American Elephants


I Think The Times And Obama Are Wrong. Can I Possibly Be Right? by The Elephant's Child

Gutted Yellow Building Havana

The New York Times is, as usual, a little off. When ideology trumps journalism, you get these embarrassing slip-ups. The headline is “As Cuba Shifts Toward Capitalism, Inequality Grows More Visible.”

What shift toward capitalism? Raul Castro has stated firmly that Cuba is not moving one centimeter away from Communism.

As Cuba opens the door wider to private enterprise, the gap between the haves and have-nots — and between whites and blacks — that the revolution sought to diminish is growing more evident.

That divide is expected to increase now that the United States is raising the amount of money that Cuban-Americans can send to the island to $8,000 a year, up from $2,000, as part of President Obama’s historic thaw with Cuba.

This was not any kind of agreement with Cuba. Cuba offered nothing, and was pleased that America surrendered to them. If Cuban-Americans send more remittances, they will only enrich the Communist government. Cuban citizens are limited to a maximum income of $20 a month, and anything over that goes to the government.

This was just another of Obama’s big ideas. He was going to liberate Cuba, expand trade, and the tourist business will improve the Cuban economy.

Remittances, estimated at $1 billion to nearly $3 billion a year, are already a big source of the capital behind the new small businesses. The cash infusion has been one of the top drivers of the Cuban economy in recent years, rivaling tourism revenues and mineral, pharmaceutical and sugar exports.

Fidel Castro has been estimated in the past by Forbes to be one of the world’s wealthiest men, and I’m sure that covers his little brother as well. Cuba has been trading the use of their doctors to Venezuela in trade for oil. The reason Cuban’s maximum income is so low is because they are offered free medical care and a ration card for food. If they have to go to the hospital, they need to supply their own sheets and blankets, their own medicine and even iodine, if needed. According to the Times:

The river where Jonas Echevarria fishes cuts through neighborhoods brimming with new fine restaurants, spas and boutiques, springing up in Cuba’s accelerating push toward private enterprise.

Tattered mansions and luxury apartment blocks speak of old wealth and new. A bounty of private restaurants known as paladares serve pork tenderloin, filet mignon and orange duck to tourists, Cuban-Americans visiting relatives and a growing pool of Cuban entrepreneurs with cash to spend.

I’m sure the Cuban government is building tourist facilities in expectation of lots of tourist business, bringing more revenue to the government, but this report from the New York Times has no relation to what I have read elsewhere about Cuba. Previous tourist hotels are run by a Spanish company, who pays the government for their Cuban workers. The government gives the workers their $20 a month, and pockets the rest.

The Times article extolls the Obama effort and assumes that everything in Cuba will improve as a result —in spite of Raul Castro’s firm declaration that nothing whatsoever was changing.  Interesting. Somebody is very wrong. We’ll see.



What Did Obama Mean By “Fundamentally Transform”? by The Elephant's Child

Obama lecturing

Most of us are apt to divide the world up into the good guys and the bad guys. Opposites.  Simplistic thinking, of course. No nuance. (when did that word slip into the daily vocabulary?) Winners and losers. Short and tall, rich and poor, hard-working and lazy, handsome and ugly, cruel and kind, smart and stupid. It helps us to understand those things we encounter in the world, we can modify our judgment later.

World War II was clear — Allies and Axis, and the Cold War — Communists and the Free World. Things began to get confused with the War in Vietnam. Protesters couldn’t decide who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. Jane Fonda has never been forgiven for her stupidity, but she was not alone among the far left. It was a confusing time, and when the Draft was ended, surprisingly so were the protests.

Questions today on the internet ask “Is Obama a Christian?” and “Is Obama a Muslim?” But those are the wrong questions. Obama has given every indication of signing up with the bad guys, the Axis, the Communists, and those who oppose our country. His dislike for the Israeli prime minister is obvious; his distaste for the United Kingdom is clear; his support for a deal with Iran; his support for the Muslim Brotherhood; for the deposed president of Egypt; inability to reach a status of forces agreement with Iraq; Benghazi; refusal to help the dissidents in Iran, and in Syria; and the silly outreach to Cuba; and the support for most anti-American governments in South America.

There is a pattern.  A pattern which is behind Rudy Giuliani’s asking if the president loves America. One would think that the media would be somewhat aware of the direction of the entire Obama administration, instead of dissolving in wrath when someone actually notices. (Or is that why the media boiled over —they’re beginning to notice?)

I think he is just doing exactly what he said he would do: attempt to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.” Everybody was so excited with the idea of the first black president, the mellow baritone voice, the moving phraseology “Yes We Can!,” “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for!,” that they didn’t really pay any attention to what he actually said that he wanted to do. I don’t think he is trying to destroy the country, he just wants to “fix” it.

We are paying the price for our inattention. And it’s up to us to find out exactly what he meant by “fundamentally transform.” It matters. It matters a lot.



Barack Obama’s Preposterous Foreign Policy Ideas. by The Elephant's Child

Americans are puzzled by President Obama’s refusal to put the words “Islamic” and “terrorism” even close to each other in a sentence. Violent extremism is as close as it gets, and it is clear that the entire administration has been instructed in language control. If you’re good at it (Jen Psaki) you get promoted, if not, not.

But we hear the news, we remember 9/11, Charlie Hebdo, attacks in Australia, Canada, London, Denmark, Fort Hood, the Boston Massacre, and daily reports of the “violent extremism” of ISIS, beheading, crucifying, burning alive. The inability to say ‘Islamic terrorism’ seems preposterous. It is no wonder that so many think that perhaps Obama is a Muslim, or has extreme Muslim sympathies.

I don’t think so, but he probably has, as he has said, pleasant memories of the Islamic call to prayer, and of his time in Indonesia, where he lived from 1967 to 1971. He was taught to admire his absent father, and his father’s history. After 1971, he grew up in Hawaii. What brought him to national attention was “the Speech,” the keynote speech at the Democratic convention in 2004. Chicago Magazine gives a long and admiring story of how it came about and what went into it.

When Barack Obama launched into his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he was still an obscure state senator from Illinois. By the time he finished 17 minutes later, he had captured the nation’s attention and opened the way for a run at the presidency.

Barack Obama has always been fascinated by his own story. It sets him apart from other men as something truly special. It not only dominated his convention speech, but his autobiography Dreams From My Father, was published the following year, though it must have been already written. Who writes their autobiography at age 44?

Obama believed that he could bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He told us that was his ambition. It just needed his magic touch. He was good friends with Rashid Khalidi, the American-Palestinian firebrand, who is now Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University. His views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are that everything is Israel’s fault, and Palestinians are the abused party. If you read Victor Davis Hanson’s  explanation of Obama’s strategy, it becomes clear:

Leaders caricatured and demonized as a Cuban Stalinist, an Iranian theocrat, a Russian former KGB agent, and a plutocratic Chinese apparatchik in fact think no differently from us. But they have too often not been accorded a voice because the U.S. sought to bully them rather than reason with them. Polarizing and out-of-date labeling such as calling ISIS or the Taliban “terrorists” or “Islamists,” or reducing Bowe Bergdahl to a “traitor,” serve no purpose other than to simplify complex issues in ways that caricature those with whom we differ.

Instead, if we reduce our military profile and show other nations that what we are really interested in is fundamentally transforming U.S. society into a more equitable and fair place, our erstwhile enemies will begin to appreciate that we too are human and thus share their common aspirations. Ideals, persuasion, feelings, and intent are now the stuff of foreign policy, not archaic and polarizing rules of deterrence, balance of power, military readiness, and alliances.

It all makes sense to Obama. I’m not sure how much of the Democratic Party has moved sharply left. Certainly their spokesmen have, and the administration, but would the rank and file Democrats all sign on to this idea of a strategy for America in today’s world?  For me, it’s an increasingly dangerous world out there, with an administration unfamiliar with history and no understanding of strategy, or national security—conducting foreign policy with lightweights.

The mullahs of Iran have long demonstrated that they are not to be trusted at any time, on any subject. Vladimir Putin seems determined to reconstitute the Soviet Empire, without Communism, just tyranny. ISIS is growing and growing more vicious. The Defense Department is intent on getting rid of the A-10 Warthog, because they have a hot new toy for future wars, if it actually works. China is expanding in the South China Sea, and flexing its muscles. Showing other nations that we too are human and share their common aspirations just doesn’t cut it.

We tried to show Cuba our humanity, and Raul thanked us for surrendering to them and demanded that we return Guantanamo. So of course Nancy Pelosi took a delegation of Democrats to Cuba this last week. The message from Cuba is that Raul Castro has no intention of doing anything differently. He expects Washington to lift the embargo, and end any amnesty for Cuban doctors seeking asylum. Their top demand is that they be taken off the U.S. list of state-sponsors of terrorism.



Once Cubans Get a Taste of Prosperity? How Does That Work? by The Elephant's Child

President Raúl Castro, Fidel’s little brother, declared victory for the Cuban Revolution in a televised speech before Parliament and a group of favored guests —including Elián Gonzales (remember him?) — reaffirming that any restored relations with the United States did not mean any change in Communist rule in Cuba. He added “We won the war.”

Obama didn’t check in with any of the Cuban community here or with the Cubans who are fighting for freedom in Cuba. They are pretty unanimous in saying that the way Obama has gone about this is a major mistake. The Ladies in White who march in support of political prisoners each week in a major display of courage, said “betrayal” and didn’t understand why Obama had gone back on his statement that “significant steps toward democracy” must precede any liberalization.

As usual, Obama does not learn from history. Engagement does not necessarily promote freedom — see China, Vietnam, and increasingly less freedom in those countries.

In an official announcement in the state newspaper Gramma. government officials announced a system in which employees of corporations with foreign capital will be paid two Cuban Pesos for every Convertible Cuban Peso (CUP) which are used exclusively for tourists and is the equivalent of an American dollar and 26.5 Cuban Pesos. The 24 Cuban Pesos that workers will NOT receive amount to 92% of their salaries. So 92% of the value of Cubans’ work will go to prop up the Communist state. How that is supposed to be an important entry in the history books for Mr. Obama is not clear.

Cuba’s major benefactors —Russia and Venezuela — are in deep trouble from the declining price of oil. The current price is far below their ‘break-even’ point. Some Conservatives welcome the change in policy, believing that free trade will make great changes in Cuba. Raúl Castro doesn’t think so. “Once they see better goods and services” they say, but at roughly 67¢ a day in income Cubans cannot buy “better goods.” I don’t know what they have to trade. Reportedly, even their cigars aren’t that good any more.

Will Cuba suddenly allow their people to travel to the U.S.? Not likely. Any visitors to the U.S would be likely to seek asylum. The Cuban Adjustment Act says that any Cuban who is granted parole into the U.S. may, after one year apply for adjustment to permanent resident status. In the past every Cuban who made it here got parole and a green card.

I firmly believe in free markets and free people — but the “free” part seems to be completely missing here.



Big Change in Cuban Relations, No Change In Cuba’s Police State by The Elephant's Child

The-Malecon-Havana-Cuba
There has been no indication whatsoever from the Cuban police state that they have any intention of lessening the oppression of the Cuban people., but nevermind, Obama wants to “normalize” relations. Build an embassy, appoint an ambassador, open up trade. Our Chamber of Commerce is all for it. Lots of tweets from Lefties wanting to go to Cuba before it is inflicted with McDonalds, Taco Bells and Starbucks to “ruin the country.”

Cuban salaries are pegged at about 67¢ a day, according to Michael Totten. What a treat it will be for them to be able to buy a Big Mac for only a month’s income. Cuba has a maximum wage of about $20 a month. Professionals such as doctors or lawyers can make an extra $10 a month

“The government contracts with Spanish companies such as Meliá International to manage Havana’s hotels. Meliá wanted to pay its employees a decent wage, the government said fine, so the company pays $8−$10 an hour.” The firm pays the government, which then pays the workers after pocketing the rest of the money. The workers get 67¢ a day. How is it that McDonalds, Taco Bells and Starbucks are going to prosper in Cuba? Are tourist dollars enough to keep them going?

“The government,” Totten says, “defends its maximum wage by arguing that life’s necessities are either free or so deeply subsidized in Cuba that citizens don’t need very much money.” Commuters must pay for public transportation out of their $20. Cubans must wait in line for up to 2 hours each way to get on a bus.” A round trip to the other side of the country can cost a year’s salary. As for the free health care, patients have to bring their own medicine, their own sheets and their own iodine to the hospital. Cuba has sent so many doctors abroad, especially to Venezuela in exchange for oil, that there is now a shortage of doctors.

Obama is very impressed with Cuba sending their doctors to help in the fight against Ebola in Africa, but their salaries are paid to the government. Medical slaves. Like all Communist countries, there is an elite that lives very well, and an oppressed population.

Elliott Abrams wrote in National Review:

The American Left has loathed the embargo and overlooked all  of Castro’s repressive actions since the 1960s. They have blamed the U.S.−Cuba deadlock entirely on the United States and have sought the end of the embargo whenever a Democrat was in the White House.”…

When the Soviet Union fell, the Castro regime was in dire straits. It survived through sheer repression — until it was sustained by Venezuelan oil money sent by Hugo Chávez. Today Chávez is dead, oil is under $60 a barrel, and Venezuela is reeling.

Many conservatives simply acknowledge that the embargo has been in place for 50 years with little gain. Cuban-Americans will find it easier to send remittances, but the government may confiscate those. Mexico and the Central American countries depend on remittances from the U.S. for nearly half of their national budgets.

Obama told the Cubans they had to let Alan Gross out, and one other, and we turned over three Cuban spies who were serving life sentences. Obama doesn’t really have the authority to do this, nor to build embassies, nor to approve Ambassadors without Congress. Doesn’t seem to be much of a bargain. We have sanctions on Venezuela, Iran and Russia. If we establish some sort of trade, we can always yank it away. I hope Obama isn’t planning to turn Guantanamo Bay back to the Cubans.

Cuban President Raúl Castro declared the changes a step towards  “prosperous and sustainable socialism.”

The Washington Post editorial board
Fox News
The National Journal
Marco Rubio, Wall Street Journal
When Socialists Promise a Utopian Paradise,” American Elephants

 

 



When Socialists Promise a Utopian Paradise … by The Elephant's Child

Gutted Yellow Building Havana

We have people out protesting about the minimum wage. They seem to think it is right and proper for the government to decide what employers should pay their employees, no matter what skills the employees may possess.  Seattle has just decided on a $15 an hour minimum wage, to be reached gradually. In the socialist paradise of Cuba, they don’t have a minimum wage. They have a maximum wage. Nobody gets to earn more than $20 — but that’s a month, not an hour. Doctors and lawyers get an extra $10 to bring them up to $30 a month.

Fidel Castro declared that his salary was about 900 pesos per month, or $36. But Forbes magazine included the Cuban ruler in its 2006 list of the 10 richest “Kings, Queens, and Dictators.” Interesting revolutionary ethics.

Now Fidel Castro’s former bodyguard has written a book that says Castro’ claim that he lived a life of exemplary revolutionary frugality was a pack of lies. Juan Reinaldo Sanchez, 65, served as a bodyguard for the Cuban leader for 17 years and has published a memoir that portrays Fidel as a sort of feudal lord who ran the island like a personal fiefdom.

Castro controlled about 20 luxury homes, a Caribbean island getaway with a pool and dolphins, at Cayo Piedra south of the Bay of Pigs, where he kept the 88 foot yacht Aquarama II, several fishing vessels whose catch was sold to fatten his bank account. Like most dictators, there were several numbered bank accounts, as well as the finances of several state enterprises including a small gold mine. There were a couple of other large yachts, one a floating hospital. Only special friends like the Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Márquez and CNN owner Ted Turner were invited. And there was a complex of Havana buildings and grounds, including a basketball court, a fully equipped medical center, rooftop bowling alley.

It isn’t just socialist paradises, but apparently Islamic paradises as well. Saddam Hussein was well equipped with palaces and luxury. The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, has been found to control a financial empire worth an estimated £60bn. An empire which includes businesses as wide-ranging as an ostrich farm, a birth control pill factory, oil and telecommunications.

The big-shots in charge always talk a good game about caring for the poor, and helping the middle class, serving the people, but when you lift up the covers and peek underneath, they all seem remarkably intent on enriching themselves.




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