Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday Reading

Vamos á Cuba? — How the restoration of diplomatic relations will change travel plans.  Vauhini Vara in The New Yorker looks at one travel agency that already goes there.

Cuba PosterOn Wednesday morning, Tom Popper was driving to work at InsightCuba, the travel organization that he runs out of New Rochelle, New York, when he heard a familiar name on the radio. Alan Gross, the American contractor for U.S.A.I.D. who had been imprisoned in Cuba for five years, had been released and was on a flight home. “I kind of forgot I was in the car,” Popper said. “All of a sudden, I saw myself veering off to the shoulder.” Popper, who is forty-seven years old, makes his living helping Americans travel to Cuba without running afoul of the law. His organization is one of a small number that are authorized by the U.S. government, through Treasury Department licenses, to do so. For months, he and his colleagues had speculated that the Obama Administration would loosen travel restrictions on Americans going to Cuba—an idea that Popper has supported—but they knew that Gross’s imprisonment had been an impediment.

So, when Popper heard about the release, his thoughts had turned to what it could mean for InsightCuba. He straightened the car and got himself to work. Once there, he tried calling the Treasury Department and the State Department, but he couldn’t get through to anyone who could tell him more. Finally, he turned on the TV and, at noon, got the next round of news like everyone else. In an address from the White House, Obama announced that, after more than fifty years of tension, the United States and Cuba were reëstablishing diplomatic relations. The new measures would include the easing of some restrictions on commerce and travel. For years, anyone who wanted to go to Cuba had to be travelling for one of several specific reasons. Some of these purposes, like visiting close relatives or doing academic research, were covered by a “general” license that let people travel without having to fill out a special application. But others, like going on educational trips to promote “people-to-people contact” among Americans and Cubans—the category under which organizations like InsightCuba set up many of their trips—required case-by-case approval by the Treasury Department, which could be an onerous process and needed to be conducted by approved tour organizers. (One organizer of people-to-people trips, Friendly Planet, notes on its Web site that travellers should keep a journal as a record of their travels in Cuba and retain it for five years as “proof of the educational nature of your trip.”) Under the new rules, people will still have to travel for one of twelve pre-approved purposes, but these, including educational trips, will all be covered by general licenses. It’s unclear exactly what this will mean for travellers—the Obama Administration has said that it will be weeks before the details become available—but Popper and others expect that, at the very least, it will open up travel to Cuba to more Americans.

He’s Ready to Rumble — Charlie Pierce on the re-energized Barack Obama.

If, in 2008, you walked through the Iowa snows, or knocked on doors in New Hampshire, or caucused in Nevada, or drove the old folks to the polls in Ohio, the guy from today was the one you did all that for and more. In his year-end press conference Friday afternoon, the president turned in a bravura performance, a master class in cool. He laid Sony out flat, and did so by summoning up the fact that they ran the Boston Marathon again this year, even though there were people who were killed at that event in 2013 by actual bombs. (Sorry, Sony, but George Clooney, the Official Movie Star Of Esquire: The Magazine — non-Charlize Theron Division — is absolutely right.) And, just for fun, he did the worst thing you can do to lunatic bullies like the current regime in North Korea. He mocked them, directly and loudly.

“It says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to stage an all-out assault because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen…I love Seth. And I love James (Franco). But the notion that that this was a threat to them” was ridiculous.

I think it’s time now to enlist the president into Team America: World Police.

He is not spoiling for a fight come January, but he is clearly anticipating one. He minced no words reminding people of how he came to issue his executive order on immigration. (Hint: It’s a word that begins with “ob” and ends with “struction.”) He told the incoming Republican majority that, if he has to adjust to them, then they have to adjust to him as well, and that he knows where in the drawer the veto stamp is.

“There’s a very simple solution, and that’s pass bills and work with me to make sure I’m willing to sign those bills…Because both sides are going to have to compromise. On most issues, in order for their initiatives to become law, I’m going to have to sign off, and that means they have to take into account the issues that I care about, just as I’m going have to take into account the issues that they care about.”

Translation: don’t bring that weak shit in my kitchen. President Mutombo!

It seemed to me, anyway, that the president was liberated, not so much by the fact that he doesn’t have to run again, or by the clarifying event of Republican congressional majority throughout the last two years of his presidency, but by the fact that he doesn’t have to tailor his remarks to a Democratic Senatorial majority that depended on the likes of Mark Begich or Mary Landrieu. And nowhere was this more clear, and nowhere was his newfound confidence more clear, than in his answer on the future of that Republican fetish object, the Keystone XL pipeline, the continent-spanning death funnel that would bring the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel down through the agricultural heartland of the United States from the environmental dead zone of northern Alberta. He still could swing the other way on this issue, but today, he made it clear that the death-funnel’s benefits belong to foreigners, and that its benefits to people in this country were, as he said, “nominal.” I suspect that he will veto the bill that Mitch McConnell says will be the first one to come out of the newly refurbished monkeyhouse come January.

Let’s Go Galt at the Movies — Mallory Ortberg on how Ayn Rand would review favorite movies for children.

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”

An industrious young woman neglects to charge for her housekeeping services and is rightly exploited for her naïveté. She dies without ever having sought her own happiness as the highest moral aim. I did not finish watching this movie, finding it impossible to sympathize with the main character. —No stars.

“Bambi”

The biggest and the strongest are the fittest to rule. This is the way things have always been. —Four stars.

“Old Yeller”

A farm animal ceases to be useful and is disposed of humanely. A valuable lesson for children. —Four stars.

“Lady and the Tramp”

A ridiculous movie. What could a restaurant owner possibly have to gain by giving away a perfectly good meal to dogs, when he could sell it at a reasonable price to human beings? A dog cannot pay for spaghetti, and payment is the only honest way to express appreciation for value. —One star.

“101 Dalmatians”

A wealthy woman attempts to do her impoverished school friend Anita a favor by purchasing some of her many dogs and putting them to sensible use. Her generosity is repulsed at every turn, and Anita foolishly and irresponsibly begins acquiring even more animals, none of which are used to make a practical winter coat. Altruism is pointless. So are dogs. A cat is a far more sensible pet. A cat is objectively valuable. —No stars.

“Mary Poppins”

A woman takes a job with a wealthy family without asking for money in exchange for her services. An absurd premise. Later, her employer leaves a lucrative career in banking in order to play a children’s game. —No stars.

Doonesbury — Get the hook.

One bark on “Sunday Reading

  1. I wonder how this ease in travel restrictions to Cuba will affect me. Will I still need to get a Cuba Passport, a document I have never had despite having been born in Cuba. I am one of many offspring born in Cuba of American Citizens. Which makes me an American Citizen at birth. However, if having to present my passport at customs in Habana they would see place of birth Habana Cuba and immediately assume me to be a Cuban Citizen and want to see my papers. Everything I have to document my birth points to the fact that I am an American Citizen and not a Cuban. To the inclusion of leaving Cuba and coming to the United States in March of 1960, I traveled under the cover of my mother US Passport. All this news is great, we should have done it 10, 20 or 30 years ago. But there will still be a long road to travel before any true sense of normalcy exists.

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