Saturday, June 14, 2008

Immigration Constraints on Exiled Cubans

No, not in the United States, in Europe. According to this email from Joel Rodriguez posted on Los Miquis....

A Cuban wanting to normalize his status in Europe has three options. The first is to marry a European, which often entails marrying someone 40 or 50 years older and sometimes results in being pimped out. The second is to apply for political asylum, a process that can take up to four years and a status that is not often granted. The person granted such can never again return to Cuba while the regime is in power. The third option is to remain illegal with all of its attendant risks. After 11 months, the Cuban government essentially disowns you, and you become the proverbial "man [or woman] without a country.
(My translation and summary)

Geez, and I thought the Europeans were the enlightened ones! Read the original here.

The Best and the Worst

I was saddened to learn yesterday of the death of Tim Russert. I am sure his family will miss him, as will his colleagues, as will boosters of Boston College. There is much that can and is being said ad infinitum about him. He was the last of a breed: the knowledgeable, hard-hitting, but fair interviewer. Russert upheld the highest traditions of the press in a democracy- to serve as an honest broker of information to the voting public. In a media world increasingly peopled by pretty faces and partisans with the combined intellect of a ring ding, he will be sorely missed.

Which brings me to what's left. If Russert exemplified all that is right, when the media is at its best, then MSNBC's Keith Olbermann represents what happens when you subsitute commentary for information, opinion for fact, and vituperation for due diligence. Initially, I was amused by his quick wit, but when he launched into personal attacks on the President of the United States, I was horrified. When a TV personality on a cable news network addresses a sitting president in a manner more befitting a barroom than a national TV show with impunity, there is something seriously wrong. As far I was concerned, he went far beyond the pale. There is the question of civility to be considered. As far as MSNBC and its parent company, General Electric, were concerned, he was a star in their dim constellation. So it was with no small interest that I read Frances Martel's piece here.

Here's a teaser:

Keith Olbermann fancies himself a Renaissance man. A beer-and-chips C-class football anchor by trade, Olbermann has managed to wrest the national spotlight out of the hands of respected media empires and turn it on himself, milking the gravitas in his voice and his “intellectual” glasses for all they’re worth.

You go, girl!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Anne in Flames and Bush in Retrospect

I have a confession to make: I've never believed that Bush is a terrible president. Sorry. I'll spot you monumental incompetence in the handling of Iraqi reconstruction. But then, we're not particularly practiced in nation building, particularly when our own press is working against our interests. Bush inherited the bust and neatly preempted a recession with the timely tax cuts. Most of his tenure has coincided with a healthy economy. He is no more responsible for the housing crisis, than Clinton was for the tech bubble, and than either is responsible for the orgy of greed that got us there. His concession to the "greenies" in the form of pushing ethanol has led to pressure on global food prices. Just goes to show.

His greatest sin, according to most who trash him, was "lying" to get us into Iraq. I'll give you my theory. Prior to 9/11, the most Osama had ever done really was cause handfuls of casualties. I can be sure that not even the most perspicacious of those self-proclaimed Cassandras- who are running around wringing hands and gnashing teeth in hindsight- ever imagined the scope of the damage he would inflict. I suspect that Bush, sometime in the evening of 9/11, said to himself, "Not on my watch ever again." Saddam, it was generally thought, had weapons of mass destruction, was hostile to the United States, and had at his disposal all the terrain and wealth of an entire nation. He removed him. Perhaps it was not morally right; perhaps it was. The result is that all the jihadis made post haste to Iraq, where they have been essentially defeated, and Saddam ain't going to be helping anybody.

Here's Anne Coulter's take on the Bush presidency in a must read column. Some days, she just has it. I wouldn't go as overboard in praise of Bush, but time will tell just how good a president he has been.

The Poet and the Journalist

A few days ago, I came across an interesting piece, entitled "Can a Poet be More Precise than a Journalist?" Part II details a trip to Cuba by Romanian Poet Andrei Codrescu, who was accompanied by producer Art Silverman and photographer David Graham. The tropical colors of the island he found overwhelming, as did Graham's lens. It's interesting to note his thoughts on undertaking his Cuban adventure:

Having grown up in Romania, I was more alert over the unseen horrors under all of the tropical brilliance, and I had planned to not allow myself to be seduced. Consequently the sober prose in the book I wrote as a result of this trip contrasts with David's delirious photographs.

The resultant book was the mirror image of Evan's The Crime of Cuba. He needn't have worried about being seduced, however, as the nature of things became apparent from the moment his Salvadorean guide entered their hotel. Accused of being a jinetera or prostitute, she is asked to leave. As an assertive non Cuban, she first tried to explain then took umbrage. The brouhaha resulted in a pretty uncomfortable encounter for all of them with State Security- during which she was nearly accused of terrorism- until the matter was resolved by her bureau chief husband's contacts higher up the food chain.

If you can read Spanish, it's worth the time. I don't know if the poet can be more precise, but his prose makes for better reading.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Read: Telex from Cuba

Due to be released on July 1, Rachel Kushner’s first novel Telex from Cuba is in part a portrait of the American community at Preston (now going by the unlikely name of Guatemala) and Nicaro in the 1950’s. It is a world unto itself, existing tangentially alongside that inhabited by Cubans. In point of fact, with the exception of the risqué dancer/loose woman with painted-on fishnets and a slimy and duplicitous investor, there are few Cuban characters in the novel.

One early reviewer has called it a “postcard,” perhaps because it leaves the reader with the glancing sensation of having touched someone else’s temporary sojourn in paradise. The point of view here, however, with its multiple narrators makes the experience more like that of picking up an old album, blowing the dust off the cover, and peeking at moments frozen in time. Much here rings true, perhaps because Ms. Kushner’s own mother grew up in these circles. Overall, as with much literature set in Cuba in the revolutionary years, there is an abiding sense of loss.

That is not to say that the Cuba of that era is presented as a utopia. Far from it, if anything, the novel errs in giving a skewed presentation by concentrating on poverty, social injustice, corruption, and general licentiousness. But then, that is how they saw us. Overall, what contact did they have with the Cuban community at large? I know my father, despite having letters of introduction, sat in the Americano Mr. Bienvenue’s office for three days waiting to see the great man before he threw up his hands in disgust and left for greener pastures.

However, Ms. Kushner’s achievement in this novel is that its time and place recedes into a greater probing of innocence and the consequences of its loss. There is the perverse innocence of the American enclave and its inhabitants, its strange blend of sophistication, social stratification, and cluelessness. There is the coming of age with its attendant losses of young KC Stites, whose father runs the United Fruit operation in Preston, and Everly Lederer, whose father is a lesser executive at the mine in Nicaro, both of whom come closest to approximating any sort of main character. There is the long lost innocence of Rachel K, abandoned at a “shimmy bar” as an adolescent and that of her sometime lover, gun-runner and former French Nazi La Maziere.

There is even young Del Stites’ flirtation with the revolution. The passionate believer who takes to the mountains and aids in setting his father’s operation aflame quickly abandons the revolution when he witnesses first hand its atrocities upon seizing power. I’m left with the thought that millions of Cubans did not have that option.

In the end, Kushner weaves the multiple threads of her narrative into a lyrical panorama that, as she writes about the eye, “both reflects and refracts the sky on which it gazes.” I really enjoyed this one. More info here.

A Scary State

Earlier much was made of Raul's call for frank discussion. At the time, a few noted that this was a time-tested Castro pattern used to identify potential enemies. Well, this analysis, published in the Miami Herald, lends a more sinister interpretation to the current "catch and release" policies of the new/old regime, particularly when it comes to the "Cambio" campaign in Cuba and should come as no surprise to those who know that the security services in Cuba patterned themselves after the East German Stasi.

Here's an excerpt:

Concurrently, the DCI coordinates with police and security forces to maintain moderate pressure on Cambio. This maintains the perception that Cambio attracts government attention and a level of harassment consistent with the other dissident movements. It also allows more opportunities to turn Cambio members into informants.

As years pass, the DCI will continue to infiltrate agents and officers, some of whom will become such trusted insiders that they eventually secure leadership positions.
During this period, Havana will continue to ''tolerate'' Cambio's existence and enjoy the favorable media coverage that results. Then, at the moment most politically advantageous to the regime, the government will move in and cripple it by detaining all its senior and mid-level leadership. Historically, such acts are timed to divert attention from a massive government failure or to seize a political opening in which it can avoid significant international repercussions.

During the crackdown, many DCI personnel who infiltrated the campaign will be ''detained'' along with legitimate Cambio members. This ensures the safety of its personnel and creates an opportunity for intelligence collection in the most unlikely of places -- a Cuban jail. Then, having crippled the movement, the DCI will reveal the identity of many of its penetration agents and officers, denounce Cambio as a CIA operation and assist in the show trials.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Must Read

Skip the benighted picture of Jolie, and if you want; read the article about her and her growing brood, if you wish. By the way, what is it with these pictures? Have you seen the God awful photo of Sarah Jessica Parker on the cover of this month's Vogue? No, the article to read is "Commie Ball: A Journey to the End of a Revolution" by Michael Lewis. Detailing the travails of Gus Dominguez and, arguably more importantly, ballplayers in Cuba, it's enlightening. Lewis seems fascinated with the idea that Dominguez did not profit considerably and instead lost money. Most of us understand. I say we launch a campaign to free him. Anyway, I'm not even finished reading all twelve pages, and I'm driven to recommend it. And while you're at it, read the article that drove Bill Clinton to call the writer, husband of long time associate Dee Dee Myers, a "scumbag."

Oh, and for an interesting take on the baseball article, watch the cutesy video intro by Graydon Carter. Baseball article here.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Little Close Reading and a Good Bit of Audacity

The other day, Henry on Babalu singled out a prize passage in Obama's accepting the mantle of Democrat nominee speech worthy of a closer look:

I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people… I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal… This was the moment — this was the time — when we came together to remake this great nation…

From the first sentence, I am suspicious. In my experience, people who feel the need to tell you they are humble, or honest, or even religious are almost never humble, or honest, or even religious. Okay, he has faith in the American people. That's fair enough and good boilerplate. Let's see "generations from now"..... I don't know about him, but I don't intend to play Tithonus. Right about that time, I should be pushing up organically grown daisies. But I do like that "this was the moment" bit as Obamamoses leads us to the promised land of free healthcare and full government employment. Sound familiar? It should. I do find the end of that sentence somewhat intellectually dishonest. The construction makes it seem as if there are people dying in our streets and bread lines in the cities. Not quite.

That pales in comparison to the next line in which Obama, Moses like, is apparently going to raise his Montblanc and still the rising ocean waters and perform a healing on the planet. Oh, but now I'm being intellectually dishonest. It's the American people under the able tutelage of Obama who are going to accomplish these supra herculean feats. Sure, appeal to American arrogance. Onward, behind Oprah, we will wage battle with those horrible polluters who feed us, heat us, power our vehicles, employ us, and who are essentially us. Who among us doesn't have a car?

But I digress. Back to our reading. Whoa, Betsy, what's this "remake this great nation" bullshit? There, oh, my brothers, is the scariest bit of all. This is supposed to be an election, not a revolution. Two hundred odd years ago, the founding fathers took care of that, and they did a pretty good job of it. Somehow I'd rather leave it in their hands than in those of a neophyte Senator with a propensity for bombast.

Sunday Signs of the Times

Hazard. My American friends, it was bad enough to hear that one of the names being touted for attorney general was that of Janet Reno's deputy in the Elian affair, Eric Holder. But this Dick Morris column on the selection of this same worthy for Obama's VP search team introduces new worrisome associations. Show me your friends, and I'll tell you who you are. I know, I know, Obama's the only virgin in the cathouse.

Road Narrows. According to Reuters, the number of major internet players will shrink to two: Google and Amazon. According to this scenario, Yahoo will be acquired by Microsoft, and eBay will go the same route to another buyer. Gone is the hour of splendor in the grass and glory in the flower.

Yield. According to this article on MSNBC, dumpster diving isn't just for the homeless anymore. In an interesting look at a new phenomenon, Allison Linn presents everything from "average" people who make a habit of stopping by the grocery dumpster to "freegans" who try to live outside the "conventional economic model."

Roadwork. With gas crossing the 4 dollar a gallon threshold, it seems timely to examine our driving habits. Here's a quiz for you. Me, I've got an old Honda Dream that was in somebody else's garage for a long, long time that's lookin' mighty tempting right about now.

Detour. When I first saw the commercial for this upcoming TV series, I thought- "How cool, they really seem to have captured the flavor of the 70's." Incidentally, it is a decade I remember tres fondly. Take a look at this video clip, however. And this on CBS. Just when you thought they couldn't go lower. As me good old Mom is wont to say, "Sodom and Gonorrhea."