Posts tagged ‘Cuba’

US to Normalize with Cuba -- Limiting Free Interchange with Authoritarian Regimes Only Benefits Their Leaders

I certainly am no Castro apologist, but it strikes me that 50+ years of embargoes and pointless travel restrictions have not brought his regime to heal.  So it is past time to recognize this and perhaps try something else.  So kudos to President Obama for doing something that apparently only a lame duck President who no longer has to worry about winning the Florida electoral votes can do, he is going to normalize relations with Cuba.

This should be good news for anyone who opposes the Cuban regime and its oppression. Time and again over the last 50 years, we have seen cultural and economic interchange fell more authoritarian governments than any amount of military action.  When we cut off free exchange with authoritarian regimes, we are doing their leaders a favor.

Yet Another Reason to Open our Relations to Cuba

The only reason people like Michael Moore or Tom Harkin can get away with singing praises of Cuban socialism is because most Americans can't go visit and see for themselves.  By keeping Cuba off-limits, we are doing the communists' work for them by allowing them to provide cherry-picked videos and stories through useful idiots that have zero bearing on the true life of the average person in Cuba.

We Should Do A Lot More Than A Handshake

I am not sure the exact date it started, but our embargo on Cuba is over fifty years old.  At what point do we declare failure?

Sure, the communists and Castro and Che Guevara all suck.  But how much longer are we going to punish Cuba's leaders by making their citizens miserable?  History has shown that communist countries become less communist by interacting with the (quasi) capitalist democracies.  The most stable dictatorships (think North Korea) are those who are the most obsessive in masking alternatives from their citizens.  How much longer are we going to continue doing the Castros' work for them?

Open up our relations with Cuba, not because they have somehow gotten better or deserve our respect but because this is the only way they are going to get better.

Special Discount for Our Readers to the Nutcracker by Ballet Arizona

I may have mentioned in the past that my wife is on the Board of Ballet Arizona.  Phoenix has a reputation as a cultural wasteland, but our Ballet is certainly an exception to this.  Our artistic director Ib Andersen is fabulous, garnering top reviews even from the fussy New York press.  We have several young dancers, including one young lady who recently defected from Cuba, who are astonishing and whom you should frankly come see now before they are lured away to the bright lights of New York or Washington.

Anyway, they have a promotion running for the Nutcracker this holiday season and have allowed me to offer this same promotion to our readers, with discounts up to 50% on tickets.  See this pdf for details: Link Fixed to Ballet Arizona Offer.

A Defense of Israel

I can't call myself a defender of Israel per se because they have done a number of illiberal things in their country that tick me off.  However, I can say that for all the problems they may have, their response to a neighboring country dropping rockets on its citizens is FAR more restrained than would be the response of, say, the US.  If Mexico were dropping rockets into El Paso, Mexico would be a smoking hole in the ground.   We still maintain a stricter economic embargo on Cuba, which has never done a thing to us, than Israel does on Gaza.

I pay attention to the Amherst College community since my son enrolled there.  I thought this was a pretty powerful article by an Amherst student who has taken a leave of absence to join the IDF.  Given my understanding of how Eastern liberal arts faculty think about Israel and Palestine, one should think of this as a voice in the wilderness.

Walter Duranty is Alive and Well

From the WSJ, about a recent "documentary" on PBS's Newshour

Mr. Suarez's report, by contrast, is like a state propaganda film. In one segment, an American woman named Gail Reed who lives in Cuba tells him that the government's claim of its people's longevity is due to a first-rate system of disease prevention. He then parrots the official line that Cuba's wealth of doctors is the key ingredient. What is more, he says, these unselfish revolutionary "foot soldiers" go on house calls. "It's aggressive preventive medicine," Mr. Suarez explains. "Homes are investigated, water quality checked, electrical plugs checked."...

As to doctors checking on water quality and electricity outlets, the PBS reporter might be surprised to learn that most Cuban homes have no running water or power on a regular basis. This is true even in the capital. In 2006, Mr. Botín says, a government minister admitted that 75.5% of the water pipes in Havana were "unusable" and "recognized that 60% of pumped water was lost before it made it to consumers." To "fix" the problem, the city began providing water in each neighborhood only on certain days. Havana water is also notoriously contaminated. Foreigners drink only the bottled stuff, which Cubans can't afford. In the rest of the country the quality and quantity of the water supply is even less reliable.

This is particularly ironic since, at the same moment this show was airing, state department reports leaked by Wikileaks revealed that the Cuban government banned the showing of Michael Moore's "Sicko" in Cuba, despite the film being wildly propagandistic in favor of the Cuban government.  Why?  Because the portrayal of the Cuban medical system, as in Mr. Suarez's PBS report, was so unrealistically favorable that ordinary Cuban citizens would immediately recognize it as BS.

Michael Moore Propaganda Too Much Even for Castro

Via the Guardian.  No commentary really necessary (via Q&O)

Cuba banned Michael Moore's 2007 documentary, Sicko, because it painted such a "mythically" favourable picture of Cuba's healthcare system that the authorities feared it could lead to a "popular backlash", according to US diplomats in Havana.

The revelation, contained in a confidential US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks , is surprising, given that the film attempted to discredit the US healthcare system by highlighting what it claimed was the excellence of the Cuban system.

But the memo reveals that when the film was shown to a group of Cuban doctors, some became so "disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room".

Castro's government apparently went on to ban the film because, the leaked cable claims, it "knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them."

In continues:

The cable describes a visit made by the FSHP to the Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital in October 2007. Built in 1982, the newly renovated hospital was used in Michael Moore's film as evidence of the high-quality of healthcare available to all Cubans.

But according to the FSHP, the only way a Cuban can get access to the hospital is through a bribe or contacts inside the hospital administration. "Cubans are reportedly very resentful that the best hospital in Havana is 'off-limits' to them," the memo reveals.

According to the FSHP, a more "accurate" view of the healthcare experience of Cubans can be seen at the Calixto Garcia Hospital. "FSHP believes that if Michael Moore really wanted the 'same care as local Cubans', this is where he should have gone," the cable states.

A 2007 visit by the FSHP to this "dilapidated" hospital, built in the 1800s, was "reminiscent of a scene from some of the poorest countries in the world," the cable adds.

The memo points out that even the Cuban ruling elite leave Cuba when they need medical care. Fidel Castro, for example, brought in a Spanish doctor during his health crisis in 2006. The vice-minister of health, Abelardo Ramirez, went to France for gastric cancer surgery.

Way Past Time to Open Up to Cuba

I thought we should have opened up years ago to Cuba, even when they were at their most totalitarian.  After all, 60 years is probably enough time to prove sanctions are not enough to bring Cuban leadership to their knees, and in the intervening time we have seen any number of examples of the power of trade and open interaction helping to topple bad regimes.

Unfortunately, I think we have been prevented in doing so by pure ego (we don't want to admit a failed policy we put so much bipartisan effort into) as well as Florida electoral politics  (anti-Castro votes considered swing votes in a swing state).  I don't know what to do about the latter -- we have ethanol subsidies for the same reason (ie Iowa's prominence in the presidential selection process).   However, with Cuba currently mitigating some of its worst socialist impulses, it strikes me that now is the time we can overcome the ego problem and simply declare victory.  Unfortunately, we now have a President that may want to continue punishing Cuba, this time for lowering taxes and reducing the size of government.

How You Gonna Keep them Down on the Farm?

A reader sent me this interesting story about immigration within Cuba:

"I was caught because I was an illegal," explained a bicycle taxi driver as he gripped the rusted blue handle-bars of his vehicle in Havana's Central Park. "And because I'd been here several times before, I was deported back."

But the driver working his trade in the capital city did not arrive in Cuba from another country. Instead he is among the thousands who have come from rural provinces in search of work and a place to live - but who have been deported back because of "Decree 217."

The 1997 law restricts rural migration to Havana, making this taxi driver an illegal resident in his own capital city.

"If you're illegal you can't be here in Havana," said the driver, originally from Cuba's eastern Holguin province. "You don't have an address here in Havana."...

Economic conditions were generally worse at the eastern end of the island, according to Cuba analyst Edward Gonzalez, a professor emeritus at the University of California Los Angeles.

"[The eastern region] has always been the less affluent, impoverished part of the island," he said, "heavily dependent upon agriculture, less on tourism, and also happens to be more black and mulatto."

The effort to keep migrants out and prevent overcrowding in Havana may have resulted in police discrimination against darker-skinned Cubans presumed more likely to be illegal, Gonzalez said.

The Science Has Been Settled the Same Way Elections Are Settled in Cuba

Via Wawick Hughes, this "voting" site is pretty funny.

showyourvote2

Apparently Google has launched a site where you can "vote" on climate change and the IPCC process.  Except that you can only vote "yes." Fill in your name and hit submit, and you are counted as having voted the party line.  Seriously.  Since when does this meet anyone's definition of "vote?"

Every day Google innovationist Justin Baird pedals to work at the internet giant, where he is thinking big in his global campaign to act on climate change.

"My personal mission is to drive positive change through technology," he said.

"I am in a position where I can understand the issues surrounding climate change. And understanding the technology solution that can empower us to communicate collectively."

I guess we know now why Google did not have any qualms about cooperating with the Chinese government. They have been "communicating collectively" in their elections for years.

"From your local postcode it aggregates it together to a state level, then country level, then across the world, so what we're doing is generating a global statistic. Over time it starts to generate and show the strength of public support of what's happening," Mr Baird said.

Wow - I am predicting his point of view wins in a landslide

Chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council, Tim Flannery, says the Google tool is an interesting invention.

"I can imagine a day not so long from now where the UN secretary-general is elected through Show Your Vote. It's a very interesting world that we're entering into," he said.

Yeah, unfortunately, I can imagine a day too.  Already leaders around the world in countries like Venezuela, Cuba, and Iran are elected just this way.

Capitalism: A Real Not Sarcastic Love Story

Sure, we all know that a series of carefully edited anecdotes on film constitute better evidence than comprehensive data and statistics, but Mark Perry soldiers on and does what he can anyway to rebut Michael Moore's new movie.  He has lots of good charts, but his summary is:

the evidence clearly demonstrates that along with capitalism and greater economic freedoms come: a) higher per-capita incomes, b) higher incomes for the poorest 10%, c) greater life expectancy, d) less corruption, e) cleaner environments, and f) greater political rights and civil liberties. Not a bad record for a system that Michael Moore portrays as evil, and says did "nothing for him."

I am always amazed at these attempts to portray countries like Cuba as superior to the US for the common man.  One only has to look at immigration patterns (and even better some measure of desired immigration intent, since our ridiculously restrictive immigration laws keep so many people out of this country) to see the common man's preferences.   Moore and his pears are like a man who looks at a river running from north to south and then arguing that the land in the south must be higher.

Just as an aside, there have probably been thousands of states in world history.   Of all those thousands of states and regimes from history, including the hundreds that exist today, there are probably only 15-20 that would have  social, economic, and political systems that would allow a man born to modest circumstances to make a fortune through criticism of the government and the social elite.

Happy July 4: How Even Those Who Love America Often Miss the Point

This is a recurring post on Coyote Blog on Memorial Day, but I forgot this year so I will repost it on July 4.  Greetings this year from the Mother Country, from which I will be returning soon.  And let's give a big shout-out to the Dutch, who seldom get much love on this point, but the Dutch perhaps even more than the English really pioneered a lot of things that are important to us - e.g. capitalism, a republic, and tolerance.

Every Memorial Day, I am assaulted with various quotes from people thanking the military for fighting and dying for our right to vote.  I would bet that a depressing number of people in this country, when asked what their most important freedom was, or what made America great, would answer "the right to vote."

Now, don't get me wrong, the right to vote in a representative democracy is fine and has proven a moderately effective (but not perfect) check on creeping statism.  A democracy, however, in and of itself can still be tyrannical.  After all, Hitler was voted into power in Germany, and without checks, majorities in a democracy would be free to vote away anything it wanted from the minority - their property, their liberty, even their life.   Even in the US, majorities vote to curtail the rights of minorities all the time, even when those minorities are not impinging on anyone else.  In the US today, 51% of the population have voted to take money and property of the other 49%.

In my mind, there are at least three founding principles of the United States that are far more important than the right to vote:

  • The Rule of Law. For about 99% of human history, political power has been exercised at the unchecked capricious whim of a few individuals.  The great innovation of western countries like the US, and before it England and the Netherlands, has been to subjugate the power of individuals to the rule of law.  Criminal justice, adjudication of disputes, contracts, etc. all operate based on a set of laws known to all in advance.

Today the rule of law actually faces a number of threats in this country.  One of the most important aspects of the rule of law is that legality (and illegality) can be objectively determined in a repeatable manner from written and well-understood rules.  Unfortunately, the massive regulatory and tax code structure in this country have created a set of rules that are subject to change and interpretation constantly at the whim of the regulatory body.  Every day, hundreds of people and companies find themselves facing penalties due to an arbitrary interpretation of obscure regulations (examples I have seen personally here).

  • Sanctity and Protection of Individual Rights.  Laws, though, can be changed.  In a democracy, with a strong rule of law, we could still legally pass a law that said, say, that no one is allowed to criticize or hurt the feelings of a white person.  What prevents such laws from getting passed (except at major universities) is a protection of freedom of speech, or, more broadly, a recognition that individuals have certain rights that no law or vote may take away.  These rights are typically outlined in a Constitution, but are not worth the paper they are written on unless a society has the desire and will, not to mention the political processes in place, to protect these rights and make the Constitution real.

Today, even in the US, we do a pretty mixed job of protecting individual rights, strongly protecting some (like free speech) while letting others, such as property rights or freedom of association, slide.

  • Government is our servant.  The central, really very new concept on which this country was founded is that an individual's rights do not flow from government, but are inherent to man.  That government in fact only makes sense to the extent that it is our servant in the defense of our rights, rather than as the vessel from which these rights grudgingly flow.

Statists of all stripes have tried to challenge this assumption over the last 100 years.   While their exact details have varied, every statist has tried to create some larger entity to which the individual should be subjugated:  the Proletariat, the common good, God, the master race.  They all hold in common that the government's job is to sacrifice one group to another.  A common approach among modern statists is to create a myriad of new non-rights to dilute and replace our fundamental rights as individuals.  These new non-rights, such as the "right" to health care, a job, education, or even recreation, for god sakes, are meaningless in a free society, as they can't exist unless one
person is harnessed involuntarily to provide them to another person.
These non-rights are the exact opposite of freedom, and in fact require
enslavement and sacrifice of one group to another.

Don't believe that this is what statists are working for? The other day I saw this quote from the increasingly insane Lou Dobbs (Did you ever suspect that Lou got pulled into a room a while back by some strange power broker as did Howard Beale in Network?):

Our population explosion not only detracts from our quality of life but
threatens our liberties and freedom as well. As Cornell's Pimentel puts
it, "Back when we had, say, 100 million people in the U.S., when I
voted, I was one of 100 million people. Today, I am one of 285 million
people, so my vote and impact decreases with the increase in the
population." Pimentel adds, "So our freedoms also go down the drain."

What?? In a society with a rule of law protecting individual rights, how does having a diluted vote reduce your freedom?  The only way it does, and therefore what must be in the author's head, is if one looks at government as a statist tug of war, with various parties jockeying for a majority so they can plunder the minority.  But in this case, freedom and rule of law are already dead, so what does a dilution of vote matter?  He is arguing that dilution of political power reduces freedom "” this country was rightly founded on just the opposite notion, that freedom requires a dilution of political power.  What he is really upset about is someone is wielding coercive power and its not him.

At the end of the day, our freedoms in this country will only last so long as we as a nation continue to hold to the principle that our rights as individuals are our own, and the government's job is to protect them, not to ration them.  Without this common belief, all the other institutions we have discussed, from voting to the rule of law to the Constitution, can be subverted in time.

So to America's soldiers, thank you.  Thank you for protecting this fragile and historically unique notion that men and women own themselves and their lives.

Update: A corollary to all this is that "self-determination for an ethnically homogeneous group" is not among the key factors above.  Which is where Woodrow Wilson went so far wrong.  I have said for years we need to start over with the UN and build a new organization for multi-lateral cooperation based on principles of individual rights.  Here is the UN by contrast, in a press release by its Human Rights Council honoring Cuba:

Cuba had withstood many tests, and continued to uphold the principles of objectivity, impartiality and independence in pursuance of the realisation of human rights. Cuba was and remained a good example of the respect for human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights. The Universal Periodic Review of Cuba clearly reflected the progress made by Cuba and the Cuban people in the protection and promotion of human rights, and showed the constructive and responsive answer of Cuba to the situation of human rights. Cuba was the victim of an unjust embargo, but despite this obstacle, it was very active in the field of human rights.

Thoughts on Cuba

  1. I am thrilled that we many finally be opening up to Cuba.  I would throw the doors wide open to free trade, travel, and interchange.  I think it is perfectly reasonable to rethink a strategy after fifty or so years of failure.
  2. I am depressed to see Obama kissing Castro's butt.  I shiver to contemplate the future love-fest between Obama and Chavez
  3. My approach would have been:  Fidel, you and your system of government are evil.  However, isolating your people from the rest of the world so they don't know how bad they have it is just doing you a favor.  We are going to kick your ass with openness, rather than embargoes
  4. Oh, and by the way, we are going to end sugar tariffs and hopefully start purging HFCS from our food in favor of good old, high-octane pure cane sugar.

Update: According to Radley Balko, Obama is giving Castro moral support without any real increase in openess.  Bummer:

At the OAS meetings last week, Obama refused to renounce Cuba's human rights violations, including its imprisonment of political dissidents. It's usually risky to criticize someone for what they didn't say or do, but in the world of diplomacy the absence of any explicit criticism of Cuba's political suppression was conspicuous, and almost certainly wasn't accidental. At the same time, Obama has backed down from his position in the Democratic primaries to open up U.S. trade with Cuba (he actually came down from that position during the general election campaign).

In other words, America's new Cuba policy seems to be one of gradual rapprochement when it comes to engagement with Cuba's authoritarian government, but continued isolation and punishment of Cuba's people. That's unfortunate.

Obama did allow for more visitation between Cuban-Americans and their families on the island last week, but while that's a welcome change, it wasn't particularly bold, brave, or risky. There was almost no political downside at all to the change.

Why That Separation of Powers Thingie Makes Some Sense

The NY Times reports, via Hit and Run, that judicial review of Gitmo detainees, which the Administration has steadfastly resisted, may be quite justified:

In the first case to review the government's secret
evidence for holding a detainee at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a federal
appeals court found that accusations against a Muslim from western
China held for more than six years were based on bare and unverifiable
claims. The unclassified parts of the decision were released on Monday.

With some derision for the Bush administration's arguments, a
three-judge panel said the government contended that its accusations
against the detainee should be accepted as true because they had been
repeated in at least three secret documents.

The court compared
that to the absurd declaration of a character in the Lewis Carroll poem
"The Hunting of the Snark": "I have said it thrice: What I tell you
three times is true."

"This comes perilously close to suggesting
that whatever the government says must be treated as true," said the
panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The
unanimous panel overturned as invalid a Pentagon determination that the
detainee, Huzaifa Parhat, a member of the ethnic Uighur Muslim minority
in western China, was properly held as an enemy combatant.

The panel included one of the court's most conservative members, the chief judge, David B. Sentelle....

Pentagon officials have claimed that the Uighurs at Guantánamo were
"affiliated" with a Uighur resistance group, the East Turkestan Islamic
Movement, and that it, in turn, was "associated" with Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Next up, the detainee whose mother's gynecologist's dog's veterinarian's great uncle once was friends with a Muslim guy.

The Administration now complains that there is nowhere that this man can be sent back to, and somehow this is supposed to validate his detainment?  He wouldn't have had to be sent back anywhere if he hadn't been snatched up in the first place.  I am willing to believe that this guy may be a bad buy, but we let lots of people we are pretty sure are bad guys walk the street, because for good and valid reasons we rank false detainment of the innocent as a greater harm than non-detainment of the guilty.  Anyone seen OJ lately?

Laughing at Florida and Michigan

I must say I am laughing my butt off at the states of Michigan and Florida.  If they had kept their original primary dates, their elections would likely have been critical, if not decisive, in the Democratic nomination.  Both would have gotten full-bore candidate attention, much as Ohio and now Pennsylvania have.  It could have been them who were joining Iowa in the great vote sell-off, trading delegates for promises of ethanol subsidies or whatever the states are perceived to want.  But instead, in a bid to become more relevant, they tried to skirt the rules and in the process became irrelevant.  So instead of promising Floridians that they will enhance old age benefits or doing something with Cuba, the candidates instead are out there promising Pennsylvanians and Ohioans that they will throttle our North American trading partners.

Rewriting History

I was watching the History Channel last night and watching a show on the nuclear arms race.  Interestingly, they described the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba as happening before JFK took office, and then discussed the Cuban Missile Crisis as JFK's first interaction with Russia.  I find this to be really odd revisionism, and if it were not for Coyote's Law, I would ascribe this to the ongoing Kennedy family effort to polish JFK's historical legacy.  But, having written Coyote's Law, I will just assume the show's producers were ignorant.

Update: I take the point that the Bay of Pigs invasion was a CIA plan in the Eisenhower presidency.  However, JFK was deeply involved in the planning and decision to go ahead, and in fact he and his advisers actually modified the plan, including the invasion site, in ways that hurt the probability of success (if there ever was any).

Open Up Trade with Cuba

Cuba, Castro, Che Guevara, etc all suck.  It is ridiculous to even have to keep making this point against folks who are trying to sanctify them.

That being said, it is way past time to open up Cuba to US trade.  When will we learn that we are doing the Castros work for them?

  • If the US did not go out of its way to limit contact with Cuba, the Castros would have to try to do it.  We are just playing into their hands.  Totalitarian governments have a very dicey time in this era of free communications.  China interacts with the west, and is improving.  North Korea blocks all contact and is not.
  • The economic boycott gives the Castros a fig leaf to hide behind as their entire population wallows in poverty.  Yes, they are poor, and they are poor because of communism, but the Castros are able to blame the failure of their country on the US embargo.

But they have free health care!  They get all the leeches they want.

The Green Security State

Via Hit and Run:

Chris Martin, Coldplay lead singer founder and frontman of the CleanScapes waste removal agency, is bidding for a piece of Seattle's garbage collection contract.

If
Martin is allowed to implement what he calls "my best idea, my
get-people-riled-up thing," we could all soon be subject to a kind of
garbage audit, too. He wants to bring the equivalent of the red-light
camera to your front curb. Just as the traffic camera captures you
running through a stoplight, CleanScapes' incriminating photos would
catch you improperly disposing of a milk carton. (It belongs in the
recycling bin.)

"We could do it the nice way," he says, meaning
his company would e-mail you pictures of your detritus, along with
helpful information about separating out recyclables. Or, he says,
CleanScapes could send the pictures on to municipal inspectors, and
"the city could enforce its own laws." (While the city has sent warning
letters, no fines have ever been issued, according to Seattle Public
Utilities.)

The vast majority of recycling is a net loss, both in dollars and in energy.  Only a few items (scrap iron, aluminum cans, bulk news print) make any sense at all in curbside recycling programs.  Milk cartons are not one of them.  The rest of the curbside recycling we do is merely symbolism actions that demonstrate our commitment to the cause, much like reciting a liturgy in church (Interestingly, the more honest environmentalists have admitted this, but still support the program because they believe the symbolic action is an important source of public commitment to the environment).

I guess it is not surprising to see folks like Mr. Martin bring the full power of the state to bear to make sure you are sorting your milk cartons correctly.  After all, in previous generations, the powers-that-be in small towns would employ people to watch for folks skipping out on church, and nations like Cuba still use neighborhood watches to spy out political heresy.  It's just a sign of the times that now such tactics are being used to smoke out environmental heresy.

The "Crisis" Looks a Lot Like State-Run Medicine

The USAToday published a front-page story today arguing that a health care "crisis" looks a lot like Houston, Texas.  I would argue, from their descriptions, that a health care "crisis" looks exactly like state-run medicine.

Ijeoma Onye awoke one day last month short of
breath, her head pounding. Her daughter, Ebere Hawkins, drove her 45
minutes from Katy, Texas, to Ben Taub General Hospital, where people
without health insurance pay little or nothing for treatment.

Onye, 62, waited four hours to be seen. Still,
going to the emergency room was faster than getting an appointment. For
that, "you have to wait months," Hawkins says....

The huge number of uninsured residents here means that health officials
must make tough decisions every day about who gets treated and when.
"Does this mean rationing? You bet it does," says Kenneth Mattox, chief
of staff at Ben Taub, the Houston area's pre-eminent trauma care
facility.

The article goes on and on like this.  The problem is delays and queuing in facilities that provide free care.   And the difference between this and state-run health care is what exactly?  When a product or service is free, people will tend to over-consume the supply, with rationing taking place via queuing rather than price.  This is how every state-run supply system works, from food in the Soviet Union to health care in Canada.  And by the way, exactly how upset should I be about people receiving an extraordinarily valuable and costly service for free but having to wait a while to get it?

This article is actually a great rebuttal of the inherent message in
the health care debate that "uninsured" means "denied health care."  In
fact, it is clear that even in the spot USAToday picked out as the worst in
the country, the uninsured are in fact getting health care.  It is tedious with long waits, but there are no examples in the long article of people going without.  Yes some people consume less than they might if it was free and convenient, but that is just the rationing at work.  Anyone who says that rationing goes away in a state-run system is bald-faced lying to you.

Remember that national health care does not eliminate queuing and waits for the poor -- it just institutionalizes these waits for the rest of us.   Universal Health Care is equivalent to a Great Society housing program where everyone, rich and poor, have to give up their house and move into a crappy public apartment block.

Postscript: By the way, I am sympathetic to certain hospital administrators who have a "crisis" on their hands because the mass of uninsured show up in their emergency rooms.  That, however, is a problem manageable far short of government-run health care.  They want to blame diversions of critical patients away from over-crowded emergency rooms on the "uninsured" but it is really a function of their own faulty triage.

Update: Michael Moore will soon argue that its better in Cuba.  Hah! That is funny.  If people really want to believe this, then it is another reason is is way past time to open up our relations to Cuba, so people can see for themselves what a lying sack of poop this filmmaker is.

Open Up to Cuba

The Bush administration is in the unenviable but not historically unprecedented position of not really being able to accomplish much of anything over the next two years.  Bush's credibility is such that a solid majority in Congress may oppose any plan he suggests, just because he suggested it.  Also, it is unlikely that any third-rail-type reforms will be considered in a presidential election cycle.  And I am generally OK with government legislative inaction.  In fact, it would be great if the Democrats chose to pursue impeachment hearings, not because Bush is any more or less a lying sack of shit than other politicians, but because it would divert Congress onto an enforced lassaiz faire path on every other issue.

However, one thing Bush could productively accomplish is to open up relations with Cuba.  If we are ready to pull out of Iraq after five years, even at the cost of being seen as "losing," we should be ready to reconsider our cold war with Cuba after over 46 years.  After all, our cold war with Russia, if dated from the end of WWII, only lasted 44 years.  We trade freely with communist China, and even with communist Vietnam, despite the fact that we were in a shooting war with them more recently than the Castro takeover.  And what have we accomplished?  Cuba is nowhere close to an anti-communist revolution, and its people suffer.  In fact, I think the embargo on Cuba, by turning Cuba's attention away from its natural trading partner the US, causes it to look for allies in places like Venezuela.

I think history has proven time and time again the power of open commerce and interchange in bringing closed, unfree societies into the modern age.  I can't for the life of me figure out why we still pursue the proven-pointless embargoes against Cuba except:

  • The sugar lobby like it that way
  • The Cuban expat community, operating on wounded latin pride, have stubbornly made it clear that anyone who suggests opening up to Cuba will lose the typically tight vote for Florida's key electoral votes.

With GWB's lame-duckracy and his brother moving on from the Florida governor's mansion, no Bush has to run for election in Florida again. With Castro's death (I'm not dead yet - yes you are, you'll be stone dead in a moment) the anti-Castro movement in the expat community loses focus, and might be reshaped into what it should be, that is pro-Cuba rather than anti-Castro.  I think these two stars are lining up to provide a unique opportunity to do something about Cuba, and in fact might be a useful step in counterpoint to Hugo Chavez's recent actions. 

The Problem With Sanctions

For years I have argued against economic boycotts against nations such as Cuba and China, arguing instead for business interaction and engagement.  In China, for example, I think Pandora's box is open, and there's no reversing the effects of China's engagement with the US, no matter how much the Chinese government may think they can control the tide of modernity. 

Jacob Weisberg has similar thoughts in Slate, and argues further that sanctions merely play into the hands of dictators:

America's sanctions policy is largely consistent, and in a certain sense,
admirable. By applying economic restraints, we label the most oppressive and
dangerous governments in the world pariahs. We wash our hands of evil, declining
to help despots finance their depredations, even at a cost to ourselves of some
economic growth. We wincingly accept the collateral damage that falls on
civilian populations in the nations we target. But as the above list of
countries suggests, sanctions have one serious drawback. They don't work. Though
there are some debatable exceptions, sanctions rarely play a significant role in
dislodging or constraining the behavior of despicable regimes.

Beyond the propaganda value Weisberg discusses, sanctions also create scarcity which is useful to the most brutal dictators, as they can use their powers of allocating resources to reward supporters and starve out opponents.  My guess is that Saddam Hussein used his oil for food resources in this way.

I would be interested in a historical analysis of the effect of sanctions in the South African decision to end apartheid.  Was this more due to sanctions or engagement, since a mix were employed.

So Why Not Cuba?

This week, the US took a step to normalize relations with Libya:

The United States restored
full diplomatic ties with Libya on Monday, rewarding the
longtime pariah nation for scrapping its weapons of mass
destruction programs and signaling incentives for Iran and
North Korea if they do the same

The logic was that Libya still is a sucky dictatorship, but it has taken some important steps forward into the light which we want to reward.  Perhaps more importantly, the administration acknowledges that increasing intercourse with the western democracies tends to have liberalizing effects in countries in this world of open communications (see: China).  Its a difficult trade-off, but I am fine with this.  Certainly we are no virgin in terms of having diplomatic relations with bad governments.

My question is:  Why doesn't this same logic apply to Cuba?  I think it is pretty clear that embargo and shunning over the past 40+ years have had as much effect as they are going to have.  Why not try engagement?  I think this particularly makes sense well before the chaos that may ensue after Castro's death.  If anything, just by reading the behavior of Cuban expats, Cubans remind be of the Chinese in terms of their entrepreneurship, and I certainly think engagement has worked better than shunning in China. 

Of course I already know the answer to my question:  Because Cuban expats make up a large voting block in the most critical presidential election swing state and no candidate wants to be soft on Castro.  But this seems to make it even more of an opportunity for a second-term president who doesn't have to contest Florida again.

Update:  Yes, I did indeed spell it "Lybia" at first.  Seems vaguely Feudian.  Excuse 1:  Blogging is a real time function.  Excuse 2:  Its just a hobby.  Excuse 3:  I was a mechanical engineer in school

Longing for Concentration Camps

Of the more partisan blogs I read, I have always enjoyed Captains Quarters for being thoughtful and well-written.  Ed Morrissy is clearly as skeptical about open immigration as I am supportive of it, which  I am generally willing to put into the "intelligent people will disagree" category, until I found this bit a little frightening (emphasis added):

As I have written repeatedly over the past two years, we simply cannot
throw out 12 million people overnight, so some sort of guest-worker
program is inevitable, if for no other reason than to get an accurate
accounting of the aliens in our nation. Either that, or we will have to
herd people into concentration camps, a solution that will never pass
political muster even if were remotely possible logistically
. That
program could form a basis of a comprehensive immigration "reform", if
properly written.

Is the implication that his only real problems with American concentration camps for people born in Mexico are logistical?  When one typically says that an idea can't pass political muster, they generally are referring (with a wistful sigh) to what they consider a good idea that for whatever reason could not survive the legislative process.  Let's be clear: herding people into concentration camps based arbitrarily on their birth location is abhorrent, not logistically difficult. 

I haven't called myself conservative for over 20 years, but I thought that most good conservatives would agree with the following statement:

"Our fundamental rights, from speech to association to property, are not granted to us by any government, but belong to us as a fact of our human existence."

Do conservatives still believe this?  I know liberals gave up on it a while back - that is why I pay a transaction "privilege" tax in Arizona, which presumes that the ability to conduct commerce is a privilege that is granted by the government.  But I thought conservatives stood by this statement.  But if they still do, then on what basis can they argue that people not born within the US border somehow have lesser (or no) right to conduct commerce in this country, to buy and live in a home in this country, to sell their labor in this country, etc.?   The only rights or activities or privileges a country should be able to deny non-citizens are those rights and privileges that flow from the government and not from our basic humanity.  Which are.... none (update: OK, maybe one: Voting, since this is inherently tied up with government.  I have written before about why I think voting is one of our less important rights).

I understand there are good and valid concerns about government handouts and taxpayer-paid services flowing to recent immigrants, but to solve this narrow concern, "reform" discussion should be about setting minimum qualification standards for such services or handouts, and not about putting Mexicans in concentration camps.

Update:  A number of readers have scolded me for overreacting to the Morrissey quote, arguing that the quote is just dry understatement rather than any revelation of sinister plans.  Fine.  I have friends who are both legal and illegal immigrants her in Phoenix, as well as several who are in-between (i.e. are constantly battling to hang on to their visa status by their fingernails) so I have personal emotions in the game here that may make me overly sensitive.

I will admit to a huge blind spot:  I just cannot comprehend why Americans, none of whose families are native to this land, get so upset about high levels of immigration, beyond the public services issue.  And the more I think about this latter, the more I am convinced making everyone legal combined with some eligibility waiting periods (for voting, welfare, etc) would generate more tax revenue than it would consume.  In fact, high levels of immigration may be the only viable solution to the demographic bomb we have with social security and medicare.  (By the way, the public services issue is one reason the Democrats have, if possible, an even less viable position than Republicans.  Our Democratic governor has publicly supported continuing free government services to illegal immigrants but opposed allowing them to work.  This makes sense, how?)

I do understand there is "law and order" argument that goes "well, those folks are breaking the law, and we have got to have respect for the law."  Here's a proposal.  Everyone who has never knowingly violated the speed limit, never done a rolling stop at a stop sign, and never tried illegal narcotics in college are all welcome to make the argument to me about the need to strictly enforce every law on the books.  This same logic is used to send refugees escaping Cuba back to Cuba, and it sucks. 

Time to Thaw Relations With Cuba

First, a couple of disclaimers:  The human rights situation in Cuba still sucks, and Castro still is a reprehensible leader.

That all being said, its time to try a different policy vis a vis Cuba.  While the strict embargo of all things and all people back and forth to Cuba may well have been appropriate in the 1960's to make sure Cuba and the world understood our displeasure with Castro, its not working for us now.  Forty-five or so years later, nothing has really changed in Cuba.  Heck, that's more years than the Cold War with Russia lasted.  And, since the economic blockade has become pretty much unilateral, with the US about the only country in the world still observing it, its hard to see Castro throwing up the white flag any time soon.

The US has made its point -- we think Castro is a brutal totalitarian.  Castro has made his point -- Cuba is not going to fall based on US economic pressure.  Its time to try engagement.  This does not mean that the US sanction the human rights situation in Cuba.  It does mean that we acknowledge that engagement with western ideas through trade and commerce have done more to liberalize countries like China, India, and southeast Asia than any other policy we have tried.

Fareed Zakaria has a nice article in the International Edition of Newsweek advocating just this approach, not just in Cuba, but all over the world:

For almost five decades the United States has
put in place a series of costly policies designed to force Cuba to
dismantle its communist system. These policies have failed totally.
Contrast this with Vietnam, also communist, where Washington has
adopted a different approach, normalizing relations with its former
enemy. While Vietnam remains a Leninist regime in many ways, it has
opened up its society, and the government has loosened its grip on
power, certainly far more than that of Fidel Castro. For the average
person in Libya or Vietnam, American policy has improved his or her
life and life chances. For the average person in Iran or Cuba, U.S.
policy has produced decades of isolation and economic hardship.

Don't
get me wrong. I think the regimes in Tehran and Havana are ugly and
deserve to pass into the night. But do our policies actually make that
more likely? Washington has a simple solution to most governments it
doesn't like: isolate them, slap sanctions on them and wait for their
downfall....

Critics could argue that I'm forgetting the many surprising places
where regimes have fallen and freedom has been given a chance to
flourish. Who would have predicted that Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan
would see so much change in the past year and a half? But these
examples only prove my point. The United States had no "regime change"
policy toward any of these countries, and it had relations with all of
them. In fact, these relationships helped push the regimes to change
and emboldened civil-society groups.

Ah, you might say, but these regimes were not truly evil. Well, what
about Mao's China at the height of the Cultural Revolution? Nixon and
Kissinger opened relations with what was arguably the most brutal
regime in the world at the time. And as a consequence of that opening,
China today is far more free"”economically and socially"”than it has ever
been. If we were trying to help the Chinese people, would isolation
have been a better policy?

For years I think we feared to normalize relations with Cuba because we were afraid of looking weak;  however, today, after kicking regimes out of Afghanistan and Iraq and threatening four or five others, I am not sure this is a concern.  Besides, we are normalizing relations with Vietnam, who we actually fought a war against and who are at least as bad at human rights as Cuba. 

I fear that what may be preventing a new policy with Cuba is the electoral college.  Or, more specifically, the crucial status of Florida as a tightly-contested presidential election swing state and the perception (reality?) that there is a large high-profile Cuban population in Florida that opposes normalization, at least as long as Castro can still fog a mirror.

 

Oh Jeez, Not This Again

Via the AP wire:

The
House on Wednesday approved a constitutional amendment that would give
Congress the power to ban desecration of the American flag, a measure
that for the first time stands a chance of passing the Senate as well.

By a
286-130 vote - eight more than needed - House members approved the
amendment after a debate over whether such a ban would uphold or run
afoul of the Constitution's free-speech protections.

Approval
of two-thirds of the lawmakers present was required to send the bill on
to the Senate, where activists on both sides say it stands the best
chance of passage in years. If the amendment is approved in that
chamber by a two-thirds vote, it would then move to the states for
ratification.

Why is it there is so much obsession of late with freakin icons?  The Left gets bent out of shape that some books were mishandled in Cuba and the Right is back on its no flag-burning kick.  The US Flag is a piece of cloth, that has meaning to the extent that one respects what it stands for.  Legislating against burning flags will do nothing to increase respect for what the flag stands for, and in reality helps undermine those values.  No one who loves the US thinks less of our country when they see someone burning flag -- they think less of the flag-burners.

A hundred years ago, the Constitution was modified to allow income taxes, an amendment that was sold to the public as but a small, small exception to constitutional protections.  We see now what has been driven since through this small crack.  Lets not do the same with free speech - we cannot create an exception to our strong Constitutional protections of free speech.