant Marine Act of 1920).

The law requires that goods transported between U.S. ports be shipped on vessels built, majority-owned and manned by Americans. Think of it as a legally sanctioned shakedown for U.S. shipping interests.

Puerto Ricans pay dearly for this protectionism, which reduces competition and raises costs. A 2012 Federal Reserve Bank of New York report said the Jones Act helps explain why household and commercial goods cost roughly double to ship from the East Coast to Puerto Rico than to the nearby Dominican Republic or Jamaica. Food and energy costs are far higher than on the mainland.

The Act has been suspended after Hurricane Katrina, superstorm Sandy, and after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma; but, outrageously,

the Department of Homeland Security said Monday it won’t issue a Jones Act waiver for the territory. Spokesman David Lapan explained in an email that there are “sufficient numbers of US-flagged vessels to move commodities to Puerto Rico.” DHS argues that under U.S. law the agency can’t ask for a waiver unless there’s a national defense threat and there aren’t enough Jones Act-compliant ships to carry goods.

Pres. Trump is visiting PR next Tuesday. I urge you to call the White House at Comments: 202-456-1111
Switchboard: 202-456-1414, and email, right now urging the President to suspend the Jones Act during this emergency.

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

Maria blows the stars around
Sets the clouds a-flyin’
Maria makes
The mountains sound like folks was out there dyin’
Maria (Maria)
Maria (Maria)
They call
The wind
Maria

The scenes from Puerto Rico are horrific: Ruin, destruction, flooding, and no electricity, cell signals or clean water for three and a half million Americans.

More people live in Puerto Rico than in 20 states.

Consider also that many from the Lesser Antilles who were left homeless were transferred to Puerto Rico for shelter.

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Adding to the anguish: not being able to hear from friends and relatives. CBS Miami has an article on How Family, Friends Can Check On People In Puerto Rico.

The complete blackout combined with the flooding is a clear  imminent threat to public health, not only to safety.

Kevin Lui explains How could a storm knock out power across the whole island?

Puerto Rico’s power grid was already in bad shape even before the 2017 hurricane season. PREPA’s power plants are 44 years old on average, reports Reuters — in contrast with the industry-wide average of 18 years.

The company, which filed for bankruptcy in July, called its own system “degraded and unsafe,” saying in a fiscal plan released this April that “years of under-investment have led to severe degradation of infrastructure,” according to Reuters.

According to Vox, PREPA also faces a manpower shortage that, even before this hurricane season, was already impeding its day-to-day maintenance.
. . .
Puerto Rican officials think that the power distribution infrastructure might be more badly damaged than power stations, the governor told CNN, adding that power could be more quickly restored if transmission lines turn out to be in better shape than thought.

Compounding the problem is Puerto Rico’s economic mess. I have posted about it for years; back to Lui’s article,

The general economic situation is also grim. Puerto Rico’s finances have been in dire straits for years. The island has yet to emerge from a decade-long recession, and unemployment stands at 11%. Its government entered a process similar to bankruptcy protection in May in a bid to restructure its debt load, currently in excess of $70 billion.

At the WSJ,

Maria and Irma hit at a time of financial strain for Puerto Rico. The island’s government and its state-owned public-power monopoly are under bankruptcy protection after years of overborrowing and a decade of economic recession. The U.S. Congress installed an oversight board last year to renegotiate roughly $73 billion in debt and to coax business interests back to the island.

More exasperating is the cell phone situation, where AT&T has exclusive rights, and companies such as FirstNet are not allowed to provide wireless services to first responders. AT&T is completely down.

Puerto Rico was on a downward spiral for years, well before Irma and Maria struck. One can only hope that this disaster becomes an opportunity to rebuild the entire island and cut down on decades’ worth of bloated, useless overspending and waste.

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

Pres. Trump gave his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly yesterday. You can read it in full here, and you should (video at Powerline).

1. Pres. Trump asserted the American constitutional system of governance, as Rick Manning said,

“not as imposition but an example to be followed, while at the same time respecting the sovereignty of other nations.”

2. The speech was a clear departure from the Obama era of apology. The Diplomad calls the speech “a powerful and clear foreign policy vision,”

It is a return to seeing the world as a collection of nation-states, each with its own interests and culture; states which can and should find areas of mutual cooperation while living their own lives and allowing others to live theirs. It is a step back from the silly borderless globalism which has produced the multi-cultural havoc we see in Western cities, and along our southern border. He puts our interests first, and asks other leaders to do the same with their countries. Revolutionary.

3. Trump was clear on Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela,
On Iran:

The Iran Deal was one of the worst and most one-sided the United States has ever entered into.

On Cuba:

That is why in the Western Hemisphere, the United States has stood against the corrupt and destabilizing regime in Cuba and embraced the enduring dream of the Cuban people to live in freedom. My administration recently announced that we will not lift sanctions on the Cuban government until it makes fundamental reforms.

On North Korea, the country headed by Rocket Man,

The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.

On Venezuela:

The United States has taken important steps to hold the regime accountable. We are prepared to take further action if the government of Venezuela persists on its path to impose authoritarian rule on the Venezuelan people.

4. Three words you didn’t hear often during the Obama administration: radical Islamic terrorism,

We will stop radical Islamic terrorism because we cannot allow it to tear up our nation, and indeed to tear up the entire world.

5. And, last, but not least,

Bonus: He did not need to say, “Let me be clear.” He was.

Related: Trump and the Truth about Communism

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

. . . and that’s what I fund disturbing.

A crisis focuses the mind.

However, in order for a crisis to focus the mind, it must be recognized as a crisis

noun, plural crises [krahy-seez] (Show IPA)
1.
a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined; turning point.
2.
a condition of instability or danger, as in social, economic, political, or international affairs, leading to a decisive change.
3.
a dramatic emotional or circumstantial upheaval in a person’s life.
4.
Medicine/Medical.
the point in the course of a serious disease at which a decisive change occurs, leading either to recovery or to death.
the change itself.
5.
the point in a play or story at which hostile elements are most tensely opposed to each other.

Now, if you browse Drudge, Memeorandum, or BadBlue this morning, you find the following (in no particular order):

North Korea Launches Another Missile, Escalating Crisis

AMAZON now hosts Defense Department’s most sensitive data..

U.S. Navy Investigating If Destroyer Crash Was Caused by Cyberattack

‘For first time in 300 years, there’s not a single living person on the island of Barbuda’

Add to those a myriad headlines about the White House.

I have spent several days away from cable and internet news. Reducing the cacophony has done wonders for my peace of mind.

In this age of information, we are challenged to find a balance between information on things we can do something about, that affect us directly and that are pertinent to our daily lives, and trivia that is a waste of time.

For that, one must use your good judgement, otherwise, when everything’s a big deal, nothing’s a big deal; you end up either dismissing everything as unimportant, or you go nuts.

How to develop good judgement, then, when for instance, colleges are offering counseling to students who are traumatized by Ben Shapiro?

I have no answers, but “Think for yourself” seems like a good start,

thinking for yourself can be a challenge. It always demands self-discipline and these days can require courage.

Self-discipline. Courage. Questioning dominant ideas. The challenge of our lives.

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

I spent most of Sunday night in my closet.

Not in the coming-out-of-the-closet figurative way: I actually was lying on a down comforter on top of a foam pad with two pillows while hurricane Irma pounded away outdoors. I’m fortunate to have a closet large enough to sleep in, and it was the quietest place to be. I played my old Gregorian Chant by the monks of Santo Domingo de Silos CD that I had uploaded into the iPod years ago, and dozed on and off.

By 5:00am or so the wind had died down enough that I went back to my bed. Power was cut off at 5:45am with a “pop!”

Living through Irma in Central Florida was as frightening as when I spent hurricane Sandy in the family room of my Princeton house in 2012. I would have much preferred to have been dining with Pete and Stacy instead.

However, the amount of damage where I live was minimal. No flooding, a few tree limbs down, no electricity, but the house was completely intact, and we had natural gas and running water. We were under tropical storm warning until 4pm on Monday and it remained cloudy, but the strong breeze helped to dissipate the humidity and cool the house.

This is the view from the back porch at 10am Monday,

My sister in Miami, who had fifteen (!) people staying at her house, also had no damage to her property – and neither did any of her guests.

We are grateful beyond measure.

The local FM radio station has been covering live on talk radio since before the storm, and they have done a great service to the entire area with very informative updates and a great amount of emotional support to all the callers. Local officials, utility company spokespersons, rescue personnel, owners of private businesses, all regularly call in with updates.

Electricity was restored yesterday, much to our delight. The food in the freezer didn’t thaw.

Parts of Florida are greatly affected, but every person and organization (private and public) in the state is working towards restoring normality. The coordination between public and private is extraordinary. I have never experienced anything like it.

If you are traveling to Florida, make sure to check your route/airport in advance. For instance, Miami International airport is still under limited schedule.

On the bright side, the Gainesville Police Department promises a calendar, and perhaps the officers from Sarasota may, too.

In thankful praise to Our Lord,

UPDATE:
For the win,
Nun With A Chainsaw Becomes Symbol Of Post-Irma Cleanup: ‘She Rocks

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

We live lives of privilege.

We can spend hours debating politics, deciding what to wear to work, which running shoes to buy, which cut of beef to grill with shrimp and veggies for dinner, and where to spend our vacations.

We also spend substantial amounts of money, time and effort on our homes. In addition to my blog and reading addictions, my greatest and probably most expensive addiction is my house, HGTV included. I have purchased, improved, lived in, and sold three houses.

I bought my fourth house, moved in last month, and have spent a great deal of time unpacking and deciding what to keep and what to toss. Yes, I should have done that when I first left NJ for FL, but was renting an old townhouse with a popcorn ceilings and knew I was going to buy a different house later on, so here I am, sorting and unpacking. I’ve even been trying to decide whether or not to add curtains (I’m not a curtains person).

These past days my obsession has been Hurricane Irma, as you already know. From the looks of the latest forecast models, my area of central Florida will get hit with 100 mph winds (category 2) at 2am Monday, which I’m dreading. My rational brain knows I live in a well-constructed concrete house with underground utilities away from the waters in an area where people from Miami have come for shelter. My irrational brain worries.

I spent a scary Hurricane Sandy in my house in NJ reading the Psalms out loud so I wouldn’t have to listen to the wind. My house was untouched by the storm. All I needed to do was to schedule having a few tree limbs removed from the yard and stay in a hotel until the electricity was back. Sandy’s eye was almost eighty miles away; Irma apparently will be ripping right through Florida.

I am, of course, worried about possible damage to my new house, but I’m also worried about relatives who decided to stay in Miami. They are hardy folk who have lived in Miami for decades and are definitely less worried than I, a newcomer. In contrast, a friend who also has lived in Miami for decades is not taking any chances, shuttering down her house and sheltering at the hospital where her husband works.

Having Jim Cantore in Miami does not ease my worries at all.

I’ve been reading hundreds of Facebook posts on Irma. The more annoying are those urging all people in Florida (population 20 million) to “get the [insert expletive] out.” The more encouraging are photo journals of friends living in Puerto Rico who now have no electricity and water but whose homes and cars are intact and were not flooded.

Yes, life is tough. Yes, there are bigger things and existential questions we should be concerned about. Yes, we are blessed every day, for which I am abundantly grateful.

But yes, I’m superficial enough I’d rather be thinking about curtains instead.

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog