Saturday, December 1, 2007

Withering Fire

"Repugnant, repulsive, anti-American propaganda." Blistering review of the film Redacted at National Review Online. After complaining that the experience of watching it left him speechless, Ross Kaminsky finds his voice in time to unleash his outrage at the latest anti-war epic:

But the movie ends up being something that Goebbels might be proud of, as it repeats a “big lie”, namely that all American soldiers are murderous cretins or impotent collaborators and that the Army itself is cruel, hateful, and devious, with tedious and furious frequency.
There is much, much more. However, the review points to the real solecism of the film:

At the time of this writing, about 1,050 people had rated this film on IMDB. There is a clear trend that the older (and wiser) the viewer, the less they liked the film. More interestingly, the average vote from a US viewer is about 4/10 while Non-US viewers rate it above 7/10.

Therein lies what would have been a crime during WWII. As Kaminsky writes

The movie will be shown as a recruiting tool by Al Qaeda and will cause at least a few ordinary people to hate and mistrust America. It wouldn’t surprise me if a few of those took violent action (or financed it) as a result. That blood will be on the hands of Brian De Palma and Mark Cuban. Unfortunately, that’s probably just what they want.

To a world fed a steady diet of anti-American propaganda, coming from the Great Satan itself, this movie will serve as confirmation. We don't need enemies: we are our worst enemy.

I Can See Clearly Now

Update: It's not too late, baby. Chavez had his hat handed to him over the supposed reforms by a miniscule percentage of the voters. Inquiring minds can only suppose that the NO vote must have been much larger to force him to declare defeat. The Venezuelans have triumphed, for now. As long as he is in power, they must remain vigilant. He will not stop here.

Interesting Op-ed piece in today's New York Times by a longtime associate and former defense minister who has broken ranks with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. The money quote:

The proposal, which would abolish presidential term limits and expand presidential powers, is nothing less than an attempt to establish a socialist state in Venezuela. As our Catholic bishops have already made clear, a socialist state is contrary to the beliefs of Simón Bolívar, the South American liberation hero, and it is also contrary to human nature and the Christian view of society, because it grants the state absolute control over the people it governs.

Wow! He discovered the Mediterranean, as me good old mom would say. But he does have some interesting things to say about the forces that brought Chavez to power and especially the lack of results for the poor. Politcal parties, note he does not limit it to Chavez (one has to wonder why) have created a false properity and a notion of entitlement.

During the economic boom years, ushered in by a sustained increase in oil prices, the parties dispensed favors, subsidies and alms. In the end, they taught the people about rights rather than obligations, thus establishing the myth that Venezuela is a rich country, and that the sole duty of a good government is to distribute its wealth evenly. President Chávez has been buying and selling against this idea, continuing to practice the kind of neopopulism that will reach its limit only when the country receives what economists call an “external shock.”

Interesting, but mayhap too little, too late.

As if We Didn't Know the Fix is In

Venezuela's Chavez comes across as an object of derision. There are those who call him a monkey, even Chavez has called himself a macaco in jest. But his machinations are no laughing matter. Having created a plebiscite to remain in power indefinitely under the guise of constitutional reform, he is now faced with an increasingly restive public. If he had not already co-opted the electoral process, Carter's assertions aside, his reforms would be even now heading for defeat. Opinion polls place "no" votes 10% ahead of "yes."

But what we do know is that allegations of fraud over his last race are rife. The kicker came when he appointed the head of the electoral process his vice president once his reelection was secure. If it walks like a duck.... But all of this is prelude.

Now, it seems that Chavez has learned well from his mentor in Cuba. Yesterday, he threatened to cut off US oil supplies, signalling the Americans that any help for the pro democracy movement would land them in dire straits:

“If ’yes’ wins on Sunday and the Venezuelan oligarchy, the violent Venezuelans — the ones who play the (U.S.) empire’s game — unleash violence with the tale that there was fraud ... minister, that very Monday you order a halt to the shipments of oil to the United States,”

Barring any mass miracle, "yes" will win on Sunday. Having engineered it, he knows that. It is practically a given that those who have been demonstrating for months, who have been cheated of their electoral rights, who only now see their mirror image in the desolation that is Cuba are not going to take their marbles and go home.

So just as the Castro government did with the missile crisis, he seeks to create a potential oil crisis to keep the Americans at bay. In a real showdown, though, Venezuela would be the loser. Despite the demand for oil, Venezuela's crude is very heavy. Few can process it. Witness the "new" recycled plant Chavez is developing in Cuba. But the even the specter of losing 20% of their imports would be a remarkable deterrent to the Americans, particularly in an election year and with a cultural climate that produces the likes of Sean Penn.

So, literally, the fate of their nation is in the hands of the Venezuelan people. They need to overwhelm the polls, overwhelm the fixes with their numbers. As it is, it I fear they have slept too long. Article here.

Friday, November 30, 2007

YouTube Debate: The Republicans

Sounds like the title of an Alex Haley or John Jakes novel- The Republicans- doesn't it? Anyway, "Self," I say, "how can you possibly write about a debate you refused to watch? After all, didn't you maintain that if your society is going to hell in a handbasket, you didn't have to assist in the process?" That, I did or, more accurately, did not (watch the debate).

I have, however, enjoyed the coverage of same on our blogs. For the play by play and analysis, I heartily recommend Nelson Guirados's blog, Assymetric. I've linked to the main page because he has a few posts. Just hit the "politics" button. This AM, Val Prieto on Babalublog pokes fun at the notion that anyone should be shocked that there were Democrat plants. Duh? CNN unfair? I've saved the best for last, though. Our resident student journalist, Frances Martel, posted a delightful piece anticipating the whole extravaganza, notable for its wit. Her masterful descriptions nearly made me laugh out loud. I leave you with some snippets:

Thanks to YouTube, Sam from San Francisco has no need to depart from his commune should he want to ask Barack Obama what type of marijuana he prefers to smoke now that he’s a Senator- and where he can get some. Kurt from southern Texas can wonder aloud to millions what Bill Richardson will do about permits to hunt illegals at the border. And Pam from the Maryland suburbs can demand an answer to the heaviest question weighing on American soccer moms’ minds about their preferred candidate, John Edwards: “boxers or brief?” all while she makes the kids breakfast before she sends them out on the field.


Perhaps one of the most defining shifts in the debate from those of the past is the revoking of Wolf Blitzer’s out-of-coffin hours during the debate. Blitzer remains calmly as host of Ambien’s worst enemy, “The Situation Room”, and has been replaced by aging hipster Anderson Cooper. Cooper, who can be seen doing “edgy” and “totally extreme” things on his program, “Anderson Cooper 360º”, weekdays at 10 PM, is essentially CNN’s version of Steve Irwin. Cooper tries to be intrepid to the point of desperation, and makes life-or-death situations out of anything from the release of a new Kenny G album to an interview with Angelina Jolie (to Cooper’s credit, the latter could quite possibly be a life-or-death situation).

Yup, I love them all!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Open Letter to Ry Cooder

President Clinton helped us bring Buena Vista Social Club out to the world. President Bush helps his gangster buddies in Miami make more money. You be the judge!
Ry Cooder

Yesterday on Babalublog, I posted three quotes found in a press release for some new campaign to keep the Bush administration from tightening the screws on cultural exchanges. Both Sean Penn and Danny Glover I dismiss out of hand. Those two have apparently never met a leftist dictator or aspiring dictator they didn't like. But Cooder, a figure from my generation and my music, that stung. Justifiably incensed, I've written a response to Mr. Cooder. Since I am having difficulty finding an email address for him, it is at the moment an open letter I share with you.

Ry Cooder:

As a child of the late sixties, it is with great disappointment that I am driven to write this letter. I have always been something of an admirer. When the Buena Vista Social Club came out, you refrained from making uninformed political pronouncements, at least I didn't hear any, so I welcomed the opportunity you provided for Cuban musicians and went out and bought the CD. Yesterday, I was blindsided when I came across the quote above which I find not only stupid but offensive. It is exactly commentary like yours which encourages further restriction. Well-intentioned people, without prior knowledge of facts, go down to Cuba where every move and meeting is orchestrated and return regurgitating the party line, serving as stooges for the Castro regime, a regime so oppressive that per capita it rivals some of the most notorious dictatorships in history. The Cubans you met could not tell you the truth. Truth is illegal in Cuba, as are dissent, independent newspapers, and meetings on the street of more than three people.

The only "gangsters" in this case are those in the Castro regime who live in plenty, siphoning off the spoils of tourism and the national production, while keeping the populace in deliberate misery. Yes, there are people in the United States who make money. There's Western Union which charges you a hefty percentage to send dollars to your relatives. The Cuban government which takes 25% of the already reduced amount to exchange it for near worthless -even in Cuba- currency. There are those who ship packages at $13.00 a pound, packages to relatives, packages made necessary by the lack of everything from food to shoes to toothpaste. There are the pharmacies that make money off shipping everything from aspirin to vitamins to antibiotics to antipsychotic drugs, shipments which are made necessary by their scarcity in Cuba. There are whole cottage industries which have sprung up in the desperate quest of those you call "gangsters" to help their families on the island. Lest you console yourself with the lie that all this want is caused by the embargo, please note that there is no embargo on food and medicine. Further, whatever hardship on the regime the porous embargo might impose is far and away superseded by the colossal mismanagement of the economy by the Havana Mafia. Take sugar, traditionally Cuba's premier export. Production is at Depression Era levels. Cuba has to import sugar. And that is but one industry.

As a Cuban American, what I find most galling, however, is your revicitimization of a people who have been wronged. Over a million Cubans were forced to flee, the majority of whom were not rich, were not supporters of Batista, many of whom supported the revolution before it declared itself Communist a year after the fact and even some who supported it afterward. Not all of us reside in Miami. How cavalierly you dismiss our suffering. How is this possible?

For a moment, Mr. Cooder, visualize George Bush and his government taking your home, your motor vehicles, stopping your royalty payments. From this moment on, you cannot say a single bad thing about him or his government. You cannot go to the supermarket to buy what you want. You will be given a ration card of provisions you may buy in a single month, provisions which will only feed you for about two weeks, less than slaves received. If you want to continue making your music, you must compose paens to the glory of the Bush government for the sum of twenty dollars a month in a currency that is virtually useless in procuring more food. Your neighbors across the street are charged with watching you.

Faced with this new reality, you decide on freedom, escape to, say, Germany, where you do not speak the language. You arrive penniless in a somewhat xenophobic country. Years later after much struggle, washing dishes maybe, living as a de facto second class citizen, you are comfortable. Then you read an article in which some punk ass German rocker calls you a Hamburg gangster because you have the nerve to demand that your new government not treat with the Bush administration. Doesn't feel good, does it?

The problem with even well-meaning people is that they start out with the colonialist presupposition that Cuba was always on par with countries like Haiti. While freedom is something you exercise each day, it is quite acceptable that those little brown people are deprived of the same, as if they are genetically unfit to have a say in their own lives. Take a memo: the supposed compassionate talking points of the liberal left are a shameless and ignorant exercise in hypocrisy. And you, Mr. Cooder, have not only fallen for it hook, line, and sinker, but are using your celebrity to expound it.

Someday, when Cubans are free to speak to foreigners, news organizations, and the like, you will have egg on more than your face. Until then, I suspect I shouldn't wait for the apology that I and thousands more like me deserve. Don't kid yourself, the politicians and policies exist because there is more than ample support for them in the community you malign.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities: Havana

Interesting post on Generation Y, straight from the island, contrasting the two Havanas: the one in which the officials, the diplomats, and the foreigners live, and the one Cubans inhabit. As I read Yoani Sanchez's references to the Havana where they discuss "Parmesan cheese," "Ikea Furniture," "the weekend in Cancun," while in her Havana she rocks on her grandmother's chairs, navigates the black market for food, and speaks in whispers, I am struck by how much the careless, overheard conversations must sting. She ends the post maintaining she would not want to live in the other world:

I prefer the decrepit capital, crumbling more each day, at least that one is coherent and clear about what it holds inside. We've made it in our image and likeness, or more likely, we are the ones who imitate its resignation and its misery.

Cuba News

There's quite a bit this AM, and I'm in a hurry, so I'll have to brief it.

AP is out with a story of college students and a drive to petition the government to allow colleges and universities independence from state control and free speech. Despite having collected 5,000 signatures, they don't plan to submit them yet. See, they're afraid of being expelled.

From the Sidney Herald Leader, an article on how wrong-headed Bush's policy is. According to Sanchez, the author, further restriction on cultural exchanges is in the works. Response, she says, has been swift, supported by none other than Danny Glover and Sean Penn. Perhaps if "artists" did not serve as apologists and propaganda tools for a brutally oppressive regime, this restriction would be unwarranted. As it is.... There is a connected story that has so ignited my wrath that I'll post later.

And, of course, the usual statistical shenanigans from the castro government with the announcement that Cuba expects 10 percent growth this year. If it's anything like last year's purported growth of 12.6 percent, it will be yet another example of true voodoo economics. Read it here.

Stay tuned for more later.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

El Cuento de la Buena Pipa...or is that Doublespeak?

"There was no political ruse whatsoever on my part or that of the Cuban Government over the choice of dates,"

Thus spake the infamous Rapporteur Ziegler about the timing of his visit to Cuba, which happened near concurrently with President Bush's address and the UN vote. If you believe that, I have a bridge I can sell you cheaply. Perhaps the best statement in the article on his answer to his critics:

The special rapporteur on the Right to Food said he had been invited by a number of European Union ambassadors to meet the NGO's secretly within their embassies.

"To meet discreetly would have been an absurdity," Ziegler said. His programme had already been arranged and approved by the Cuban Government and he wanted to respect his mandate on the right to food.

"It would have been irresponsible for my part to, in whatever way even if humanly understandable, put in danger this openness," he added.

Pardonnez moi, what openness, the same they have been showing for half a decade, openness to their propaganda? I am constitutionally unable to force myself to link to anything called "earthtimes." So go there if you want the rest of the article.

How Things Change

One of the more overlooked sins of the castro regime has been its spiritual and emotional effects on people, particularly families. I'm not going to touch the alleged 8 million CDRs on the island. They deserve their own annal of infamy. And the physical and logistical distance between family members is obvious. No, there is a hidden cost. Sometimes I am reminded of the American civil war, when I hear about x family member who is a comuñanga, as if there are any truly left in Cuba, and y family member who is a gusano.

It came to my mind today when I got word that one of the refugees on that boat in the news recently, the one in which one person lost his life, was my godmother. I don't remember seeing her in the flesh, although I'm sure she was at my baptism in Cuba. In fact, all I have is one picture of her. And therein, lies the problem. Although I bear her no ill will, I've never really communicated with her. As a child and later, I could not not get past the miliciana uniform she is wearing in the photo. My parents, remarkably for them, did not push the issue.

I'm pretty sure it was wrong to write her off, and I will go visit and see what she has to say, now that both she and I are older and wiser. But my situation is symptomatic of the greater problem. How do you effect reconciliation on a much larger scale? And where do you draw the line?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Poor Hugo: Lo Van a Callar

Fresh from the receiving end of a Royal put-down, wouldbe Venezuelan President-for-life Hugo Chavez faces the latest poll showing dwindling support for his constitutional "reforms," read that electoral coup. Despite his assertions that anyone voting "no" is a traitor, apparently 49% of the populace consists of turncoats. Another 39% favor his proposals.

In other circumstances, this would be reassuring news. Given his previous record on elections- Remember the head of the electoral process who was named vice-president after the Chavez victory- and his propensity to unleash armed thugs on the opposition, there is ample cause for worry. I only hope the people of Venezuela realize they are battling for the soul of their country and act accordingly.

Read the Reuters article

Read: The Queen of Bedlam by Robert McCammon

I had run to the library before the holiday closing because I had a line on a Cuba book I wanted to read. So, I'm browsing when I see, can it be? Yes! There is a new Robert McCammon book. McCammon had disappeared from the stacks for quite a while. After his Gone South in which the main character has cancer and takes refuge in the swamps and his disappearance, I was truly worried. I needn't have been. A new interview with the author makes clear that he was just fed up with the business.

And now he's back in the game. Originally a horror writer, McCammon began to move away from the genre in his Boy's Life, one of my personal favorites. By the time Gone South was published in 1994, he was already in a new mode. His next book, Speaks the Nightbird, which I somehow missed, was not published until 2002. When I picked up The Queen of Bedlam, I was surprised to find that it was the second in a series about the young, erstwhile law clerk, Matthew Corbett and is set in the New York City in the Colonial Era.

Corbett is a delight of a character, a former street urchin and orphanage survivor, who had the good fortune to run into a magistrate who took him under his wing and made him a law clerk. He is at the same time intellectually sharp, emotionally vulnerable, and self-consciously stuffy as he navigates the ways of the gentler folk. McCammon successfully conveys the social mores and societal mindset of the time, as young Corbett insinuates himself into a murder investigation and embroils himself in a much larger conspiracy. In the process, he learns a few things about his place in the world.

As Corbett unravels the mystery at the heart of the book, we get a glimpse of the world that was New York City, way before it was the Big Apple. It's fascinating to see it as it was in the 1700's, its physical and political landscape. And the cross-dressing Royal Governor is not be missed.

I was a bit intimidated by the length, 645 pages, but McCammon in any genre is an excellent writer. After a slow start around the holiday, I couldn't put it down. My only complaint is that it ended the mystery but hinted at another. I hate that after reading so many pages. And the book set in Cuba? Somebody had beat me to it.