Diplomatic Relations with Cuba Resumed

Cuba Relations Normalized with Prisoner Swap:
Today President Obama restored diplomatic relations with Cuba and lifted the travel ban after 54 years of unsuccessful embargo.  Cuban dissident blogger, Yoani Sanchez,has written about the hardships that the embargo and the repressive Castro regimes have imposed on the citizens of Cuba.

The Castros (Raul and Fidel) have maintained an iron grip on internet access. The blockade on internet information critical of the Castro regime means that Sanchez cannot even read her own blog posts online.

President Obama, in announcing the deal pointed to the 54 years of embargo and unbroken Castro dictatorship (first Fidel and now Raul) and said, “We do not believe we can keep doing the same thing over five decades and expect a different result.”

Mary Jo Porter and Maui resident, Karen Chun,  established TranslatingCuba.com, a Worldwide Translation Project for dissident Cuban voices in 2010, as an expansion of a similar effort that began in 2008. This project has been instrumental in internationalizing these Cuban voices and their descriptions of daily Cuban life under the Castros.

The bloggers are subject to Cuba’s repressive speech crackdowns. Several of the bloggers like Angel Santiesteban have been imprisoned and Sanchez herself has been detained by police.

Porter explains,

“What is important for Americans to understand — and this is the central focus of the TranslatingCuba.com work — is that the problems of Cuba are the fault of Cubans, not of Americans or the American government.

If you ask Cubans what their three biggest problems are, they like to say, “Breakfast, lunch and dinner.” One of the most prosperous and advanced nations in Latin America has been brought to its knees not by the embargo or by a lack of diplomatic relations with the United States, but by the Castro regime and its 50-plus-year imposition of a non-democratic totalitarian regime on its people.

The task of TranslatingCuba.com has been to bring the voices of Cubans living on the island, suffering under this regime, to readers around the world. Some of these voices have become very prominent, others barely get heard, on or off the island. They represent a plurality of opinions, and often disagree with each other, like people do in a free society. These are the voices of freedom from an un-free society.

We expect the Obama Administration’s announcement today to spark an outpouring of wide-ranging opinions from Cubans on the island. TranslatingCuba.com will continue to bring these voices to a broader audience.”

Ironically, the newly freed Alan Gross was imprisoned for bringing communications equipment for residents of Cuba.




House Passes Poison-Pill Appropriates, Leaves Town and Dares Senate Not to Pass It

In a gotcha move the House filled the Appropriations bill designed to avert yet another government shutdown with noxious provisions, passed it and left town for the year.  This take-it-or-leave-it bill which, if not passed, would have shut down the U.S. government on the Sunday included poison pills like:

1. Repeals Dodd-Frank ban on Wall St banks using taxpayer insured deposits to gamble on derivatives.  This was what brought down the economy and led to the huge bank bailout in 2008.  The Dodd-Frank provision was a weaker version of Glass Steagall which prohibited banks getting FDIC coverage for their customer deposits from also acting as investment banks.  Glass Steagall was put into effect after the Great Depression and was repealed under Clinton.

2. Raises the amount a wealthy couple could donate to political parties to over a million dollars and weakens the McCain-Feingold election reform.

3. Allows corporations to cut retiree pensions after they’ve retired. (e.g. legalized breach of contract.)

4. Cuts EPA’s budget by $60 million.

5. Defunds the IRS  $345.6 million – a somewhat strange move since the IRS brings in most of the money the government uses.

6. Bans the IRS from targeting organizations seeking tax-exempt status based on their ideological beliefs. This would make it more difficult to remove tax-exempt status from churches and astroturf groups who lobby and do fundraisers for political candidates such as the recent ITN election event featuring Duke Aiona and Elwin Ahu.

7. Prohibits D.C. from legalizing marijuana.

Nancy Pelosi attacked the bill saying, “This is ransom, this is blackmail.  We don’t get a bill unless Wall Street gets its taxpayer-funded coverage.”

But not to worry. The GOP provided for $521 billion in military spending.

The House passed the appropriations bill on Thursday, four days prior to a government shutdown and promptly left town.  In essence, they thumbed their noses at the Senate and saying, “Take it or leave it – government shut down is on you if you don’t pass these poison pills.”

Hawaii’s represenatatives Hanabusa and Gabbard voted no.  Mazie Hirono voted no and Brian Schatz voted yes.  Senators were put in an avoid-avoid dilemma.  A yes vote would lead to an eventual economic crash and bailout.  A no vote would lead to an immediate government shutdown and the prospect of an even worse appropriations bill once the GOP takes over both the senate and house.  Definitely a no-win proposition for our senators.

Friday Dec 12 Morning News Summary

National News: The Appropriations Bill

Republicans in the House inserted a poison pill into the Appropriations Bill written almost entirely by CityBank and gutting the Dodd-Frank financial reforms.

In 2008 taxpayers were forced to bail out the Wall Street banks during the worst economic crash since the Great Depression because banks had been gambling on derivatives and securitized loans with FDIC insured deposits.  Letting the banks go belly up would have wiped out the taxpayer-insured deposits.

This came about from the repeal of Glass-Steagall.  Glass Steagall  (implemented after the Great Depression) required investment (gambler) banks to be separate from banks which took deposits.  Dodd-Frank partially restored this rule in that it required banks to use funds other than deposits to finance their derivative gambles.

House Democrats managed to remove some of the noxious provisions of the CityBank poison pill but the ability of banks to continue gambling with tax-payer insured deposits was still in the bill when it passed.  This is the proximate cause of the taxpayer bailout of Wall Street banks and sets us up for another crash and bailout.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren led the insurrection with a speech on the Senate floor, calling the $1.01 trillion spending bill “the worst of government for the rich and powerful.” and Progressive Change Campaign Committee members made 50,000 calls to congresspeople asking them not to pass the bill as long as this risky provision remained.

The bill is now in the Senate and it appears that Democrats are more worried about the threat to shut down the government than they are the threat that Wall Street could once again torpedo the economy.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest signaled that President Obama would sign the appropriations bill even with the poison pill.

“I don’t think the vast majority of Democrats or even Republicans are going to look too kindly on a Congress that’s ready to go back and start doing the bidding of Wall Street interests again,” Earnest said. But he later added: “We certainly don’t want to see a government shutdown.”

The GOP has inserted another goody for the 1%: a wealthy couple could give as much as $3.1 million to political parties, three times the current limit.

Elizabeth Warren blasted the derivative gambling provisions saying that if Congress passes the appropriations bill with these intact

“then we’ve simply confirmed the view of the American people that the system is rigged.  “This is a democracy and the American people didn’t elect us to stand up for CitiGroup. They elected us to stand up for all the people”

National News: Torture…er….”Enhanced Interrogation”

In an amazing move that only happened once before after the CIA gave false information on Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, the  CIA Director John Brennen gave a press conference defending the agency’s use of torture under Bush.  This is in response to the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture, revealing…you guessed…the CIA lied about the nature and extent of the torture.   After much questioning he backed off on his assertion that it produced useful information.  But this circumvents the problem.  The international prohibition of torture is absolute.  People who torture are war criminals regardless of whether they produced any intelligence.

The news media continues to use the term “enhance interrogation” as if calling it something else (doublespeak straight out of 1984) will somehow remove the stigma of war crime and violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture from the CIA’s actions.  And their emphasis on discussing whether torture produced good intelligence distracts from the question: “Why aren’t those involved with torturing brought to trial?”

Hawaii: EPA opens investigations into Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S)

For decades Maui residents have objected to the choking smoke and ash that falls on their homes, schools and businesses from the 240 days per year sugar cane burning by HC&S (a division of Alexander & Baldwin).  The last sugar plantation left operating in Hawaii appears to keep itself alive by burning coal at their mill and selling electricity to Maui Electric Company.  In 2014 there were over 1,000 complaints made to the Department of Health which grants HC&S their burn permit.  According to former Gov Abercrombie, smoke complaints form the highest category of complaints his administration received…which makes one wonder why he did nothing about the problem.

The situation has been aggravated because A&B which is primarily a property development company has converted cane fields to subdivisions surrounding its active farming.  Thus homeowners whose houses back up to fields are innundated with smoke and over-sprayed with herbicides including Ametryn, Pendimethalin, Diuron,  Hexazinone , Dicamba, and 2,4-D.

Trades have become lighter and less frequent and most burn plumes – even those by Paia, eventually collapse on Kihei, one of the fastest growing towns in Hawai’i.  With the addition of Vog from the Big Island eruption, Kihei is hit with a double whammy on Kona wind days.

On Wednesday, December 10th, those frustrated with the state’s lack in protecting health held a sign waving in Kahului.  More cane burning sign waves are planned for Kihei in an attempt to pressure the Department of Health to start actively enforcing bans on smoke entering people’s homes and businesses.

Meanwhile the EPA appears to be dissatisfied by the Dept of Health’s poor job in protecting air quality and has opened investigations into both the coal operation at the mill and the cane burning.