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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 27, 2016

Are you sick of all the winning yet?

You have probably heard that Fidel Castro died yesterday. Wrongo was in college in October 1962, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. We were glued to TV waiting for a nuclear attack that never came.

That Castro survived JFK by 53 years is remarkable, particularly since at least two American Presidents tried to kill him. At the time, Kennedy offered two things in exchange for Soviet removal of the Cuban missiles: (1) the US would pledge never to invade Cuba and (2) the US would secretly withdraw missiles from Turkey. The removal of the nukes from Turkey was delayed several months, so that the US would not appear weak in the face of the Cuban missile threat. The Soviet Union accepted this offer the next day.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, their archives of the Missile crisis showed that Castro wanted the USSR to fire the missiles at the US. Khrushchev came to regard Castro as a lunatic, bent on war. We came very close to invading Cuba, and the Soviets never fully trusted Castro again.

In most ways, Castro’s death is anticlimactic. He retired, and appointed his brother Raul to head the government years ago, and recently, the Obama administration has been effective in improving relations with Cuba. Had Fidel died during a period of greater tension, it might have signaled the possibility of a positive change in relations between our two countries. Sadly, it is probable that the next great change in Cuban/American relations will move us backward under a Trump Administration.

Onward to cartoons. Thanksgiving and Trump’s staffing plans dominated the week.

Many avoided politics at the family repast:

cow-i-survived

Democrats weigh their strategy with Trump:

cow-turkey-talk

Trump meets with the New York Times, tells them how to cover the news:

cow-trumpy-times

Our Orange Decider has yet to decide a few things:

cow-the-decider

Paul Ryan is locked and loaded for 2017:

cow-paul-ryans-targets

Many who voted for Trump have little or no retirement savings, or regular savings for that matter. Ironically, a majority of them will be reliant on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in later life. Sadly, they can’t seem to connect the dots between Ryan’s Ayn Randian dreams of privatization, and how it will affect their lives. It may be too late for many of them.

Deficits are part of the Art of the Deal:

cow-white-house-puppy

Those “responsible Republican deficit hawkswanted to restore earmarks the week after the election, but Ryan is making them wait until the new Congress is seated. That way, they won’t destroy the PRETENSE of budget deficits mattering.

The GOP really can’t wait to take off the debt girdle:

cow-deficit-girdle

 

 

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Foxtards: Learn A Little Before Bloviating

When Obama and family got off AF One in Cuba, he was met by the Cuban Foreign Minister (FM):

Obama in Cuba

That led to comments like this:

Obama doesn’t really take his responsibility as POTUS seriously. He obviously doesn’t respect the office and thus is indifferent to insults to the office.

And Trump tweeted:

Trump lambasts Castro

Calm down Foxtards! Here’s what you need to know:

In the US, a foreign head of state or head of government is formally welcomed by the president on the South Lawn of the White House. You can check out our State Department’s process here.

In Cuba it is similar:

  • President Putin was greeted at the airport, by the Cuban FM.
  • President Chavez of Venezuela was greeted at the airport, by the Cuban FM.
  • President Ortega of Nicaragua was greeted at the airport, by the Cuban FM.
  • President Xi of China was greeted at the airport, by the Cuban FM.
  • Back in the day, President Khrushchev of Russia was greeted at the airport by, you guessed it, the Cuban FM.

So, how is Obama being greeted at the airport by the Cuban FM, an “insult”?

BTW, both Obama in DC and Castro in Cuba greeted Pope Francis at the airport when he visited, so Trump was half-right. Castro did go to the airport once.

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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:

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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