Posted tagged ‘cuba’

Year End In Sight

December 29, 2014

As the 31st draws closer, it is always useful to look at the past 12 months. What type of a year has it been?  What has gone well and what would we wish have gone better?  Should we hope for 2015 to be as good or much better than 2014?

If I were President Obama and I were reviewing 2014, this is what I would think.

I would think 2014 was a grind.  I would also think the outcomes were much better than the media was giving me credit for.

If I were a really honest Barack Obama I would be thinking of all the missed opportunities where I could have convinced Americans that the Administration and its policies were making life better for all Americans.

And if I did not cross my fingers and was straight honest, I would admit that I had blinked or hesitated too long at certain points and as a result provided political opponents ample opportunity to frame the public’s perception.

The nice thing about time is that given a sufficient amount, results become clearer and even the cleverest politicians run out of excuses. For 6 years the GOP has said “no” and denounced President Obama’s actions and policies. Their predictions of doom and gloom simply have never come true and instead, the American economy is steadily improved and now is the envy of the world.

Healthcare has improved access for many Americans.  There are signs that the out of control healthcare cost increases have been slowed. The national shame of Americans being denied basic coverage because they earn too little or are sick too much is still with us but the reasons and occasions  are fewer. The GOP claims of job losses and an upcoming “train wreck” were overstated and essential misleading.

Internationally President Obama can be satisfied that he has read the world situations mostly correctly.  He has followed policies (for the most part) that have kept Americans (most but not all) out of war. The President, however, can still improve his international stage speaking skills. He can do a much better job speaking to international nations. Like why lecture other countries about human rights when you can pick up any US newspaper and read about similar transgressions here. Have you consider the human rights aspects of dome strikes, or holding uncharged detainees for over 12 years, or the US domestic incarceration rate and its racial make-up?

But even more important on the international stage is the public versus private dialog. Making foreign country demands for delivery on the US 6 o’clock news is far less effective than sending messages through normal diplomatic channels. And generally speaking, making demands which have not considered correctly how the other country will respond is foolish. Bluffing with domestic politics is problematic but if things go wrong, the consequences are confined to the US. Bluffing internationally is quite a different story.

The President’s inner circle will continue to advise him and as in the past, President Obama will need to decide which set of advice to follow.  With reflection on these successes, he should be able to make good future decisions.

Next year, Cuba, Immigration and the Affordable Healthcare Act will attract much GOP attention. The President needs to resist the urge to slap down the GOP for their regressive ideas and instead defend his decisions with measurable predictions.

Time will again allow a period to assess the President’s policies at this next year or maybe the year after.

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Cuba – Another Test For Commonsense

December 18, 2014

A quiet sigh of relief flowed out in Washington, DC yesterday when President Obama announced his intentions to normalize US and Cuba relations. Congress members’ public the statements followed more closely to party lines.   No one, however, presented a convincing case why the Cuban isolation and sanctions had accomplished anything or that if continued just a little longer would make a positive impact on US national interests.

That didn’t prevent some Congress members and pundits from taking an anti-Cuban position

  • You may heard that Cuba is a communist leaning country and we all know how bad communism is. Hmmm. Communism certainly is not America’s cup of tea.   The US economy is built upon a slightly regulated form of capitalism.  Russia and China, on the other hand claim to be communist countries in principle, and the US engages both countries without regard to their economic philosophies.
  • You may have heard that Cuba is a repressive regime and has imprisoned hundreds of Cubans. Hmmm. It turns out that the US has incarcerated more people than Cuba (absolutely and in terms of number per 100,000 citizens). And who can forget Guantanamo detention facility and the nearly 200 uncharged detainees. Hmmm.
  • You may have also heard that Cuba is a dictatorship and the Castros have refused to turn the government over to free democratic elections. This is probably true but lets look at that statement in world context. Democratic elections only work in countries where the population understand the responsibilities associated with free elections. A voting box with multiple candidates in no way assures democratic processes. The real question is why does anyone think that isolation and sanctions will bring about the miracle of free elections? Consider Iraq, Egypt, Libya, and a smorgasbord of Central African countries.

A more interesting question is why now?

Normalizing Cuban relations is no more appropriate today than it has been for decades. Pandering politicians have prevented normalization in the past.  These politicians have couched their rhetoric depending upon where the most votes lay. The anti-normalization faction has traditionally won this popularity contest. President Obama near the end of his sixth year brings a different set of circumstances.

He has little to lose.

The President has not received much credit for guiding the country out of a severe recession and huge unemployment situation which he inherited. His compromise “Affordable Care Act” (which did not give Progressives the single payer plan they wanted) never the less mended a modern day sin against humanity (insurance companies right to cancel policies or outrightly refuse to insure some people). And following over 10 years of war, the President has let the air out of the war machine.  All this with little popular recognition.

When historians write their texts covering the years of George W Bush and Barack Obama, my guess is the Bush years, despite his best intentions, will be marked as policy failures with the Iraq War topping the list. For Obama, historians will likely write that as a leader, he was not very effective, but as a policy maker, he made courageous and correct decisions more often than not.

Normalizing relations with Cuba will be just one of them.

Simple Things – Hand Shake

December 11, 2013

President Obama was pictured shaking hands with Cuban President Raul Castro yesterday.  It is not clear whether this was staged or accidental.  It is not clear whether the President was on his own or whether his advisors had ok’d the shake if it were to be possible.  My take is that President Obama, once more, has come down on the side of reason, good manners, and history.

The sanctions and other restrictions that exist between the US and Cuba are relics of the cold war.  They owe their long life to “pro-Batista” Cuban Americans longing for some way to reclaim their past wealth.  Consequently, any suggestions that it might be in the US best interest to normalize relationships puts the fear of god in these former Batista supporters.  Normalized relations would mean no chance to reclaim their confiscated property, these Cuban Americans think.  Hmmm.

It is unlikely in the current Washington political climate that President Obama could put a thaw in the US-Cuba ice cold relationship.  Chances would be immeasurably better if Cuba had oil and not sugar.

Never the less, a President who is dignified, courteous, and forward thinking is also something of which to be proud.

Apolitical Healthcare

May 12, 2009

A large percentage of “street people” suffer from some form of mental disease and live just beyond the fringe of competent care. More than half the people who visit Emergency Rooms and receive medical care do not possess health insurance and most of them can not afford the premiums. Tell me how that is a Republican or Democratic problem?  Tell me why that offends liberals more than conservatives or vice versa.

Yet today both parties are posturing in an attempt to protray themselves as the party that really cares and that the other party’s cure will likely kill the patient. Rome is literally burning around everyone and yet there seems to be a denial on basic facts such as:

  • An estimated 40 million Americas at any one time do not possess healthcare insurance
  • Heathcare costs are projected to rise at significantly higher rates than inflation and if left unchecked will bankrupt the country.
  • Healthcare premiums that most business cover place a competitive burdon on any business that deals in goods or services obtainable from off shore suppliers.
  • Healthcare premiums, including those for retirees, increase the costs of most businesses and make it attractive to use part time workers in order to avoid providing benefits.
  • Healthcare outcomes, that is how healthy Americans really are, rank relatively low amongst major countries while healthcare costs rank first.

If you go to  http://ucatlas.ucsc.edu/spend.php   it says it all.   There you can see the world’s leading countries charted with the life expectancies and their cost per capita.  Also shown side by side is the United States and Cuba, each with about the same life expectancy. Cuba is well known for its medical care and shows an extremely low healthcare cost while the US shows the highest on the chart. There is something far more wrong about American healthcare that the fact that 40 million Americans do not possess it.

This chart screams that there is a systemic problem with the American health delivery system and it calls for a non-partisan solution. If we are content with the country’s life expectancy, then we need to see the cost tumble. If we are content with protecting those making healthcare profits, then we should demand much more in outcomes.

Failed Policy – Cuba

April 11, 2009

As the Obama Administration reconsiders the current US policy towards isolating Cuba, the dialogue ranges from “save the poor, oppressed Cuban people (by keeping the island isolated and economically strangled)” to “this communist island is our arch enemy (and deserves to be treated harshly)” to “seems like a nice place, why can’t I go there (and maybe through increased mutually beneficial trade, positive relations can be restored)”.  This is a clue that determining whether the current US policies towards Cuba are effective, we need to understand what is driving our need for any policy at all.

In the late 50’s and early 60’s, the problems with Cuba stemmed from the US backing the wrong side in a civil war.  Fulgencio Batista, who had come to power again in a military coup in 1952, was America’s dog in the fight with Fidel Castro.  Castro won and soon there after Cuba nationalized many assets of rich Cubans and yes, also of American businesses.  It was, then, very easy for the US to paint Castro in a black hat and prohibit all sorts of contact and commerce with Cuba.

A lot of time has past and the dire predictions of all parties have not materialized.  Most Cubans who fled Cuba and Castro have died or are quite old.  Most have come to accept that regaining their land and assets is not going to happen under any circumstances.  Ironically these same people are prevented from returning to Cuba for other purposes such as visiting family or friends, or just simply seeing their old homes again.

Stepping back, and thinking about Venezuela, China, or Russia, why should Cuba be treated differently and more restrictively?  And if there are those who believe that isolating Cuba and strangling it economically are appropriate and effective measures, I wonder why those same policy have not worked with Iran and Syria?  Could it be that the US is only one of many countries, and a policy of isolation is only as good as the respect the rest of the world gives it?