Waiting for a Cuba Libre

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Filed Under Uncategorized on Dec 30 

The Spanish-American War lasted 13 days short of 4 months. The Teller Amendment passed the Senate a few days before the war began in April of 1898 by 7 votes, the same number as the number of conditions imposed by it’s legislative successor, the Platt Amendment, on Cuba 3 years later in 1901. Over a century later, what was attempted, and what was prohibited within Congress still affects America. As Obama seems to be readying the ground for another executive action on one of his favorite tactics, a quick military retreat from various spot around the world, in this case from Guantanamo Bay, or Gitmo, the ghosts of those actions over a century ago still live. The Teller Amendment placed the brakes on annexation of Cuba before the U.S. went to war. It may have been mainly motivated by Henry Teller’s defense of the beet sugar industry in his home state of Colorado against a feared avalanche of Cuban cane sugar should the island have indeed been annexed.

Both the Platt Amendment and the 2nd occupation of Cuba during the period 1903 – 1906, revolved around the American preoccupation over what direction a new Cuban government would take. Their worries about a revolutionary neighbor were well founded if a little premature, to say the least. It would take the Russian Revolution and the full emergence of the Soviet Union to create a worldwide framework in which a revolutionary Cuba would no longer be just a mid-sized Caribbean nation turning towards left-wing politics, but rather a key player in the strategic life and death struggles of the Cold War. Did Eisenhower, did the Kennedy brothers in October of 62, curse Henry Teller and his beloved beet sugar industry? Likely they did, but Cuba has never presented easy solutions to the US Congress and Executive, unlike Puerto Rico, which despite a few radicals and the bullets they fired inside the Capitol Buildings, seems to be perfectly comfortable with its status.

Cuba, unlike Hispaniola who asked to be annexed in the 19th century and arguably Puerto Rico, wanted their own government from the start. And boy did they get it. But from the start, the entanglements between American and Cuban interests were as dense as, well, a tropical sugar plantation. Batista’s coup, or golpe de estado, was planned, where else, in Florida in the 30’s after a half-dozen or so interventions earlier in the century by the US in the island’s chaotic affairs. If to John Quincy Adams, Cuba had represented an apple which would gravitate towards America once freed of the shackles of Spanish rule, to others it may have appeared at times like a forbidden fruit mistakenly savored by American business interests. which ended up owning a majority of the islands sugar industry by the 20’s, Teller’s worries notwithstanding. But the arms length dominance backfired in the late 50’s and what would have almost certainly never occurred under annexation, became a nightmarish reality: a communist, Soviet-backed nation 90 odd miles off the Florida coast.

Guantanamo existed, in that context, as a suddenly vital outpost, because of the close connections almost immediately established by Castro and Guevara with the Soviets. The Soviet Union is gone, precisely because of America’s commitment to a military presence around the world, as well as the unsustainability of a command and control marxist economy over the longer run. Russia nowadays is far from an ally, but is no longer committed to supporting left wing insurgencies around the globe. And Cuba remains marxist, remains under the grip of the Castros, remains denying even basic freedoms to the overwhelming majority of its citizens. So a retreat from Guantanamo is a victory for the Cuban regime, which will be played as a glorious vindication of Fidel and Raul’s policies and applauded by sympathizers in academia and the media and elsewhere from the comfort of their democratic, first world abodes. And the average citizen of Cuba will still be waiting for something better. Whether they say it out loud or not.

While Fox New’s Greg Gutfeld is obviously right about the media’s sensationalizing the police protests, it is not a trivial issue and is one that needs to be covered. While BBC World and other international, as well as local and domestic media head to any protest with an andrenaline-charged glee as if they were heroically uncovering a dark truth, there is a problem and it is especially a problem because police are dying. The point is not merely to place the issue in context, although inflaming an issue does tragcially endanger law enforcement and other first responder’s lives is irresponsible to say the least. The problem is the perception among parts of the African American community that they are being targeted is a reality, and needs to be covered, even if the perception is not always accurate and encourages the breakdown of law and order. How to do that in a way that does not justify the looting is not easy, but saying the issue should take a back seat to Ebola or ISIS does not solve what is a real problem.

In a nation of over 300 million, that a policeman has to shoot to defend himself, or herself, is statistically inevitable, perhaps even on a daily basis. It’s what happens afterwards that causes the real problems. Don’t like a grand jury ruling? Go shoot a police officer seems to be the sickening response. That it is a few lone psychotic, violent individuals that actually pull the trigger seems not to matter at this point. The evidence, for example, seems clearly to suggest that Michael Brown charged the officer and had fought with him, trying to gain control of his firearm. That does not matter to his rioting defenders. What is being indicted on the streets is the rule of law. And the violence entrenches opposing sides, with police logically more reluctant to respond to calls and protesters looking for any excuse to trash and burn, and lone wolf crazies, looking to shoot the men and women who place their lives on the line to uphold the law. In order to avoid sensationalizing the issue, should we, for example, ignore the lives of the two police officers in New York who were gunned down as they ate lunch in their squad car?

Greg Gutfeld would never say that of course. So it seems a little late to quibble about media bias. Of course there is bias, much of it anti-police. Of course it endangers lives of first responders. Of course it can have dangerous implications. Moving forward, enacting police reforms that do not shackle their ability to do a dangerous, often thankless job will be necessary, whether it seems an impossible task at the current time or not. The other part of the solution is making rioters understand that the rule of law is the only way forward and that rioting and looting will be punished. That, of course, is already being done. And inbetween the gleeful sensationalism, those stories also have to be told. I’m sure that Gutfeld would say that’s exactly what he’s doing, but he knows that freedom of the press comes with the risk of excess. The best answer to sensationalism, especially dangerous sensationalism, is to take on the same story being sensationalized and tell it in a better way.

The holiday season brings thoughts of joy and gratitude, and there’s no better time to express our thanks and sincere appreciation to the Political Derby Community for your amazing dedication and contributions.

We wish everyone and their families a very happy and safe holiday.

It’s good to know that Sony Entertainment is following Japan’s pacifist policies in swiftly obliging North Korean interests and canceling the release of The Interview, the comedy about assassinating the Stalinist state’s leader. Nice move. North Korean cyber terrorists are clearly behind the hacking of Sony Entertainment and the 9/11 style threats to any theatre that showed the film, an impossible threat to carry out according to security experts, convinced the corporation to run for cover. It’s main stars Seth Franco and James Rogen are practically in hiding, and the First Amendment Rights so valued by Hollywood, especially in matters like explicit sex and on-screen violence, are somehow missing in action from the quick retreat. It is hard not to sympathize with the perhaps irrational fear that Rogen and Franco must be feeling, but if you are going to do a brutal comedy about North Korea, you would be silly not to expect some sort of screeching response from the regime.

As a post-modern exercise in the absurd, the script when we actually get to see it might be amusing, but as a political fact that produces reactions, it is something more real, more sweaty and in your face. Hopefully Franco, Rogen, and others associated with the film will change their minds and stand up for their creation, whatever its artistic merits. If they don’t they will raise the suspicion that their film was an adolescent prank that blew up in their faces, an awkward turn of phrase given the admittedly absurd threats. Freedom of thought carries, or should carry, the burden of responsibility, and hopefully that responsibility leads the thinker to certain limits on their expression. And if the thinker chooses to stretch those limits, they also bear the responsibility for at least being conscious of the effects their thought, expressed in speech or art or any other form, produces in society at large. It is seems to be common currency for the last few decades to label that burden of responsibility as self-censorship or repression, or some form of archaic taboos. The creators of The Interview should bear that responsibility with enthusiasm and spunk in the face of yet another seemingly psychotic threat from the regime in Pyonyang.

Nothing like an English Conservative Euroskeptic MEP – that would be member of the European Parliament – to advise the GOP on how to gain Latino voters. Nothing like an English Conservative Euroskeptic MEP who was born and raised in Peru to advise the GOP. And there’s really nothing like an English Conservative Euroskeptic MEP from Lima Peru to tell the GOP that Canada has the answers when it comes to the future of Latino voters in the US. Daniel Hannan in an effervescent piece in the Washington Examiner, relates how the Conservative party of Canada has managed to improve its image amongst immigrant voters there and that they, especially former minister of citizenship Jason Kenney, now minister of employment and social development, managed to change the party’s image among immigrant voters by providing early contact, if you will, through various initiatives that brought recent immigrants into contact with the party and helped dispel negative images that the Liberal party had actively encouraged.

Does any of this help the GOP? Does Canada have over 200,000 illegal immigrants (a proportionately similar amount) mostly from a neighboring country that has had a confrontational history with Canada and is currently being ripped apart by drug wars? Does Canada have to maintain an armed vigil over any of it’s borders to ensure that an endless stream of refugees willing to break the law do not overwhelm its ability to secure its borders? The answer is no, and in fact the Conservatives main appeal among immigrant groups is among Chinese immigrants to Canada, many of whom do not arrive “penniless” in the words of Hannan, but rather are successful investors and businessmen who have accumulated considerable wealth in China and subsequently parked a portion of it in cities like Vancouver and Toronto. The GOP needs to be clear on what its policy is regarding illegal immigration, and it is clear that however that policy is articulated in the new congress, it will annoy the great majority of immigrants, illegal and otherwise, from Mexico. Can a grassroots campaign help? Perhaps, but if applying the rule of law is seen as an affront by those who deem it their right to enter the US by any means they can, then getting close to Mexican immigrants may be of little use. Latino voters are, of course, a broader group, and here maybe the GOP can and should spend some effort. But a panicky courting of Latinos due to demographic fears seems the wrong way for the GOP to try and get re-elected.

Making headlines, a 14-year old teenager, shot and killed one of 2 home invaders. The boy was at his grandmother’s house visiting, when they heard someone trying to enter the house. There were two suspects, and the boy shot and killed one of them and the other ran off. The police have confirmed they arrested the second suspect.

This young boy quite possibly saved his grandmother’s life. It’s an unfortunate incident, but he did the right thing to stand his ground and protect his own. It’s an example where we can be grateful for the 2nd Amendment and to have a brave boy in the community. Sadly, the grandparents’ home has been burglarized before, and this teenager has had to deal with gun violence before.

It was reported that his father was gunned down outside his automotive shop back in 2008. The community is rallying around this family as they deal with another violent crime, but fortunately this time none of them were hurt.

The suspect killed was 18 years old, and the suspect now in police custody is 22 years old. It’s a tragic event, but also incredible for this young boy to protect his family. Amazing.

Without the nefarious nine, FOIA may never have seen the light of day. In other words, without the 9 exemptions, especially nasty number 5, the Freedom of Information Act, passed into law on July 4,1966 by a reluctant President Johnson, might have instead been vetoed or died in some committee. In 1974, a willing President Ford was convinced instead to veto that year’s Privacy Act, (which contained amendments that strengthened FOIA), by chief of staff Rumsfeld and deputy Cheney with legal advice from government lawyer A. Scalia. Congress overrode the veto and the act became law. And as we end the year with a Senate approved bill to reform FOIA now waiting for House approval, the blushing bride in this case is Boehner, prudishly reluctant to expose government secrets that may prove difficult for, well, government. At least that’s the rumor.

Is this reluctance, whether on the part of LBJ, Rumsfeld et al, or any politician or more likely bureaucrat nowadays, merely vested self-interest? The current proposal is hardly radical. It would bring to an end exemption number 5 which is so broad as to allow any government official a handy excuse not to comply with any request for information they choose not to, for whatever reason. So the question is who decides how necessary secrecy with respect to government produced documents and other information is? The tendency is for possessive, bureaucratic ownership of any information they, or any particular government agency, may have had a hand in creating. As anti-secrecy crusader Steven Aftergood states, “the secrecy system does not exist in some kind of abstract isolation. It is an ordinary bureaucratic artifact that is subject to pressure on many levels.” That means the usual foibles of human nature which can and usually do lead to power and greed fueling corruption of various kinds. The quite liberal Aftergood also suggests the boundary between secrecy and transparency is constantly shifting due to changing national security priorities. This does make sense. When combined with U of Chicago’s Geoffrey Stone’s assertion that government secrecy should be presumptively illegitimate, and only authorized when there is a clear and overriding justification, it clearly makes the proposed reforms of the FOIA more than justifiable. The reforms seem modest and do not involve endangering national security as can be argued was the case with Julian Assange. They should be passed.

In Fox News’ Gregg Jarrett’s opinion piece on the Columbia University Law Exam Delay, alongside his admonition to grow up and get a spine he states, “if you don’t like the system, go out and change it.” Unfortunately, with their demand that their exams be delayed, the Columbia Law School Coalition of Concerned Students of Color, is doing exactly that. They are asking for preferential treatment based on their self-proclaimed identity. This is group rights in action and it will be only a matter of time before other students group themselves into self-identified collectivities and demand preferential treatment or some other action, positive or negative, on the part of terrified College administrators. This means that in the central legal and political debate of whether individual or collective rights should predominate in the USA, and elsewhere, this has in fact set a precedent in favor of collective rights. It can be seen as part of affirmative action, and one that leads into the minefield of academic performance and social and ethnic class.

That prods and dangles the ghost of guilt, white and often liberal, in order to gain preferential treatment. But even that will be defined away. It will no longer be preferential treatment, but something more like “equalizing opportunity” in the words, and title, of an essay by Luke Charles Harris and Uma Narayan. As they write, “an array of factors that contribute to institutional discrimination – such as class, race, gender, and sexual orientation – should be taken into account. When several factors intersect and contribute to a process of discrimination, as in the case of a working class, Black woman, each factor should be considered.” In other words, a great matrix of group identities will in the future define you, a radical sociologist’s paradise. In the perfect world for people like the CLSCCSC, (with it’s soviet sounding acronym), or Harris and Narayan, you will be graded, employed, and treated in court depending on where you fit in this great matrix. And the guardians of this great matrix will be those who are best able to claim victimization and advocate on behalf of it’s alleged victimized groups.

It is impossible to deny the brutal injustices of the past regarding race. It is vital, however, to debate which way forward respects the principles of the US Constitution. While Jarrett’s advice to stop the whining and show some spine makes a lot of sense in today’s legal world, if groups like the CLSCCSC continue to be successful in their advocacy for collective rights, today’s legal, academic, and job market worlds will be radically different within a generation. Far more than they already are today. Collective rights cannot be ignored. But they must be framed, in the best possible sense of the word, with wisdom and restraint.

How does the government, especially the Executive, but the Congress and the Judiciary as well, ensure accountability in the essentially clandestine intelligence field? While it appears that the CIA spun both the press and the White House in terms of the success of its intelligence gathering, the question remains how to oversee such claims? Is the intelligence community an enormous bureaucracy that protects its own interests, sometimes to the detriment of the government and people it is charged with protecting and serving? Of course it is. The question is how to minimize exaggerated or outright false data that may be used to justify any given program or approach to intelligence gathering. And that means answering the question of how one can possibly independently measure the data that the CIA or NSA or any of the 17 “elements” or agencies of the community that collect and analyze data? Perhaps the multiplicity of agencies is not merely turf-staking, but also is meant to provide a multiplicity of viewpoints, as Rumsfeld suggested about 10 years ago. That would mean that the 17 elements of the intelligence community keep each other in check. Given the complexity and secrecy of intelligence gathering and analysis, that hardly sounds like a reassuring proposition.

But the question remains: how can you possibly measure success of any intelligence program on say, a quarterly or annual basis? As if it were the latest job numbers out of Washington? How can you do it when the very act of independently measuring any data obtained might jeopardize the program itself? How can you hold intelligence agencies accountable without undermining their capability to perform their job? The same press that heaps scorn on alleged CIA abuses will lambast them should any terrorist succeed in harming American interests or Americans, at home or abroad.

Clearly the government’s oversight of the intelligence community is a difficult, if not impossible task, and one they must do. Perhaps this release of the report in question is a tactic meant to pressure the CIA and other agencies to provide more credible data, if this in fact is a persistent problem. Unfortunately, in former CIA deputy director Phillip Mudd’s words, “we either get out and sell, or we get hammered.” For this to change, both the government, and the intelligence community need to agree on oversight that is measurable and effective. That’s a tall order for an unwieldy bureaucracy that is also a firewall against violent attack on life on property. Perhaps less getting out and selling and more cooperation, rather than grandstanding, on all sides would be a first step. And measuring success in a way that doesn’t drown in due process would help.

Defense Secretary nominee Ashton Carter’s life tends to come in nice round numbers, a logical outcome for a brainy defense bureaucrat who has worked his way up the academic, corporate, and defense ladder one impressive step at a time. He was born 5 years after the Department he will now head, assuming he is confirmed by the Senate, was created on the foundations of the then-160-year-old War Department. He had his PhD in Physics by the age of 25, apparently as a Rhodes Scholar. Already an Assistant Secretary of Defense during Clinton’s first term, he had been Deputy Secretary of Defense from 2011 to 2013. His membership in high-powered advisory boards is lengthy and impressive as well. So one wonders, if Senator McCain’s gruff warning to Carter to prepare for “incessant micromanagement” on the part of the White House as Secretary of Defense is in reality unintentionally ironic. Isn’t Ashton Carter precisely the type of high-powered bureaucrat who actually has been doing all that incessant micromanaging?

While the White House might have ideas and initiatives on defense as it relates to domestic security and foreign policy, it is an area where there is not an abundance of expertise one suspects at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That means Obama’s advisors consulting with “experts”, and that means people like Ashton Carter. What manner of relationship Carter has had with Obama’s White House is not quite clear at the current time, but Carter’s resume suggests it is good, better than Hagel’s. In other words, Ashton Carter should know exactly what to expect when he is confirmed. That does not guarantee he will toe the White House line, whatever that happens to be. He is known to be fairly hawkish on matters like Iran. The real issue is whether he will see himself as a caretaker and administrator in the final 2 years of an administration in decline.

The answer to that question is that his own job will not let him. Defense is too vital, too volatile in the very nature of the responsibilities he has been charged with, to allow that. Try predicting what ISIS will be doing in the next year or two, for example. Try predicting what North Korea may or may not do and how China will respond. Try predicting what Iran’s nuclear ambitions will drive them to do, despite the slow-burn, do-little negotiations. But that exactly, and countless of other dangerous and unpredictable issues, will be Carter’s job, as well the more important tactical and strategic mission of designing and implementing responses. And here is where Senator McCain’s warning matters most. Ashton Carter should know by now exactly what he is getting into, but how successful he will be in convincing this White House to let his department implement robust responses is uncertain, especially because a robust response needs a coherent and committed foreign policy behind it that convinces voters at home and allies and rivals abroad. Ashton Carter will be reminded of that need more than a few times in his new job.

Mark Flatten, in a series of articles in the Washington Examiner, has been investigating the fate of whistleblowers, especially those connected with Veterans Affairs. It turns out they usually suffer persecution of various kinds, including prosecution by the agency’s own Inspector General, for dubious causes. As well as other forms of intimidation, as in the good old fashioned “you’re fired.” What a surprise. Government bureaucracies punish those who don’t follow the official story. Whistleblowing apparently has its roots in 13 century English law, through Qui Tam; a common law writ that allowed those who aided in the prosecution of corporations or governments to be awarded the penalties assessed. In America, the False Claims Act of 1863 allowed for the filing of claims against government contractors. Most claims have been filed against military contractors and in the health care field. So it makes sense that much of recent whistleblowing activity has taken place at or around the activities of VA hospitals.

In the wake of what seems to be multiple cases of clear retaliation against such whistleblowers, one has to ask how effective can the Whistleblowing Protection of 1989 be? In what is at best a quasi-judicial and in-house system, can you really expect those who provide information to the media that may impact strongly on a government agency to receive anything but intimidation, exclusion and abuse? This is by no means to suggest that whistleblowing be ignored or punished with impunity, but how to effectively protect those who inform is a tricky question. One answer would be to take the information straight to the judicial system rather than have it fester in an internal review. Would this be feasible? Would the courts find themselves inundated with charges stemming from resentful employees? One has to remember that the Supreme Court has placed limits on the first amendment rights for government employees, especially those in the intelligence sector. Writing in Forbes magazine in 2010, Steve Pearlman, an attorney experienced in employment litigation, suggested that Dodd-Frank encouraged whistleblowers to head straight to 3rd parties like the SEC rather than resolve the issue internally. Part of the reason for this are the financial incentives offered to them, much like in the days of Qui Tam in 13th century England. Pearlman of course advocates in the same article for an open culture within corporations where financial misconduct is weeded out by well meaning complainers. Given the fate of recent whistleblowers at Veterans Affairs, can you blame them for wishing they had headed straight to a third party? And do government regulations even allow their own employees to do that? It will be a long time before we can expect ethical internal reviews in response to any employee complaint regarding unethical or illegal activity. But it remains, more than a worthwhile, a necessary goal.

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Information Management System, or PIMS, has been collecting data on K-12 students since 2007. Of course, data like school records and perhaps even violations or disciplinary measures has been collected by local school boards for some time, but PIMS takes it a step further. As their own Manual states: “PIMS is a state wide, longitudinal data system that will efficiently and accurately manage, analyze, disaggregate, and use individual student data for each student served by pre-K through Grade 12 public education system.” Should you be shocked as a a parent living somewhere in Pennsylvania? Perhaps not; data is collected at an astonishing rate and has been for some decades now. But the last two verbs in their ambitious and interventionist list are the ones that do cause worry: disaggregate and use. That means focusing, if they choose to do so, on a single student and utilizing his or her data to perhaps adjust a learning program, or perhaps engage in more invasive interventions. At least that is what critics of common code and PIMS claim.

It is already true that, for example, to get a job your resume will have to successfully pass through automated screening programs, that as one HR manager found out, won’t even accept some of the higher ups already working at the particular company you are applying to. Your data is being mined, has been mined, and shall be mined for the foreseeable future, whether by employers, insurers, marketers, or government. What might this mean for your children who are accumulating a data profile from an early age onwards, (and not just from education department information systems)? Will the PIMS flag certain types of profiles for Ritalin prescriptions? That might sound extreme, and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, provides some protection against this. Some protection, but not anywhere near complete protection. As the PIMS Manual states: “Under FERPA … education agencies may release personally identifiable information to PDE for the purposes of auditing and evaluating educational programs, and for complying with federal and state regulations.” Does that make you feel better as a parent? Likely not, Federal and state regulations is a long list in any state, and your child’s data may de deemed sharable for any number of reasons under that definition. But let’s be clear, common core has been interventionist from the get go. Whether it does so in cohesive ways that achieve it’s original purpose – allay fears that American students were falling behind East Asian students in subjects like math – and whether it’s current purpose is an unwieldy mix of politically correct goals and muddled academic standards, is an ongoing debate. To give education departments the kind of control over your child’s data implied by PIMS in the middle of such debates over common core, is an uncomfortable reality at best for many parents.