Sunday, September 2, 2012

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Cuba love story comes to Hialeah

fsantiago@MiamiHerald.com

MiamiHerald.com/columnists
In true telenovela fashion, the riveting tale of Cuba’s most recent defector has come home to Hialeah.
Love, not politics, has brought Glenda Murillo Díaz, 24, to visit her boyfriend in the capital of the Cuban exile, her aunt in Tampa, Idania Díaz, has told El Nuevo Herald.
True story or smoke screen? No one really knows.
But the daughter of Cuba’s vice president, Marino Murillo — the man in charge of executing Raúl Castro’s economic policies — left a psychologists’ conference in Mexico earlier this month, crossed the border into Texas and was paroled into the U.S.
New life, new Facebook page, starting with a picture of Murillo posing next to an image of Elvis in St. Petersburg.
Will we now see her in Hialeah with the man she loves? Or is her real man back home, as some claim?
Regardless, her story is a window into the lives of young Cubans of her generation — the children and grandchildren of people who hold or have held high posts in the repressive Cuban regime.
I’ve met several of them and they have one thing in common: They grew up saturated with rhetoric and dogma, detest politics, and cite a myriad personal reasons for leaving, but not political conviction.
They like the trappings of the free world, but shun the politics that keep it free.
So far, the most interesting element about Murillo’s defection is the public trail she has left online.
Through that most American of entitlements, the Facebook page — she had one in Cuba and has a new one now — a portrait of the new, privileged generation emerges: Virtually all white, they grew up with material goods the rest of the population lacks, but are now scattered all over the globe and connected via a technology that exposes them like never before.
A search through the profiles of Murillo’s friends and family, and friends of their friends, shows an unrecognizable, elite Cuba: middle-class, trendy, fashionable.
Raisa, a blond bombshell of a chess player, also studied psychology at the University of Havana. Computer scientist Frank, class of 2007, now lives in Sydney, Australia. He has Cuban friends all over the world — including Cosette from Kendall, who likes Paul Ryan (Cosette is the only one with a political post, particularly interesting since in 2002 Ryan favored lifting the Cuban embargo, calling it “a failed policy”).
Profile after profile, you see young people who claim as their alma maters the exclusive Havana school named after Lenin, and then the University of Havana. But their location on the map — Madrid, Miami, etc. — tells you “ la Lenin” has graduated more “ gusanos” — worms, as Fidel Castro labeled those who left in the 1960s — than faithful Communists.
One profile brings you to a photograph of a backyard in Hialeah — or is it Havana? It’s hard to tell where Havana ends and Hialeah begins. Same abuelas in rocking chairs, a dog napping at their feet, and a homemade roof terrace.
The voyeuristic trip takes you to another friend, a wedding-cake maker in Hialeah, and from there it’s easy to picture Murillo’s happy — apolitical? — telenovela ending.
El fin
                   


LJC, the Orwellian "memory hole," & Google cache

In my previous post, I reported on the unfortunate closure of the pro-revolution blog La Joven Cuba.

In the two days since they posted their surprising "taking a rest" message on Friday morning, the Cuban blogosphere has lit up with speculation about what went down in Matanzas.

As is her habit, Cuban blogger Yasmin Portales Machado has a witty and incisive post up at Havana Times giving her "take" on the "take down."  (Spanish version here).  Her comments of solidarity with LJC are especially important given that both she and her husband Rogelio have had at least one public spat with the boys at LJC in the past.

It was my own speculation that LJC's "rest" is the fallout from their increasingly critical tone in some of their posts.  Likely the last straw for ever-vigilant big brother was a particularly harsh post on May 28, 2012, by Roberto G. Peralo.  In it he zeroed in on the government's delay in granting open access to broadband on the island.

However, if you go to the LJC blog now, you WILL NOT find the offending post.  Instead you will get this message.  Entering the Orwellian world of the "memory hole," the message reads:

"Lo sentimos, pero no podemos encontrar lo que estás buscando. 
Quizás la búsqueda te ayudará
(We're sorry, but we cannot find what you're looking for.  
Perhaps the search will help you).
This graphic has been borrowed from the blog Acerca de Cuba by Josep Calvet.
Even the self-described "progressive" US-based news site Progreso Weekly / Progreso Semanal - which had just begun to syndicate and translate Peralo's posts from LJC - seems to have removed the original article from its site.  Wow!  It seems that the PCC has some real PULL!  
Luckily for us, the blog "La Chiringa de Cuba" has kept its reproduction of Peralo's original post up at its site.
At the same time, it seems that neither Orwell, nor the PCC, nor Progreso Semanal ever thought of Google cache - where old or "disappeared" webpages don't die or even fade away, but are stored forever for easy recovery!  Going there we can still read the offending post (which generated an amazing 261 comments by June 3).  It is entitled: 
(What has not been complied with from the agreements 
of the Conference of the Cuban Communist Party).

This is the graphic, appropriately and quite prophetically entitled, 
"Prensa Muda" (mute press) that accompanied Peralo's original post.

What follows are a series of screen shots of the cached file.  But first, let me translate a few key passages from Roberto's prescient post:
"The concerns of a young Cuban about agreements from the PCC Conference that have not been complied with...

It's been four months since that meeting and the facts demonstrate to me that all that effort and example of participation and democracy have been pure formalism...

"It's been more than a year since we got the news that the fiber optic cable had been installed, at a cost to the Cuban people of $70M, promising to increase our transmission capacity 3,000 percent.  But today we only have more restrictions [on Internet access], more limitations to connect, and no information about what happened [to the cable]." 





Republican convention protesters come armed with outrage, hashtags

Protesters in downtown Tampa, Fla. (Laura E. Davis/Yahoo News)Protesters in downtown Tampa, Fla. (Laura E. Davis/Yahoo News)

As dark rain clouds gathered over downtown Tampa, Michael Purchner, who came from Mississippi to protest the Republican National Convention, said he was frustrated with the country's economic state and the way both political parties are handling it.
"These corporate monsters, these corporations, are pretty much running the show," Purchner said. "There's just so much that needs to be fixed in this country."
Then the downpour hit. Many rain-drenched protesters went across the street to seek cover, prompting police to relocate their barrier.
Like so many Occupy Wall Street-flavored protests, this one was backed by a shadow protest online as Twitter users joined in. The Twitter hashtag #resistRNC spiked Monday, going from fewer than 75 tweets per hour Sunday to more than 450 on Monday afternoon. The hashtag #OccupyRNC surged as well.
Data provided by AttensityData provided by Attensity
"Standoff between protestors and riot police. More riot cops coming in with shields," wrote the user @BatmanWI, one of the most prolific presences during 
                 

In Florida, Medicare is not a senior-only issue

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — For Bruce Cargill, an 87-year-old retiree, Medicare is a "glorious program" that, along with Social Security, keeps millions of older Americans out of poverty.
But he's also quick to note that he forks out premiums and co-pays: "It's government insurance. But it's insurance."
Mike Manning, 64, accuses President Barack Obama of "cutting Medicare" through the federal health care overhaul "then lying about it." He also says the country is headed for fiscal ruin unless it curtails spending.
"How do you know who to trust in this?" frets Ed Galante, also a few months from Medicare eligibility. He declares the entire debate to be poisoned by craven politicians.
In Florida, where legions of retirees are so important to election outcomes, voters from seniors to young people express strong feelings about the future of Medicare. The debate is playing out in the presidential campaign as well as House and Senate races that will help determine the balance of power on Capitol Hill.
The views expressed in a series of recent interviews with voters in this key battleground state were as varied as the solutions politicians have offered for the costly entitlement program.
This is where voters found common ground: None expressed confidence that government will provide new generations the benefits now granted to older Americans. And few said they believe that either Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney have a practical answer for sustaining an insurance program that accounts for nearly a fifth of federal spending and about 4 percent of the U.S. economy.
"I just assume Medicare won't be there for me at all," said Christine Pallesen, a 26-year-old business consultant in Fort Lauderdale.
The responses demonstrate how vexing the issue is for Americans across age groups, particularly baby boomers. That landscape makes it particularly difficult for campaigns to know just how their Medicare strategies will play in November.
Like Florida, swing-voting states such as Iowa and Ohio also have large numbers of seniors and older boomers. Obama won all three states in 2008, and Romney has no likely path to the White House if he fails to win Florida and Ohio.
The Medicare debate intensified when Romney named Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, as his running mate. Ryan's long-term budget blueprint would curtail government insurance in favor of vouchers to help individuals buy private plans.
Democrats say that's proof enough that Republicans "will end Medicare as we know it." The GOP counters that the 2010 health care law, which redirects about $700 billion in future Medicare spending, makes the president the real threat to existing beneficiaries.
Democratic strategists in Florida say Medicare is an issue that fires up the party's liberal base while resonating with nonpartisans who believe government should establish a social safety net and reasonably regulate the marketplace.
Their Republican counterparts outline a two-pronged strategy: convince older voters that Romney is the better protector of the status quo for them. But they want younger voters to analyze Medicare within the GOP's larger framing of Obama as a profligate who has left no choice but to overhaul benefits for future recipients.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, 41, said recently after a speech in Palm Beach County, "I believe people in my generation understand that."
Romney demonstrates the delicate balance. He praises Ryan, 42, for forcing "serious discussion," while emphasizing that the congressman's budget won't define a Romney administration. One of Ryan's first campaign stops was at The Villages, a GOP-friendly retirement development in central Florida. He introduced his mother as a proud Medicare recipient.
Michelle Obama came to Fort Lauderdale recently and told an equally friendly audience that her husband's insurance overhaul strengthened the program. Romney has promised a full repeal of that law, though it was patterned after an act he signed with great fanfare as Massachusetts governor. Now in general election mode, Romney has again started highlighting individual provisions of the Massachusetts law.
Florida's senior senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, saddles his Republican challenger, Rep. Connie Mack IV, with the Ryan plan. Mack voted for one version of Ryan's proposed budget, but skipped a second vote.
In the 18th Congressional District, which includes parts of Palm Beach County and all of Martin and St. Lucie counties to the north, Republican Rep. Allen West has in multiple statements embraced his two votes for the Ryan model. But West's initial general election ads don't mention that, as he pledges not to balance the budget on seniors' backs.
Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy said Medicare "is the clear distinction" in the race. Murphy, West's Democratic challenger, said a plan that moves from a "guarantee" to private premium subsidies "is not the same as keeping our Medicare promise." Tim Edson, West's campaign manager, retorted, "If you don't have a plan, don't criticize ours."
That maneuvering and voters' reactions highlight how difficult it is to understand — and how easy it is for a candidate to manipulate — the complexities of health care economics and policy.
Glenn Basile, who retired to West Palm Beach after decades as a New York City public school teacher, recalled future President Ronald Reagan lambasting Medicare as a "socialist" threat before President Lyndon Johnson signed the new law. "Has it not always been the Republican point of view to do away with Medicare?" he asked. Basile, 63, said he has voted Republican for president before.
Yet Republicans are right that Ryan has not proposed imposing vouchers on current Medicare beneficiaries, with no one 55 or over being affected by any changes. And the congressman says he would still want future seniors to have the options of government coverage.
Ted D'Alessandro, 64, said Obama's 2010 law will only exacerbate the nation's lopsided financials. Yet the self-described libertarian said the overhaul includes "good things" like barring insurers from denying coverage based on existing conditions and allowing young adults longer stays on family policies. Both provisions add cost to any coverage pool.
The law does not lower the bottom-line of future Medicare spending but reallocates some of what would have been spent under old rules. The reductions come mostly from payments to providers and private insurers who offer plans in lieu of traditional Medicare. The money will cover annual physicals, preventive care and more generous prescription drug coverage. Republicans argue that fewer physicians and hospitals will accept Medicare, meaning fewer services. Obama argues that better access to preventive care and drugs will prevent more expensive hospitalizations.
Ryan's budget presumes some of the same savings found in Obama's law. But Ryan would steer the money back to Medicare's trust fund, a move Republicans pitch as more responsible than spending it elsewhere.
Jean Siciliano is an 85-year-old who came to Palm Beach County from Long Island, N.Y. She said her fellow seniors are less swayed any of the Medicare arguments than strategists and younger voters might assume. They formed their politics long ago, she said, proudly declaring her GOP allegiance.
"I'm set," she said of her Medicare benefits. "They won't come after me. I'm worried about my children. What'll they get? How will they pay for it? ... I don't think any of the politicians know the answer."

Romney campaign defends omission of war talk

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mitt Romney's campaign is defending the Republican presidential nominee's decision to make no mention of the politically unpopular 11-year-old war in Afghanistan in his speech last week at the GOP national convention.
Romney was the first Republican since 1952 to accept his party's nomination without mentioning war.
Senior campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday the closely watched national speech was a "home run."
The address was an opportunity to introduce Romney to millions of voters concerned about the economy, Fehrnstrom said, and with it Romney "accomplished what he set out to do, which was to talk about his better vision for America with more jobs and increasing wages."
The U.S. plans to trim the number of troops in Afghanistan to 68,000 by October.

Tutu: Bush, Blair should face trial at the Hague

LONDON (AP) — Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu called Sunday for Tony Blair and George Bush to face prosecution at the International Criminal Court for their role in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq
Tutu, the retired Anglican Church's archbishop of South Africa, wrote in an op-ed piece for The Observer newspaper that the ex-leaders of Britain and the United States should be made to "answer for their actions."
The Iraq war "has destabilized and polarized the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history," wrote Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel prize in 1984.
"Those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague," he added.
The Hague, Netherlands, based court is the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal and has been in operation for 10 years. So far it has launched prosecutions only in Africa, including in Sudan, Congo, Libya and Ivory Coast.
Tutu has long been a staunch critic of the Iraq war, while others opposed to the conflict — including playwright Harold Pinter — have previously called for Bush and Blair to face prosecution at the Hague.
"The then-leaders of the U.S. and U.K. fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand — with the specter of Syria and Iran before us," said Tutu, who last week withdrew from a conference in South Africa due to Blair's presence at the event.
While the International Criminal Court can handle cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, it does not currently have the jurisdiction to prosecute crimes of aggression. Any potential prosecution over the Iraq war would likely come under the aggression category.
The U.S. is among nations which do not recognize the International Criminal Court.
In response to Tutu, Blair said he had great respect for the archbishop's work to tackle apartheid in South Africa, but accused him of repeating inaccurate criticisms of the Iraq war.
"To repeat the old canard that we lied about the intelligence is completely wrong as every single independent analysis of the evidence has shown," Blair said. "And to say that the fact that Saddam (deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein) massacred hundreds of thousands of his citizens is irrelevant to the morality of removing him is bizarre."
However, Blair said that "in a healthy democracy people can agree to disagree."
In Britain, a two-year long inquiry examining the buildup to the Iraq war and its conduct is yet to publish its final report. The panel took evidence from political leaders including Blair, military chiefs and intelligence officers. Two previous British studies into aspects of the war cleared Blair's government of wrongdoing.
The Iraq war was bitterly divisive in the U.K. and saw large public demonstrations. However, Blair subsequently won a 2005 national election, though with a reduced majority.