Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Sane Immigration Policy for America

This is from my new favorite pastime - arguing with who is probably Los Angeles' most famous left-wing scribe - Marc Cooper, who writes often acute (domestic) political columns for the LA Weekly. He wrote a piece basically backing the Bush plan.

It is ideologically true that if capital is free to run around and find the best place to make a profit, then workers should also be free to transcend national borders to find where they can make the highest buck.

Capitalists obviously try to prevent that because the status quo keeps capital in the dominant position. So called “free marketeers” who don’t believe that need to be called out as the hypocrites they are. Today’s typical US liberal say they support this, while righteously (and hypocritically) calling for “labor and enviroronmental” standards - that do little more than add bureacratic hurdles to developing countries and local producers.

What no one seems ready to deal with is that there are serious costs and unexpected consequences with “freedom” of trade, capital or labor. Europeans understand this and therefore support a social development fund to smooth out the regional imbalances.

But as for those of us demonized as leftists/socialists who put the most vulnerable first, the question should not be to let the market work its destructive magic, but to use our brains - to do the research to find out what sectors will be most hurt and plan for their assistance. If it does not make sense to empty out Detroit’s manufacturing base - or Georigia textile workers - we should feel no shame about protecting them. If Mexico opening its corn market means the devastation of its rural heritage (and towns) AND higher prices, did that make sense? Much other “trade” in goods and labor is mutually beneficial.

Opening the US’ borders wider to provide vital workers (in agriculture, computer sci. etc.) is smart. But just opening the floodgates to anyone that makes it here (like only Cubans get today) is a recipe for disaster. The deadly, desperate attempts will only increase and we will be in trouble as soon as the next recession hits. Nevermind all the other stuff about schools, overcrowding, the impact on the uneducated…) Even though economists are happy to hit 5% unemployment, we should strive for 0%.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Cuban-American Academics Get Prison For Reporting for Cuba

I was going to write a whole thing about the sentencing of a Cuban-American couple (Carlos and __ Alvarez) for what finally became a charge of "conspiracy to become a foreign agent," but I realized my original posting is still pretty spot on. Yesterday's verdict and release of the (supposedly) most incriminating evidence the US Govt. had against the couple only showed the flimsiness of the case and the apt comparision to "political prisoners" in Cuba.

As I said before the trial: The major difference between the 75 (Cuban "political prisoners") and these 2 is that the Alvarez's were not attempting to undermine the Government that charged them. The 75 were all connected to the US government, had recieved payment, resources or instruction - in order to justify an illegal blockade. If just working for an enemy government is enough to get arrested, then why don't Cuban-Americans understand that is why the 75 are in jail - and 12 million other are not.

The Florida judge said is pretty clearly: "As we know, a good motive is never an excuse for criminal conduct. Their behavior undermined U.S. foreign policy."

The sentencing document was even more explicitt: "Individuals who agree to clandestinely serve as agents of a foreign power, answering to that power and not to the laws of the United States, pose a grave risk.... Gathering information and carrying out tasks as directed by the foreign power, the individuals become instruments of that power's actions and policies in ways they cannot predict and damage the interests of the United States in ways they will never know. The risk is especially great where, as here, the foreign power is one whose interests are inimical to those of the United States."

Let us remember that AGENTS of a country do not have to send messages through encryption. The only thing they have to do is serve the interests of a nation other than their own, whom they have a relationship with. Nearly ALL of those supposed 75 "political prisoners" in Cuba fit that profile. That the US plan involves making up censorship stories by creating "independent libraries" - and not exile political gossip - means nothing.

And for the sake of finality, consider what US Supreme Court case law says about the the conspiring law the Alvarez's were charged under (18/371):For two or more to confederate and combine together to commit or cause to be committed a breach of the criminal laws, is an offense of the gravest character, sometimes quite outweighing, in injury to the public, the mere commission of the contemplated crime. It involves deliberate plotting to subvert the laws, educating and preparing the conspirators for further and habitual criminal practices. And it is characterized by secrecy, rendering it difficult of detection, requiring more time for its discovery, and adding to the importance of punishing it when discovered.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Colombia: 9 Lawmakers Arrested for Terror Ties

Imagine if 9 ruling party legislators in Cuba or Venezuela (or any left wing country), including a brother and cousin of the Foreign Minister (pictured above with US Latin czar Thomas Shannon 2 weeks ago), were arrested for aiding and abetting a terrorist group (on the US list). Just think of the outrage that would ensue. According to the Bush doctine, there would be grounds for immediate attack and regime change.

Alas we have seen this happen in a very important Latin country, but instead of outrage, we are seeing barely a notice from any of the mainstream media (a whopping 67 articles thus far on GN), let alone the consciousness of people who matter than . The difference of course, is that the problem is in a US-friendly country = Colombia.

Expect some very interesting trials to be forthcoming, as the scandal moves closer to President Uribe. Also keep an eye on the US (lack of) reposne.

As an aside, check out this interesting piece in the Narco News about possible connections between this terrorist-government network (called the "Bogota Connection") and the downing of a US plane 4 years ago (3 US "contractors" on a spying mission are still being held)

Scandal in Colombia grows - Five more lawmakers are arrested, accused of having ties to illegal paramilitary groups.
By Chris Kraul, LA Times
February 16, 2007

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA — The scandal involving alleged links between Colombian lawmakers and illegal paramilitary groups widened Thursday with the arrest of five more members of Congress, including a senator who is the brother of Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo.

The arrests of Sen. Alvaro Araujo and the others could further tarnish President Alvaro Uribe, who since being reelected to a second term in a landslide last year has been rocked by allegations that some close legislative supporters have ties to the right-wing armies. The arrests are also bound to increase calls that Maria Araujo resign.
The orders were issued by the Supreme Court, which handles criminal investigations involving members of Congress. All those arrested are staunch Uribe supporters.
Further complicating Foreign Minister Araujo's situation was the revelation Thursday that her cousin, Gov. Hernando Molina of the northern province of Cesar, is also under investigation in connection with alleged dealings with the paramilitaries, including illegal campaign financing.

When Sen. Araujo acknowledged in November that he was the subject of an inquiry, Uribe rebuffed calls that he fire his minister to eliminate a possible taint.

In November, four other sitting or former Congress members were arrested and charged with criminal involvement with paramilitary groups, including authorizing mass murder and government corruption.

Some of those arrested are among lawmakers alleged to have signed a document in 2001 pledging support to paramilitary groups to "remake the nation."
Uribe has been hurt by revelations that some paramilitary leaders have continued to run their criminal empires from jail since demobilizing and pleading guilty in exchange for lighter sentences. Investigations in some cases have confirmed that politicians at the local and national levels who support Uribe were complicit in militia crimes.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Cuba: Internet Capacity to Increase by 1000 Times

There's been a lot of buzz lately about Cuba and the internet, set off largely by remarks taken out of context this week by Cuba's internet czar. What has received less attention is an announcement buried in a recent Cuba-Venezuela agreement, that portends major positive change on the island.

International Herald Tribune
HAVANA: A new undersea fiber-optic cable from Cuba to Venezuela should be finished within two years, a Venezuelan communications official said Thursday, dramatically expanding Cuba's internet and telephone capacity.

Julio Duran, president of state-run Telecom Venezuela, told The Associated Press that the deal signed in late January calls for a line with a capacity of 160 gigabytes per second.

That's well over 1,000 times the capacity of Cuba's current satellite-based internet link, which was listed as 65 megabytes per second on upload and 124 megabytes a second on download by Cuban Communications Minister Ramiro Valdes.

It will break through what Cuban officials describe as choking restrictions imposed by the U.S. comical embargo on Cuba, which they blame for blocking possible connections with existing privately owned fiber-optic lines in the region.

"It's a very important project, not only for Venezuela and Cuba, it's for all Latin American countries," Duran said during an interview at an informatics convention in the Cuban capital, Havana.

While you are at it, check out this article for more background on how the US embargo prevents Cuba from downloading and buying necessary software (even a joint venture company in Cuba could not buy software from a non-US company).


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Venezuela: Chavez Showing Smarts in Nationalization Drive

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has displayed canny brinkmanship in his nationalization drive toward Cuba-inspired socialism despite his image as an impulsive Latin American revolutionary.

The firebrand former soldier and declared enemy of both capitalism and Washington has put up $1.4 billion in the last week to take over U.S. companies' assets in his push to exert increasing state control over the OPEC nation.

Highlighting Chavez's combination of bluster and pragmatism, the pacts with blue chip companies such as telecom giant Verizon surprised investors who had feared an outright seizure by the protege of Cuba's Fidel Castro.

Share prices in Caracas jumped this week as markets took short-term consolation from the deals.

"I think it shows he's picking his battles," said Miguel Tinker-Salas, a Latin American studies professor at Pomona College in California. "This is the military man in Chavez understanding that you don't fight a forward battle and a rear battle at the same time."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

VOA on Cuba: Voice of A minority

Working in Government, it is always interesting for me to watch these low-budget, fringe efforts by Government to impart ideas and dissenimate ideas. Even if you assume there is some good behind the efforts, the facinating tension between "integrity" and "duty," "truth" and "strategic goals" often becomes evident if you look close.

With the heightened interst in Cuba, a crack team carrying out the Bush Cuba policy has begun to rear its head more often. In the last few weeks US law has been twisted to allow transmittal of propoganda on US soil (thank you Direct TV), and now the media arm of the US Government - Voice of America (VOA) - has rencently initiated a major offensive against Cuba. Titled innoculously "Life in Cuba Today," the 3-part series began with this totally unbalanced assessment of Cuba:

It is impossible to visit Cuba and not be struck by the island's extraordinary beauty. Just 150 kilometers off the U.S. coast, it is also impossible to visit Cuba and not be struck by its extensive poverty. Much of downtown Havana is literally crumbling... And its people are struggling too... earning the equivalent of around $10 U.S. a month
Yet, in many ways, most Cubans live like some of the poorest people in Latin America. This is evident on the streets of the Cuban capital, where there appears to be large-scale joblessness despite government claims of full-employment.

When you watch the video, this is all much funnier. When they talk about the people they cut from a scene of well-dressed folks walking to the scene of a dark-skinned guy sitting and a man slepping. When they talk about the crumbling, they pan on a street with some dirt on it and some old shutters. When they talk about joblessness they show some men playing dominoes in the street (looks like a student, a child and some pensioners to me).

Nevermind that Cuba DOES have full employment, using the mainstream definition - or at least the CIA's (1.9% unemplyment=FULL). Nevermind that these "poorest people in Latin America" rank 6th highest in terms of human development out of 102 developing countries. And last but not least, the $10 dollars a month figure is out of date (about 70% too low by conservative estimates).

But the VOA's real mettle is displayed when we get to hear from their "average Cubans," recorded (secretly) over its 10 days in Havana. Predictably we get 3 decidedly similar outlooks - things are stuck, we need a change.

"I think that this country is in a freeze. A freeze in time, in the development, in everything".
"I think this country can change, but it's going to take too much time. Twenty years maybe. People continue living the same way as 50 years ago."
"This is a very strong system, you know. It has been built stone by stone, control and control. It's very difficult that it will collapse because it is very strong. But I don't like it all, this system, it's completely dead".

Considering the installment's prominent space on VOA's homepage (above), I can't wait for tomorrow's pearls of wisdom. Allow me to wager that we get lost more untruth and more quotes and conclusions that suppor the Bush Adminstration's policy of regime change in Cuba.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Cuba: Greatest Hits from the US Mainstream Media

Though the point of this fantastic trove of historical TV news reports was to "expose" the mainstream media's "infatuation" with Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution, we're sharing it as a facinating record or a different time in American media - when journalists could report what they felt and not felt an obsessive need to balance every sentence. You will notice hardly any of the reports were made post-9/11 - something that is probably reflected in the polling of what Americans think of Cuba released today (they don't like Castro but want to resume diplomatic relations...)

So pull up a seat and enjoy watching Jennings, Mitchell, Rather, Zahn, etc. offering up the positive side of Cuba. Watch


Monday, February 05, 2007

Venezuela's Chávez starts talking green

Yesterday Hugo Chavez announced a series of measures aimed at taking Venezuela to the "vanguard" of environmentalism. What should tell everyone he is serious is the plan to increase gas prices at the pump from their absurdly low prices. Chavez once vowed to keep it low, but has now taken the politically unpopular step of raising it. This is necessary to cut pollution, promote alternative energy and remove subsidies for the well-off.

This piece does well to mention the lead Fidel has taken in green issues. Beyond being recognized as the only sustainable county in the world, Cuba recently replaced most of its old lightbulbs and appliances with free or subsidized energy efficient versions. Chavez is following the lightbulb thing and more. Check the details from the AP:

...He (Chavez) wants to use some oil revenues in a venture to manufacture solar panels and has begun doling out millions of energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs to homes nationwide.
But Chávez says Venezuela can be an example, and he has begun exhorting his followers to drive less and take public transportation. His government plans a windmill farm to generate electricity on the Caribbean coast and is exploring more uses for cleaner-burning natural gas.

``Venezuela is one of the countries that least contaminates the environment, but nevertheless we want to give an example and be at the vanguard,'' Chávez said at a news conference Thursday.

He called U.S. oil consumption -- which handsomely funds his government -- a leading cause of the world's environmental troubles.

``They're destroying the world,'' Chávez said, citing melting glaciers in the Andes and predictions of rising sea levels. ``The human race will be finished if we don't change the world capitalist system.''

Leftist ideology colors Chávez's views, and he has spent time discussing the dilemma of climate change with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, his friend and mentor.

Castro's obsession with energy saving has been caused in part by Cuba's dependence on oil imports. Before he underwent intestinal surgery in the summer, Castro was in the midst of an energy-saving crusade in which he distributed pressure cookers and offered household tips on TV.
Taking Cuba's lead, Venezuela has distributed millions of fluorescent bulbs in recent months, giving a blue-gray glow at nighttime to slums that used to be swathed in common yellow incandescent light.

'We see the savings,'' said Francis Izquierdo, a single mother in Caracas who said her power bill is about half what it was before the bulbs were replaced in her barrio.

Chávez also said recently that he will raise gasoline prices to encourage Venezuelans to drive less, although he has not said by how much.

The country's heavily subsidized gasoline price has not been changed for years and is among the cheapest in the world, encouraging strong sales of fuel-burning sport-utility vehicles. Filling up a sport-utility vehicle's tank takes roughly $3 -- less than the cost of two jugs of drinking water.


Cuba: US Avoids Calling Posada a Terrorist

After more than a year of trying to obfuscate the essential facts against the hemisphere's most lethal terrorist, the Bush Administration has finally made clear its intentions., It appears the heinous crimes of Luis Posada Carriles will go unpunished. February 1st was the deadline a judge had given the Justice Department to declare Posada a terrorist. It now appears likely Posada will serve some time for lying about his entry into the US, but be set free relatively soon - to join Orlando Bosch as top terrorists being harbored by the Unites States. We can only assume this is the reward for their jobs well done in the service of anti-Communism.

Havana, February 5, 2007

U.S. avoids trying Posada for what he is: a murderer and terrorist

ON January 31, the United States government once again used a legal
subterfuge to avoid bringing charges against Luis Posada Carriles for
what he actually is: a murderer and a terrorist.

Our people will recall that on January 15, in response to the U.S.
government's criminal indictment of Luis Posada Carriles on January
11, 2007, on charges of fraud and lying when applying for
naturalization, the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX)
clearly stated that it was hoping that "those charges against the
terrorist Posada Carriles for minor immigration- related crimes would
not become a smokescreen for granting him impunity for the serious
crime of terrorism... "

The U.S. government should have filed charges with Judge Philip
Martinez of El Paso, Texas, before February 1 to prevent the court
from accepting a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by the
notorious terrorist's lawyer, which - if successful - would have led
to his release. It was to be expected, therefore, that prior to
February 1, the U.S. government would bring charges of terrorism
against Luis Posada Carriles, something for which - as the
aforementioned MINREX statement noted - they "have all the evidence,"
an assertion that the Ministry is now restating.

In fact, on October 5, 2006, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE) agency of the U.S. Homeland Security Department had told Luis
Posada Carriles that he would remain under federal custody because
" have a history of engaging in criminal activity, and have
been involved with individuals and organizations which promote and
use terrorist violence."

Nevertheless, this past January 31, the U.S. Attorney's Office filed
a motion rejecting the habeas corpus petition as inadmissible,
arguing only that that Posada Carriles is no longer under Homeland
Security custody - which is over U.S. immigration authorities -;
instead, he is now in custody of the U.S. Justice Department as a
result of the criminal proceedings against him begun on January 11 on
charges of fraud and false testimony. In other words, the argument of
the U.S. government is that Posada Carriles must remain in custody,
not because he is a terrorist, but because he is a liar.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs would like to remind the U.S.
government that the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts
against the Safety of Civil Aviation, signed in Montreal on September
23, 1971, and to which the United States is a signatory, establishes
in its Article 7 that "The Contracting State in the territory of
which the alleged offender is found shall, if it does not extradite
him, be obliged, without exception whatsoever and whether or not the
offence was committed in its territory, to submit the case to its
competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution. "

Identical terms are used by the International Convention for the
Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, which went into effect on May 23,
2001, and to which the United States also is a signatory.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the name of the Cuban people and
of the victims' families, would like to remind U.S. President George
W. Bush of his own words on August 26, 2003, when he said in St. Louis, Missouri: "...if you harbor a terrorist, if you support a
terrorist, if you feed a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the


Saturday, February 03, 2007

Cuba: Open Debate by Intellectuals Shows Changes

Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC)

Though I think the significance of this meeting is a bit overplayed (there have been many similar scenes in Cuba), the way this was handled by the Government does say something. Granma printed the whole unhappy statement from the Union, the Culture Ministry convened a timely meeting/hearing and appears to be backtracking.

In the first sign of internal dissent in Cuba since Fidel Castro ceded power six months ago, intellectuals held a forum to discuss government censorship in the 1970s.

One by one, Cuban artists and intellectuals in Havana did something unprecedented this week: They stood before the government and criticized a particularly harsh era of censorship -- out loud and in the open.

Perhaps even more surprising than the conference held Tuesday to discuss a dark period of Cuban cultural oppression was what happened outside: a protest by those shut out of the invitation-only event. Also out loud and in the open.

''I don't know how important it can be, but what's true is that I have never seen anything like that in Cuba,'' Cuban writer Ena Lucía Portela told The Miami Herald in an e-mail. ``It was rudimentary, passionate, incoherent, but it was the closest thing to freedom of expression I have seen in this country in my entire life.''

In a move that Cuba experts say signals a significant shift in Cuban domestic policy, the government led by interim President Raúl Castro appears to be cracking open the door to debate. After Castro publicly asserted he was open to discussion, and later convened a committee to study flaws of socialism, experts say there has been a clear changing of the guard in Cuba, one that allows at least controlled discussion.

In the first sign of internal dissent since Fidel Castro ceded power six months ago, intellectuals furious over the television appearances of 1970s-era government officials responsible for a crackdown on intelligentsia convened a conference to discuss it. But while the event was an extraordinary display of criticism, opponents of the Castro brothers point out that the conference was not open to the public, suggesting that the steps the government has taken toward discussion are small and wobbly. MORE


No Free Media in Venezuela?

Here is a piece giving just one example of the extaordinary freedom Venezuelan media enjoys from Hands Off Venezuela - a fantastic global solidarity group. I (re)found them after checking out their lively 10 minute English video here

01 February 2007

Much of the media internationally repeat the lies and half truths about the alleged "lack of freedom of the media" in Venezuela. Today's editorial and front page of the opposition newspaper TalCual, comparing Hugo Chavez with Hitler, would have gotten the editor on trial in most Western democratic countries. In Venezuela it is allowed to publish freely. Have a look.

TalCual is run by Teodoro Petkoff, a former leftist who was in charge of privatisations during the Caldera government and one of the main advisors to opposition candidate Manuel Rosales in the December presidential elections.

The same newspaper, on September 26th, 2003, published a front page picture showing Hugo Chavez holding a 9 mm handgun at a public rally with a headline saying "At gun point". The small problem was that what Chavez was really holding at that public rally was ... a rose, and the picture was in fact a photomontage.

In fact, as many in the alternative, community and free media in Venezuela insist, the main concern is not over freedom of expression, but rather over the right to truthful information.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Colombia: In Reversal, Cuban Doctors Denied US Entry

In what is either remarkable incompetence between the US bureacracies, or a rare instance of intelligent course reversal, 35 "Cuban doctors, social workers and sport advisors" who defected to Colombia were denied entry to the United States. The move was a surprise because last year the US publicly announced a program to allow Cuban Doctors who defect asylum in the US.

But today the Cubans, living off donations (from Miami) in a terrible Bogota neighborhood, showed off their rejection letters to the press. They can't work in Colombia, their US denial is final and they can't go back to Venezuela or Cuba without risking arrest, as defecting from medical missions is a crime (because of the US policy). Cuban doctors know this when they sign-up for overseas service (as volunteers).

Cuba has 31,000 doctors serving in humanitarian missions in 68 countries around the world. More than 20,000 work in Venezuela (in exchange for oil) and the other 10,000 are scattered around disaster zones and doctor-less ares around the world. This week doctors arrived in the poor Carribean coast of Nicaragua.

The world should call on Colombia to deny the asylum requests that are now before it. If the US denied the asylum, the defectors stories must be as pathetic as they sound - an opportunistic minority pulled along by the US Gov't and its mafia accomplice, with no basis at all to claim asylum. To make a special case for Cubans would only further encourage good doctors to think about abandoning their posts. The most needy pockets of Central and Latin America would be the only ones to suffer.

In related news, a Bolivian court has dismissed the case of a Cuban exile anti-Evo activist who had been deported under a law forbidding foreigners from acting politically. Right-wingers were trying to use the case to condemn the Morales Government.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Venezuela: Booming Economy Doubles Most Incomes in Just 3 Years

Reading the constant harangue of US newspapers and Government describing the economic ruin and disaster Hugo Chavez is inflicting on his country, I went in search of something missing in all these pieces - actual facts. Fortuantely for me, I did not have to go any further than our friends over at Oil Wars.

They have posted a number of slides from a recent presentation made by the Venezuelan-American Chamber of Commerce (no lefty clique). The stats are updated to include all of 2006. For a sample of the slides available there, check out this graph of the Consumer Confidence Level in Venezuela. Going back to 1982, the important index of consumer confidence has never been higher than it is right now.

Among other interesting facts that fly in the face of the anti-Chavez propoganda is that industrial production is up 24% and that investors are planning more investment next year than last. Conventional wisdom, repeated in almost every newspaper article, is that investors are fleeing the country and that the growth of the economy is solely due to oil prices. We know that is BS.

Finally, I want to highlight the amazing poverty figures. While some (like Francisco Rodriguez) have the nerve to argue in prestigious media outlets that Chavez has done little to improve the lot of the poor majority, this slide should put that to rest.

What this slide shows is that the real income (inflation adjusted) for those 58% of persons earning low enough wages to be considered "Class E" (poverty level), has increased an amazing 130% since 2003. That means incomes have more than doubled for the majority of Venezuelans - those who needed it most - in just 3 years.

Oil Wars has lots more, including some suprising sentiments from the business community, updated today.