Monday, October 13, 2014

New York Times: End The Cuban Embargo

This will rattle a few dominoes on Calle Ocho:

Scanning a map of the world must give President Obama a sinking feeling as he contemplates the dismal state of troubled bilateral relationships his administration has sought to turn around. He would be smart to take a hard look at Cuba, where a major policy shift could yield a significant foreign policy success.

For the first time in more than 50 years, shifting politics in the United States and changing policies in Cuba make it politically feasible to re-establish formal diplomatic relations and dismantle the senseless embargo. The Castro regime has long blamed the embargo for its shortcomings, and has kept ordinary Cubans largely cut off from the world. Mr. Obama should seize this opportunity to end a long era of enmity and help a population that has suffered enormously since Washington ended diplomatic relations in 1961, two years after Fidel Castro assumed power.

The editorial goes on to note that the Cuban regime has begun, however awkwardly, to initiate some economic reforms and liberalize their travel restrictions.  This is out of a practical need rather than any awakening of a sense of democracy: their ally in the region, Venezuela, is having its own political upheaval and may not be able to dole out the goodies.

The reaction to the end of the embargo is no longer a matter of political concern; most Americans agree — if they care — that the embargo should end, and the influence of the Cuban-American lobby here in Florida has been losing strength over the last couple of decades thanks to the realities of the actuarial tables.  The younger generations are in favor of ending the embargo for practical reasons: they see a country that could be ripe for trade.

The remaining pro-embargo advocates say that as long as the Castro dictatorship remains in place, so should the embargo.  Their record on human rights stinks and they have used the embargo as their excuse to keep a tight grip on both the economy and the people.  Ending the embargo would be a reward for the regime, according to them.  Yet the United States has been trading partners and economic supporters of regimes that are just as repressive and cruel to their people: China, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia are not exactly models of Jeffersonian democracy, and yet we buy and sell billions of dollars worth of goods with them.

The embargo against Cuba is as old and as rickety as the 1950′s American autos that chug along the streets of Havana, held together by spit and string.  It’s time to send it to the junkyard.

Cuban Pontiac

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Kissinger: “Smash Cuba”

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, aka Dr. Evil, plotted to overthrow the Cuban government in 1976, according to the New York Times.

Nearly 40 years ago, Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger mapped out secret contingency plans to launch airstrikes against Havana and “smash Cuba,” newly disclosed government documents show.

Mr. Kissinger was so irked by Cuba’s military incursion into Angola that in 1976 he convened a top-secret group of senior officials to work out possible retaliatory measures in case Cuba deployed forces to other African nations, according to documents declassified by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library at the request of the National Security Archive, a research group.

The officials outlined plans to strike ports and military installations in Cuba and to send Marine battalions to the United States Navy base at Guantánamo Bay to “clobber” the Cubans, as Mr. Kissinger put it, according to the records. Mr. Kissinger, the documents show, worried that the United States would look weak if it did not stand up to a country of just eight million people.

“I think sooner or later we are going to have to crack the Cubans,” Mr. Kissinger told President Ford at a meeting in the Oval Office in 1976, according to a transcript.

Because that worked so well against North Vietnam, right?

I don’t think anyone around here harbors any special affection for the Castro brothers, but starting a war against them is just insane.  But then again, we’re talking about Henry Kissinger, who never met a country he didn’t want to conquer.

So say we attacked Cuba for whatever reason, and somehow we managed to win (although given his track record, that’s not necessarily a given).  Then what?  Welcome to Pottery Barn, as Colin Powell might say: You broke it, you bought it.  What would we have done with a country of 8 million people who were now dependent on us?  Put a puppet government in place?  Pour in tons of money?  Hand it over to capitalism and let McDonald’s and Marriott Hotels move in — along with NAPA Auto Parts to fix up the millions of cars left over from the 1950′s?  Well, that’s not for him to worry about; leave that to the next guy.  After all, Cuba has a long history of Jeffersonian democracy and squeaky-clean entrepreneurship.

Here’s another interesting revelation from the piece:

Mr. Kissinger, who was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977, had previously planned an underground effort to improve relations with Havana. But in late 1975, Mr. Castro sent troops to Angola to help the newly independent nation fend off attacks from South Africa and right-wing guerrillas.

That move infuriated Mr. Kissinger, who was incensed that Mr. Castro had passed up a chance to normalize relations with the United States in favor of pursuing his own foreign policy agenda, Mr. Kornbluh said.

“Nobody has known that at the very end of a really remarkable effort to normalize relations, Kissinger, the global chessboard player, was insulted that a small country would ruin his plans for Africa and was essentially prepared to bring the imperial force of the United States on Fidel Castro’s head,” Mr. Kornbluh said.

So it wasn’t that Castro was sending forces to Angola in an attempt to turn southern Africa into another worker’s paradise and spread the scourge of godless Communism.  It was because Castro got there first.

“You can see in the conversation with Gerald Ford that he is extremely apoplectic,” Mr. Kornbluh said, adding that Mr. Kissinger used “language about doing harm to Cuba that is pretty quintessentially aggressive.”

Shorter version: “Mine!  Mine!  Mine!  No fair!” followed by stomping of little feet and throwing of toys around the nursery.

Fortunately for us, though, the plans went nowhere because Jimmy Carter won the election and Henry Kissinger shuffled off to the backstage of history.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Negotiating Over the Price

There’s an old joke about a guy who sees an attractive woman at a cocktail party.  He says to her, “Would you sleep with me for a million bucks?”  She looks him over and says, “Sure.”  He replies, “Okay, how about for twenty?”  She retorts, “Hell, no; what do you think I am?”  He says, “We’ve already established that.  Now we’re just negotiating over the price.”

That came to mind when I read this piece in the Tampa Bay Times:

Top aides to Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, two of the most vehement anti-Communist voices in Washington, took an all expenses paid trip to China this month courtesy of the Chinese government.

Sally Canfield, deputy chief of staff to Rubio, and Arthur Estopinan, chief of staff to Ros-Lehtinen, were part of a congressional staff trip facilitated by the U.S.-Asia Institute.

The trips, which include meetings with government officials in Beijing, have occurred since 1985, involving hundreds of lawmakers and staffers. They are a popular perk on Capitol Hill and come with luxury hotel stays and visits to top tourist sites, including the Great Wall. The cost can exceed $10,000 a person.

The Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen connection stands out because of their strong anti-Communism views. Both Cuban-American lawmakers have condemned the human rights records of China and Cuba and have opposed efforts to lift the U.S. embargo on Cuba. They also regularly criticize people who have gone to Cuba.

[...]

The Tampa Bay Times learned of the aides’ visits — which have not yet shown up in Senate or House disclosures — from a source backing a group that wants to see more normal relations with Cuba.

“It represents a real double standard,” said Chris Sabatini, senior policy director of the Americas Society and Council of the Americas, when the Times told him about the trips. “At the same time they are denying citizens’ right to travel to Cuba, they feel staff can travel to another country that has the same pattern of human rights abuses.”

[...]

Rubio’s spokesman Alex Conant wrote: “Senator Rubio has consistently condemned the totalitarian nature of the Chinese government, its record of systematic human rights violations and its illegitimate territorial claims. However, China is the most populous nation on earth, has the world’s second largest economy, has a significant nuclear weapons arsenal and is increasingly an economic competitor of the United States.

In other words, China paid for everything, including accommodations, travel, meals, and who knows what else, while if you took a trip to Cuba at the invitation of that government, bring your own soap.  A million bucks or twenty makes all the difference.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tucker Carlson Gets Pawned

In October 2012 Tucker Carlson, the cheap version of George F. Will, ran with a story in his faux Fox site Daily Caller accusing Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) of consorting with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.  That would have been really bad news just before an election if it was true.

Well, guess what.

Citing former U.S. officials and people with close ties to Menendez, The Washington Post reported Monday that the CIA had obtained credible evidence, including IP addresses, linking Cuban agents to efforts to disseminate the prostitution allegations. Menendez’s attorney sent a letter to the Justice Department in April requesting that it pursue that evidence, further alleging that the Cuban government sought to derail the senator’s political career as he was poised to head up the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Daily Caller’s editor-in-chief, Tucker Carlson, told the Post it would be difficult to verify whether a story written by one of his reporters actually originated with the Castro regime.

Heh.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Spying Old Style

Aside from the latest 1959 cars cruising through Havana, the Cuban government still has connections to the Cold War.

Sixteen years after the arrests in Miami of five Cuban spies who got their secret orders by short wave transmissions, Havana is still using a system that fell out of favor in the cloak-and-dagger world with the end of the Cold War.

There are many more modern and efficient ways of communicating secrets by using satellites, burst transmissions, one-time emails and other means, said Chris Simmons, a retired Pentagon counter-intelligence officer who specialized on Cuban affairs.

“But these Cuban transmissions may be for old spies, dinosaurs who have been listening to (short wave) for so long, long term agents, that they are comfortable with it and don’t want or need a change,” Simmons added.

Along with plotting big trouble for Rocky and Bullwinkle, one message told the spy to stop by the Studebaker dealership to pick up some tubes for his radio.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Friday, January 10, 2014

Still Not Dead

Fidel Castro showed up at an art gallery opening in Havana the other day.

Former Cuban ruler Fidel Castro has made his first totally public appearance since April, looking frail, stooped over a cane, supported by a burly aide and trailed by a man identified as his personal physician.

Castro, 87, turned up Wednesday night at the opening of a Havana gallery and art studio owned by Alexis Leyva, known as Kcho, a painter and member of the Cuban parliament whose work has been praised by the aged revolutionary in the past.

The old thug may be frail and decrepit, but I’ll bet los historicos on Calle Ocho are certain that he caused the 5.1 earthquake that rattled Key West.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Okay, campers, it’s time for my annual re-cap and prognostication for the past year and the year coming up.  Let’s see how I did a year ago.

- President Obama moves into his second term with pretty much the same situation in Washington and Congress as he has had for the last two years, so nothing will really get done.  The budget matters, including the fake drama of the Fiscal Cliff, will still be around in some form because it’s a lot easier to kick it down the road than actually do something, especially when you have a Republican Party that absolutely refuses to work with the president on anything at all.  It has nothing to do with policy, deficits or debt, taxes or revenue.  The reason is pretty simple: they don’t like him, and so like a kid in grade school who refuses to do his math homework because he hates the teacher, they refuse to budge.  You can pick your excuses, ranging from his Spock-like demeanor to his refusal to suck up to the Villagers, but most of it comes down to the unspoken reason that dare not speak its name: he’s black.  No one dares say that out loud, but get three beers in any Republican, and I’ll bet they’ll admit it by saying “He’s not one of us.”  How many dog whistles do you need?  A big tell was that in the last-minute budget negotiations, Mitch McConnell went to Vice President Joe Biden as the go-between the Congress and the president.  Why?  Because Mr. Biden was in the Senate and knows how to talk to them, and also because he’s the white guy.  So we will have another year of gridlock, and the new Congress will make the one just concluded look good.

That one was pretty easy, and I’m sorry I got it right.

- The Supreme Court will rule the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop 8 are unconstitutional.  It will be a very close vote, probably 5-4 on both cases, and they will narrowly rule on both cases, doing their best not to fling open the doors to marriage equality with a blanket ruling and leave the rest of it up to the states.  But they will both go down.  On the other hand, they will rule against Affirmative Action.  I also think there will be some changes to the make-up of the Court with at least one retirement, either voluntary or by the hand of fate.

Right on gay rights and marriage equality and a punt of Affirmative Action.  I had no idea about the decimation of the Voting Rights Act, but then who did?  And the court roster remains intact.

- Even if we went over the fiscal cliff or curb or speed-bump, the economy will continue to improve, with the unemployment rate going below 7% by Labor Day.  I know this only because I know that our economy, like the water level in the Great Lakes, goes in cycles no matter what the hand of Wall Street or Washington does… unless they completely screw it up like the last time and make it even worse.

A little too optimistic on the unemployment rate, but the economy really is getting better.

- After the extreme weather we saw in 2012, at long last we will move to do something about climate change or global warming or whatever it is fashionably called.  It won’t be done by Congress, however; it will be because the people who make a living off the climate, such as agriculture and coastal enterprises such as fishing and tourism, will make it happen through their own efforts.  (Yeah, I’m being extremely optimistic on this one.  A year from now I will happily concede I blew it.)

Blew it.

- The extremism from the right that entertained us in 2012 will continue, albeit muted because 2013 isn’t an election year except in New Jersey, where Chris Christie will be re-elected and start his Howard Dean-like campaign for the presidency in 2016.  The GOP will refuse to acknowledge they have a problem, but as 2014 looms and the wingers that were elected in 2010 face re-election, they will find themselves scrambling hard for candidates that can survive primary battles where the nutsery reigns and then win the general election.  The only reason Governors Rick Scott of Florida, Rick Snyder of Michigan, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and John Kasich of Ohio will be re-elected in 2014 is if the Democrats don’t move in for the kill.

Not muted, and did not see Ted Cruz coming.  That’s not because he’s a formidable force to be reckoned with, but I thought that even the Republicans have their limits.  I guess not.

- I’ve given up predicting the Tigers’ future this year.  Surprise me, boys.

They did pretty well, and it was fun to see them live at Marlins Park.  But I was happy to see the Red Sox come from the cellar to the dome to win.

- We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.

Losing Nelson Mandela, Peter O’Toole and James Gandolfini in the same year was a shock, but we all lost friends and loved ones who did not get a spread in The New York Times.  I hold them in the Light.

- Personally, this year looks good on a couple of fronts.  The Pontiac is due back from the body shop this week, and I have formally entered it in its first national Antique Automobile of America car show to take place in Lakeland, Florida, in February.  Things are looking better at work with the Miami-Dade County Public Schools getting a number of important grants, including a $32 million program from Race To The Top for math preparation, and the District won the coveted Broad Prize for Urban Education this past fall.  One of my short plays has been selected for production in May 2013 at the Lake Worth Playhouse’s Short Cuts series, and hope springs eternal for a full-scale production again of Can’t Live Without You here in Florida.  This time I have a good director who would love to do it if we can get a theatre.  I’ll be off to the William Inge Festival in May to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Inge’s birth, and plans are in the works for our annual trip to Stratford, Ontario, next summer.  My family continues to enjoy good health and good spirits.  The blessings continue.  (PS: No, I still don’t have a Twitter account.)

The Pontiac earned its first Driver Participation badge last February and goes for its second in February 2014.  Work continues to go on and the District is doing well: no F schools this year, a marked improvement over the last five years.  My short play, Ask Me Anything, has now been produced more times than any of my other full-length works (two on-stage and one directing project), and my writing continues.  It looks like our trip to Stratford in August was our last trip, simply because of relocation and logistics, but who knows?  My family continues to enjoy good health and good spirits.  And I finally have a Twitter account: @BobbyBBWW.

Now the predictions:

- Despite the terrible roll-out and start-up of Obamacare and the opportunity it handed the Republican campaign strategists, the healthcare law will not be as big an issue in the 2014 mid-terms that all the Villagers say it will be.  By the time the campaign hits the final stretch, the law will be so entrenched that even the people who claim they hate it — even though they support what it does — will have a hard time trying to run candidates who promise to repeal it.  Still, the GOP noise machine and Tea Party hard-core is locked in on re-electing their safe base and the morning after the 2014 mid-terms will show a House still in the hands of the GOP and the Senate closer to 50-50.

- Immigration reform and gun control will go nowhere because it’s the same Congress we had in 2013 and they didn’t do jack-shit.

- By December 31, 2014 it will be a foregone conclusion that Hillary Clinton will be running for president.  Joe Biden will play coy with the Villagers about running, but in the end he’ll demur to Ms. Clinton.  The Benghazi! non-scandal will be long gone except for the nutsery who still think Barack Obama was born in Kenya.  The GOP will be lining up its merry band that includes Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Rick Santorum, and just for laughs, Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee.  President Obama’s approval numbers will be back up in the 50% range.

- Florida Gov. Rick Scott will lose his re-election bid to Charlie Crist, the newly minted Democrat, and Marco Rubio’s star will be as faded in GOP national politics as Pauly Shore’s is among Oscar voters.  He’ll pick up a primary challenge from the far right, but he’ll be safe in 2016 because the Democrats have nobody to run against him.

- Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio, Rick Snyder of Michigan, and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania will all face tough re-election campaigns, but Mr. Kasich and Mr. Snyder will probably squeak by.  Mr. Corbett is out, and just for laughs, the people of Maine will toss their gaffe-prone Tea Party guv Paul LePage.

- The national economy will continue to expand and the drive for the living wage movement will take hold.  The unemployment numbers will finally get below 7.0% and stay there.

- Marriage equality will spread to more states as more cases based on the ruling by the Supreme Court in 2013 are heard.  Indiana will vote on a ban on same-sex marriage in November 2014, and it will lose narrowly. But same-sex won’t be the law of the land yet, and I predict that unless the Supreme Court issues a sweeping ruling, Texas will be the last hold-out.

- The Supreme Court will rule 5-4 that Hobby Lobby or any for-profit non-religious corporation does not have the right “to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners.”

- This will be a rebuilding year for the Detroit Tigers now that Jim Leyland has retired.  They’ll do respectably well and may even win the division again, but it’s time for a breather.

- Fidel Castro will finally hop the twig, and the slow thaw between the U.S. and Cuba will begin as the generation that is as old as Castro continues to fade away.

- We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.

- Personally, life will continue at its gentle pace in good health and good spirits.  In September I will turn 62 and begin the first steps towards eventual retirement, but that won’t be for a long time yet.  I’ve already started on my paper for the William Inge Theatre Festival in March, and I continue to write and produce blog posts.  My parents are happily settled into their “life enrichment community,” and I hope to visit them this summer.  I might even get a smartphone this year, but don’t bet on it.

- The Ford Mustang will turn 50 years old in April 2014.  That’s not the longest continuous run of an American car model — the Corvette started in 1953 — but it’s an impressive run for a car that re-defined the auto industry.  My prediction is that it will last another fifty.

- And of course, the usual prediction: One year from now I’ll write a post just like this one, look back at this one, and think, “Gee, that was dumb.” Or not.

Okay, readers, it’s your turn.  What do you predict will befall us in 2014?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Short Takes

U.S. authorized a series of drone strikes in Yemen.

Libyan militia leader charged in Benghazi attack.

Bank of America faces federal suit over mortgages.

Japanese nuclear plant is leaking water into the Pacific.

Cubans protest treatment of migrants in the Bahamas.

Two mayors of suburban Miami arrested for corruption.

The Tigers beat the Indians 5-1 for their 10th straight win.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Monday, July 8, 2013

Short Takes

N.T.S.B. says the pilot of the Asiana flight that crashed in San Francisco tried to abort the landing.

Forty people still missing from Quebec train wreck and fire.

Teresa Heinz Kerry is hospitalized in Boston in critical but stable condition.

Raul Castro chastises Cubans for bad behavior.

7.2 earthquake hits off Papua New Guinea.

Andy Murray of Scotland won the men’s finals at Wimbledon, ending Britian’s 77-year drought at the tournament.

Tropical Update: Invest 95L is still way out in the Atlantic.

The Tigers lost to the Indians 9-6, but they are still in first place.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Short Takes

North Korea warned foreigners in South Korea to leave the country under threat of attack.

At least 14 people were injured in a stabbing attack at a community college in Texas.

Cuba will return a couple who kidnapped their own children from Tampa.

Possible agreement on background checks sets stage for Senate vote.

“Gang of 8″ immigration bill to be introduced by Thursday.

UConn beats Louisville to win women’s NCAA basketball championship.

The Tigers beat the Blue Jays.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

Technically the U.S. government went over the cliff at midnight, but at the last minute the White House and Republicans worked out a compromise deal on taxes and sequestration.  The Senate whooped it through 89-8, and the House will vote on it later today, which means it could still blow up and we’ll be back where we started.

Hillary Clinton is still recovering in at hospital in New York from a blood clot near her brain.  This development is not necessarily life-threatening, and doctors say she should make a full recovery.  But it does make the right-wingers who said she was faking her illness to get out of testifying before Congress about the incident in Benghazi look like churlish asshats.  But then again, they already were, so no news there.  Two years from today I expect us to be chattering about her standing in the Iowa polls, a year out from the Iowa caucuses.

Marriage equality comes to Maryland today.  It was one of three states that voted by public referendum to legalize the unions over the objections of such ironically-named hate groups like Focus on the Family, the National Organization for Marriage, and One Million Moms.  They had claimed that judges and legislatures had no business overturning the will of the people and no state would allow same-sex marriage if the the people got to vote on it.  Maryland and two other states, Maine and Washington, made that point moot, and now those groups are trying to figure out a way to overturn the elections.  Best wishes to the happy couples.

The last two Cuban day workers at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base have retired, but there’s no legal way for the U.S. to pay their hard-earned Defense Department pension without violating the embargo.  It’s long past time the embargo itself was retired, and without a pension.

Today marks Marty’s thirteenth birthday.  She’s been my friend Brian’s faithful companion since she was a pup, and she’s still going strong.  Best wishes.

And today marks a milestone for my 1988 Pontiac 6000 LE Safari station wagon, which I have also had since it was a pup.  It is now officially 25 years old, thus making it an antique car.

That’s what it looked like when it was twenty years old.  I’ll have more pictures of it later this week when it comes back from the body shop where it’s getting some nips and tucks done to make it ready for its first national AACA show in February.

Happy new year, everyone, and may this one be better than the last one.