A Lesson in Civility

Saturday, January 16, 2010
In case you have any doubt that the United States of America is the greatest experiment in democracy, civility and generosity in human history.

From The New York Times:

A Helping Hand for Haiti


This weekend, President Obama asked us to spearhead private-sector fund-raising efforts in the aftermath of the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that ravaged Haiti. We are pleased to answer his call.

Throughout both our careers in public service, we have witnessed firsthand the amazing generosity of the American people in the face of calamity. From the Oklahoma City bombings to 9/11, from the tsunami in South Asia to Hurricane Katrina, Americans have rallied to confront disaster — natural or man-made, domestic or abroad — with the determination, compassion and unity that have defined our nation since its founding.

After the tsunami, Americans gave more than $1 billion to help the people of South Asia. The recent earthquake in Haiti is estimated to have had an impact on nearly three million people — 30 percent of Haiti’s population. We know the American people will respond again. Just as any of us would reach out to a neighbor in need here at home, we will do everything we can to give aid, care and comfort to our neighbors in the Caribbean, now and in the months and years to come.

With advances in technology, giving to relief efforts is easier than ever before. Organizations like the Red Cross have been stunned at the amount of money pouring in through an innovative fund-raising effort that allows cellphone users to text a $10 donation that will be added to their cellphone bills. The State Department raised more than $1 million in the first 24 hours, with millions more coming in the days since the earthquake. This money is being channeled to reliable charities with long experience in disaster relief, ensuring that Americans’ contributions are put to effective use.

Our first priority will be to raise funds to meet the urgent needs of those who are hurt, homeless and hungry, and to ensure that the organizations and relief workers on the ground have the resources to do their jobs effectively. In the first two weeks, the needs are very simple: food, water, shelter, first aid supplies. Once relief workers have gone through all the rubble and every person — living and dead — has been recovered, once the streets have been cleared and communications and power restored, then Haiti is going to have to get back on its feet again.

It’s a long road to full recovery, but we will not leave the Haitian people to walk it alone. When the rebuilding begins, we will need even more support to make Haiti stronger than ever before: new, better schools; sturdier, more secure buildings that can withstand future natural disasters; solutions that address the inequalities in health care and education; new, diverse industries that create jobs and foster opportunities for greater trade; and development of clean energy.

There are great reasons to hope. For the first time in our lifetimes, Haiti’s government is committed to building a modern economy, and it has a comprehensive economic plan to create jobs. Haitian leaders have shown determination in confronting the challenges of AIDS, with strong support from private organizations and the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Per capita, there are more nongovernmental organizations in Haiti than in any other country except India. The members of the Haitian diaspora, in Miami, New York, Toronto and other cities overseas, are involved in and committed to the future of their native country. And the world’s attention is focused on this tiny island nation that has been overlooked for too long.

Crises have the power to bring out the best in people, and we have seen many examples of this over the years, especially after the tsunami. Conflict in Aceh, Indonesia, was laid to rest while people focused on rebuilding together. In communities along the Indian coast, women who had lost their husbands learned marketable skills like arts and crafts and emerged better able to provide for themselves and their children than they were before the disaster.

We should never forget the damage done and the lives lost, but we have a chance to do things better than we once did; be a better neighbor than we once were; and help the Haitian people realize their dream for a stronger, more secure nation. But we need more than just support from governments — we need the innovation and resources of businesses; the skills and the knowledge of nongovernmental organizations, including faith-based groups; and the generosity and support of individuals to fill in the gaps. Visit here to make a donation and learn more about our efforts. It’s the least we can do, and the least the people of Haiti deserve. At our best, we can help Haiti become its best.

Bill Clinton was the 42nd president of the United States. George W. Bush was the 43rd president.

Celia's Transcending Wisdom

During a 1993 visit to Colombia, Cuban artist (and icon) Celia Cruz coincided in the country with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

The media immediately began peppering her with questions, and in typical Celia fashion, she did not hold back in her response:

"I know you keep asking me these questions to irritate me. So let me put an end to it once and for all, and tell you exactly what I think. I don't understand why you don't ask that man why he had to fly here and waste so much fuel, while the people of Cuba have no fuel to get anywhere. Ask him why he had to fly here with a second plane stocked with food and water from his private stash, while the people of Cuba go hungry and don't even have a decent water supply. Ask him why Cuban exiles have to send money back to Cuba to feed people that are starving on the island. It's ironic, for a couple of years ago, if they caught you with an American dollar in Cuba, you were sent to jail for twenty years. Now that man wants the big, bad exiles, who had to flee with nothing, to send dollars back to feed the people that he can't or won't. The only reason he came here to Colombia is that he's running around begging. He needs money desperately, and he'll do anything to get it. But let's stop there. I've never met that man, and I don't even want to think about him. I left Cuba many years ago to make enough money to send back so that my dying mother could eat lobsters. Lobsters that used to abound in Cuba, but that for some reason have disappeared from Cuban kitchens. Why don't you go ask him what happened to Cuban lobsters? Where have they gone? Are they exported for hard currency that ends up in his pocket? He has plenty of lobsters for himself; that's for sure. Just look at the food he had with him when he arrived. I just want to make it clear to all of you that that man did not allow me to return to my country and visit my dying mother, and although I try to be a Christian woman, I cannot bring myself to ever forgive him for that."

- Celia Cruz, "Celia: My Life, An Autobiography," p. 177.

Trouble From Within Iran's Regime

Friday, January 15, 2010
Ex-Iranian Diplomat in Norway Quit to Support Countrymen

Iran's former Consul General in Norway, who resigned his post to protest his government's treatment of demonstrators, told the Voice of America (VOA) he quit to show his support for his countrymen.

"When I watched what has been happening in Iran … I thought, "I want to join the people of my country, and tell them, inside and outside Iran, that I support them and I am hoping for the same changes they are,'" Mohammed Reza Heydari said in an exclusive interview with VOA's Persian News Network (PNN) in Oslo.

Heydari also called on fellow Iranian diplomats to follow his lead. "They should resign to support the Iranian people," he said. "Our priority should be the best interests of the people, not our own personal interests."

Heydari said he made his decision to resign after watching the Iranian government's recent treatment of demonstrators in Tehran, particularly during the religious holiday, Ashura.

"They decided to use force and brutality against people and recently started to terrorize people with explosions inside Iran," he said.

The (Confucian) Conscience of Experience

According to the Wall Street Journal, Google CEO Eric Schmidt sought to "turn a blind-eye" to China's censorship and cyber-assault on dissident emails.

Apparently, Schmidt believed that this would create goodwill with China's regime and lead them to eventually "open up."

Sound familiar?

Fortunately, Google's co-founder Sergey Brin, whose family escaped from Soviet communism and recalled his childhood experience with repressive regimes, felt differently.

"For the two men, China has always been a sensitive topic. Mr. Brin has long confided in friends and Google colleagues of his ambivalence in doing business in China, noting that his early childhood in Russia exacerbated the moral dilemma of cooperating with government censorship, people who have spoken to him said. Over the years, Mr. Brin has served as Google's unofficial corporate conscience, the protector of its motto 'Don't be Evil.'

Mr. Schmidt made the argument he long has, [according to people familiar with the discussions], namely that it is moral to do business in China in an effort to try to open up the regime. Mr. Brin strenuously argued the other side, namely that the company had done enough trying and that it could no longer justify censoring its search results

And how are the Chinese people reacting to Google's decision this week to challenge the Chinese regime?

In an interview today with Marketplace, Google's Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond, said:

"Well, we've actually have seen quite an outpouring today of support from Chinese Internet users. Many of them actually showing up at our office and laying flowers down in the front of our office."

Brin was right.

Moral of the Story: Coddling the oppressor never earns you the respect of its victims.

Or as Confucius said,

"To see what is right, and not to do it, is want of courage or of principle."

Negligent Death of "Mental" Patients

Yesterday, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) denounced the negligent death from "hypothermia" of at least 20 patients in Havana's Psychiatric Hospital, commonly know as La Mazorra.

Yes, you read it correctly, "hypothermia" in the tropics.

"The CCCHRN is deeply concerned about the high number of preventable deaths that have taken place this week at the Psychiatric Hospital," the human rights organization said in a statement.

These deaths were also confirmed to the EFE news agency by European diplomats in Havana.

While last week's cold wave did reach Cuba, the temperatures on the island were never freezing and surely manageable with proper care. So what condition must these patients have been left in?

Historically, the Castro regime has been known to confine dissidents in La Mazorra, where they have been subject to electroshock, drugs, and psychological interrogations, in order to gather information on their activities and to spread fear amongst the population.

These barbaric procedures have been corroborated in numerous testimonies.

Are there any limits to the cruelty of this regime?

The Castro's Street Psyche

Thursday, January 14, 2010
Cuban author, former friend and confidant of the Castro brothers, Norberto Fuentes, has written the brilliantly satirical novel, "The Autobiography of Fidel Castro."

In the novel, Fuentes' Fidel makes the following telling observation:

"Almost all civil wars begin as a demonstration that goes out of control," Castro points out. "Controlling the streets," he emphasizes, was the crucial key to his maintaining power. To that end, opponents - or "the enemy," as he puts it - must not be allowed to gather "in groups of more than two or three individuals."

Apparently, Fidel's Iranian cohorts share this psyche, for over New Year's weekend, the Washington Post reported,

TEHRAN - Security forces opened fire at crowds demonstrating against the government in the capital on Sunday, killing at least four people, including the nephew of opposition political leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, witnesses and Web sites linked to the opposition said.

Meanwhile, little brother Raul also exercised precaution, as the Latin America Herald Tribune reported,

No Government Events as Cuba Celebrates 51 Years of Revolution

HAVANA - Cuba celebrated Friday the 51st anniversary of the revolution with austerity and without any government ceremonies planned, though the public's traditional dancing in the main squares of the communist-ruled island to celebrate the occasion were maintained.

Looks like tyrants are looking both ways before crossing.

The Virtual Cost of Repressing Bloggers

The Castro regime is intent on silencing Cuba's pro-democracy bloggers, and consequently their audience, through acts of repression.

Nonetheless, these acts are having the complete opposite effect -- they are only driving more traffic (visitors and interest) to these blogs.

In other words, the repression of Cuba's bloggers comes with an "audience cost" for the regime (in favor of the pro-democracy blogs).

This pattern can be extrapolated from the chart below.

The first bump in traffic was when Cuba's Generation Y blogger Yoani Sanchez was denied an exist visa by the Castro regime to receive Columbia University's Maria Moors Cabot Journalism Award in New York City; the second was when Yoani was abducted and beaten by state security agents; and the third was when Yoani's husband, and a blogger in his own right, Reinaldo Escobar, was assaulted by one of the regime's mobs.

Furthermore, there is a correlation effect across bloggers. As the chart shows, the repression against Yoani and her husband didn't only drive traffic to Yoani's blog, but also to other pro-democracy blogs, such as Claudia Cadelo's Octavo Cerco and Miriam Celaya's Sin Evasion.

As such, the Castro regime would be wise to reconsider its repressive behavior -- but old habits (by old dictators) die hard.

Google Stands Up to China's Regime

Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Today, Google's Chief Legal Officer David Drummond announced a review of whether the company will continue doing business in China.

According to Drummond, the following are the reasons for this principled decision:

"We have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.

As part of this investigation but independent of the attack on Google, we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users' computers

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China."

You can read the entire statement here.

A long overdue decision. Yet, kudos to Google.

Full-Court Internet Press

This morning, The Washington Post reported that,

"An American who has been jailed in Cuba and denounced as a spy is a 60-year-old international development expert from Potomac, [Alan P. Gross], who was working on a U.S. government project to help the island's Jewish community access the Internet, according to former colleagues and other sources."

His "crime"?

"Sources familiar with Gross's work said he was helping Cubans download music, access Wikipedia and read the Encyclopedia Britannica, which was provided on flash drives. The project is also aimed at helping members of the small Cuban Jewish community communicate among themselves and with Jews overseas, the sources said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case."

Meanwhile, the U.S. appears unintimidated in its commitment to Internet freedoms,

"U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will announce a technology policy next week to help citizens in other countries gain access to an uncensored Internet, a Clinton adviser told Reuters.

Alec Ross, Clinton's senior advisor for innovation, said in an interview that Clinton will unveil a tech policy initiative on Jan. 21. He provided few details except to say it would focus on 'Internet freedom.'

'If you think about Internet freedom from the Caucasus to China to Iran to Cuba and elsewhere, people do not have universal access to an uncensored Internet,' Ross said

We pray that Mr. Gross is promptly reunited with his family and that the millions of victims of repressive regimes throughout the world may soon experience -- at the very least -- virtual freedom.

Dieu Bénissez les Personnes Haïtiennes

Our thoughts and prayers are with the good people of Haiti.

Need We Say More on "Trade"?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010
We've long argued that it's disingenuous to advocate for "trade with Cuba," as it falsely implies transacting business with the entire country, including its people.

It should instead be referred to as "trade with the Castro regime," the dictatorship that exerts control over every aspect of the Cuban people's lives, or even "trade with Alimport," its monopoly that decides (if and) what the Cuban people can or cannot eat.

But don't take our word for it.

The following report from GlobalAtlanta.com is about a Georgia agricultural delegation that visited the island last month looking for business opportunities.

Ag Exporters Court Cuba's Biggest Buyer: Its Government

Cuba has 11 million people, but Georgia food exporters learned on a recent trip that they only need to reach one buyer to do considerable business in the island nation: its government.

About 15 Georgia legislators, farmers and exporters traveled last month to Havana for an annual trade show hosted by Alimport, a government-run company that buys the communist country's entire imported food supply.

Alimport buys for restaurants and hotels engaged in the tourist trade, Cuba's main industry, as well as for its citizens, who get beans, rice, wheat, poultry and other staples in monthly rations from the government.

Need we say more?

How About the Bread "Laws"?

Yesterday we addressed concerns by opponents of U.S. policy, who argue that U.S. pro-democracy programs should not help the Cuban people gain access to cell phones, laptops and the Internet, for it violates the Castro regime's "laws."

So should the Castro regime's bread "laws" be respected also?

If so, any direct food aid to the Cuban people would have to prohibited.

Obviously, that would be absurd (as are the Castro regime's "laws").

Police try to stop sellers of bread

SANTA CLARA, Cuba, (Yoel Espinosa, Cubanet) – Since the beginning of the New Year, police in Santa Clara have been pursuing private sellers of bread, which is considered a crime.

Police in cruisers and on foot have been seen chasing the vendors, who usually use bicycles. Those who are caught are fined 1,500 pesos, the equivalent of three months' salary for the average Cuban. Police also confiscate their bicycles.

"Each new measure they take is to hurt people who are no longer able to buy bread in the street," said resident Julia Salterio.

Holding North Korea Accountable

Monday, January 11, 2010
According to the AP:
North Korea's 'appalling' human rights situation must improve before the country can expect to normalize relations with the United States, President Barack Obama's special envoy on the issue said Monday.

In comments certain to anger North Korea, Robert King blasted its human rights record as a U.S. citizen remains under detention for crossing into the communist country last month without permission.
Kudos to the Administration.

Breaking Cuban "Laws"

Opponents of U.S. policy have expressed outrage that pro-democracy programs seek to help the Cuban people have access to cell phones, laptops and the Internet.

Their rationale?

In short -- that it's against the Castro regime's "laws" for Cubans to have an unauthorized access to cell phones, laptops or the Internet. Therefore, the U.S. should not make it easier for Cubans to break these "laws."

And what are the origins of these "laws"?

They are dictated by the "Supreme Leader," Fidel Castro, and (when propagandistically convenient) unanimously approved by the powerless, single-party National Assembly. Any dissent within this process is subject to severe punishment.

So must arbitrary, unjust and morally reprehensible "laws" be respected? Are they even "laws" in the first place, or are they illegal "laws" (no pun intended)?

Did South Africa's apartheid laws have to be respected?

Just imagine the fate of this country if the French, the Dutch, and the Spanish had decided that 18th century American colonists needed to respect the whim of the British crown.

Do they also believe that all trade, aid, tourism and financing must only be funneled through the Castro regime's totalitarian monopoly? After all, that's what Cuban "law" mandates.

Of course they do -- it's called lifting sanctions.

"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality."

-- Desmond Tutu, South African cleric and anti-apartheid activist.

Grand Larceny Castro

Sunday, January 10, 2010
Last year, the Obama Administration unilaterally eased regulations on family travel, remittances and gift parcels.

So how did the Castro regime respond to this overture?

By charging Cuban-Americans exorbitant fees, funneling a third of every dollar remitted and seizing personal gifts. In other words, through larceny.

Last week, Cuba's Generation Y blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote about this larceny:

Island With Excess Baggage

Lacking any protection, Cubans enter the General Customs of the Republic where they pay the price of return.

A chalk mark on the suitcase signals who must pass through the scaffold-of-valuation and the institutional assault-by-taxation on certain goods. Curiously, the airport employees have a keen nose for detecting returning nationals because they know they come bearing various and incredible objects.

Outside, in the waiting room, families dream of embracing their emigrés and fantasize about the possible gifts. Meanwhile, they weigh the passenger's luggage and show the heavy toll demanded to settle up.

One might come to think that in a country where so many products and resources are lacking, flexibility about importing them -- on a personal scale -- should characterize the customs process: but that's not the case. Rather, we live at the other extreme, with a strict, "List of internal valuation'' that forces repayment for the contents of the bags, whether it is soap, a tin of sardines or a laptop.

Everything is complicated when the excited visitor thinks to bring the relatives a household appliance or a digital camera. If he wishes to bring in these modernities, he must empty his wallet of an amount that runs from 10 to 80 convertible pesos. It comes to be like a ransom, given to the "kidnappers'' of the foreigner so that the equipment can reach the hands of its recipients.

Like an industry of robbery, Cuban customs expands, daily, the numbers confiscated, while adding thousands of dollars to the cash box through the concept of taxes.

Their huge storerooms are filled with hair dryers, Play Stations, electric ovens and computers brought by travelers. The destination of these goods is never explained, but we all know they take the Olive Green Road of so very much else.

The island would appear, if we are guided by the restrictions on entry, to be at the point of drowning under the pounds of abundance and prosperity. But we all know that its forty-three thousand square miles are on the verge of floating away, from the lightness that results from lack of productivity and scarcity.

Quote (and Policy Change) of the Week

First, an important and overdue policy change.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal:

"The Obama administration is increasingly questioning the long-term stability of Tehran's government and moving to find ways to support Iran's opposition 'Green Movement,' said senior U.S. officials.

The White House is crafting new financial sanctions specifically designed to punish the Iranian entities and individuals most directly involved in the crackdown on Iran's dissident forces, said the U.S. officials, rather than just those involved in Iran's nuclear program

And the quote,

"I think it's very hard for the [Iranian] government to decide how to react to the legitimate and lawful demands of the people."

-- John Limbert, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Radio Farda, January 9th, 2009.