Trump to Europoodles: “Roll Over. Bark. Beg…Crawl.: With a Korean Preface

I don’t get it. I know, I know, I’m just some mutt in Mexico with a computer, and easily puzzled. But…huh? Trump, we are told, pulled off a master stroke in Singapore. All the world reels at this astonishment. We see Talleyrand and Metternich rolled into one gorgeous taco. But…but….

Who did the doing, and who got done?

What really happened, as best I can tell: For years America’s relation with North Korea was its usual one of military intimidation: Submit, or we will forever keep you in poverty if we don’t actually bomb you into rubble, a point kept in North Korean consciousness by annual military exercises aimed at Pyongyang. OK. Business as usual. The Empire barks.

Then this kid Kim decides to build his own deliverable nukes, tell Washington to bugger off, and starts launches. Worse, or better depending on your viewpoint, he rants about turning the US into lava. Washington suddenly pays attention to the North as it never had before.

Cute, huh?

The part about the lava was, sez me, gifted diplomacy. Kim, no fool, couldn’t have actually envisioned attacking the US nuclear-wise. Ah, but: Gordon Liddy once said that if your behavior is unpredictable, and your response to provocation wildly out of proportion to the offense, no one will screw with you. Works.

Then this guy Moon gets elected Prez of the South on a platform of reconciliation and cuddling with the North. Kim thought this was peaches and the two of them started working on it.

The United States had nothing to do with this.

As part of hugs and kisses, the Koreas decided to field joint athletic teams in the Winter Olympics in the South. Gee willikers, Batman! What a concept! The world was, reasonably enough, charmed.

Trump had nothing to do with this either. In fact he was strongly against it. Recall that he told Vice Cipher Mike Pence that, when the joint team entered the stadium, to refuse to stand. Mike Kaeperpence obediently engaged in this adolescent prank. Trump was not in favor of peace, love, and–worse–unification.

Then Kim, as always a very smart cookie if an accomplished monster, invited Trump to sit down and talk. Kim did this, not Trump. Who was running the love-in?

So we then saw the seventy-two-year-old master of the most powerful, indispensable, exceptional nation in history, population over three hundred million, flying to Asia to see the thirty-something dictator of an impoverished country of twenty-five million.

Trump went to Asia, not Kim to the West. The symbolism can’t have been lost on eastern lands. Trump gushed about what a great guy Kim is. They were best pals. They would have each other over for dinner.

Net result? Well, things are lots better for the world. Already Russia and the Koreas have revived the idea of a gas pipeline to South Korea. But…wasn’t it Pompeo who said that nothing would be acceptable but total immediate denuclearization, grrr, bow-wow, woof woof woof? Didn’t happen.

The whole circus was driven entirely by the by the  Koreas and, you can bet, China in the background. Such unwonted Korean independence is not popular with supporters of the American Empire, who need enemies, but how can you be against peace?

All very bad for the Empire, but good for America and, potentially, everybody else. Why? China doesn’t want American troops on the peninsula. Neither does the North. Neither does the South. No country likes occupation troops of another country, and another race, diddling its daughters and breaking up bars. If peace unfortunately comes, Korea–singular–is likely to suggest that Washington take its toys and go home.

Bad. Very bad. It would weaken Washington’s anti-Chinese wall of South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and, though shakily, the Philippines. See?

OK, Europoodles. In the struggle between Washington’s military and China’s economy, America’s European vassals form a crucial football. They have to be kept under American control. This is what NATO does. Left alone, Europe would contentedly buy oil from Iran and sell it airliners. It would buy Russian gas and sell stuff to Russia. The effect would be to loosen America’s iron grip on the throat of Europe.

This has to be stopped at almost any cost. If  the European peninsula of Asia were to integrate itself into the rest of Asia, precisely what Beijing has in mind, the Empire would be over, over, over. America is a medium-sized country, China a big country, and Eurasia a gynormous, sprawling, motingaator behemoth. And it is all in one piece. Think railroads and pipelines.

Blocking trade with Iran is also important to Israel and the Jewish lobbies that largely control American foreign policy. Yet if these  did not exist the Empire would still require the neutering of Iran and keeping the Poodles from trading with Asia. They might–horror–begin wondering why they needed NATO. They might begin looking to their own interests, not Washington’s.

Crucial question: Is there a likelihood that the Poodles will find the virility to go independent of Mother Washington? Historically they have been docile and obedient, good doggy, roll over. Now they yap fiercely, having discovered that America is not their ally but their owner. If by remote chance they decide to act in their own interest, methinks we will have moved into another world.

It is worth keeping in mind that neither America nor Americans have a dog in this fight. Trump, Israel, and the Empire do. No danger to America or Americans will arise if Iran buys airliners, or Europe buys gas, or Afghanistan does anything at all, or Venezuelans have enough to eat. The  United States has been hijacked and is now used for the benefit of imperial loons and their allies.

The save-the-empire game plays out in much of the world as the US lunges about, strong-arming country after country to keep them in submission. Just now Trump is sanctioning, tarriffing, embargoing, invading, or bombing Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Canada, Europe, China, Turkey, Russia, Syria, Somalia, various African countries, and North Korea.

Some of these, such as Venezuela, can do nothing about it. Others, perhaps, can. Washington’s use of financial sanctions leads country after country to get out of the dollar in bilateral trade. Powerful alliances excluding the US spring up in response to Washington’s hostility: SCO, AIIB, NDB, BRICS and so on. Instead of encouraging trade with Russia and Iran, wooing them westward, Washington drives them together.

Think of an aging drunk, muttering, “I can whip any man in this bar.” But all at once?

 

Fred Reed is a retired news weasel and part-time sociopah living in Mexico with his wife and three useless but agreeable street dogs. He says it suits him.

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Affirmative Action and the American Mind: If Any

“Affirmative action” means hiring people because they can’t do the job well. Near-synonyms are “diversity,” meaning groups that cannot do the job well, and  “inclusiveness,” which means seeking people who you know cannot do the job well.  These underpin American society, and have ruined education. For some time the sciences seemed less susceptible to the prevailing enstupidation because mathematics would present an impenetrable barrier to the the insufficiently bright. This, astonishingly, is changing. The sciences are being dumbed down to–are you surprised?–spare the feelings of included affirmative diversity.

Which somewhat curiously brings us to international politics and an aspect of scientific schooling that does not appear in the mainstream press: Psychometrists, people who endeavor to measure intelligence, universally agree that the Chinese are more intelligent than Eurowhites. So are the Koreans and Japanese. Since for the most part psychometrists are themselves white, their conclusions presumably do not spring from racial chauvinism. The Chinese advantage is measured at around five IQ points. This is not great but makes a considerable difference at the high end of the distribution.

As a matter of observable–if, to many, unwelcome–fact, virtually all of the work in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)  in America is done by whites. Blacks contribute nothing and Hispanics, to date anyway, very little. For reasons of politics we must pretend not to notice. When a piano is falling toward one’s head, one may pretend that it is not, but not for long. The arrival of the piano will ensure this.

America’s prosperity and place in the world very much depend on invention and excellence in the STEM fields. Boeing sells airlinters, and provides jobs to Americans, only because its airliners are technically equal to those of AirBus. A lowering of technical capacity will have unfortunate consequences for the country.

America’s whites number at about 200 million, the Han Chinese of China about a billion–five times as many.

Beijing understands perfectly that technological virtuosity is crucial to the country’s well being. It spends  heavily, and successfully, on increasing China’s performance. Those who follow such things note the speed of the the advance. A fully developed China will be able to deploy several times as many researchers and engineers, these being at least as intelligent as America’s, on problems of its choosing. Numbers count. They will count more as time goes by.

This strongly suggests that, unless Washington starts a major war to prevent it, or China collapses from within, the future is in the East. It also suggests that the United States would be well advised to do all it can to maintain its competitiveness for as long as it can. Instead it seems to be committing imperial harakiri, deliberately lowering the quality of education in all fields at all levels.

America’s suicide note: How Identity Politics is Harming the Sciences, by Heather Mac Donald. It is long but well worth reading. It documents the systematic lowering of intellectual standards in the sciences to increase the numbers of women and underperforming minorities. This, as she makes clear at length, is strongly supported by the federal government. A few examples:

“Entry requirements for graduate education are being revised. The American Astronomical Society has recommended that Ph.D. programs in astronomy eliminate the requirement that applicants take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) in physics, since it has a disparate impact on females and URMs….” (These are “Underrepresented Minorities.”)

Mathematical problem-solving is being deemphasized in favor of more qualitative group projects; the pace of undergraduate physics education is being slowed down so that no one gets left behind.”

“A typical INCLUDES grant from October 2017 directs $300,000 toward increasing Native American math involvement by incorporating “indigenous knowledge systems” into Navajo Nation Math Circles.”

“The National Institutes of Health are another diversity-obsessed federal science funder. Medical schools receive NIH training grants to support postdoctoral education for physicians pursuing a research career in such fields as oncology and cardiology. The NIH threatens to yank any training grant when it comes up for renewal if it has not supported a sufficient number of “underrepresented minorities” (URMs).”

“Medical school administrators urge admissions committees to overlook the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores of black and Hispanic student applicants and employ “holistic review” in order to engineer a diverse class. The result is a vast gap in entering qualifications.”

Mac Donald goes on to tell of school after school accepting diversity with credentials well below those of real students, of schools dropping the GRE requirement because it makes obvious that in STEM fields women and minorities are not performing as desired. (“Minorities” always means “poorly performing minorities.” Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and so on don’t count.)

The comparatively young may be so steeped in such corrupted pedagogy that they do not know how the sciences were formerly taught. A description:

I went to a small Southern school, Hampden-Sydney College, of respectable but not astonishing credentials.  I believe the pre-dumbing-down SATs were a bit over 1100. This was before social justice had replaced competence as a reason for study. Freshmen were expected to be fully literate and know algebra cold. Remedial courses would have been thought crazy. If you needed them, you needed to be somewhere else. In any event, if you had graduated from high school without being able to read, you were unlikely to learn.

Freshman chemistry at H-S–much like freshman chemistry in other schools I suppose–was  not a cooperative shared learning experience that avoided unnecessary facts. It did not exist to avoid disturbing heartwarming but dim-witted minorities. It was–boom!–s-p hybrid bonding orbitals, resonance in benzene rings, the wave equation del-squared psi and a bunch of constants, probability densities, quantum degeneracy, equilibrium constants, Pivnert the ideal gas equation, the mathematics of a mass spec, the Krebs cycle, and endless problems: 2.4 grams of phlogiston anhydride are dissolved in 2 liters of 2,4-diethyl-polywannacrackerine. What are the products and the weights and molarities of each at equilibrium?

It was real chemistry, sink or swim, and most of us swam because we were looking at med school or graduate work. If there had been affirmative-action students–”students”–most of the material would have had to be eliminated. Mathematical illiterates do not balance redox equations or interpolate four-place log tables which, in those slide-rule days, we did. 

Pop quiz. Take out a sheet of paper. Question: Are Chinese students, there or here, studying de-mathematized semi-chemistry for reasons of identity proportionality? Or are they, at every high-end university or elite high school in America, eating the white kids alive?

The same madness appears below the level of college. Walter Williams  writing of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress in America: “Only 37 percent of 12th-graders tested proficient or better in reading, and only 25 percent did so in math. Among black students, only 17 percent tested proficient or better in reading, and just 7 percent reached at least a proficient level in math.”

What?

Affirmative action in the sciences needs to be scrapped. For everybody. The purpose of studying astrophysics should not be to make social-justice warriors feel good about themselves. If women do not do well at engineering mathematics, let them become neurosurgeons.

 

 

Fred Reed is a retired news weasel and part-time sociopath living in Mexico with his wife and three useless but agreeable street dogs.

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Mexican Wall Blues: And Some Other Stuff

Being as I am a self-appointed explicator of things Latin to Americans curious about what lies to the south, and has come north, I occasionally and in a scattershot and prejudiced manner try to offer a picture of life below the border. There is more to the place than narcos and MS-13. If I lived in Thailand instead of Mexico, I wouldn’t. But Latin America matters to America today as Thailand does not. So here goes.

Trigger Waning: Republicans and Nordic populations may find this column unsettling. It contains disturbing color and some of the images show signs of having escaped from an acid trip. Proceed at your own risk.

Recently Vi and I were in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas in southern Mexico and, wandering about in a sort of Brownian motion, found ourselves walking along a canal. We discovered a region  frequented by grafiteros, street artists.These view unwatched walls as canvases, legal, semi-legal or just not policed. Using spray paint, they, well, paint. I suspect that the authorities fail to get into an uproar because the results leave the precincts more attractive  than would bare walls. Vandalism it isn’t.

Anyway, I decided to shoot a few of them–that is, photograph the walls, not assassinate the grafiteros–and then, ideas exploding on me, to post some of them, along with links to such things Mexican and Latin-American as struck my fancy. It will not be well organized. It will, I hope, make the point that the southlands are not, musically, artistically, or culturally, as they are thought to be by many in the United States.

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Spray-painted on someone’s back wall in Chiapas. Obviously the owner of the wall is not greatly upset since (a)  the painting is still there and (b) it is difficult, though not impossible, to do something so elaborate without being noticed.

In Ajijic, where I live, on a wall along the malecón, a sort of cement boardwalk by the lake.

If you want to nuke Iran, this probably won’t appeal to you. Well, unless maybe you thought of it as Iran after being nuked. I liked it. But then, I don’t want to nuke Iran.

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Chiapas again. This would appear to be a kid with a rabbit, next to a purple river. Or something purple anyway. Many of these are painted by youngsters, sometimes teenagers.

Yours truly with, perhaps, the artist’s girlfriend. Slightly out of focus, but we will have to live with it. Others may disagree, but I think doing this freehand with spray paint is pretty cool.

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Proof positive that Mexicans are crazy. They are also not too afraid of color, perhaps because they were never exposed to the leaden skies of Northern Europe that seem to have draped everything in earth tones.

Musically Mexico and Latin America are richly varied. Genres run from classical to Spansh rap, not as foul as American ghetto gunch but with the same rhythms. Not all Mexican music is awful banda blaring from tit bars full of drunken Marines in Tijuana. Here are a couple of things I like. They deserve better speakers than a laptop is likely to have.

Huapango, by José Pablo Moncayo.  Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional, Mexico City, conducted by Alondra de la Parra.

Dnzón No. 2, by Arturo Marquez, with the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas also under the baton of de la Parra, who gets around. She is the only conductor I have seen who actually seems happy while at it.

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I’m not sure exactly what this is, but apparently it lives in trees.

Also in Ajijic, behind Farmácia Guadalajara. Paralleling Munch’s The Scream, it might well be entitled The Hangover.

This appears to be a womn contemplating the suckers on the arm of a very large octopus. It probably isn’t, though. Octopodes are rare in the mountains hereabouts.

The Camaleón, a bar in Ajijic, attracting a mixed crowd of Mexicans and gringos, running to oddballs. Are you surprised?

Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, El Matador. Actually Argentine, but I liked it so here it is anyway. Definitely not for the average banker: See trigger warning above. “Matador” north of the Rio Bravo means, reasonably enough, “bullfighter,” but the word literally means “killer,” and the song is a protest against the murder of a journalist. It is characterized by the soughing and low energy usual in Latin music.

That wraps up today’s dose of Penetrating Cultural Insight. I  hope that at least will enjoy it, and feel Insighted.

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Netanyahu: “Let’s You and Him Fight”: Bransishing the American Miitary

Why did the Cockatoo-in-Chief renege on the Iran deal deeply prized by Russia, China, France, Germany, England, and the European Union? Why did he deliberately damage relations with Europe and cost American workers many thousands of jobs at Boeing among others? Why do all of this to hurt a country that poses no danger to the United States?

Israel.

Israel, Israel. Israel. Israel.

Always Israel.

If Iran were a threat to the existence of Israel, things would be different. If Muslims conquered the Jews, they would presumably treat them as badly as Israelis ,and very likely worse. It would be ugly in the extreme. To prevent this, use of the American military would be justified.

But Iran does not threaten the existence of Israel. It does threaten Israel’s dominance in the Mid-East. Iran is far larger and more populous than Israel, strategically located, and has vast amounts of oil. It is a large market for many European products. By contrast, Israel is small and has nothing anyone needs or wants. Left to itself, Iran would become the dominant regional power. It moves fast in that direction now with burgeoning trade with Europe in, among many other things, airliners. With economic influence comes political influence.

Consequently Israel does not want Iran to prosper. If it can, Israel will use the American military to prevent this prospering. It will destroy America’s relations with the rest of the world to prevent it. It is doing so.

As thinking people know, the twaddle about the Iranian’s development of an atomic bomb is just that–twaddle. The Europeans know this, which is why they are not alarmed. The US government know it, since the intelligence agencies have repeatedly said that Iran does not have a program aimed at producing a nuclear weapon.

But: Whenever the Amrican government, or those controlling it, wants to drive the US into a war, it invents a frightening danger and warns of it over and over and over until a poorly educated public believes it: The Maine, the Gulf of Tonkin, Iraq’s WMD, the Iranian bomb. It’s a frightening world, Washington tells us. Things go bump in the night. Boo.

Where does Trump fit into this? Although his supporters offer him as a masterly statesman, biographies, which few read, show him to be profoundly ignorant, incoherent, narcissistic, weak, and easily manipulated. He loves attention and craves praise. He is also corrupt. As a businessman he danced just this side of the law in many shady real-estate deals. All of this is documented, but few will read of it.

Some will say that this isn’t true. Go back and look at the things he said during the campaign, the positions he was going to take before he was modified. He astonished people who worked in his White House not just by his lack of knowledge but his lack of interest in learning. We are ruled by a histrionic dwarf.

But, in a country with no checks and balances on presidential power, foreign policy is what he says it is, and America attacks whoever he wants it to attack.

So why did he ditch the Iran deal? There is of course anti-Jewish posting on the web to the effect that the Jews are manipulating the government to go to destroy Iran for the benefit of Israel. This doesn’t hold water, or only a little water. Surveys have shown that American Jews favor the Iran deal more than do other Americans. This  probably is because they are more attentive and  better informed than the notoriously clueless US public. (e.g.  JStreet  and WashPost.)  But while “the Jews” didn’t sink the Iran deal, a comparatively small number of Israel-firsters did. These are the Neocons, warlike and heavily Jewish, plus the Jewish lobby AIPAC plus a few Jewish billionaires. Collectively they determine American foreign policy, and not for the benefit of America–which, again, has nothing to gain and much to lose by being manipulated  into a war that does not matter to America.

Members of AIPAC are often accused of dual loyalty. I don’t think so, though it is the best we can hope for. They should recuse themselves, though of course they will not.

The assertion that America should fight only wars in the America interest will be called, sigh, anti-semitism. It is not. Yes, there exists in some quarters an obsessive, grinding hatred of Jews. Historically this hostility has been common if not universal and  has led to brutal pogroms. But it has nothing to do with war against Iran. The desire for America to have an independent foreign policy hardly suggests a Cossack mentality. There is no reason to let Israel and a small set of Israeli patriots in New York  force policies much to the harm of the United States.

But this is not at all unlikely. In Washington–where I worked in journalism for decades–fear of Jews is so great that no one dares say what a great many are thinking. It gets ridiculous. I remember many years back interviewing in the Pentagon the general who headed the armor command, whose name I forget. In such interviews there is usually a babysitter present, often a major from public affairs, who tries to manage spin.

The general and I were chatting about tanks, in which we both had a technical interest. He commented that the Merkava, a homebrew Israel tank, was reasonably good but not in a class with the American M1. As inflammatory comments go, this was truly lame. Yet when I left, the babysitter came charging down the corridor to assure me that the general was not insulting the Israeli tank, the general didn’t mean, and the major hoped I wouldn’t think etc. It’s that crazy.

Whether Trump believes what he says about Iran’s imaginary lunge for a Bomb is not clear. In  Washington it is routine to lie about this or that dreadful danger so as to herd the deplorables toward a desired folly–but is Trump herding or herded? He is clueless about things military and appears to have no grasp of technology. Geography is not his strong suit, as witness his invention of a country called “Nambia.” Netanyahu and the Neocons outclass him by a wide margin and apparently drive him like a truck.

If Trump were an American President, he would tell the Issraelis to fight their own wars with  their own military.  Is he? Watch. 

 

Fred Reed is a retired news weasel and part-time sociopath living in Mexico with his wife and three useless but agreeable street dogs.

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A Most Sordid Profession: Sanguijuelas, Garrapatas, Piojos, Capulinas, Lampreys

A few thoughts on our disastrous  trillion-dollar  military:

It is unnecessary. It does not defend the United States. The last time it did so was in 1945.  The United States has no military enemies. No nation has anything even close to the forces necessary to invade America, and probably none the desire. A fifth of the budget would suffince for any real needs. 

“Our boys” are not noble warriors protecting democracy, rescuing maidens, and righting wrongs. They are, like all soldiers, obedient and amoral killers. Pilots bombing Iraq or Syria know they are killing civilians. They do  not care. If ordered to bomb Switzerland, they would do it. This is the nature of all armies. Glamorizing this  most reprehensible trades is just a means of usefully stimulating the pack instinct which we often call patriotism. 

The militarily is America’s worst enemy. It does enormous damage to the United States while providing almost no benefit. Start with the war on Vietnam that cost hugely in money and lives, ours and their, with no benefit. Iraq: high cost, no benefit. Afghanistan: High cost, no benefit. Syria: High cost, no benefit.

The costs in lives and money do not include the staggering cost of weapons that do nothing for America or Americans. Do you, the reader, believe that you are safer because of the F-35? Do a dozen aircraft carriers improve the lives of your children? Will the B-21, an unbelievably expensive new thermonuclear bomber, make your streets safer? Then add the bleeding of engineering talent better spent on advancing America’s economic competitiveness.  The country has many crying needs, falls behind China, but money and talent go to the military. 

We cannnot escape from the soldiers. The armed forces have embedded themselves so deeply into the country that they have almost become the country. America is little more than a funding mechanism for what clumsily may be called the military-industrial-intelligence-media-Israeli complex. Some of these entities belong to the nilitary (NSA). Some depend on it (Lockheed-Martin). Some use it to their own ends (Israel),  but the military is the central infection from which the other symptoms flow.  Congress? A storefront, a subcommittee of the Knesset or, as P. J. O’Rourke put it, a parliament of whores. Factories, jobs, contracts, towns depend on military spending. If the Second Marine Division  folded, Jacksonville NC would dry up and blow away. So would dozens of other towns. Without military spending, California’s economy would crash. Universities depend on military research funding. 

The military has achieved its current autonomy by degrees, unnoticed. The Pentagon learned much in Vietnam, not about fighting wars, which it still cannot do well, but about managing its real enemy, the  puclic. The media, which savaged the war on Vietnam, are now firmly contolled by the corporations that own them.  Thus we do not see  photos of the horrors committed by American aircraft bombing cities. While the existence of phenomenally expensive weapns like the B-21 is not quite suppressed, coverage is so slight that most Americans have never heard of it. This the Complex learned from the F-35   debacle. And of course Congress, thoroughly bought and wanting jobs in its districts, allows no serious opposition to anything military. Neither Congress nor the media point out the  extent to which millitary expenditure dominates the economy, draining resources  from  civilian needs.

Why does the military not win wars? In part because winning is not in the interest of the Pentagon and those who feed on it. Wars generate profitable contracts for all  manner of supplies and equipment. Either winning or losing  ends the gravy train. For example, the war on Afghanistan of almost two decades has become an entitlement program for the arms industry, accomplishing nothing, killing countless peasants, and lacking purpose other than maintaining an unneeded empire and funneling money to the Complex.

How did the Complex free itself from civilian control? The crucial step in depriving the putlic of influence was the neutering of the constitutional requirement that wars be declared by Congress. The military thus became the private army of the President and those who control him. Then came the All Volunteer Army, which ended inconvenicne to or mutilaion of the chldren of people of importance, leaving the body bags to be filled by deplorables from Memphis or Appalaciia or Mexico. America’s wars then became air wars and finally drone wars, reducing casualties to very few. The public, both ignorant and uninvolved, became acquiescent.

As I write, we wait to see whethre Trump, and those behind him, will put America deeper into the Mid-East and perhaps war with Russia. If he does, we will read about it the next day in the newspapers. It will be expensive, dangeours, and of  no benefit to anyone but the arms industry and Israel.

Despite the asphyxiating economic presence, the military keeps aloof from America. This too serves the purposes of the Complex, further preventing  attention by the public to  what is not its business. In the days of conscription there was a familiarity with the armed services. Young men from most social classes wore the uniform however ruefully and told of their experiences. Not now. The career military have always tended to keep to themselves, to socialize with each other as the police do. Now the isolation is almost hermetic. You can spend years in Washington or New York and never meet a colonel. Military society with its authoritarianism, its uniforms and its uniform government-issue outlook is not compatible with civil society. To the cultivated, military officers seem simple-minded, conformist and…well, weird.

Add it all up and you see that the citizenry has no say–none–over the Complex, which is  autonomous and  out of control.  If the Complex wants war with Russia or China, we will have-war with Russia or China. Ask people whether they would prefer a naval base in Qatar–which most have never heard of, either the base or the country–or decent heath care. Then ask them which they have.

The military destroys America and there is nothing–nothing at all–that you can do about it. 

Further, the Complex drives foreign polcy, and in directions of no benefit to America or Americans. For  example, the contrived fury against Russia. Why this?  Russia presents no danger to America or anyone else. The Complex makes foreign policy for its own ends, not ours. 

A  rising Asia is challenging the America military Empire. The tide runs against the Complex. North Korea faced Washington down and became a nuclear power. The Crimea went back irrevocably to Russia. East Ukraine does the same. Iran got its treaty and becomes part of the world order. In the South China Sea, China ignores the US, which once was supreme in all the seas. The war afainst Afghanistan heads for its third decade and the war on Syria seems to have failed. Other things go badly for the Empire. The dollar is under siege as reserve currency. China grows economically, advances rapidly in technolgy and, doubtless terrifying to Washington, tries to integrate Asia and Europse into a vast economic bloc. The Comples beats the war drums as its fingers loosen on the world’s collective throat.  

Washington desperately needs to stop the rollback of American power, stop the erosion of the dollar, block the economic integration of Eurasia and Latin America, keep Russia from trading amicably with Euripe.   It will do anything to maintain its gtip. All of its remote wars in far-off savage lands, of no importance to America or Americans, are to this purpose. A militarized America threatens Russia, threatens China, threatens Iran, threatens North Korea, threatens Venezuela, expands NATO, on and on.

America has been hijacked.

Fred Reed is a retired news weasel and part-time sociopath living in Mexico with his wife and three sueless but agreeable street dogs.

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Herding Hamsters And Other Cosmic Reflections

Disordered thoughts on the National Cockatoo’s latest antics

One:  The aghastment and horrilation about the terrible, appalling, shocking etc nature of gas warfare is nonsense. There is nothing unusually  hideous about the use of toxic chemicals. Hidous, yes, but not unusually hideous. Boring old workaday artillery, that nobody criticizes, leaves children watching as mommy frnatically clutches at intestings spilling from her opened belly, leaves men without legs trying to drag themselves along until gushing femoral arteries end consciousness, causes traumatic brain injury that leaves its beneficiaries drooling and burbling for life. Poison gas can do no better.

The whole business of WMD, Weapons of Mass Destruction, is two-thirds twaddle useful for herding  dim publics. Gas has very seldom been used since the World War One days of Wilfred Owen, not because of its vileness but because it has not proved particularly useful militarily. Horribleness does not bother soldiers, who are amoral when they are not actually sadistic.

Biological warfare? It sounds, like, you know, really scary and all, but in fact is not militarily enticing because it is not controllable and can backfire on its users. It serves nicely, however,  to alarm publics with minds of low voltage.  We are most especially supposed to be frightend of anthrax. Since it is not contagious it is more in the nature of a poison and in any event hard to use.

Only three weapons of mass destruction exist: Nuclear explovives, artillery, and aerial bombing. Think Dresden, Hiroshima, Guernica, Falluja.

Two: Whoever wrote Trump’s speech for him–he obviously cannot put together two sentences with dependent clauses without wandering onto the far shores of incoherence–worked the moral-outrage pump hard. The gas attack, by whomever made, killed, eeek, squeak, seventy civilians and little children. More hamster-herding: git along little furry dogies. On many days in the Mid-East, the United States has killed more civilians than all the gas attacks real or invented in the entire war. The pilots, unprincipled as are all military men, know they are doing it, and don’t care. They get paid for their humanitarianism. By us.

Three: Something smells.  The use of toxins, either by Assad in Syria or by Russia in West Pakistan–England, I meant, England–makes no sensee. Assad had won his war and had no need of  gassing a few civilians. He would have to know that  it would give Washington a pretext for an attack. Which it did. Is Assad so foolish?

Similarly with the poisoning of  what’s-his-spy and his daughter. Russia had nothing to gain and a great deal to lose, as we have seen. It is one thing to believe Mr. Putin capable of bad things. To believe him stupid is quite another. Note that Theresa May became hysterical before it was established that Russia did it, which has still not been established. The orchestrated expulsion of Russian diplomats by all the vassal states, also before anything definitive had been determined, was just too cute.

Hamster herding.

Four: Who  had anything to gain by the gaseous adventurism Answer: The American Empire–not America, not Americans–and Israel. Both are desperate to keep Syria from surviving. Note that Washington has a history of lying the countryinto  wars. The Maine in 1898, the Gulf of Tonkin, the imaginary WMD in Gulf I. Plus ca change, plus ca doesn’t.

Five: Syria is of no importance, at all,  to America or Americans. It has nothing America wants or needs. It poses no danger to America. It is somewhere else. This lack of vital interest to Amrica it shares with North Korea, Afghanistan, the Ukraine, the Crimea, the South China Sea, and all the other places where the Empire looks for war. Then why does Washington risk nuclear war by accient with Russia, which also poses no danger to America?

Because the Empire’s hegemony over the Mid-East, Asia, and the world weakens. The Empire totters. Syria is at the heart of the looming demise.

Things go badly, Empire-wise. Start with the war on Afghanistan, now creeping toward its third decade, and neighboring Pakistan. China invests heavily in infrastructure in Pakistan:  The Karakoram Highway, the Karachi reactores, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor,  the IP pipeline, Guadar. If–when—Amrica leaves, Pakistan will become an economic client state of China, without a shot being fired. Afghanistan will quickly follow as China invests in its minrals. This is why Washington cannot leave.

Afghanistan bordrs Iran, which Washington maintains as an enemy at the behest of Israel. Iran borders Iraq, wrecked by the United States and sharing a religion with Iran. Without the threat of American military power, it could easily align itself with Iran and  Asia. In Syria, Assad seems to have won unless the Empire doubles or triples down. Thus the contrived gassing  of children  and Trump’s missile attack. Turkey balances between east and west, and could easily decide that Asia is the future.

The Empire totters, wounded and dangerous.

Six:  Washington’s approach to hegemony is mlitary, relying on bombing and economic sanctions. This requires huge military expenditures that cripple the domestic economy and produuces countless countries that would break with America if they could. By contrast, China’ss approach is economic,  smarter and much cheaper. It is China’s Belt and Raod Initiative to integrate all of Eurasia into one huge trading block, exxcluding guess who, that has the Empire  in a panic. How do you bomb a trade areement?

Seven: Russia and China have adult leadership. Putin and Xi  are stable,  intellignet, and competent. Their interests are not Washington’s and  they will do whatever is in the interest of their contries, but they are not stupid, ignorant, weak,  juvenile, or crazy. By contrast, Trump is a loon, ignorant of practically everything, mentally chaotic, and easily modified.

Do you think this excessive? Ponder this luminous tweet

Get ready Russia, missiles will be coming at Syria, nice and new and ‘smart’!”

This is not adult language. It is the taunting of a twleve-year-old. Nya hnya nya!  Yet it is classic Trump. This man has absolute power to launch wars whose consequences we will have to bear. Is this not splendid?

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In Search of Intelligent Latin Policy: To Sleep, Perchance to Dream….

The obvious and intelligent course regarding immigration from the south is to stop further influx and assimilate those who are not going away and, being citizens, cannot be deported. Mr. Trump’s placing of troops along the border, if carried out, can quickly and practically accomplishthe first of these, as his silly wall would not. This accom;lished, the chief obstacle to assimilaiton, crucial to the well-being of the United States, will be something called the Alt-Right.

When I write about Latin America, response falls largely into two classes. First, those who are civil, interested,  thoughtfully express various points of view or ask questions, all in a manner suggesting sanity.   The second are those who say I am a race traitor and hate America, sometimes adding sexual insults directed at my wife, who is Mexican. These latter often identify themselves as being of the Alt-Right. The two groups are clearly different sorts of people.

If the Alt-Right wanted only to stop immigration, deport criminals, end affirmative action and so on, it would do no harm. Unfortunately it inveighs against all people of Latin-American descent, whose presence it regards as portending every kind  of disaster known to man and perhaps some not yet discovered. Sites like Vdare.com and Breitbart News endlessly paint Latins as stupid, filthy, socially irresponsible, and unable to learn English. This does not bode wll for the future of a country in which Latin and Anglo will have to live together.

In fact, the Alt-Right’s desired social catastrophes seem not to be materializing, which must be a cause for sorrow. For example California, with a very large Latin population, does not produce the required Anglo-Latin race riots, burning cities, or elections made interesting by racial vituperation. Brown and white appear to get along in disturbing peace.  I guess you can’t have everything.

The problem with this apparently exhilarating hostility is there are in the US an absolute minimum of forty-five million legal Latins,  mostly citizens, who show no signs of leaving and cannot be deported. Some policy more  practical than fuming, hissing, and name-calling might be in order.

A characteristic of the Alt-Righters is a robust disregard for truth. Of course, this is equally true of their enemies on the Left, ideologues being identical psychological vessels into which may be poured any desired content. An ideology is just a systematic way of misunderstanding the world. Since the ideology is more important than correspondence with reality, truth is an ideal to be genuflected to while picking its pocket.

For example,  I have read in Alt-Right sites like Vdare and  Breitbart News for years that Mexicans inparticular are filthy, throw trash everywhere, and leave their children in dirty diapers. They do not. Neither do Argentines, Peruvians, or Chileans, or any Latin-Americans I have seen. These stories are usually anonymous or vague enough to make verification difficult, at times clearly fraudulent,  and those posting them seldom seem to have bothered with fact-checking. After all, it’s the spirit of the thing that counts.

Another common story is of Latin kids in American schools turning over desks, threatening teachers, and the like. These may be true–I have no way of checking individual schools, often not named–but they bear no resemblance to school children here in Mexico. Among other things I have followed my step-daughter Natalia from age eleven through various public schools urban and otherwise through high school and then through the Universidad Marista in Guadalajara. Nothing fits the Alt-Right’s description. I do know a Mexican woman who runs food-services at a school in LA. The kids, she says, are “no saints”–how many teenagers are?–but do not come close the the Alt-Right’s hopes.

The writers of this sort of thing could easily determine the truth of many their assertions  by spending a few minutes with Google Images. Just put in Guadalajara or Chapala (where I live) or an agricultural town like Jocotepec or a mountain pueblo like Mazamitla and scroll in search of street scenes. (Here, Chapala plus neighboring Ajijic.) Look for the thick layer of garbage, dirty diapers, and used condoms. Similarly with the implications of stupidity. The CIA Factbook put literacy at ninety-five percent. A brief Google check for bookstores(“librerias”) would provide a list of thirty in Guadalajara, mostly very good. Thisdo not absolutely prove anything, but might make one think.

In fairness to Breitbart, it may be that New York does not yet have internet service. Otherwise, one might ask why people vilifying Mexico and Mexicans have not done the easy research that would be done by an eighth-grader for a term paper. The two obvious explanations are  lying, and gross intellectual incompetence. Since the owners of these sites are highly intelligent, out of respect I assume that they are lying.

It is interesting to see what the Alt-Right really is when its members are not disguising their sentiments. A while back I wrote a column suggesting that   we should perhaps a have a reasoned policy toward our permanent Latins, to include assimilation. Such columns invariably arouse fury. This one ran in the Unz Review, which allows commenting. and has drawn 447 comments to date when 80 is a more usual number. They  represent the attitudes of the Alt-Rightists when they are protected by pseudonyms.

Note that the first comment seriously advocates killing the Latins. Not all the commenters are of this stripe, or belong to the Alt-Right, but…read a few and draw your own conclusions.

(The commenters express their own views only. The Unz Review, one of my favorite sites, is not of the Alt-Right. The owner, Ron Unz, lives in a heavily Mexican neighborhood of Silicon Valley and has repeatedly said that he finds them good people.)

Much of the vituperation of the Alt-Right against legal Latins seems the sullen hostility of gas-station louts who in some cases may have discovered clean shirts. There is an air of unreality in it, a truculence devoid of any practical program. They are positively unworldly regarding the illegals. Whatever the desirability of expelling these, practicality is lacking and the idea borders on lunacy from the far side. Do the enraged have any idea of the magnitude of ejection even twelve million people, or even  eight hundred thousand Dreamers? Executing them would seem a difficult Congressional sell. America is not going to build a Pedroschwitz despite the panting political onanism of its advocates. Meanwhile, Congress appears wildly uninterested even in The Wall, which It looks like theater to keep The Base voting as desired.

The chief reason why the Alt{Right ‘s dreams of extermination or mass deportation are pointless is that not enough  people are in favor of either. Whether a thing is a good idea doesn’t matter if it isn’t going to happen. Perhaps it would be a good idea to build a chain of catfish houses on Mars. Perhaps it would not be a good idea. Since it isn’t going to happen, the wisdom doesn’t matter.

Breitbart seems at times to rely on the innumeracy of its readers, whom it presumably knows well.  Breitbart News writes that “over 800,000” Dreamers have committed 2,139 crimes running from alien smuggling (probably their parents) and DUI to serious offenses. These criminals equal .267% of 800,000 or about a quarter of one percent of “more than 800,000” claimed by Breitbart. That is, one crime per about four hundred Dreamers. This is a crime wave?

Rather it suggests that Latins treated as legal and having  jobs commit very little crime, hardly surprising to anyone with opposable thumbs. The Dreamers also speak English and pay taxes. They are not illegal, though ever-honest Breitbart describes them so,  since the DACA program gave them legal status. Many entered the US as very small children, apparently establishing the curious doctrine that a two-year-old can commit a federal crime. So why is the Alt-Right so focused on them instead of illegals? Because it knows where to find them.

A measure of Breitbart’s contempt for its readers is that when one of twelve million illegals commits  murder, the mother of the victim becomes an “Angel Mom.” Goebbels would gag.

Perhaps the  nuttiest notion of the Alt-Right about Mexico is that it is somehow Indian.  Indians in the Alt-Right mind, or approximation of one, apparently are squatty little brown creatures with sloping foreheads and loincloths, doubtless engaging in human sacrifice. Mexico  is in fact chiefly European. It has a European language, a European religion, a European legal system (based on the Napoleonic code), and a government, well, OK, more American than European but certainly not Indian (elected president and legislature,, courts, and intractable bureaucracy). Its music while distinctive is not at all Indian and is closest to Mediterranean.  Its cathedrals would be instantly recognized by any Catholic. There is a small amount of religious syncretism: The Virgin of Guadeloupe is not mentioned in the Bible.

Again, the majority of Latins are not going to go away. Might it make sense to look at them as they are, at their many defects and many virtues, at what they are and are not, at their present and their potential, instead of growling in limbic hostility over what cannot be changed? guess not.

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In Which Embattled Manhood Rassles A Carburetor, And Is Discomfited

In times of desperation, such as being medically sidelined,  columnists resort to the shameless practice of republishing old titles. It is embarrassing. But I am doing it.

The abyss is everywhere, the unknown chasm that lies beyond the world we think we understand. Especially in carburetors.The other day I went to the back yard to change the main jet on the carburetor that engages in respiration for my ’67 Dodge. It is a simple device, having none of the incomprehensible swirls of anti-pollutional hoses that festoon modern machines like malign linguini. Changing the jet is a simple matter of unscrewing one sorry little metal doughnut and replacing it with another. All you need is a screwdriver, long skinny fingers, four arms, and an ability to see through sheet metal.

Okay. I advanced on the old bucket with a box of tools and a Soldier of Fortune T-shirt: modern American manhood at its clear-eyed, technically adept finest. I scowled. I endeavored to look masterful. No office-serf like me can do anything practical without (a) a sense of wonder that it actually worked and (b) a giddy exultation at his prowess. Whenever I successfully repack the wheel bearings, I have an urge to put my foot on a log, beat my chest, and utter a long quavering shriek. Unfortunately the neighbors, jealous types, would send for a struggle buggy and a couple of big orderlies.

The hood went uay. Say “Ahhh.” I am the equal of anybody in my mastery of hoods. The float bowl came off easily. Anything mechanical comes apart easily, often leaping spontaneously into more parts than you knew it had. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which insists that the universe tends to disorder with devilish single-mindedness, was no doubt discovered by a physicist working on his carburetor.

The old jet came out easily. The new one screwed in simply…well, almost simply, if only my fingers would fit behind the float, but there was no serious problem. I’d just take a long screwdriver, hold the jet balanced with the tip, turn it slowly…. Actually, there was no great difficulty at all. I merely put my foot on the battery for balance, holding a small flashlight in my mouth to shine into the carburetor, held the float with one hand and guided the jet with the other. Easy. Unfortunately it didn’t leave a hand to hold the screwdriver. The solution was really quite simple. All I had to do was….

After 45 minutes, my wife came out. She is by profession a harpsichordist and has the eye-hand coordination to disassemble a watch while bouncing on a trampoline. She does not, however, understand masterfulness. She tried to insert the jet a few times.

“This is ridiculous. Are you sure this is the right part?”

It was the wrong question to ask of embattled prowess.

My father came out to try. He had been skulking about, waiting for me to fail entirely so that he would be more impressive when he succeeded. He assumed a masterful expression and had at the vile device with the deft touch of a trained surgeon.

“Damn!”

“What?” I asked.

“I dropped it.”

A principle of automotive mechanics is that all parts smaller than a tire look exactly like gravel. I put the patient jalopy in neutral and we pushed it back a yard to look beneath it. We got down on our knees and began peering at the driveway trying to convey by a sort of panicked casualness that we were in command of the situation. Nothing. I began throwing gravel piece by piece into the woods on the theory that whatever remained would have to be the jet.

Judging by the sun, we had about three hours of daylight left.

Having found the thing at last, my father impaled in by its slot on an outsize screwdriver and began poking it at the carburetor like a dirk. He certainly looked masterful. I imagined him as a sort of latter-day D’Artagnan crossing swords with the enemies of the Crown, and leaving them with carburetor jets screwed into their breasts.

“Is it working?” I asked.

“Nothing to it. Used this trick for years, putting number-10 screws into junction boxes. Damn!”

We rolled the car back again and began searching for the jet. Five minutes later we did it again. My father looked down the driveway with a masterful expression that was beginning to be tinged with realism. “I calculate we’ve got about 600 more feet of driveway,” he said.

Automotive repair breaks into two phases-the first, in which the mechanic wants to fix the device, and the second, in which he wants to kill it. The difference between an obstacle and an enemy is about an hour and a half. Rage builds. It begins as a sort of interior itch accompanied by a desire to flex the large muscles. Then the fingers begin to curl uncontrollably. They are wondering what part of a carburetor might be the neck. Yet you still have to work delicately, precisely, or else call a mechanic. We tried.

“Damn!”

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Civil Insurrection: A Modest Proposal for Ending the United States

I see  that a man named Sessions, apparently  Washington’s Attorney General, threatens to unleash the coercive powers of the federal government against the state of Colorado, his reason being that he does not like the state’s policy with regard to marijuana.  This is most curious. Why he believes the policies of Colorado to be his concern is not clear. Equally mysterious is why he thinks the police of Colorado should arrest Coloradans for doing a thing that the people of the state have determined to be acceptable.

Mr. Session’s expansive view of his importance in the universe is seen again in his menacing of the state of California because he does noi approve its policy toward its immigrants. Common sense suggests that if he does not like California’s policies, he should live in another state. I am sure this would suit California well.

What justification does this feral busybody have for meddling in what is not his business? Mr. Sessions wraps himself in the Constitution and, thus emparchmented, asserts that the Supremacy Clause gives him the authority to overrule the states. Reasonable men may disagree on this matter. I assert that the states have no duty to observe the Constitution since the federals do not.

As one instance among many, the Constitution ordains that the country shall not go to war without a declaration from the Congress. In fact the federals make war constantly with neither a declaration nor any reference to the will of people, draining their substance for purposes which are not theirs. If the Constitution is not binding on the central government, it is not binding on the states.

In any event the federals do not represent the people of the country. How many of us in the various states want to spend trillions on distant wars at the command–for that is what it is–of Israel, the petroleum industry, and Empire? Yet we have no choice.

The question of states rights is  today seen, or inculcated, as the fantasy of romantic conservatives remembering a world that never was. In truth, states rights are our only bulwark against tyranny. It is the amalgamation of undeserved powers in the hands of the federals that accounts for the country’s tribulations both within and without.

A great and wise man, a leading proponent of states rights, long ago foresaw this dismal prospect,  saying, “The consolidation of the states into one vast empire, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of ruin which has overwhelmed all that preceded it.”

Just so. Is this not what we see? When a single remote legislature controls a continent, then a small group wishing to dominate the whole need suborn only a few hundred members of its Congress and a few judges on its Supreme Court. By corrupting one city, they can impose any law they choose on all. That the people of many states find the law odious matters little as they can do nothing about it.

If however the people of each state made their own laws, the small group in New York would have to purchase fifty legislatures, each being under  the scrutiny of the people of the state. The more local the government, the more responsive to the will of the governed. It would not be possible to establish a uniform despotism..

This despotism is what we now have, and it worsens. Today the federals dictate every aspect of our lives with no regard for those suffering the dictation. They determine what we may teach our children in the schools, what sexual practices must be preached to to those children, what religious observances  are allowed us. If they decide that ten thousand Papua New Guineans in loincloths must settle upon our towns, then settle they must. They decide what statues we may have, how our world was created, who may use our bathrooms. They decide, these remote people who names we often do not know, of loyalties and faiths and beliefs many of us find distasteful, with whom we must make war.  

How may we of the various states rid ourselves of such noxious influences from afar? By what right? Now I am just a countryman of no great learning in governance. Yet it seems to me that when in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

I believe that the causes of separation have been sufficiently enumerated in the foregoing. The question is how to achieve the separation.

There is no prospect of escape by armed rebellion. The federals control the army, and history has shown that soldiers will as soon kill their fellow citizens as any other.  

A more fruitful, if gradual,  path to freedom is to ignore the strictures of intrusive federals, to engage in passive resistance. Washington does not have the manpower to enforce alien laws upon the entire nation. We see the beginnings of this laudable disentanglement  in the seven states that have made legal the use of marijuana. Should these states remain resolute, and refuse to allow their police to be used as Quisling Pinkertons against their citizenry, they may well prevail. The avowed resistance of the government of California to the imposition of laws alien to it is perhaps as important as the battle of Yorktown. As goes California, so goes the nation.

In a country deeply at odds with itself the best course may be separation, first of laws, then of administration, and finally of sovereignty.  It need not be an uneven fight. As Washington can withhold federal funds from the states, so can the states  withhold taxes from the federals, as California has threatened.

America seems overlarge. Perhaps the parts should go their separate ways. If the federals had to pay for their own wars, there would be no wars. General Lee was right.

 

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A Gringo Loose in Cuba: Notes on the World’s Most Useless Embargo

 This from a while back, but perhaps of interest:

The American Conservative, December, 2007

On Havana’s malecón, the seawall that parallels the shore, the waves roll in and hit the sudden obstacle, sending towering explosions of bright white spray far into the air, occasionally soaking the unwary pedestrian. Across the highway that follows the malecón is a cheap open-air restaurant, the DiMar. A steady breeze from the sea pours across the tables. A tolerable shrimp cocktail, topped with mayonnaise, costs a few bucks. On a couple of evenings I drank a beer there, watching Cuba go by. It wasn’t what I had expected.

Unlike many gringo tourists, I was legal, having gotten a license from the Treasury Department. Without a license travel to Cuba is illegal under the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917. Why Cuba was my enemy wasn’t clear to me. Nor was it to the Cubans.

I had inadvertently neglected to tell the authorities that I was a journalist — I hate it when that happens — so I was not in a position to ask probing questions of officials. But then I didn’t want official twaddle. I wanted to wander, take cabs down the coast, just look at things. And did.

I was pleased to find the old part of Havana both charming and reasonably well preserved, especially around the convent of San Francisco. The latter is of course a museum now, as God knows we mustn’t be religions, but it is in good shape and breathes a moody solemnity. I tried to imagine the stillness in times before the motorcycle. The narrow lanes around it were closed to cars, making it pleasant to walk among the shops.

The country is poor and run down, and itself almost a museum. Sitting in the DiMar is like visiting the Fifties. The American embargo makes it hard to get new cars, so many Cubans still drive cars from 1959, the year of the revolution, and before. Some sport jazzy paint jobs, and others don’t. It was remarkable to watch the rides of my adolescence go by, charting them mentally as one did in 1964-’54 Merc, ’57 Caddy, ’56 Chevy, on and on. Around me the other customers, down-scale Cubans in all shades of nonwhite, laughed and chatted.

They are an accommodating people. On my arrival they spoke a truncated Spanish hard to understand — “Cómo etáh uteh? Ma o menoh.” — but they made an intense national effort to improve their clarity and by my fourth day they were comprehensible.

Cuba doesn’t fit its sordid image. It is most assuredly a dictatorship, yet the police presence is much less than that of Washington, and such cops as I saw had no interest in me. It is not regimented. Havana does not feel — well, oppressed — as Moscow did during the days of the Soviet Union. Mao’s China it isn’t.

The island certainly isn’t dangerous to anyone. Somebody said that the only communists remaining in the world were in Cuba, North Korea, and the Harvard faculty lounge. I do not know whether Harvard’s professoriate thirsts for godless world hegemony, though the idea is not implausible, but it is absurd to put North Korea and Cuba in a category. Pyong Yang has, or wants, nuclear arms, and has both a huge army aimed at South Korea, and a habit of testing ballistic missiles of long range. Cuba has little military and no one to use it against; from an American point of view, the Cuban armed forces are about as terrifying as George Will with a water pistol. It has no nuclear arms and no signs of wanting any. It is not a rogue state. It is a bedraggled island of pleasant people who need more money.

Cuba is expensive. Figuring the prices of things is difficult — deliberately so, one might suspect — because of a peculiar game that the government plays with currencies. Cuba has two, the national currency, which a visitor almost never sees, and the CUC (pronounced “kook”) which appears to exist to impoverish tourists. A visitor has to convert his money to CUCs. If you change dollars, the government skims twenty percent off the top, and then changes the rest at $1.08 per CUC. If you change Mexican pesos, which I did, the rate is 13.3 pesos per CUC when the dollar was trading at about 11 pesos. Visitors have to buy things for CUCs, which the seller then has to exchange for national currency at a rate of…. You see. Nobody seems sure what anything really costs. Still, it’s a rip.

The island could use some investment. While I found neighborhoods with nice-looking modern houses, said by taxi drivers to belong to governmental officials and employees of foreign firms, the rest of the city needs paint, repairs, and new sidewalks. Countless once-elegant houses with pillared porches and tall windows are now discolored and crumbling.

Why communists imagine themselves to be revolutionary is a mystery. Whenever they gain power in a country, it comes to a dead stop and sits there as other countries pass it by. I do not think that communism generates poverty; rather it finds it and preserves it. It has certainly done so here. Cuba seems firmly mired in 1959. How much of this comes from the embargo—“el bloqueo” as the Cubans call it—and how much from communism, I don’t know. Nobody does. This is convenient for Castro, as he can blame everything on the United States. And does.

Curiously, Fidel’s irreplaceable supporter is Washington. Alongside of highways, along Havana’s malecón, in little Mediterranean-looking villages down the coast one sees signs of the type, “Forty-three hours of the blockade would pay for a new school house.” Or for so many locomotives, or complete the national highway, or this or that. How the figures are arrived at, I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. To an extent the signs are not propaganda but simply call attention to a fact: The embargo does hurt people, who want jobs, dollars from tourists, and consumer goods. They are perfectly aware why they don’t have them: the American embargo. This may or may not always be quite true, but it has a convincing verisimilitude. It makes Fidel look good. He is standing up to the bastards who are strangling us.

How resolutely communist are the Cuban people? This is just an impression, but I would say, “Not at all, if that much.” Abstractions ending in “-ism” are hobbies for people who have time for them. Everyone I talked to wanted more money — a better job, better food, better clothes, a chance to take the wife out to dinner. After these, more freedom.

As an example of Castro’s use of the embargo to maintain himself in power, consider the internet. People I talked to had heard of it of course, but had little idea what it was and no access to it. It can be found in hotels and apparently in tourist areas, though I didn’t see a single cybercafe of the sort that are found every twenty feet in all third-world countries I know. Why no internet? Cubans universally said that the US embargo prevented Cuba from having access. This struck me as improbable. It was.

At ZDNet, a respectable American website dealing with matters electronic, I later found an account of a UN conference in Athens, in which a Cuban official was asked what percentage of Cubans have access to the net. He dodged the question frantically. ZDNet quotes Bill Woodcock, a network engineer and research director of Packet Clearing House, as follows:

“Zero percent of Cubans are connected to the Internet. The Cuban government operates an incumbent phone company, which maintains a Web cache. Cubans who wish to use the Internet browse the government Web cache. They do not have unrestricted access to the Internet.” (See here) And if they did, the government would find itself with a lot of explaining to do.

Also from ZDNet: “A report published last month by the Reporters Without Borders advocacy group says, “it is forbidden to buy any computer equipment without express permission from the authorities,” and spyware “installed in all Internet cafes automatically detects banned content.” U.S. law exempts telecommunications equipment and service from the trade embargo.”

The Cuban government is lying, who would have thought it, but can blame lack of access on the embargo. Washington in effect aids Castro in maintaining censorship.

Cuba has what are called “cocotaxis.” These are yellow spherical plastic things like part of a coconut husk attached to a motorcycle, providing transportation for two. Having hired a cocotaxi for a day, I got to know the driver reasonably well, to the point of being invited to his house for snacks. His wife had just had a new daughter and he was no end proud of both. His take on the economy was that things were bad, had been worse but were slowly getting better. Still, he said, taxes were high and he had to buy gasoline in CUCs, which made it more expensive. Things like computers were out of reach, and he and his wife couldn’t afford restaurants. Did he have many gringo fares, I asked. No, not many. He wished more would come. He was tired of being poor.

I am not sure why it is in the national interest of the United States to make a cab driver and his family live on rice and fish. I did not feel notably safer on hearing about it.

An embargo makes sense when it makes sense, but doesn’t when it doesn’t. Cuba is no longer the spearhead of the Soviet Union; indeed, according to many observers, there is no Soviet Union. We seem to proceed from pure vengefulness against Castro. Fidel, a freelance reprehensible dictator, beat Batista, our reprehensible dictator. We want to get even.

But Castro is not Cuba. The CIA Fact Book says that Cuba has 11,394,043 citizens. One of them is Castro, and 11,394,042 are not. Many Americans say that Castro is evil and so we need to embargo him. One person the embargo assuredly does not hurt is Castro. Does anyone think he eats less well because of it?

Ah, but there are the Cuban émigrés in Miami. So much of American foreign policy seems determined by domestic politics, by a certain infantile truculence, and by ignorance of how people work. The embargo has accomplished nothing of any use for 50 years. Clearly the thing to do is keep at it for another fifty. The “Cubans” in Miami demand it.

We are subject to considerable disinformation regarding the island. The Cuban émigrés in south Florida paint Cuba as a hellhole. It isn’t. I’ve seen hellholes. Even before coming to Cuba, I had developed a dim view of the pseudo-Cubans of Miami. For one thing, I had been to Miami and just plain didn’t like them. They were arrogant, and rude to Anglos if not actually hostile. I found myself wanting to ask, “Just whose country do you think this is anyway?” but the answer was obvious.

Further, by supporting the embargo they are knowingly inflicting grave hardship on eleven million of their supposed fellows because they are mad at Fidel. This is contemptible. They want the US to get back for them holdings that Castro confiscated on coming to power. Given the corruption and criminality rampant under Batista, it would be interesting to ask just how they came by their property. To try to get it back they are perfectly willing to condemn the island’s population to another fifty years of living on fish and rice. What patriots.

I say “pseudo-Cubans: and “supposed fellow Cubans.” It is worth noting that 1959 was 48 years ago. The great majority of these alleged Cubans were born here, have never been to Cuba, and wouldn’t live there if they could. They are gringos, Americans. They are also an important voting bloc in a presidentially crucial state. As so often in foreign policy, domestic politics trumps national interest and coherent thought.

Living as I do in Mexico, perhaps I have a better angle of view on matters Latin-American than do ideological isolates in Washington. To the world below Laredo, Cuba is a heroic little country being bullied by the US but not giving in. I’m not sure this isn’t the opinion of the whole world except for America. Remember that much of Latindom believes that South America’s economic doldrums spring from American exploitation. They don’t.

Considerable faith is required to believe that Bolivia would turn into Japan if only the US stopped oppressing it. But beliefs, not facts, determine behavior.
American arguments against the island don’t carry much weight in a region that sees things through Latin-American eyes. For example, by regional standards Cuba isn’t terribly poor. It didn’t suffer the butchery of Guatemala and El Salvador. For fifty years it has been politically stable. Given the experience of Latin-Americans with dictatorship, corruption, and violence, Cuba’s government doesn’t look bad.

Americans, perhaps because of the Cold War, tend to think that communism is communism, all poured from the same bucket. Not so. At the high end of horribleness you have Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao, genuine madmen of genocidal enthusiasms. North Korea’s dynasty runs a close second.

Castro is neither mad nor genocidal. A dictator, yes. A tiresome windbag, yes. Repressive of dissent, yes — but willingness to repress dissent doesn’t mean that there is a great deal of dissent to repress. As far as Cubans are concerned (I mean real Cubans, the kind who live in Cuba, not the make-believe variety in Miami), the problem is not Castro. It is the hostility of Washington. Castro could end the embargo by surrendering, sure. Washington could end it by ending it, and probably end Castro at the same time.

While I was on the island the UN voted 184 to 4 to recommend that the United States end the embargo. In this vote America had the support of the following great powers: Israel, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and itself. Several Cubans spontaneously told me of the vote, smiling triumphantly. Intrigued, I made a point of bringing the vote up with people I ran into. They all knew of it—the governmental television made very sure of it—and grinned broadly over what they saw as a victory for Cuba over Bush.

If this island is unstable, yearning for Fidel to die so that it can revolt and become an appendage of the US, I’m Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst.

I spent several hours walking through Havana’s slums. These are extensive and ugly. Like so much of the city, they seem to have been built fifty years ago and never maintained. Commercial streets have the usual pillars, often in pastel colors now covered with soot, the plaster falling off in patches. In side streets potholes gape. Sometimes water, probably sewage, runs across the pavement. I saw nothing suggesting hunger, no pot-bellied malnutrition, but these people clearly have little. Time and again I glanced into doorways and saw cruddy worn steps rising into darkness. Tired people gazed from windows.

Similar places exist in downtown Detroit and in Washington DC, where abandoned buildings are common, where whole housing projects have their windows bricked up to keep them from becoming shooting galleries for needle people. In America slums are racial in demarcation but in Cuba they aren’t. I encountered no hostility. In four hours I didn’t get so much as a hard look. In Detroit I would have lasted five minutes. But these people are going nowhere, living, breeding, and dying with nothing to show for it. It is a rotten thing to do to them without very good reason. And there is no reason. It does not get rid of Fidel.

The trappings of bumper-sticker socialism are everywhere in Cuba. Signs on walls say “Venceremos!” (“We will conquer!”) and “Patria o Muerte!” (Fatherland or death) and other exciting things. Adolescence dies hard everywhere. A billboard shows pictures of Bush, Hitler, and someone who perhaps was meant to be Cheney (it looked like but can’t have been John Lennon) with arithmetic notation: Bush plus whoever equals Hitler. Che Guevara’s face appears endlessly, the communist Christ, shot from slightly below, staring bravely off into a socialist paradise that didn’t fit on the tee-shirt. I saw postcard racks offering thirteen different photos of Che. If he had severe acne scars and funny ears he would be of no socialist importance, but he does make a good tee-shirt.

The press is assuredly controlled. The political section of a bookstore I saw consisted of maybe a dozen books about (sigh) Che, the rest being not much better. Confusingly, there were a couple of textbooks on business management. Television is heavy on affirmation of socialist patriotism. In particular there are channels from China, which Cuba seems to regard as communist (when did you last hear of a communist economy growing at ten percent, or at all?) and from Venezuela. Hugo Chavez clearly is thought to be a great man.

Toward the end of the adventure I went back to the DiMar to commune with the wind and the exploding waves and ponder what I had seen. Cubans make good beer (Bucanero). I have to give them that, and while mayonnaise on shrimp may not seem advisable, it worked.

I wanted to sort out what I knew about Cuba from what I suspected, so as to avoid the trap of instant-expertism. Some things I did know. A hellhole? No. Threat to anyone? No. Danger to international stability? No. In need of embargoing? No. Dictatorship? Yes. Adherent of the Bill of Rights? No.
How bad was Fidel? I really didn’t know. Admirers and detractors are wildly ideological. Compared to Thomas Jefferson he doesn’t look good (though I don’t think Castro owns slaves). Compared to other dictators the US has installed or supported — Somoza, Trujillo, the Shah, Pinochet, Saddam Hussein, and so on — about par.

But however repugnant Castro may be, the practical question is whether the embargo is in America’s interest. If the United States is still strong enough that it doesn’t have to care what the world thinks, then the embargo, though unnecessary, doesn’t matter (except in moral terms, which don’t matter). But as the country wages war on the Moslem world, tries to contain China (that’s going to work), pushes Russia into China’s arms, and tries to intimidate South America, all of these at once, maybe it would be better to improve America’s relations with this hemisphere. An effective way to spread communism is to make heroes of communists. The entire world — well, except Israel, the Marshall Islands, and Palau — is against the US on this one. Is it so important to keep Miami happy?

 

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