Sunday, June 20, 2010


Choose a good reputation over great riches, for being held in high esteem is better than having silver or gold.

The Little ThingsThe Little Things
5 simple ways to let your kids know you love 'em.
by John Trent, Ph.D.

We busy dads are always looking for new ways to grow closer to our kids. Sometimes we think we need tons of time to make this connection—like regular "date nights" with each child or weekend camping trips with just Dad and the kids. Dates and camping trips are great, but it's actually the little things—done over time and with a loving heart—that do the trick for kids. Try some of these and watch the connections happen.
We busy dads are always looking for new ways to grow closer to our kids. Sometimes we think we need tons of time to make this connection—like regular "date nights" with each child or weekend camping trips with just Dad and the kids. Dates and camping trips are great, but it's actually the little things—done over time and with a loving heart—that do the trick for kids. Try some of these and watch the connections happen.
Catch a Conversation

Grab a ball and play catch or shoot hoops with your child. Between throws (or shots), ask a question like:
"What's the best thing about school these days?"
"What's the worst thing about school these days?"
"If you could only eat one food for the next month, what would it be?"
"What would your dream vacation be like?"
A game of catch offers just enough distraction for kids to open up about issues they might not normally talk about.
Be a "Mail Man"

On your child's next birthday, cover a shoebox with wrapping paper and a label that says, "Mail from Dad." Each year on your child's birthday, write a letter that's not to be read until you give your child the box—on his 18th birthday, the day he goes to college, his wedding day, whatever feels right for you. Use these letters to express your love, to praise his strengths and gifts, to offer specific prayers, and to share your hopes for the person he'll be one day.
Serve Up Love

When our oldest daughter, Kari, was 5, she had nights when she simply didn't want to go to bed. We'd do a story and snack, check under the bed for monsters, pray one more time, then move to the epic showdown of small will against parental will. One night, when Kari asked for a drink of water as her last appeal, I almost reflexively said no. But then I said, "How many ice cubes do you want in your cup?"
Kari leaned back to see if I was serious. "Five," she said.
I got her water—with five ice cubes. She took a drink, climbed into bed, and went to sleep. From that night on, I became the water boy.
Such bedtime rituals give me a chance to connect with each of my children. It might extend bedtime by a minute or two, but like dimes adding up to dollars, investing in these moments can create a lifetime of closeness.
Team Up

Pick a chore, and do it with your child. The work gets done faster and, more importantly, you'll spend another chunk of time with one of your children.
Laura, our 11-year-old, hates making her bed. One morning I dropped by her room to remind her that we needed to leave in a few minutes. Her bed was still unmade.
"Help me do something," I said, taking one side of her sheets and blankets. As I started making one side of the bed, she fell in, making the other. In a minute the deed was done.
Making Laura's bed together has become part of our morning ritual. I don't get to drive her to school often, so making the bed is my chance ask about her upcoming day or to find out how I can pray for her.
Keep Watch

How many times have you said you'd pray for your kids—and then forgotten? I used to do that often until I started setting my watch for prayer.
If Kari says she has a big history test that day, I ask her what time she takes the test, then set my watch to beep at that time. No matter where I am when it beeps, I stop and pray for my child right then. If I didn't set the alarm, I would completely forget my promise.
This not only helps me remember to keep my promise to pray, but the act of setting my watch in front of my daughter shows her she is a priority. It's another simple way to show my child that she's a precious part of my life.
Dr. John Trent is president of His newest book is The Dad's Everything Book for Daughters (Zondervan).Visit John at his website


Dissidents Decry Bill to End Travel Ban

Friday, June 18, 2010
From the AP:

Dissidents decry US bill to end Cuba travel ban

HAVANA — Five days after his release for health reasons, a former Cuban political prisoner added his name to a letter signed by nearly 500 opposition activists decrying proposed legislation that would lift the U.S. travel ban to their country.

The letter, e-mailed to foreign reporters in Havana on Thursday, took the opposite approach of a statement last week supporting the same bill and signed by 74 dissidents, many with international notoriety — including Cuba's top blogger Yoani Sanchez, and Elizardo Sanchez, who is not related to Yoani but heads the island's top human rights group.

The bill in question was introduced Feb. 23 by Rep. Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, and would bar the president from prohibiting travel to Cuba or blocking transactions required to make such trips.

It also would halt the White House from stopping direct transfers between U.S. and Cuban banks. That would make it easier for the island's government to pay for U.S. food and farm exports, which have been allowed for a decade, despite Washington's 48-year-old trade embargo.

Thursday's letter said, "to be benevolent with the dictatorship would mean solidarity with the oppressors of the Cuban nation." It featured 492 signers from all over Cuba, but most were little-known, even among the island's small and divided dissident and political opposition community.

One exception was Ariel Sigler, a 44-year-old who is paralyzed from the waist down and who was freed to much fanfare Saturday. He was released to his home in Matanzas province after serving more than seven years of a 25-year sentence for treason.

Sigler was among 75 leading opposition activists, community organizers, dissidents and independent journalists rounded up in March 2003 — when the world's attention was focused on the start of the Iraq war — and charged with taking money from Washington to destabilize Cuba's government. Those imprisoned denied that, as did U.S. officials.

Sigler went to prison a boxer in excellent shape, but became confined to a wheelchair while behind bars.

His release and the recent transfer of 12 other prisoners of conscience to jails closer to their homes is the result of negotiations between the Roman Catholic Church and the government of Raul Castro to improve the plight of political prisoners.

Other signers of the letter include Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, or Antunez, an Afro-Cuban dissident who has used hunger strikes in the past to protest the treatment of political prisoners in Cuba, and Reina Luis Tamayo, mother of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in February after a lengthy prison hunger strike.

While travel to Cuba is technically not illegal, U.S. law bars most Americans from spending money here. Cuban-Americans, journalists, politicians and a few others can visit with special permission from the U.S. government.

Peterson's bill must pass the House Committee on Agriculture before it can go to a vote by the full House, and Thursday's letter was addressed to members of that committee as well as all members of Congress.

A string of similar measures to expand travel to and trade with Cuba have died without reaching a full vote by either the House or Senate in recent years.

494 Dissidents Send Letter Against H.R. 4645

Today, nearly 500 pro-democracy leaders from within Cuba have sent a letter to the House Agriculture Committee in OPPOSITION to Chairman Collin Peterson's legislation, H.R. 4645, which seeks to ease tourism-travel and trade sanctions towards the Castro regime.

"Congressmen/Congresswomen, the cause of liberty, and firm opposition to the oppressive totalitarian dictatorship in Havana, is so sacred that it is above all economic and mercantilist interests," the letter states.

They proceed to stress, "the below signatories believe that the freedom of Cuba will not arrive by means of the pocket-book nor the lips of libidinous tourists, who are aseptic to the pain of the Cuban family... For that reason we suggest that you maintain a firm and coherent policy of pressure and condemnation against the tyranny in Havana."

Please note that these leaders are risking long prison terms for simply drafting and signing this document, as the Castro regime's draconian laws stringently punish any expression of support for U.S. policy.

Amongst the signatories are:

Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," a young Afro-Cuban pro-democracy leader, who spent nearly half his life (17 years) as a political prisoner.

Reina Luis Tamayo, member of the Ladies in White and mother of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in February pursuant to an 85-day hunger strike.

Ariel Sigler Amaya, Cuban political prisoner who was released this past weekend. Ariel was imprisoned in 2003 for heading the Independent Alternative Option Movement. At the time of his imprisonment, he was a 250-pound former amateur boxer. He was released a 106-pound paraplegic.

Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina, former political prisoner and head of the Cuban Youth for Democracy Movement.

Let's hope Congress listens.

Click here
to read letter and here to view signatures.

June 19, 2010

Dr. Darsi Ferrer Ramírez, Cuban Political Prisoner of the Week, 6/20/10

Cuban human rights activist Dr. Darsi Ferrer Ramírez, held in prison without charges since July 21, 2009, will finally get his day in court on Tuesday, June 22. Prosecutors, who are seeking a 3-year prison sentence, have accused Ferrer of "assault" and "receiving stolen property," for allegedly buying some cement to make repairs to his home.
However, Amnesty International and others believe the prosecution is only an attempt by the Castro dictatorship to silence one of its most persistent and most effective critics.
To ensure that the regime does not get away with this, it is vitally important that the world on Tuesday turn its eyes to a Havana courtroom where Ferrer will stand trial. The whole world must watch, to ensure that finally justice is served and that Dr. Ferrer — one of the giants of the Cuban opposition — is released.
How can you help? If you're on Facebook or Twitter or have your own blog, just write a few words expressing your support for this man. For many years, Dr. Ferrer has been advocate and spokesman for those suffering at the hands of the Castro regime.
Now it is our turn to stand up for him.
The following is my own small effort on his behalf.

June 19, 2010

'Save energy' will be kids' message

Members of youth organizations will knock at Cubans' doors this summer to remind them they must save electricity, the daily Granma reported Saturday.
(picx) The organization Rational Use of Energy has enlisted children from the Student Labor Brigades and the Pioneer Forces of Action for the purpose. Some of the recommendations they'll make are:
• Take advantage of natural lighting. Turn off light bulbs that are not needed.
• Do not store hot foods in the refrigerator.
• Do not open and close the refrigerator door any more than necessary.
• When baking, turn off the oven five minutes before removing the food. The heat inside will continue to cook the food.
"Every measure to save [electricity] contributes to the family's and the country's economy," Rational Use's director, Tatiana Amarán, was quoted as saying.
Posted by Renato Perez at 09:53 AM in Economy & Trade, Youth
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Church-state talks could lead to a review of the travel ban for Americans, panelist says

The lifting of the travel ban on Americans to Cuba "would be very positive," (cml) U.S. economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago said during a panel discussion in Havana on Friday. The panel's topic was "The economy and society."
Ending the ban would "compensate a bit for Cuba's dependence on Venezuela," the Pittsburgh professor said, as quoted by the foreign press. Venezuela is Cuba's leading commercial partner.
The recent concessions made by the Cuban government to some imprisoned dissidents, relocating them closer to home, could influence President Obama's decision to review U.S. travel policy, Mesa-Lago suggested.
"Obama's position in taking a measure like that is very difficult, unless something happens that he can use to move forward a little more, to take a step. That is why I insist on the importance of the process regarding the prisoners of conscience," he said.
"The process" is the term used by the Catholic Church of Cuba to describe its dialogue with the Cuban government. The panel discussion was part of the Church's Social Week activities.
Another member of the panel, Cuban economist Omar Everleny Pérez, said a lifting of the travel ban "would be one of the most transcendental measures that could occur." It would start a "dismantling" of the trade barriers that "hold back the normal development of an economy," he said.
Both Mesa-Lago and Pérez blamed inefficiency and incapacity for the difficult economic situation besetting Cuba, the press reports said.
[UPDATE: Mesa-Lago expanded on the subject of the travel ban in an interview with the Mexican newspaper La Jornada. "Let us assume [...] that the Church's mediation is more fruitful and that the prisoners who were relocated to other jails are released and that the process continues," he said. "That would extraordinarily help to energize things. But what's necessary is for everything to move together." Mesa-Lago was also interviewed by the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia. Click here for details.]

June 18, 2010

U.S. law spurs illegal migration, trafficking, says the Cuban delegate to talks in capital

(drb) After the migration talks held Friday in Washington between American and Cuban delegations, the chief Cuban negotiator, Dagoberto Rodríguez Barrera, issued a communiqué stating that "human smuggling could not be eradicated nor a legal, safe and orderly migration between the two countries could be achieved as long as the Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet foot/dry foot policy remain in force."
According to Rodríguez, "these components of the U.S. migration policy towards Cuba contravene the spirit and the letter of the [1994-95] Migration Accords. They are also the main incentive to illegal departures from Cuba and the trafficking in persons, since they ensure that all Cuban citizens arriving illegally in U.S. territory are automatically accepted in that country, regardless of the ways and means used in the pursuance of this objective, which may include the use of violence and the risking of the lives of persons by unscrupulous traffickers."
To read the entire statement, in English, click here.
Posted by Renato Perez at 11:44 PM in Immigration, U.S.-Cuba relations
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S: Cuban Colada

Friday, June 18, 2010

Odds and ends

  • Secretary of State Clinton met yesterday with the family of USAID contractor Alan Gross and issued a statement calling again for his release and pointing out that his “continued detention…is harming U.S.-Cuba relations.”
  • Cuban media report that one of the “Cuban five,” Ramon Labanino whose sentence was recently reduced, has been transferred from a high-security prison to a medium-security prison.
  • La Jornada interviews economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, who is participating in the Catholic Church’s conference this week in Havana.
  • Reuters: new Cuban data show “little Internet and telecom progress.”
  • AP: Tampa’s mayor wants Cuba flights from Tampa’s airport.

LPP Archive...

Castro: Last days of a monster

By ANN LESLIE, Daily Mail
Last updated at 08:29 05 August 2006

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro: Lionised by liberals abroad, to his own people he's simply 'the mad old man'
The BBC's Guardianistas been fawning over an ailing Castro all week. But the truth is he's a megalomaniac who's run a corrupt, brutal and inefficient state that will collapse into criminality when he dies
When a young royal oaf like Prince Harry wears a Che Guevara T-shirt, you can safely assume that His Royal Highness knows zilch about the murderous, economically incompetent, but undeniably pretty, Argentine-born Cuban icon.
Che, for the brainless, is just another must-have fashion item. He knows no better ? but others do.
When the news came in this week that Cuba's dictator, the ailing 79-year-old Fidel Castro, had 'temporarily' handed the reins of 47 years of uninterrupted power to his younger brother Raul, 75, I felt faintly disgusted by the hero-worshipping remarks uttered here about the possibly dying Fidel.
Castro, we were told, "will be remembered as one of the towering figures of the last half-century".
In Cuba itself, you'll hear other descriptions of this 'towering figure', who has executed trade unionists, and imprisons dissidents and journalists for up to 28 years.
I've worked in that beautiful, benighted island and talked, secretly, with its bored and bitter youth who dream of escape to America, a mere 90 miles away, and who scornfully describe Fidel as el viejo loco (the mad old man).
As Rosita, a young student I met on the over-crowded Santa Maria beach, told me: "The mad old man won't let us travel abroad because he knows we won't come back, which would be humiliating for him."
Incidentally she, as an ordinary Cuban, is not allowed on to the tourist beaches: "And that's humiliating for us ? why should our best beaches be kept for foreigners?"
Every year, many young Cubans risk their lives on boats fashioned out of inner tubes trying to make it to the promised land of Florida. "We all want to be gusanos (worms)!" she laughed. 'Worms' is the word Castro uses to describe those who manage to escape this tropical prison.
So, for Rosita and her friends' sakes, I was dismayed to hear normally respected commentators, who have the luxury of living here in comfort and freedom, admiringly pointing out this week that Castro ? whose rallying cry is 'Socialism or Death!' ? has "seen off nine U.S. presidents so far".
No, the 'Maximum Leader' has not 'seen off' those presidents. What's seen them off is not this strutting megalomaniac who abolished elections when he came to power in 1959 by saying "the revolution has no time for such foolishness".
What 'saw them off' was democracy (which means you can always 'vote the bastards out') and, in America, fixed-term presidential limits (two terms and you're out).
On BBC2's Newsnight this week, a Guardian journalist presented a glowing film about the glories of the Cuban health system. This poor Third World country gives its citizens a life expectancy almost equal to the United States!
This poor Third World country does not suffer from Western levels of obesity! The citizens of this poor Third World country take lots of healthy exercise!
'Soon we'll have medicine without medics: we'll have traded them all for petrol'
Let's take the first point: yes, Cubans do live healthier lives than many of our junk-food generation. Outside of the elite, you rarely see a fat Cuban. (Until his illness, Fidel's battle-fatigues strained over his belly.) But the country has strict food rationing ? and the rations are meagre, liable to be cut any time the Maximum Leader sees fit.
Cubans therefore spend a lot of their energy trying to find ways to get more food on the black market, including bribing supervisors at government warehouses.
When some parents were once caught giving their children a banana to take to school to supplement their rice-and-beans lunch, they were told that this was forbidden as a 'counter-revolutionary' act.
As one Cuban mother commented bitterly: "Let the ministers turn up to tell me why giving my child a banana is an act of counter-revolution ? and why, in our 'equal society', the children of other ministers are taken off every day in a smart air-conditioned car to have lunch at home!"
And why, incidentally, is there still food rationing after 47 years of Communist rule? Not because Cuba is some sub-Saharan drought-stricken country. Not because of the U.S. trade embargo.
In fact, Cuba, being blessed with fertile soil, sun and rain, and surrounded by sea, could easily feed its 11 million people. But such is the incompetence of the regime that you can drive a few miles out of Havana and see tomatoes rotting in the fields because no one bothers, except sporadically, to transport them into the city.
Of course, when a Cuban falls ill, Newsnight's starry-eyed film told viewers, he or she will be looked after for free by Cuba's 'miraculous' health care system.
One much cited statistic is the ratio of doctors per head of population. Which looks good on paper. Yet why is it that health clinics all over the country are being closed because of a shortage of doctors?
The reason is simple: Cuba is trading doctors for oil from its oil-rich neighbour Venezuela.
Cuban doctors are initially paid a mere £16 a month. The state decides whether you become a doctor or not and you have no choice in the matter.
If the doctors are traded overseas by the regime, they'll get a bonus. Despite this, an alarming number of doctors never come back.
The 'traded' doctors are officially volunteers, but should a doctor refuse to be sent abroad without his or her family, such 'bourgeois' ideological backsliding will be duly noted on their work documents.
Cubans have a highly-developed sense of black humour: one of the jokes doing the rounds these days is: "Soon we'll have medicine without medics: we'll have traded them all for petrol!"
Cuban doctors can achieve great feats in areas like heart and eye surgery (especially if there's an admiring foreign TV crew around), but despite the country having its own pharmaceutical industry, it can be extraordinarily difficult for poor Cubans to buy basics like aspirin.
"They are too expensive for us," said one father. "If you know a doctor in a hospital, he might sell you some on the side, but otherwise..."
Perhaps these corrupt doctors are behind the creation and sale of strange 'downer' pills called 'Parkinsonias' (presumably, originally designed for Parkinson's sufferers) which ? along with marijuana spliffs ? I was furtively offered by young touts on Havana's crumbling Malecon sea front.
In Cuba, if you have money ? thanks to 'counter-revolutionary' ducking and diving ? or, more importantly, if you have 'connections', then a certain number of apparently 'unobtainable' items can, after all, suddenly become 'available'.
One of the ways that Cubans keep healthy is that they do, indeed, take more exercise than us. But walking for miles in the blazing heat is not necessarily the preferred choice of locomotion for the average Cuban.
They walk simply because, despite the doctors-for-oil deals, there still is not enough petrol for domestic cars. (Plenty, of course, for tourist taxis ? which bring in much needed foreign currency ? and the elite's Mercedes motorcades.)
The Maximum Leader suspected ? rightly ? that too much petrol was being stolen and sold on the black market.
So he recently unleashed squads of uniformed young 'social workers' to man the pumps and go through the books of the state-run petrol stations: it was discovered that more than half of the petrol previously sold was not accounted for.
For decades, sugar was Cuba's chief cash crop and the Maximum Leader urged people to grow more and more 'socialist' sugar each year. But then the sugar market collapsed ? whereupon he berated his officials for incompetence in producing too much.
He seemed oblivious to the fact that his near-neighbour Brazil learnt how to use surplus sugar cane to produce ethanol, which is now used to power around 20 per cent of its transport.
Indeed, Brazil has cut down on oil imports and is even selling its ethanol to countries such as Japan and Sweden.
Even if Castro had noticed this, he would have ignored its example ? because he, being all-powerful, all-wise, never believes that he can learn any lessons from anyone else.
The difference between Cuba's Communist dictatorships and others I've worked in is, frankly, the weather and the people themselves.
As one diplomat in Havana put it to me: "It's much easier to endure oppression and poverty if the weather is nice and you can go to the beach and get drunk."
Castro groupies in the West point out that although Cuba is poor, its society is equal.
Mind you, it used not to be poor: before the revolution, it had the highest per capita income in the Caribbean. Now, only the Dominican Republic and Haiti are poorer.
But even this much-vaunted equality is illusory. For example, the majority of Cubans are black, but the elite are brown, of Spanish ancestry.
One black Cuban artist I met in Havana told me: "Because of my colour, I have very little chance of official support. It's only in athletics that blacks are promoted, because they win international honours. But black artists ? forget it."
Needless to say, he, too, has defected.
Now let's take the famed educational system. Yes, education is free. And yes, Cuba now has a literacy level of almost 100 per cent. But even according to Cuba's own figures, its literacy level before the 1959 revolution was already 74 per cent. Only one poor province, Oriente, had a low literacy level.
Cuba's greatest modern novelist, the late Guillermo Cabrera Infante (previously an ally of Fidel's), was born in Oriente and once told me: "Despite Castro glorying in his so-called educational achievements, the fact is that there was never any great mountain to climb in literacy levels and he had decades in which to do it."
Of course, as in all dictatorships I've worked in, education is used as an ideological tool.
In Havana, I managed to interview the beautiful, deeply sad Alina Revuelta, Fidel's illegitimate daughter (he is alleged to have had at least nine children by assorted mistresses).
She was kept under constant secret police surveillance but eventually escaped in disguise to Madrid, and thence to Florida, where she became a vocal opponent of her father's regime.
"Everything in education here is ideological!" sighed Alina. "For example, teaching the alphabet: 'F' is for Fidel, 'R' is for Raul the Beacon.
"Anyway, there's not much to read here because so many books are banned."
And now 'Raul the Beacon' is in charge. A hard-line, ruthless Communist, he's been described to me as "Castro without the charm". (And judging by a furious letter he wrote me after some articles about Cuba of mine appeared, I might steer clear of the island until he, too, has gone.)
There is, among older Cubans, a certain fondness for Fidel. It's they who wave placards saying: "Viva Fidel! Another 80 years!"
Fear of anarchy
But despite the state media's efforts on the Beacon's behalf, there is absolutely no affection for Raul. He's been described to me as 'Rat Face' and 'The Chinaman' (because of his faintly oriental-looking eyes) and there are constant macho sniggers about his alleged homosexuality, on the grounds that his gestures are 'too elegant'.
When the Cuban regime collapses (as all such Stalinist systems eventually do), I'm not sure that Cubans will cheer as loudly as El Exilio, the exiled Cuban-Americans in Miami.
Cubans are deeply afraid that anarchy will break out and that El Exilio will return in their private planes and luxurious yachts to reclaim the now-disintegrating mansions which they lost in the revolution.
Twenty per cent of Cuba's population now lives overseas and these rich capitalists, some of whom unfortunately are not the kind you'd want as your neighbours, can't wait to come back to the country they still call home.
Meanwhile, I fear for Cubans I met like Rosita and her friends. Cubans are warm, lively, artistic and resourceful people.
The chrome fins and ice-cream-parlour colours of the 1950s Buicks and Pontiacs, left behind by capitalism, are still lovingly maintained ? with coat-hangers, string and incredible skill by owners who have not seen a spare part for 47 years, because of the American trade embargo.
Of course America's shortsighted blockade has damaged the Cuban economy ? but it has also been used by Castro to shift blame from his own endemic economic failures.
However, Castro's oppressive regime, instead of capitalising on the Cuban people's energy and resourcefulness, has given birth to wholesale corruption and criminality.
As one 45-year-old academic in Havana said to me: "There is no idealism left, because to survive here you have to be corrupt, to cheat, to commit 'counter-evolutionary' crimes and, above all, to steal from the state."
Once the police state vanishes, that habit of criminality will, unfortunately, not disappear. It will explode.
It was Castro ? not the economic embargo by America's Yanqui imperialistas ? which ultimately ruined Cuba. But that, I predict, will not be the story you will hear from the BBC's chosen Guardianistas.