The Three Things You Need To Travel Around The World Is Quickly Becoming One Thing

The Three Things You Need To Travel Around The World Is Quickly Becoming One Thing

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Back in 2012, I wrote a post about how when you strip everything down, you only need three things to travel around the world: a passport, a credit card, and a smartphone.

This still holds true today, but those three things are quickly all being condensed down into one single thing: a smartphone.

I’m going to go through just how technology has changed to allow this to happen and what the implications are for international travel, and how close we are to taking an international trip with nothing but your phone.

Credit Cards

Credit Cards haven’t gone anywhere, but the way we can use them has changed dramatically since 2012. Services like Apple Pay, Google Pay (which is replacing both Android Pay and Google Wallet), Samsung Pay, and niche payment services like Walmart Pay have changed how we physically use credit cards at the point of purchase.

The way we traditionally used credit cards was that we would take out our wallet, get out the card, present it to the cashier or stick it in a machine, sign a receipt or enter a PIN number, and then put the card back in our wallet. Now you just hold your phone next to the card reader while your identity is verified via fingerprint or face identification, and you are done.

Having used my phone for paying hundreds of times now, I can unquestionably vouch for the fact that it is faster than paying by credit card and often times faster than paying with cash.

Moreover, it is also much safer than pulling out a card and giving it to someone. When you pay via smartphone, your credit card number isn’t even exposed, so even the person processing the payment never sees the number. Moreover, a unique hash is created for each transaction, so even if that transaction was compromised, it wouldn’t expose your card number.

As an Apple Pay user, I can add all my credit cards to Apple Pay so I don’t have to carry multiple cards around with me. Banks like Wells Fargo are also now allowing you to access ATM machines via your smartphone as well.

During a recent trip to London, I was able to make most (but not all) of my purchases using Apple Pay. I did the same thing during my last trip to Canada, and that was in the remote Yukon. This is great for international travel, especially if you are American, as you don’t have to worry about chip and PIN support.

Smartphone payments are not accepted everywhere yet, but the number of merchants who accept it is growing rapidly. Much of it simply a matter of merchants upgrading their credit card readers. Today it is possible to go on a trip and exclusively pay for things via smartphone, but you’d have to be selective about where you stay and where you eat. I expect within 5 years you should be able to make almost all purchases via smartphone at any place where credit cards can be used.

Passport

This one will take a bit more time, but already you are seeing the first signs of this happening. The United States has adopted a Mobile Passport program which anyone with a US passport can use. It doesn’t require any special approval like TSA Precheck does. You simply download the app, enter your passport information, and you can use your phone on a kiosk instead of having to stand in line at airport immigration. (Only available in limited airports. Check the link for the list.) From the reports, I’ve heard from people who have used it that is can be as fast as Global Entry.

Australia and New Zealand instituted a cloud/virtual passport trial in 2015. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has been investigating the possibilities of virtual passports as well.

Patrick Mutabazi wrote a great piece explaining how the future of virtual passports could unfold. Using biometric data, it wouldn’t be necessary to hold a physical document and it would eliminate the problem of lost or stolen passports.

The problem with a virtual or mobile passport regime isn’t technical, it’s political. All the tools are already in place to do it on the technical front, but you need to get every country (or at least a large majority) to buy into the same system.

An electronic passport might still be years away, but the first steps have been taken and it is easy to see how this could unfold in the future.

My guess is that individual countries with close ties, like the US/Canada or Australia/New Zealand, could implement a documentless system in the next few years.

Smartphones

Since I wrote my original post in 2012 there have been massive changes in smartphones. They have gotten larger, faster and have added features such as fingerprint and facial recognition.

Using a smartphone as a boarding pass is now pretty ubiquitous in the United States and more places around the world are adopting it. Hotels are now rolling out keyless room entry where you use your phone to enter your room. The keys can be delivered without having to stop at a reception desk and check-in.

In my previous post, some commenters were snarky and noted that you would also need to bring a charging cable with you, so you’d need at least four things. Even this, however, is going away. With the recent generation of iPhones supporting wireless charging, they are finally joining their Android cousins and helping to create a wireless charging standard. The industry has settled on the Qi wireless charging standard and hotels are already planning to roll out wireless charging stations in rooms.

Plans like T-Mobile in the US has made international roaming dramatically cheaper and easier. As of July 2017, the EU now requires mobile vendors to provide “roam like at home” as part of their plans, allowing everyone in the EU to travel anywhere in the EU at the same rates.

We are also only months away from the first 5G networks rolling out which should be a revolution in mobile bandwidth speeds.

The Future

When will we be able to take a theoretical international trip using nothing but our smartphones?

It can almost be done today. Almost.

Assuming you choose your destination and hotel carefully you could use your smartphone to:

  • Call an Uber to take you to the airport
  • Board the plane using a boarding pass on your phone
  • Check into your hotel room
  • Charge your smartphone wirelessly in your room
  • Buy all necessary meals and items
  • Return to the US and go through passport control with the Mobile Passport app

The only thing you would need your passport for is:

  • Identification to get through security
  • Passport control in the country you are visiting

Those two things are political hurdles more than technical, and both problems are already being worked on.

It will probably take the big technology players (Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc) to come together and adopt a standard for mobile identification and passports, and then governments would have to go along with it.

The soonest we could expect something is probably within 5 years, and I’m guessing we will have something within 10 years. As this is a political problem and not a technical one, things could go faster if there is a will to do so amongst the parties.

While there many benefits to this smartphone-centric travel future, there are of course downsides: losing your phone and running out of power. Nonetheless, when it becomes possible, I’m going to make a trip someday walking into an airport with nothing but my phone, the clothes on my back, and a smile.

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February 4, 2018 at 12:19PM

How to Redeem Capital One Venture Miles

How to Redeem Capital One Venture Miles

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The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is among the best fixed-value points credit cards. We like its simple rewards structure — you earn double miles on all purchases and can redeem them at a locked value of 1 cent apiece toward travel and gift cards. The card became even more appealing when Capital One announced that it, along with the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card, would begin earning 10x miles on purchases made at Hotels.com — by far the highest credit card bonus for booking hotels.

So how exactly do you go about making redemptions with the card? The process is relatively easy, and unlike transferring points, doesn’t require jumping through any hoops. Here’s a step-by-step guide showing how to use your Venture miles.

Sign In

Once signed in to your Capital One account, you’ll want to click on your mileage balance (located below the icon of your card) to be taken to the rewards page. There, you’ll be presented with four redemption options — you can use your miles for travel, gift cards, cash or transfer them to another account.

When it comes to redeeming miles for travel, you can either book new travel or use the miles as a statement credit against previous eligible travel purchases. Regardless of which route you take, the redemption rate when using Venture miles for travel is always 1 cent per point.

Option 1: Erase a Previously Made Travel Purchase

Clicking “Redeem Travel Purchases” will bring you to a screen with all your eligible travel purchases made with the card in the last 90 days. The term “travel” is used quite broadly and includes everything from flight and hotel bookings to Uber and Airbnb purchases. From there, you’re just two clicks away from essentially erasing travel expenses from your statement.

After selecting the purchase you’d like to make disappear, you can either approve the redemption outright or edit the number of miles used for a partial credit of the charge. Note that there’s no minimum redemption amount, unless you’re redeeming for a partial credit, in which case you’ll need to use at least 2,500 miles.

Option 2: Book New Travel Through Capital One

Alternatively, you can use your miles to book new travel directly through Capital One. The portal looks like any other booking site, and since the miles have a fixed value, you’ll never need to worry about blackout dates or award restrictions. That being said, you’ll probably be better off booking your travel using an online travel agency (OTA) like Orbitz or Hotels.com and then offsetting the purchase using the method previously described. This is because many OTAs have their own rewards programs and appear on cash-back shopping portals, so you can double- or triple-dip on a booking and get even more cash back. However, you won’t be able to earn 10x miles on Hotels.com bookings with a Venture card if you go through a shopping portal, since you need to book directly at the Hotels.com/Venture link to be eligible for the 10x earnings.

Option 3: Redeem for Gift Cards

Miles maintain the same fixed value of 1 cent apiece when redeeming for gift cards, such as for Amazon. However, gift cards can often be bought with a discount or cash back, so you’re better off using your miles to offset travel expenses first.

Option 4: Redeem for Cash Back

The least valuable redemption option is for cash in the form of an account credit or a check by mail. You’d probably want to avoid this option because the value of the miles is cut in half when using this method.

Option 5: Transfer Miles to Another Account

The final way you can redeem your miles is by transferring your miles to another account. There are no costs associated with this, and as long as the other person holds a Venture miles-earning card, there are no restrictions as to who you can send them to.

Bottom Line

Redeeming Venture miles is very simple — even beginners to the award travel game won’t have any trouble doing so. With the new 10x Hotels.com bonus, now’s a great time to get yourself one of the Venture Rewards cards if you don’t already have one in your wallet. The Capital One Venture Rewards card currently comes with a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of opening, so as long as you meet the minimum spend, you’re guaranteed $500 in travel or gift cards.

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February 4, 2018 at 12:14PM

State of the Resistance 

State of the Resistance 

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Under normal circumstances, referring to the address that the President delivers each January as the “State of the Union” is a familiar bit of hyperbole. It is more aptly thought of as a summary of the year that was—not unlike the countless news and pop-culture roundups that appear at New Year’s—and as a projection of the Administration’s priorities for the upcoming year. The President gives a pro-forma statement that “the state of our union is strong,” because what else would it be? But these are not normal circumstances.

Trump’s statement regarding the strength of the Union in last week’s address carried about the same credibility as his denial that he cheated on his postpartum wife with a porn star, or his claim that Mexico would pay for his quixotic border wall. Americans, by a nearly two-to-one margin, believe that Trump has further divided the country. Superficially, his speech conformed to the conventional structure of a State of the Union address. But, at the very moment that the President was attesting to the Union’s durability, his Administration and its Republican abettors were actively engaged in a feud with the F.B.I., attempting to discredit the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and to release a secret memo about that investigation, despite objections from senior officials in the Department of Justice. In a new book, “How Democracies Die,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt argue that democracy does not typically succumb during a catastrophic event, such as a seizure of power by a military junta. It fails more commonly through the gradual weakening of crucial institutions, such as the judiciary and the press. In short, the Union is precisely as strong as its institutions, and those institutions are being assailed in ways that we’ve seldom seen.

It is for this reason that, since the inception of Trump’s Presidency, the members of his opposition have tended to understand themselves not simply as defenders of particular policy positions but also as stalwarts of democracy itself—a resistance. As such, the Trump Resistance has differed from, for instance, the Tea Party in key ways. The latter was intent upon “taking the country back”; the former hopes to insure that the country remains standing. Yet it has been in particulars of policy that Trump’s impact on women, immigrants, and minorities—the groups most antagonized by him during the 2016 campaign—can be seen.

The President who has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by at least nineteen women has also overseen a revision of the Department of Education’s guidelines on sexual assault on college campuses that raises the standard of proof for accusers. He has made it easier for employers to refuse to include birth control in their health-care plans and reinstated the “global gag rule” on abortion counselling. He created an “election integrity” commission that was a thinly veiled attempt to nationalize voter-suppression techniques. He has rescinded deportation protections granted to two hundred thousand Salvadoreans and almost sixty thousand Haitians, and tried to remove transgender people from the military and to ban people in certain majority-Muslim countries from travelling here. His Justice Department has issued new guidance that could lead to more prosecutions for marijuana-related crimes, which will disproportionately affect African-Americans, who are far more likely to be arrested on such charges.

Lest this litany seem too sunny, in January the Doomsday Clock, which measures the likelihood of human annihilation, moved closer to midnight than it has been since the nineteen-fifties. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which sets the clock, called out Donald Trump specifically for his inflammatory rhetoric on North Korea, the Iran deal, climate change, and nuclear weapons.

Given this record, the pronouncements of the Commander-in-Chief were hardly an accurate depiction of our Union. Last year, the Washington Post noted, Trump’s actions prompted some eight thousand seven hundred protests across the country. The A.C.L.U., which greeted the incoming Administration by saying, “We’ll See You in Court,” has sued the Administration over DACA, the rescission of Obama-era guidelines concerning the use of drones, the travel ban, the case of an undocumented teen who was refused access to an abortion, and that of a ten-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, who was detained at the border rather than being allowed to return to her family. (The A.C.L.U. of Virginia also sued for the right of alt-right protesters to gather in a Charlottesville park—a decision that had disastrous consequences when, predictably, they resorted to violence against counter-demonstrators.) The N.A.A.C.P. has challenged Trump’s ruling on Haitians; sued the Department of Homeland Security, arguing that Trump’s “shithole” comment reflected intentional discrimination in immigration policy; and fought the election-integrity commission, which, stymied by its lack of progress, was disbanded last month.

There is also a direct line connecting Trump’s election with the many women’s marches that have taken place across the country and with the #MeToo movement that emerged last fall. The cultural tide that saw the resignations of elected officials that included Senator Al Franken and Representatives John Conyers and Trent Franks was, on many levels, a backlash against the conditions that allowed Trump to win the Presidency despite his accusers’ credible allegations of harassment and assault. The energy of that moment has resulted in record numbers of female candidates running for office. While the main narrative of the wave of victories in the Virginia House of Delegates last November was its potential as a predictor of the 2018 midterms, Election Night also brought eleven women—the first trans woman and the first Asian-American and Latina women among them—into that state’s legislative body.

The amorphous shock and outrage of a year ago have given way to the broad contours of a movement. Trump’s authoritarian tendencies have been met by a majority in both houses of Congress, led by a stunningly pliable Republican Party. (At the State of the Union, Democrats registered dissent by boycotting, dressing in black, and wearing kente cloth and purple ribbons.) That conjunction has made it far easier for the President to achieve his agenda than for concerned citizens to place barriers in his path. These are perilous times. But it’s possible, when looking from just the right angle and at exactly the right moment, to discern something that looks strikingly similar to inspiration. ♦

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February 4, 2018 at 10:09AM

Sunday Reading: In the Air

Sunday Reading: In the Air

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Vinson Cunningham’s first piece for The New Yorker, published in 2015, was about Humans of New York, the popular photography project by Brandon Stanton that has provided the basis for multiple best-selling books. Cunningham’s essay opens with a close description of one photo, featuring “a boy in an open black bubble jacket,” standing alone on a city street. The view quickly widens, as Cunningham considers not only the social circumstances of the boy in question, and what ensues when a picture of him goes viral, but also the many past projects to which Humans of New York might be compared: Jacob Riis’s “How the Other Half Lives,” Gordon Parks’s portraits of Harlem, James Agee and Walker Evans’s “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.” Cunningham finds Stanton to be a poor inheritor of these forerunners, whose Facebook-ready endeavor encourages “the quick and cavalier consumption of others.”

In the essays, reviews, and Profiles that have followed, Cunningham has consistently demonstrated that rare ability to perceive art in both its minutest particulars and its broadest possible contexts. In “Ghost Story,” a scalding appraisal of Nate Parker’s Nat Turner biopic “The Birth of a Nation,” he not only dissects the movie’s macho vision and its reliance on cliché, he also sharply elucidates Turner’s enduring legacy. “Slavery in this country was never a hero’s journey,” Cunningham writes. “It is a ghost story, and Nat Turner is its poltergeist, dashing pottery against America’s walls.” In “A Darker Presence,” a chronicle and a critique of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, he questions the museum’s triumphalist story about black life in America, with its suggestion that emancipation was “hidden, from the beginning, somewhere deep within the national heart.” His review of “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” Jesmyn Ward’s novel about life on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, traces the influence of Morrison and Faulkner and charts a path from Katrina to Black Lives Matter.

In January, Cunningham profiled the artist Sanford Biggers, who, “in a period when overtly political material may be more respected, and coveted, than ever before,” creates work that confounds and disarms. Cunningham sees a virtue in this: “His desire not to be pinned down appears to spring from a kind of moral impulse: he wants the audience to do its share of the work,” he writes. As readers, we often have work to do as well, but Cunningham makes those labors uncommonly delightful and rewarding.

—David Haglund, literary editor


“After the Flood”

“Jesmyn Ward’s vocabulary tends toward the epic; she alludes to the Old Testament and Greek mythology with equal frequency and intensity; for her, Katrina is comparable in significance to the Egyptian captivity or the aftermath of the Trojan War.” Read more.


“Quiet Storm”

“ ‘What I want to do is code-switch,’ Sanford Biggers told me. ‘To have there be layers of history and politics,’ he went on, ‘but also this heady, arty stuff—inside jokes, black humor—that you might have to take a while to research if you want to really get it.’ ” Read more.


“Making God Famous”

“Above all, Kirk Franklin is a gospel songwriter, but in performance and on his albums his role more closely resembles that of a stock character in hip-hop: the hype man.” Read more.


“Ghost Story”

“In Nate Parker’s movie ‘The Birth of a Nation,’ slavery is the setting for an elongated origin story, in which our hero, destined for greatness but restrained, for a time, by circumstance, emerges as a nearly supernatural force.” Read more.


“Humans of New York and the Consumption of Others”

“Brandon Stanton’s ‘Stories’ betrays shallow notions of truth (achievable by dialogic cut-and-paste) and egalitarianism. Both come too easily.” Read more.


“A Darker Presence”

“Curators at the National Museum of African American History and Culture have now collected more than thirty-five thousand objects, most of them donations. They range from a chillingly anonymous pair of rusted slave shackles to a frilled shawl of lace and linen given to Harriet Tubman by Queen Victoria.” Read more.

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February 4, 2018 at 10:09AM

The Musical Forest Near Mount Fuji

The Musical Forest Near Mount Fuji

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Adding to my Playlists!

One of my favorite new Spotify Playlists is Feelin’ Burny Afterny. It’s a very stupid name, I agree. But I put together the playlist to remind me of the kind of music I like to listen to at Burning Man in the middle of the afternoon.

Daily Photo – The Musical Forest Near Mount Fuji

When I travel to a new area, I usually like to jump on Google Maps and try to find interesting perspectives. I looked at the map and saw that over on the other side of the lake was this place called The Musical Forest. I thought it sounded absurdly Japanese, so I knew it was a place I had to go to! I was a bit worried it might just be for children or something… but I was wrong. It looked like this!

The Musical Forest Near Mount Fuji

Photo Information

  • Date Taken2017-11-19 23:07:08
  • CameraX1D
  • Camera MakeHasselblad
  • Exposure Time1/1500
  • Aperture3.5
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length45.0 mm
  • Flash
  • Exposure ProgramManual
  • Exposure Bias-1

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February 4, 2018 at 08:15AM

Travel Brands Usually Skip the Super Bowl. Here’s Why.

Travel Brands Usually Skip the Super Bowl. Here’s Why.

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There’s only one solitary ad in the travel category confirmed to screen during commercial breaks at this year’s Super Bowl: A 30-second spot from Universal Parks & Resorts in which an energetic Peyton Manning steps into the role of “vacation quarterback,” guiding families toward the best getaway possible.

It’s hardly a step up for the travel space from last year’s game, which was not much more robust with a paltry two ads from Airbnb and Turkish Airlines. In a landscape where 50 or so brands run roughly 60 spots, you don’t have to be a math whiz to understand that travel and the Super Bowl don’t seem to mix.

“It is just not as heavy a category as autos or beverages or consumer packaged goods,” AdAge media reporter Jeanine Poggi told TPG. There’s reliably one or two travel-focused ads a year, she continued, but it seems there might be less of an incentive for travel brands to take the financial risk. “You have a lot of auto brands, because a lot of cars are coming out. And you have movie studios, because a lot of movies are coming out. And a lot of the advertising is tied to products — you’ll have tax products advertise because it’s tax season. A lot of it is tied to the season.”

But there’s no clear best or worst season to advertise travel. Since 2004, Google searches for the term “travel” have peaked in January and July and plunged between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, but the additional scattering of spring break and winter recess holidays give people opportunities to travel year-round.

“While there are many consumer and retail brands that have succeeded in building awareness with the extensive reach — and corresponding price tag — associated with advertising during the Super Bowl, there are just as many companies who have bet the farm and lost on media buys like this,” said Craig Compagnone, the senior vice president of business strategy at MMGY Global, a firm that’s worked for the City of Cleveland, Lufthansa USA, Choice Hotels and the Bermuda Tourism Authority. This year’s Super Bowl ads will cost roughly $5 million for a 30-second spot, and that’s before factoring in the price of producing the actual commercial. In contrast, it only cost $500,000 to run a similar spot at the 2016 World Series, and roughly $2 million at the 2016 Oscars.

Instead of shelling out the dough to reach an estimated 100 million plus viewers, “most companies in the [travel] industry today are focusing their marketing funds on highly segmented and personalized messaging, sharing relevant content and details based on their prospective consumer audience segments,” Compagnone continued.

It doesn’t help that two-thirds of all travelers today are women (and more often the travel decision makers), while the Super Bowl skews decidedly male. The few travel companies shelling out the big bucks for a splashy Super Bowl ad might do so in hopes of boosting overall brand awareness, but they’re still running the risk of missing their target.

“Additionally, the best Super Bowl ads that get the most buzz tend to be either somewhat wacky or centered around a cultural issue,” posited Rebekah Bouch, an account executive for ad house &Barr, which has worked on accounts such as Discover The Palm Beaches and Experience Kissimmee. With rare exceptions — perhaps among them Universal Studios’ “vacation quarterback” ad or last year’s inclusive “We Accept” Airbnb ad — commercials for travel brands tend to be more straightforward. “I think it’s a little more difficult as a travel brand to put together something that stands out in that environment,” Bouch added.

AdAge’s Poggi said that there’s still a chance a small handful of travel ads might emerge in time for the big game. She’s heard murmurings that Turkish Airlines will return with a last-minute ad, and there’s speculation percolating online that Tourism Australia will air a “movie trailer” for the allegedly fake Crocodile Dundee reboot, Dundee: The Son of a Legend Returns Home, widely believed to be an advertising stunt. (Clips online look too good to be true, starring Hollywood’s favorite Australians Chris Hemsworth, Margot Robbie and Russell Crowe, plus American Danny McBride.)

“We pretty much have a good grasp of who’s in this year, but there’s always a few that have pulled back,” Poggi said. Now’s your chance, travel industry.

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February 4, 2018 at 12:15AM

A Palestinian Research Center Comes Under Threat in a Government Crackdown

A Palestinian Research Center Comes Under Threat in a Government Crackdown

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For the past twenty-five years, the Palestinian political scientist
Khalil Shikaki has been his own best evidence for the promise of civil
society in a Palestinian state. In 1993, he founded the nonprofit Center
for Palestine Research and Studies, in Nablus—which, in 2000, became the
Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research—with funding mainly
from the Ford Foundation and the European Union. As if Western
democratic norms could be willed into being, he began polling public
opinion on the new Palestinian Authority, which was created as a
consequence of the Oslo Accords, and advocating for policies based on
his findings. There were polls on the popularity of Palestinian parties
and factions, on the P.A.’s performance, on American mediation, and on
interim agreements. The findings were often implicitly critical of P.A.
leadership, especially in recent years, as President Mahmoud Abbas, now
eighty-two, has been thwarted by Israeli diplomacy and has come to be
viewed as increasingly authoritarian. In 2015, a poll revealed that
eighty per cent of Palestinians considered the P.A. corrupt; last year,
another found that seventy per cent thought that Abbas should
resign
.
Still, the fact that Shikaki could publish such results with apparent
impunity seemed to offer reassurance that the P.A. was not despotic.

Nor, according to Shikaki’s polling, has the P.A.’s investment in the
two-state track been futile, though you have to penetrate the numbers to
see why. Since 2000, Shikaki has conducted joint
polls
with Israeli researchers that
show that both sides have, over time, lost enthusiasm for a two-state
solution, not because their majorities rejected the necessary
compromises, in principle, but because they stopped believing in the
good faith of the other side. Shikaki’s most recent
poll
, conducted last December, with
Dahlia Scheindlin, a researcher affiliated with Tel Aviv University,
found that less than half of Israelis and Palestinians now support two
states, with the former growing more reconciled to annexation and the
latter to armed struggle. Yet the research also found that mere symbols of
of good faith can be unexpectedly decisive. “If Israelis would recognize
the Naqba”—the “disaster,” when seven hundred and fifty thousand
Palestinians went into exile as a result of the 1948 war—and
“Palestinians would make clear that, with peace, Israelis could visit
the Temple Mount—the Haram al-Sharif—then almost half of the Israeli
Jews opposed to two states, and about forty per cent of the
Palestinians, would change their minds,” Shikaki told me.

Making peace with such numbers can be risky. In 2003, during the Al-Aqsa
Intifada, Shikaki was attacked and the P.C.P.S.R. offices in Ramallah
were
ransacked by
a mob after the center published findings, based on more than four
thousand interviews, showing that only ten per cent of Palestinian
refugees would choose to live in Israel, over other forms of
compensation, if they were offered the “right of return.” The attackers
thought that Shikaki was being cavalier about the right of return. He
was really trying to reassure both sides that, precious as the right is
to Palestinians, actualizing it would not mean the end of Israel; that,
on both sides, a majority constituency for a two-state solution remained
to be tapped. (The prospect of confederal
relations
produces a similar shift in opinion.) “The numbers prove the importance
of incentives,” Shikaki said.

Nevertheless, after two decades of tolerating Shikaki’s work—and even,
at times, consulting with him—Abbas and his inner circle seem to have
had enough. In 2015, the P.A. issued regulations requiring that all
Palestinian N.G.O.s, including the P.C.P.S.R., register as nonprofit
companies, report their intended activities and funding to the Cabinet,
and specifically ask its prior approval to receive funds transferred to
Palestinian banks from both local and foreign sources. The P.C.P.S.R.
did not initially comply with the regulations, and they were not widely
enforced until late 2016, after an armed, underground cell clashed with
P.A. police in the Balata refugee camp, in Nablus. “This left me in the
impossible position of having to petition the leaders of the hundred or
so members of Abbas’s élite—the very people whose popularity I am trying
to research and whose actions I often criticize—for funds to maintain my
center and research what ordinary people think about them,” Shikaki
said. Meanwhile, in an even more brazen move against the judiciary,
Abbas replaced the Chief Justice, without consulting the independent
judges of the Supreme Judicial Council, and created a so-called
Constitutional Court, which is almost certain to reject any of appeals
of the regulation.

Since then, Shikaki has been quietly petitioning ministers, hoping that
counter-pressure from within the P.A. might persuade the government to
reverse the policy, but to no avail. It now seems that he has few
avenues of support other than from the international journalists,
diplomats, and policy experts (he has been a fellow at Brandeis
University and the Brookings Institution) who have relied on his work.
(I have known Shikaki since the P.C.P.S.R.’s founding, and have often
cited his reports; he was interviewed for a New Yorker podcast a year ago.)

Shikaki’s place in that community was hard earned. He was born in 1953,
in Gaza’s Rafah refugee camp, the son of farmers from a village near
Rehovot, by then destroyed. He moved to Jerusalem in 1968, and enrolled
at Bir Zeit University, in the West Bank, in 1971. He continued his
studies at American University, in Beirut, staying in that city through
the civil war, and earned a master’s degree, in 1977. He first learned
the value of survey methods in Kuwait, where he got a job in the
marketing department of General Motors. In 1985, Shikaki earned a Ph.D.
in political science at Columbia University, in New York, where he also
received a Middle East Institute certificate and became a visiting
scholar. His older brother Fathi, meanwhile, had taken a very different
course, which shadowed Shikaki’s career. Fathi earned a medical degree
in Egypt, where he fell in with the Muslim Brotherhood. In 1981, still
in Egypt, he founded Palestinian Islamic Jihad, to fight the Occupation
and impose a pietistic theocracy.

In 1991, when the younger Shikaki was teaching at the University of
South Florida, he petitioned to return to the West Bank, but the Likud
was still in power, and mere association with his brother precluded it.
After the 1992 Madrid peace conference, however, Shikaki became engaged
in second-track negotiations with Israel, and journalists—the late
Anthony Lewis, of the Times, among them—and members of Congress from
Florida who knew him began a letter-writing campaign on his behalf. The
Israeli government finally relented, and he moved to the West Bank to
teach and to set up his center. Another blow awaited him, however. In
January of 1995, Islamic Jihad’s most horrific suicide bombing killed
twenty-one soldiers and a civilian in Israel. Prime Minister Yitzhak
Rabin
reportedly ordered
the Mossad to assassinate Fathi; it did, in Malta, that October.
“I cannot win a popularity contest,” Shikaki told me. “When it suited
their purposes, Likud people linked me to Fathi, while some Palestinian
activists hate me for working with the Israelis.”

Shikaki knows that, by coming out against the P.A.’s high-handedness, he
is playing into the hands of the Netanyahu government, which has
demeaned Abbas as an impossible negotiating partner. At the same time,
Netanyahu’s settlement program, military curfews, and stonewalling on
Jerusalem long ago pushed the Palestinian President into a corner.
Shikaki also knows that the new P.A. regulations are “a barometer of
Abbas’s evolving authoritarianism.” That shift is understandable,
Shikaki said, but “understandable does not mean justified.”

“Abbas certainly had a crisis on his hands in 2007”—when Hamas threw
Fatah leaders out of Gaza—“and moved with police power to destroy
Hamas’s capacity to act in the West Bank.” Shikaki said. “This proved
relatively easy: everyone could see that Hamas had wrongly resorted to
violence and killed about four hundred Palestinians.” The problem, he
added, was that Abbas also “suspended accountability from the political
system, preventing the convening of the Palestinian Parliament.” Hamas
held a majority there, but could enact nothing without a Presidential
signature. Without the Parliament, “oversight became impossible.”

The situation grew worse after 2009, following the first Gaza war and
Benjamin Netanyahu’s election. In 2011, Mohammad Dahlan, Fatah’s
disgraced strongman in Gaza but still a member of Fatah’s Central
Committee, openly criticized Abbas and seemed poised to challenge him.
In response, Abbas expelled Dahlan from Fatah and, in effect, the West
Bank. By the end of 2012—after another Gaza war, when it finally became
clear that the Obama Administration would not pressure Israel into an
agreement—Abbas began to preëmpt other potential rivals. The next year,
he forced the resignation of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a former World
Bank economist and a friend of Dahlan’s, who had earned international
respect for building up the Palestinian Authority’s police, the courts,
and the private sector. As Shikaki puts it, Fayyad “served as a
democratic firewall.”

After Fayyad left office, he set up an N.G.O., Palestine Tomorrow for
Social Development, with money from, among other sources, the United
Arab Emirates, to build infrastructure in Area C, the largest part of
the West Bank under direct Israeli military rule. In June, 2015, the
Palestinian Authority seized some of the funds. It was to justify this act that the government issued the new
regulations that now threaten the P.C.P.S.R.

Shikaki thinks he can keep the center open for perhaps six more months.
“For someone like me, who had worked on institution-building, who tried
to steer in a direction where the system is open and legal, where
certain things are just not done, I personally cannot under any
circumstances comply with something I know is destroying everything I
have worked for,” he said. One of the most powerful “incentives” that
bring Palestinians and Israelis to change their mind in favor of a
two-state solution is the prospect of Palestine being a democracy. In
P.C.P.S.R. polls, Shikaki said, “We asked: put security first or
democracy first? Over eighty per cent said, for all its problems,
‘democracy.’ Press freedom, free elections, minority rights, independent
judiciary, gender equality—this is all overwhelmingly supported.
Democracy, liberal democracy. I am prepared to go to jail for it.”

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February 4, 2018 at 12:07AM

How to Travel Ethically in a Disaster Region

How to Travel Ethically in a Disaster Region

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On our recent TPG team trip to Puerto Rico, it was clear that See Puerto Rico wanted to show us the island is open for business. While Puerto Rico is absolutely ready and eager for tourism to return, visitors should be mindful and sensitive to the circumstances. I’ve volunteered and traveled in other devastated areas: Thailand post-tsunami, New Orleans post-Katrina, and Nepal post-earthquake. While the circumstances of and response to each tragedy vary widely, certain approaches to visiting these areas seem to be universal. I’ve created the following guidelines that will help you travel within a disaster region respectfully and ethically, and perhaps even make a positive impact.

Don’t Stay Away

While it may seems safest to avoid these disaster regions completely, economies that rely on tourism need the opposite. The reality is that areas frequented by tourists are often the first to get rebuilt. A significant portion of Puerto Rico may still be without power, but San Juan, the capital, is ready for tourists. Shop, eat, drink, and sleep at the local mom and pop shops if possible. These are the people hit the hardest.

The time following a disaster is actually a time to strongly consider a visit. It’s when your business is most needed. And as a visitor, you’ll be among the few. I visited Nepal in November of 2015, seven months after the earthquake. The quake had very little impact on the Annapurna region of the country, but the Annapurna Circuit saw only a fraction of the normal number of trekkers, leaving plenty of availability in guesthouses and no crowding on trails. But be careful not to exploit these hardships, especially in places, like many Asian countries, where bargaining is the norm and the financial strain may leave locals more desperate. Pay what is fair.

nepal
Months after the earthquake, the paths of the Annapurna Circuit were uncharacteristically bare

However, this only applies to places reliant on tourism. If El Reno, Oklahoma, wasn’t already on your travel radar, a killer tornado shouldn’t put it there. Seeing cars with out-of-state license plates cruise slowly through town is only going to upset locals and get in the way of real help. Unless you are going to volunteer, the best way to help these locations is through donations from afar.

Devastation Is Not a Tourist Attraction

“Disaster Tourism” is the practice of traveling to disaster regions for curiosity or pleasure, and it needs to be avoided. This isn’t a time to carelessly snap pictures and post the most dramatic wreckage to Instagram. A ruined home is not the ruins of Machu Picchu. What you are witnessing is the fresh aftermath of a life-altering disaster for the people who call home to the place in which you are currently a visitor. Empathy and sympathy should be your primary concerns.

With the right intent, you can get a responsible education on a disaster. The volunteer group I joined in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand, ran daily walking tours through the tsunami devastation in order to encourage donations and recruit volunteers. However, it’s even easier to be irresponsible. In New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the city had to outlaw tour buses from driving through the Lower Ninth Ward. It’s the difference between helping someone up when they’ve fallen and taking a picture of them laying on the ground.

Be Extra Sensitive with the Locals

Some disaster victims won’t want any interaction with outsiders. Some will want to tell you everything about their experience. Often times, their openness towards you will increase when they see the reason you are there. When the guy working the desk at my hotel in Phi Phi spotted me hauling away a cart of debris, his greetings went from non-existent to hugs.

If a victim of disaster does open up to you, listen. Don’t feel a need to contribute by mentioning the time your parents’ basement flooded. Stay engaged, but keep in mind people are discussing events that may have destroyed their lives. Emotions can run high and anger can get channeled towards certain people or groups. If you don’t like where the discussion is heading, better to remove yourself than start a debate.

nola
Many residents of New Orleans wanted to share their experiences of Hurricane Katrina with our volunteer group

Help Out

If you’re looking to make the most positive impact after a disaster, volunteer your time and skills to a relief and rebuilding effort. Most volunteer efforts require a commitment of weeks or months, although occasionally volunteer programs are set up to handle shorter-term volunteers. The beach clean up crew in Phi Phi could plug in single day volunteers, making good use of the backpacker crowd cycling through. The grassroots organization I joined in New Orleans effectively marketed itself to college students as a meaningful way to spend a spring break.

Phi Phi beach clean up
Long-term volunteers and short-term backpackers wrap up another day of beach clean up on Koh Phi Phi

“Voluntourism” is a controversial practice, and the line between self-indulgence and meaningful impact isn’t always obvious, so be sure to be on the right side of it. Also, some people out there will take advantage of good intentions, so be wary of programs that charge lots of money or feel like a sales pitch. Do your research, contact trusted agencies, and look for recommendations from other volunteers.

Extended time available to volunteer is a luxury not enough of us have, but pretty much every relief group in the world will accept monetary donations. The most basic and universal way to help out may also be the most effective.

Spread the Word

By the time you arrive to a disaster location, film crews have likely gone back home and the media’s attention has returned to the Kardashians. Chances are the rapidly changing landscape of recovery no longer matches what you saw on TV, and perhaps it never did.

In November 2015, Nepal was in the midst of a humanitarian crisis as a political protest in the form of a fuel blockade crippled the country’s every day function and halted any earthquake relief efforts. Before arriving, I hadn’t see any international coverage on the crisis, and when I returned home, no one I mentioned it to had known about it.

Fuel blockade
Buses like this were a common sight during the fuel blockade in Nepal

After you spend time in a place devastated by disaster, you will have your own unique perspective on the situation. A perspective that friends, co-workers, and followers on social media will be interested in — much more so than a weekend at an all-inclusive. Use this opportunity to educate your audience and raise awareness for the plight of a land and a people for which you’ve likely by now gained a strong affinity.

TPG conducting an interview about Puerto Rico
TPG conducting an interview in Puerto Rico

Your Life May Change Forever

In September of 2005, my good friend Chris and I watched the sunset over a Phi Phi beach where we had spent the day cleaning up tsunami wreckage. News of Hurricane Katrina had trickled in — one local newspaper headline declared it “AMERICA’S TSUNAMI.” Looking around us at the work still to do nine months after the tsunami, we knew New Orleans had a long road ahead. We both vowed to help out when returned. Since then, I’ve made an effort to volunteer where and when I can, support crippled economies, and raise awareness based on my own experiences. Chris went next level, leaving his life in IT and beginning an international career in disaster risk reduction.

The famous sunsets of Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
The famous sunsets of Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Disasters will continue to strike. That’s just a fact. As frequent travelers we are confronted with a question of whether to go or stay away. I’ve found that with the right approach and execution, travel to a disaster region has potential to be life changing — for both the victims of disaster, and you.

Feature image of Hurricane Katrina volunteer effort by the author. Picture of TPG in Puerto Rico by TPG team. All other images by the author.

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February 3, 2018 at 11:06PM

Report: JAL Refunds Fuel Surcharges on Emirates First Class Award After DOT Complaint

Report: JAL Refunds Fuel Surcharges on Emirates First Class Award After DOT Complaint

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Emirates awards are some of the most highly sought after awards in the points and miles hobby. And that’s for good reason. From unbelievable new suites to posh new business class seats, Emirates provides some of the top experiences in the sky.

Our go-to way of booking Emirates awards was through Japan Airlines’ Mileage Bank. That was until November 22, 2017. Overnight, JAL changed its maximum fuel surcharges on Emirates awards. While it previously charged no more than $78.20, overnight that amount jumped to $1,716.09.

The sudden increase threw a wrinkle in travelers’ plans, leaving them with the decision of having to either book Emirates awards for more miles/points through a different program, or paying the substantially higher out-of-pocket cost to continue booking through JAL Mileage Bank. One traveler chose the latter choice, but didn’t stop there.

The Traveling Millennial had already transferred 85,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points to Mileage Bank when the sudden change was made. With the 105,000 miles — after the SPG transfer bonus — already in his JAL account, he felt stuck. So, he went ahead with booking the Emirates first flight and paid an additional $515 in fuel surcharges.

Next, he filed a complaint with the US Department of Transportation. Calling it “a shot in the dark,” he didn’t expect to get very far. So, he kept it short:

JAL started imposing fuel surcharges on Emirates award tickets without providing any advanced notice. The fees increased from approximately $20 to $820 for a one-way ticket. The DOT should require JAL to give advanced notice before imposing this change, and refund all surplus fuel charges imposed in the interim.

Finally this week — months after the complaint was filed — his case was resolved. In the response, JAL references that the terms and conditions of the Mileage Bank program allow changes at any time. With that said, Japan Airlines gave him two choices: cancel his booking and receive a full refund of points and taxes/fees or get a refund of $515 in fuel surcharge after he completes his trip.

Can you guess which one he chose? He accepted the offer to refund the additional fuel surcharges. Yeah, not really a hard decision.

What Does This Mean for Travelers in the Same Situation?

First, there’s no guarantee that you’ll end up with the same outcome. But, the Traveling Millennial’s example shows that JAL Mileage Bank is understanding about the consequences of its overnight change. If you’re in the same situation as he was — where you had the miles already in your JAL account and booked shortly afterward — you might be able to convince JAL to refund the additional fuel surcharges.

Before filing a DOT complaint, I’d recommend reaching out to JAL Mileage Bank first. Explain your situation, reference this decision and ask if JAL will refund the additional fuel surcharges you paid. You might be able to get the same result much quicker this way.

If you’re unsuccessful working with Mileage Bank directly, you can file a DOT complaint to try and get the same outcome as The Traveling Millennial. However, it’s important to note that the DOT didn’t force Japan Airlines to refund the additional fuel surcharges. This was an offer by Japan Airlines in response to TM’s complaint. So, you are far from guaranteed to get the same result.

If you’re still hoping to accrue points and miles for a spectacular Emirates first class experience, here’s our latest strategies and tips on how to do so. Hint: You’re going to want Starpoints, and the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express is a good place to start.

H/T: View From The Wing

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February 3, 2018 at 10:09PM