Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Reading

Revolution 3.0 — Cuba makes tentative moves towards capitalism; just don’t call it that or give the United States any indication that they’re following their model.

For first-time visitors, one of the most striking things about Cuba is the lack of advertising on the landscape. The Socialist government has billboards bearing Fidel Castro’s likeness and his most quotable quotations. But one does not see roadside signs pitching much else.

That could change with the Cuban government’s eye-popping announcement last week that it will cut the government work force by 10 percent and expects the hundreds of thousands of laid-off workers to find places in a new system that has a resemblance to free enterprise.

Could the Cuba of the not-too-distant future feature signs touting “Joel’s Moving Company,” “Dayana’s Furniture Repair,” “Julio’s Boutique”?

Probably. And there will be other changes, bigger and more wrenching, if harder to see. On a scale not known for half a century, Cubans will be hiring other Cubans for small-scale enterprises, creating boss-employee relationships without the direct involvement of the Communist Party. The idea of receiving a paycheck whether one loafs, sleeps or shows up at all will be under a new challenge. And it is possible that creating a cadre of quasi-capitalists could unleash forces that the Castros or their successors will prove unable to control.

But is Cuba approaching a transformation of the kind that swept Russia and China? It is tempting to imagine so, if only because the news about a move to private employment seems so startling.

Nevertheless, experts on Cuba warn against reading any such far-reaching expectations into last week’s announcement, no matter how ambitious a task it seems to recondition Cubans for a system that will require some to sink or swim.

Yes, the Castro government is acknowledging a deep problem. But it has also always linked its core ideology to its fear and disdain of the United States and the American economic system. So its ferocious pursuit of independence from American economic influence — even as it denounces Washington’s embargo on trade — would make a radical shift to joining the global free-trade system that the United States dominates particularly difficult to explain.

More below the fold.

A New Twist — Steve Benen writes that the current right-wing fringe freak-out is not new; righties have been cashing in on it for generations. But it’s becoming mainstream.

Nixon, after becoming Ike’s vice president, said Republicans “found in the files a blueprint for socializing America” in the White House, left over from Truman. Civil rights leaders were accused of being part of a Soviet plot. The Civil Rights Act was believed to be intended to “enslave” whites. A prominent right-wing radio host insisted that JFK was building a political prison in Alaska to detain critics of the administration. When FDR proposed Social Security, the conservatives of the era not only screamed about “socialism,” but told the public Roosevelt would force Americans to wear dog tags.

In 1961, Ronald Reagan was absolutely convinced that Medicare would lead federal officials to dictate where physicians could practice medicine, and open the door to government control over where Americans were allowed to live. In fact, Reagan warned that if Medicare became law, there was a real possibility that the federal government would control where Americans go and what they do for a living.

When we hear Michele Bachmann’s hysterical nonsense, then, it’s worth remembering that it’s an echo of rhetoric that began decades ago.


The point isn’t that the Republican fringe is new; it’s clearly not. The point is that the Republican fringe is now the Republican mainstream — and that is new. We’ve long seen a party with bizarre theocrats, Birchers, and the like, but they were always kept on the periphery. That’s no longer the case.

Fred Grimm on the real disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Now, 153 days later, the leak finally plugged, it turned out that oil-devouring microbes were the actual heroes (with help from lucky winds and favorable currents), staving off the coastal damage we had all imagined. (Bobby Jindal has spent $80 million so far building the first six miles of his boondoggle berm).

No one quite knows how the deep water ecology will be affected by 200 million gallons of oil and 777,000 gallons of chemical dispersants. Surely it’s a catastrophe. Just not the catastrophe we envisioned that day on Brenton Bay.

But the Deepwater Horizon spill was always a disaster within a disaster.

Sea life lost around the wrecked oil well only adds to the environmental havoc in the gulf.

Scientists might theorize that the BP oil spill killed marine life, but they know that agricultural nutrients and farm waste, flushed into the gulf from the Mississippi River, creates a giant, ever-expanding dead zone. Marine scientists have been watching this oxygen-depleted, fish-killing blob since 1972.

This summer they warned that it now encompasses 7,722 square miles — a fishless, algae-infested area nearly the size of New Jersey.

”The oil spill was such a visible disaster. I’m afraid it has diverted attention from the gulf’s problems as a whole,” worried Robert J. Diaz of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and an expert on the hypoxia phenomenon threatening the gulf and other coastal waters, including Florida Bay. Diaz knows that repairing the dead zone would mean taking on powerful agricultural interests whose fertilizers and waste runoffs pollute the Mississippi River basin. Without the kind of media interest roiled by the BP disaster, the gulf clean-up hasn’t attracted so many political champions.

Doonesbury — Like father, like son.