Obama: Right on Cuba, Wrong on Scalia Funeral

Mr. Obama made two decisions this week, to visit Cuba, and to not attend Justice Scalia’s funeral.

The Scalia decision may not be so smart. From Politico:

President Barack Obama is preparing for a fierce battle with the Senate over the Supreme Court vacancy, but he’s not planning to attend Justice Antonin Scalia’s funeral — a decision that puzzled even some of his allies and incensed conservative media.

Yep, the decision to forgo the funeral on Saturday is called a partisan snub by the Right. They ignore that Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will go to the Supreme Court on Friday to pay their respects to Justice Scalia while the justice lies in repose in the Court’s Great Hall.

Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden, who share Scalia’s Catholic faith, will attend the Catholic funeral services, representing the Administration.

Politico reports there is little precedent for presidents attending the funerals of sitting justices. President George W. Bush attended, and eulogized Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist in 2005. But before Rehnquist, the last justice to die in office was Robert H. Jackson in 1954.

It’s a can’t-win situation for Obama. If he attends, the right will pick apart his mannerisms, facial expressions and interactions with other attendees, criticizing what they will call snubs of various kinds.

While not attending again shows Obama’s tin ear when it comes to domestic politics, his decision is acceptable. Attending the funeral would not suddenly change the stance of Republicans who think that Obama should not nominate a Scalia replacement.

His decision to visit Cuba is smart. Obama will be the first US president to visit the island in 88 years. The last US president to travel to Cuba was Calvin Coolidge in January 1928.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced a diplomatic thaw in  December 2014, after more than 50 years of disruption and confrontation between the two countries. The US and Cuba formally resumed bilateral relations in July, 2015. A month later, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, officially opened the US Embassy in Havana, becoming the first US diplomatic head to visit Cuba in 70 years.

Why do we care about opening Cuba? Here is one reason: a story in Forbes this week underlines what we can expect from opening relations.

Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal, both 72-year-old retired software engineers, are slated to become the first Americans since 1959 to set up a manufacturing plant in Cuba. Their plan: produce small, easily maintained tractors for use by family farmers. Under new regulations issued by the Obama administration, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control gave the Paint Rock, AL-based partners the go-ahead last week. Once they get final approval from the Cubans…in early 2017, they’ll start building a factory in a special economic zone set up by the Cuban government in the port city of Mariel.

The Wrongologist visited Cuba in 2014. Below is a photo of tobacco farming in Pinar Del Rio, a predominantly agricultural region about 2 hours from Havana that produces 70% of Cuba’s cigar tobacco. This farmer is using oxen to plow his tobacco field. Most independent farmers use animals for plowing.

The tractors that we did see were Soviet-era imports:



Clemmons and Berenthal got rich in tech here in the US, and identified the need for cheap tractors in Cuba. They will be showing their first tractor model at a Cuban agricultural fair in March. Why are they doing this? They have a desire to be helpful to the Cuban people, but they want profits:

Our business model says we are investing in Cuba and reinvesting any profits we make. We’ll do what we did with our other businesses. We’ll create value and then sell the company.

And was it easy for them to get US government approval? Berenthal told Forbes:

In all honesty it was tedious rather than difficult. We had to wait for the regulations to change so that the proposal we made was covered by the regulations implemented over the last nine months.

Isn’t it interesting that two entrepreneurial guys can identify a big market and jump in before the big US agricultural manufacturers?

And despite Mr. Cruz’ and Mr. Rubio’s yelling about Obama dealing with a Communist regime, the Cuban government appears willing to offer financial backing to private farmers who choose to buy from a privately owned US company.

Kudos to Obama, and to Clemmons and Berenthal. It is long overdue, yet somehow, just in time.


Monday Wake Up Call – December 22, 2014

RE: Sony. The twist in this case is the trope that North Korea is suppressing our Freedom of Speech. And, the suppressed “Freedom of Speech” is a shitty Hollywood movie. So the public is getting spun about an invisible, but somehow tangible, “attack” on our freedoms. The Wrongologist has no skills to determine who hacked Sony, but when the mainstream media jumps on something with both feet, you know it supports SOME government theme.

Is the plan to convince the American people that there are “threats” everywhere and that only the State Security Apparatus can protect them from Evil? The usual pun-holes on the Sunday tube talked about how big the threat is, and how vulnerable we are.

America has become a Factory of Fear. Fear the Muslims, fear Putin, fear China, fear immigrants, fear criminals, fear the national debt, fear detente with Cuba. Trouble is, once again, the only thing we’re being urged to do is muster up the courage to go shopping. Authoritarians need their subjects to be afraid. Their bet is that people will submit to bullying if they believe that the bullies are the only thing standing between them and their terrors.

Things have to change. Killing brown people for peace is not working. Our empire is bankrupting us, and has not made us any safer. Unfortunately in the US, our domestic politics, plus our failures in military adventurism, have created ever greater violence and lunacy, further feeding the rolling disaster.

As an example, take New York City. Two police were killed in their patrol car. NY’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the police union, reacts by declaring that the NYPD has “become a ‘wartime’ police department, and we will act accordingly.”
Wartime, really? Are these the union’s marching orders to the 35,000 armed members of the biggest police department in the US? The NYPD seems to be asserting their superiority to the NYC executive branch. This has the earmarks of an attempted coup.

As a former military, the Wrongologist respects the absolute need for a chain of command with an elected civilian at the top. As a former military, he knows that many in the military only respect the authority of civilian leadership if the civilian happens to be a conservative.

The NYPD seems to be ready to strike out at their civilian leadership because they have deemed it to be unworthy of leading their “honorable” police force. Their attitude of superiority should scare the living daylights out of all of us. This attitude is not amenable to any evidence to the contrary, or to self-reflection and examination. It will brook no doubts about the moral purity of the NYC police.

This seems to be coming to a head, and seems that it will only get uglier.

Monday’s Wake Up Music: On a much lighter note, some seasonal music. Here are the Capitol Steps with a seasonal song about Guantanamo:


Next, a semi-seasonal tune by The Firemen. Sounds obscure? It is. The Firemen are a duo of Paul McCartney and Martin Glover, who performs as Youth. There are some doubts about whether or not “Dance ‘til We’re High” is a real Christmas song, even though it has lyrics about “winter coming”, “snow falling”, “bells ringing out” and a catchy tune. But, it’s way better than McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”:

Your Monday Linkage:
Tanks that won’t go away. The CRomnibus funding bill includes $554 billion for defense spending. This lines up almost exactly with President Obama’s original request, but Congress made considerable changes to where this money is being spent. According to analysis by Defense News, 10% of the FY15 defense appropriations budget—and 30% of all line items—were changed in the logrolling process. The biggest ticket items include $120 million more for M-1 Abrams tanks, despite Army protestations (for the third straight year) that no additional tanks are needed.

Oops. On July 3, Homeland Security, which plays a key role in responding to cyber-attacks, replied to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request about a malware attack on Google called “Operation Aurora.” Unfortunately, DHS officials made a grave error in their response. DHS released more than 800 pages of documents related not to Operation Aurora but rather to the Aurora Project, a 2007 research effort demonstrating how easy it was to hack into US power and water systems.

Ars Technica calls the Sony hack a “software pipe bomb.” Analysis by Cisco of a malware sample matching the signature of the malware that was used in the attack on Sony Pictures, reveals that the code was full of bugs and was anything but sophisticated.

Our frequent commenter, Terry McKenna, has a great post about Cuba and our Constitution. Go read it.

Bill O’Reilly said this on his show:

It’s easier to believe in a benevolent God — the baby Jesus — than it is in some kind of theory about global warming. It’s just easier, is it not?

O’Reilly was making the point that literal belief in the story of the virgin birth as it appears in the gospels is easy, while believing that burning fossil fuels causes climate change is hard. Another way of putting this is that O’Reilly thinks it is easier to believe that a woman can be impregnated without sperm than it is to believe the consensus of the scientific community on an issue he apparently doesn’t understand.


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 21, 2014

A week where Colbert moved on, and all but the anti-Castro diehards moved on.

And Sony? Think of it this way: A Japanese company with offices in California was hacked. Several terabytes of data were copied from its internal networks and some was put on file sharing sites. One of the items copied was The Interview, a film produced in Canada that is a comedy about killing a current (although illegitimate) head of state. Tons of other data were stolen, like social security numbers, payroll data, and internal emails, all of which might have been the real targets of the hackers.

Sony is a wonderful object lesson. A few rogue hackers, possibly affiliated with North Korea if you believe the FBI, have forced the company to cancel the movie. The larger issue is that America is no longer free to watch bad movies. The problem for the US is that cyber warfare is cheap and effective. Unlike our military, it isn’t capital intensive, and it can’t be defeated with aircraft carriers and nukes. Yet, the new Congress will probably vote for more jets and tanks.

The tools used to hack Sony are well known and in the public domain. Sony has lousy internal network security and has been hacked before. It’s time that dysfunctional corporations like Sony, invest in protecting themselves. It isn’t the government’s responsibility.

Hollywood, that bastion of free speech, heads for the exits:

COW Sony

It hurts to give up when you are so close to, what, exactly?
COW Cuba

Mr. Obama’s unilateral action on Cuba shows his callous disregard for his lame-duckitude. It also shows his disrespect for the Constitution, Christianity, and everything Americans hold dear.

Cuban economy is about to change:

COW Costco

Colbert packs up, heads towards Letterman:
cOW Colbert

Another idea we need to put behind us:

COW Thied Bush

The Torture Report was a mixed message:

COW Not Who We are


Friday Music Break – December 19, 2014

Today, a little more about Cuba. In January, while on a US government-sanctioned trip to Cuba, Wrongo met and became friendly with an award-winning author who also teaches at a local college in Havana. He is not a member of the Cuban Communist Party. Yesterday, I sent him a congratulatory email. Here is his reply:

What a great day for the future of this country, thanks to everyone´s support. We are starting a new path and I hope the future is prominent for all who genuinely dreamt of this great opportunity. Personally I will keep up the fight to bring both countries even closer. We all deserve it.

He is representative of many of the people I met during the week in Cuba. Many struggle to put food on the table, many are entrepreneurial, holding down 2 and sometimes 3 private sector jobs. And all were optimistic about the future, despite most being cash-poor.

A diplomatic thaw is a hopeful opening for both countries. Time will tell if the governments can match the willingness of their people to create an atmosphere of peace and cooperation.

Wrongo was a freshman in college when JFK gave what some call the “scariest speech ever”. We were playing cards in a dorm room, using a bed for a table as Kennedy spoke. Everyone in that room was frightened, and subsequently, all were drafted, or volunteered for military service after graduation.

Here is a short reminiscence about the times and the reactions in Washington and the Kremlin in 1962:

To help celebrate the end of belligerence between our two countries, here is Phil Ochs with “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” from 1965. It was about Vietnam, but it works for our 55-year disagreement with Cuba as well:

Sample lyric:
Now the labor leader’s screamin’
when they close the missile plants,
United Fruit screams at the Cuban shore,
Call it “Peace” or call it “Treason,”
Call it “Love” or call it “Reason,”
But I ain’t marchin’ any more,

Phil, we could really use your voice now. The fight isn’t over.

See you Sunday.


U-Turn in Cuba/US Relations

Yesterday, Mr. Obama announced that the US and Cuba will resume diplomatic relations after 55 years of dysfunction and belligerence. Predictably, a few Congressional leaders and Republican presidential hopefuls lashed out at the president and the decision. Jeb Bush said:

The benefactors of President Obama’s ill-advised move will be the Castro brothers.

This was followed by these predictable words from Sen. McCain (R-AZ) and his paramour, Sen. Huckleberry Butch Me Up (R-SC), who said that the policy shift reflected that: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

America and the values it stands for [are] in retreat and decline…It is about the appeasement of autocratic dictators, thugs and adversaries, diminishing America’s influence in the world.

The Obama party line is: “the current policy has failed for 55 years. The Castro brothers have outlasted 8 US presidents. Let’s try something different.”

And here we are. This is now possible because the first generation of Cuban émigrés no longer completely control the Cuban voting bloc in Florida, the most crucial swing state to both parties. Consider the following:

• According to the Pew Research Center, there are about 1.9 million Cuban-Americans in the US. 70% of Cuban-Americans live in Florida, making them the most geographically concentrated of the 12 largest Hispanic origin groups.
• We know that the younger Cuban-Americans shifted toward the left during the 2012 election. In 2012, Obama won a majority of the Cuban-American vote in Miami. He won Cubans nationally by two points.

Here is how the political sands have shifted:

Cuban Political Preference

Thus, politics no longer drives the decision about our relationship with Cuba. Our 55 year-old hard line position was more about those upper middle class Cuban-American émigrés who hoped that the embargo would eventually force the return of houses that they abandoned 55 years ago when they left Cuba for Miami.

A final reason why this works for both sides right now is the Saudi decision to force lower oil prices. Cuba cannot sustain its economy on its own. As an example, Cuba now imports an estimated 80% percent of the food its people consume, at a cost of more than $1.5 billion per year. Venezuela has been Cuba’s prime financial benefactor, but the Venezuelan economy is in terrible shape, even before the current sharp decline in the price of oil, which is its primary source of state revenue.

They will soon be forced to cut Cuba’s rations. That will be a huge opening for the US, particularly since Cuba’s former benefactor, Russia, has its own economic difficulties as well.

Despite the Republican bleating about Cuba as a communist dictatorship with a horrible human rights record, being a communist government with horrible human rights record hasn’t stopped America from dealing with China, which these same Republicans think is just fine.

So why not trade with Cuba? How can trade with Cuba be a sign of political weakness, but trade with China and Vietnam is vital to global economic progress and a spirit of international harmony?

It’s been wrong for the US to continue to hold a cold war grudge against Cuba. The US could most readily help the people of Cuba by opening up trade between the two countries.

Let’s close with a song about going to Cuba by Jackson Browne:

Sample lyric:
I’m going to drink the Ron Anejo
and walk out on the Malecon
in one hand a Monte Cristo
and in the other an ice cream cone.

And they truly love their ice cream.

Good luck to the Cubans, a lovely people, and a lovely country.