U.S. Announces $2 Million Grant to Cuba for Hurricane Ian Relief

On October 18,  the U.S. State Department announced that the U.S. through the U.S. Agency for International Development will be providing $2 million of emergency relief for those in Cuba suffering from Hurricane Ian.[1]

Said the State Department, the U.S. “will work with trusted, independent organizations operating in the country who have a long presence in hurricane-affected communities. We are currently reviewing applications from organizations such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to provide this assistance.”

The statement added, “We stand with the Cuban people as they work to recover from this disaster. The United States will continue to monitor and assess humanitarian needs in coordination with our trusted partners and the international community, and we will continue to seek ways to provide meaningful support to the Cuban people, consistent with U.S. laws and regulations.”

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez immediately expressed appreciation for this grant. He said on twitter, this aid would “contribute to our recovery efforts and support [for] those affected by the ravages” of the storm.

========================

[1] U.S. State Department, Press Statement: U.S. Support for Hurricane Ian Recovery Efforts in Cuba (Oct. 18, 2022); DeYoung, U.S. will provide $2 million of hurricane aid in Cuba, Wash. Post (Oct. 18, 2020). See also Hurricane-Damaged Cuba Needs Immediate U.S. Recovery Help, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 2. 2022); Cuban Government Asks for U.S. Aid in Responding to Hurricane Ian Damages While Cubans Protest Over Continued Power Outages, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct.4, 2022); Comment: Still Waiting for U.S. Response to Cuban Request for Hurricane Aid, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 6, 2022).

Cuban Government Asks for U.S. Aid in Responding to Hurricane Ian Damages While Cubans Protest Over Continued Power Outages

As reported in a prior post, Hurricane Ian on September 27 stroke the western portion of the island of Cuba, and by the next day the entire island’s electricity was out.

 Cuba Requests U.S. Aid for Restoring Electricity[1]

According to the Wall Street Journal on September 30 the Cuban government requested the U.S. government to provide emergency aid for responding to the damages caused on the island by Hurricane Ian. No exact amount of aid was specified, and a State Department spokesman reportedly told the Journal that it continues to communicate with the Cuban government regarding the humanitarian and environmental consequences of this hurricane and last August’s fire at the oil storage depot in Matanzas. That spokesman said, “We are evaluating ways in which we can continue to support the Cuban people, consistent with U.S. laws and regulations.”

On October 2, the Cuban Foreign Ministry on its Twitter account stated, “The Governments of Cuba and the United States have exchanged information on the considerable damage and unfortunate losses caused by Hurricane Ian in both countries.” But there was no mention of any Cuban request for assistance or any U.S. responses.

Complicating the U.S. providing any aid to Cuba for hurricane-damages is the need for the U.S. to address the immense Hurricane Ian damages in Florida, the Carolinas and Puerto Rico.

“If Cuba asks for humanitarian aid and the U.S. gives it to them, that would be a real breakthrough,” says William LeoGrande, an expert on Cuba at American University in Washington.

Cuban Protests Lack of Electricity[2]

In the meantime, many Cubans have gone to the streets in Havana, Matanzas, Cardenas and Holguin to protest continued lack of electricity and to demand the government restore electricity and provide aid to areas ravaged by the hurricane. For the most part, these protests were calm. The police did not interfere. There were no arrests. Instead, the government sent officials and Communist Party members to talk with the protesters. And the government appeared to cut off the Internet and telecommunications networks across the country, possible to prevent news of the demonstrations from spreading and encouraging others to join.

However, there have been reports of police detention of some of these protesters.

Ted Henken, a Cuba expert and a professor at the City University of New York, said after last       summer’s protests “people are out again because the government has been unable to address          the root causes of the protests. The frustration has bled into the general population because it’s     a scarcity of food, electricity, the basics. That has only been exacerbated by this horrible hurricane.”

Conclusion

 If any reader has knowledge of the substance of any Cuba-U.S. communications on this subject, please provide a comment with that information to this post.

================================

[1] Salama & Cordoba, Cuba Makes Rare Request for U.S. Aid After Devastation From Hurricane Ian, W.S.J. (Sept. 30 & Oct. 1, 2022).; Cuba and the US maintain exchanges on the damage caused by Hurricane Ian, Granma (Oct. 2, 2022).

[2] Acosta & Lopez, Cuba’s power grid fails in wake of Hurricane Ian, leaving island without electricity, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2022); Martinez, Cuba slowly starts restoring power after the entire island was blacked out, N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2022); Brown & Herrero, Cuba suffers total electrical outage as Hurricane Ian roars through, W.S.J. (Sept. 27 & 28, 2020); Acosta& Abi-Habib, Protests Erupt in Cuba Over Government Response to Hurricane Ian, N.Y. Times (Sept. 30, 2022); Cubans Protest Over Power Outage Caused by Hurricane Ian, N.Y. Times (Sept. 30, 2022); Cubans protest over power outages four days after Hurricane Ian, Guardian (Oct. 2, 2022); The Cuban regime accelerates its repressive machinery against the protests: disappearances, detainees and episodes of brutality, diario de cuba (Oct. 2, 2022);.

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane-Damaged Cuba Needs Immediate U.S. Recovery Help 

“Hurricane Ian caused great devastation [in Cuba]. The power grid was damaged, and the electrical system collapsed. Over four thousand homes have been completely destroyed or badly damaged. . . . In the western province of Pinar del Rio, famous for its tobacco production, over 5,000 farms were destroyed. In small towns like San Luis, 80% of all homes were left damaged . . . . Cuba must be allowed, even if just for the next six months, to purchase the necessary construction materials to REBUILD. Cubans are facing a major setback because of Hurricane Ian.”[1]

These words buttressed the demand by a U.S. organization, The People’s Forum,[2] in a full-page ad in the Sunday New York Times for the U.S. to end the U.S. embargo of the island, the U.S. designating Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” and the U.S. complex processes for dispatching disaster relief. The People’s Forum added the following:

  • “It is unconscionable at this critical hour to maintain the embargo and engage in collective punishment against an entire people by preventing Cuba from purchasing construction materials or receiving aid.”
  • President Biden put Cold war politics aside—even for six months!”
  • “The people of Cuba are part of our family—the human family. Don’t let outdated Cold War politics prevent peace-loving people from helping the Cubans to rebuild and return to their homes, rebuild the electrical grid, and have clean drinking water and access to food. The time to act is now!”
  • Cuba is our neighbor. The United States loses nothing by being a good neighbor and allowing Cuba to recover fully from this tragic moment.”[3]

================================

[1] Advertisement, Let Cuba Rebuild-Urgent Appeal to President Biden, N.Y.Times, p. A23 (Oct. 2, 2022). The ad solicited online donations through the website of another organization, LetCubaLive.

[2] The People’s Forum “are a movement incubator for working class and marginalized communities to build unity across historic lines of division at home and abroad. We are an accessible educational and cultural space that nutures the next generation of visionaries and organizers who believe that through collective action a new world is possible.” (The People’s Forum, About.)   The Forum previously has engaged in other efforts to promote U.S.-Cuba normalization. (The People’s Forum, Search Results: Cuba.)

[3] This advertised message provides an exclamation point to this blog’s most recent post, Criticism of President Biden’s “New Cuba Policy,” dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 1, 2022).

Criticism of President Biden’s “New Cuba Policy”

On May 16, 2022, the White House held a press briefing on what it called “Our New Cuba Policy.” After examining the details of that briefing, we will evaluate that so called “New Policy” and conclude that it is inadequate by failing to call for elimination of (a) the U.S. embargo of Cuba and (b) the U.S. designating Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”

U.S. “New Cuba Policy”[1]

The “new” policy was said to be designed “to increase support for the Cuban people and safeguard our national security interests” and resulted from the U.S. study over the last year that “continues to center on human rights and empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future, and we continue to call on the Cuban government to release all political prisoners.” This review was directed by President Biden to take actions in response to “the large-scale [Cuban] protests that took place last July” and “to take actions in two primary areas:”

  • “The first is to promote accountability for human rights abuses, for which we have announced several rounds of sanctions targeting those individuals and entities with direct ties to human rights abuses.”
  • “Second, . . . to explore meaningful ways to support the Cuban people.”

Therefore, the “new” policy has “prioritized and facilitated the export of privately sourced or donated goods to the Cuban people, focusing specifically on agricultural and medical exports; facilitated U.S. private sector faith-based organizations and other NGOs to provide humanitarian support; provided guidance to individuals and entities seeking to export to Cuba for the first time; . . . increased our support for the families of those who were detained; and increased, by $5 million, our support for censorship circumvention technology to support the ability of the Cuban people to communicate to, from, and among each other.”

In addition, the “new” policy was stated to fulfill President Biden’s commitment to the “Cuban American community and their family members in Cuba” by the following measures:

  • “[R]einstate the Cuba Family Reunification Parole Program and continue to increase the capacity for consular services. . . . [The U.S.] resumed limited immigrant visa processing [in Cuba] in early May and are looking to make sure that we staff up so that we can begin processing the full 20,000 immigrant visas out of Havana as quickly as possible.”
  • “[Strengthen] family ties and . . . [facilitate] educational connections for American and Cuban people by expanding authorized travel. . . . [That includes] specifically authorizing commercial and charter flights to locations beyond Havana.  We are reinstating group people-to-people educational travel under a general license, among a number of other measures.  We are not reinstating individual people-to-people educational travel.”
  • “[w]e are increasing support for independent Cuban entrepreneurs.  That includes encouraging commercial opportunities outside the state sector by using . . . independent Cuban entrepreneurs’ access to the Internet, cloud technology, programming interfaces, e-commerce platforms, and a number of other measures, including access to microfinance and training.”
  • The U.S. “will ensure that remittances flow more freely to the Cuban people while not enriching those who perpetrate human rights abuses.  . . . [That includes] removing the limit on family remittances of $1,000 per quarter per sender/receiver pair.  And we’ll authorize donative remittances, which will support Cuban families and independent Cuban entrepreneurs.”

In addition, the new policy will “continue to elevate the matter of human rights, the treatment of political prisoners, and . . . elevate the issue of labor rights in Cuba, [which more generally is “a core priority for the Biden-Harris administration.”

The authorization of group travel to Cuba will be limited to purposeful purposes, not tourism.

More generally the new policy is intended “to help alleviate the humanitarian suffering that prompts out-migration from Cuba and also to advance our interest in supporting the Cuban people and ensuring that Cuban Americans and Americans in general are also the best advanced ambassadors for U.S. policy.”

The U.S. will be increasing the staff at the Havana Embassy “with an appropriate security posture.”

There was no mention at this briefing of two very significant U.S. policies regarding Cuba: the U.S. embargo of the island and the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” Therefore, both of them remain in effect with continued major impacts on the island and will be discussed below.

Reactions to the “New” U.S. Cuba Policy[2]

New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, a Cuban-American and now the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed the maintenance of the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List and the restart of the Cuban Family Reunification Parole program. But he was “dismayed” at its restarting group travel to the island because it will not breed democracy on the island and merely help the Cuban government fund its “continued repression.”

The harshest critic of the “new” policy was Ben Rhodes, who was President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor and involved in that administration’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. Said Rhodes, “Disappointed doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of how I feel about the Biden-Cuba policy. Granted it was Trump” who initially reversed Obama’s policies, but “then Biden doubles down” on Trump’s policies. We had Trump—in the most grotesque, callous way—politicizing this. But then Biden doubles down. It’s a gaslighting to those people in Cuba ” (deliberately and systematically feeding false information that  leads recipients to question what they know to be true). (Emphasis added).

Scott Hamilton, who served as U.S. charge d’ affaires in Havana during Obama’s opening to Cuba, said Biden’s measures do not reorient relations, but “are more about addressing the need to get the numbers [of Cuban [emigrants] down on migration.”

It also should be noted that Biden left Trump’s sanctions in place as the coronavirus pandemic overwhelmed the island’s medical system and strangled tourism, a crucial source of cash and goods for families. Allowing U.S. flights only to Havana ignores the difficulties of obtaining and paying for land transportation to other parts of the island, and most hotels are off-limits under U.S. regulations. Biden’s relaxing limits on remittances to families on the island is a good idea, but it does not cope with the difficulties of U.S. blacklisting of the financial institution for electronic fund transfers, Fincimex, due to its ties to the Cuban military. A leading U.S. expert on Cuba, William LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University, said, “What’s striking about these[Biden] measures is, there’s nothing about reopening the diplomatic dialogues that were ongoing at the end of the Obama administration.”

As a member of a church (Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian) that since 2001 has had a partnership with a Presbyterian church in Matanzas, Cuba and members who actively provide and maintain clean-water systems on the island,I welcome the new Policy’s encouraging “faith-based organizations to provide humanitarian support.” I, therefore, reject Senator Menendez’s criticism of encouraging group travel to the island.

The Biden administration is hoping that these new measures will reduce Cuba’s soaring out-migration. Apprehensions of Cubans on the U.S.-Mexico border have rocketed to more than 113,000 in the first seven months of this fiscal year, nearly three times as many as in all of fiscal 2021. These emigrants include some activists who were protesting in the streets last year, teachers, farmers and parents of young children who decided they would be better off leaving as the island’s economy continued to tank, the Cuban government having not enacted significant reforms and Nicaragua lifted its visa requirement, making travel there easier. This exodus is sapping Cuba of much of its youth while its population is aging and declining.

Now these economic problems have been exacerbated by the following two recent events:

  • In August 2022 oil storage tanks near the city of Matanzas on the north coast of the island were destroyed by a lightning strike. That destruction resulted in a heavy human toll and a serious blow to fuel for Cuba’s electric power generating system, which already had been tottering from lack of maintenance and investment. The U.S., however has not offered any help in responding to this emergency other than telephonic technical assistance.
  • More recently, on September 26, Hurricane Ian, a Category 3 storm, slammed into the western end of the island. The next morning videos showed residents walking through waist-deep water as waves continued to crash on shore. Power lines, trees and siding could be seen littered along the roads. Electric power throughout the island was damaged.

U.S. Embargo of Cuba[3]

On October 19, 1960, almost two years after the Cuban Revolution had taken over the island’s government, the Eisenhower administration launched the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba that prohibited all U.S. sales of goods and services to Cuba except food and medicine. That embargo continues in effect today, nearly 62 years later, with amplification by many U.S. statutes.

Cuba claims that to date it has suffered significant economic damages from the embargo and the U.N. General Assembly every year since 1992 (except 2020 due to the Covid pandemic) has adopted resolutions, by overwhelming margins, condemning the embargo as a violation of international law.

The last session to approve such a resolution happened on June 23, 2021, when the vote was 184 to 2 (the U.S. and Israel in opposition) with three abstentions (Colombia, Ukraine and Brazil). Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla told the Assembly that the embargo was a “massive, flagrant and unacceptable violation of the human rights of the Cuban people” and  “an economic war of extraterritorial scope against a small country already affected in the recent period by the economic crisis derived from the pandemic” with estimated 2020 losses alone to be $9.1 million.

The U.S. opposition at the last session was offered by Rodney Hunter, the Political Coordinator for the U.S Mission, who said sanctions are “one set of tools in the U.S. broader effort toward Cuba to advance democracy, promote respect for human rights, and help the Cuban people exercise fundamental freedoms.” Moreover, despite the blockade, the US recognizes “the challenges of the Cuban people” and therefore, the US was “a significant supplier of humanitarian goods to the Cuban people and one of Cuba’s principal trading partners. Every year we authorize billions of dollars’ worth of exports to Cuba, including food and other agricultural commodities, medicines, medical devices, telecommunications equipment, other goods, and other items to support the Cuban people. Advancing democracy and human rights remain at the core of our policy efforts.”

The current session of the General Assembly on November 2, 2022, will consider this year’s report by the U.N. Secretary-General, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” The U.N. website for this report had a list of countries that had submitted comments (presumably supportive of the resolution), but did not include any comments from the U.S. or Israel, both of whom voted against the resolution in 2021, or from the three countries that abstained last year (Brazil, Colombia and Ukraine).

Therefore, it is fair to assume that the resolution against the U.S. embargo will again by overwhelmingly approved on November 2. Moreover, this blog continues to support abolishing the embargo.

U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”[4]

Since 1982 the United States has had different opinions as to whether Cuba was a “state sponsor of terrorism” under three U.S. statutes—the Export Administration Act (section 6(j)), the Arms Export Control Act (section 40) and the Foreign Assistance Act (Section 620A)—that authorize the Secretary of State to designate countries that “have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” as “state sponsors of terrorism” and thereby impose sanctions on such countries, including restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance, bans on U.S. defense exports and sales, controls over exports of dual use items and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.

We will look at these different positions, including the Biden Administration’s current review of the Trump Administration’s last minute designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor.”

Cuba as “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” 1982-2014. From 1982 through 2014, the U.S. designated Cuba as such a Sponsor.[5]

U.S. Rescinds Cuba’s “Sponsor” Designation, 2015.  [6] On April 14, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry publicly announced that the State Department had recommended that President Obama rescind the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” His press release stated that the prior week the “Department submitted a report to the White House recommending, based on the facts and the statutory standard, that President Obama rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

“This recommendation,” the Statement continued, “reflects the Department’s assessment that Cuba meets the criteria established by Congress for rescission . . . . whether Cuba provided any support for international terrorism during the previous six months, and whether Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” This conclusion was based, in part, upon “corroborative assurances received from the Government of Cuba.”

Nevertheless, according to the Secretary’s statement, “the United States has had, and continues to have, significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, [but] these concerns and disagreements fall outside of the criteria for designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

The same day (April 14, 2015), a White House press release stated the President had “submitted to Congress the statutorily required report and certifications indicating the Administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.” That presidential decision was based upon the previously mentioned State Department recommendation that was based on its “careful review of Cuba’s record, which was informed by the Intelligence Community, as well as assurances provided by the Cuban government.”

This White House press release also stated, “As the President has said, we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.  That determination is based on the statutory standard – and the facts – and those facts have led the President to declare his intention to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.  More broadly, the [U.S.] will continue to support our interests and values through engagement with the Cuban government and people.”

President Obama’s simultaneous message to Congress certified that “(i) the Government of Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding 6-month period; and (ii) the Government of Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.”

U.S. Non-Designation of Cuba, 2016-2020.[7] From 2016 through the end of the Obama Administration in January 2017, the U.S. continued to not so designate Cuba as the U.S. and Cuba held several bilateral diplomatic meetings to discuss the many issues that had accumulated ever since the January 1, 1959, takeover of the Cuban government by the Cuban Revolution.

At  their May 2016 Law Enforcement Dialogue, the U.S. State Department said that “law enforcement is an area of mutual interest to both the U.S. and Cuba as we advance toward normalized relations. We anticipate that the dialogue will be productive, and an additional opportunity to reinforce the benefits of law enforcement cooperation. During the dialogue, the United States and Cuba will continue to discuss a wide range of areas of cooperation, including counterterrorism, counternarcotic, transnational crime, cybercrime, secure travel and trade, and fugitives.”

The framework for the dialogue was the May 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Cuban Ministry of Interior. This MOU set the basis of cooperation in exchanging risk information for travelers, cargo or conveyances in international transit; the continuation of periodic, mutual, and reciprocal assessments regarding air, sea, and port security; and the coordination of transportation security, screening of cargo, travelers and baggage, and the design of secure, efficient inspection facilities at ports and airports, among other things.

The next month, June 2016,  the U.S. and Cuba met in Havana for their first Counterterrorism Technical Exchange. The State Department said, “Coordination and cooperation on counterterrorism has been one of several important topics discussed in law enforcement dialogues between the United States and Cuba. We welcome the opportunity to bring together technical experts to discuss this topic of common interest.” Afterwards, the Cuban Foreign Ministry said that the meeting was conducted with “respect and professionalism” and that “both parties agreed on the importance of progress in cooperation in this sphere and agreed to continue the meetings of technicians on the topic.”

During the last weeks of the Obama Administration in January 2017, the U.S. and Cuba signed the following four agreements:

  • Cuba Memorandum of Understanding on Law Enforcement “to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering and other international criminal activities.”
  • Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen cooperation in the field of maritime and aeronautical search and rescue by enhancing effectiveness and efficiency in assisting persons in distress and to act in furtherance of obligations under international law.
  • U.S., Cuba and Mexico signed a treaty to set territorial limits in contested Gulf of Mexico waters. The treaty covers the Eastern Gap of the Gulf of Mexico, an area believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits. The three countries’ overlapping claims in the Eastern Gap had created what is known as a “Doughnut Hole.” Trilateral discussions begun in mid-2016 on the maritime territorial issue were concluded by the end of the year.
  • U.S. and Cuba memorandum of understanding to help prevent the introduction and spread of quarantine pests, animal and plant disease agents through the exchange of scientific information, best practices for the prevention and control of plagues and emerging diseases, collaborative scientific projects, including the use of technology, research and surveillance, and the holding of events on specific aspects of animal and plant health.

In addition, the Trump Administration for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 did not designate Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

U.S. Re-Designation of Cuba as “Sponsor,2021-22.[8] On January 11, 2021 (with only nine days left of the Trump Administration), U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo announced that Cuba was being re-designated as a “State Sponsor” to join Iran, North Korea and Syria. Here is what his statement said:

  • “The State Department has designated Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism for repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbor to terrorists.”
  • “The Trump Administration has been focused from the start on denying the Castro regime the resources it uses to oppress its people at home, and countering its malign interference in Venezuela and the rest of the Western Hemisphere.”
  • “With this action, we will once again hold Cuba’s government accountable and send a clear message: the Castro regime must end its support for international terrorism and subversion of U.S. justice.”
  • “For decades, the Cuban government has fed, housed, and provided medical care for murderers, bombmakers, and hijackers, while many Cubans go hungry, homeless, and without basic medicine.  Members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, traveled to Havana to conduct peace talks with the Colombian government in 2017.  Citing peace negotiation protocols, Cuba has refused Colombia’s requests to extradite ten ELN leaders living in Havana after the group claimed responsibility for the January 2019 bombing of a Bogota police academy that killed 22 people and injured more than 87 others.”
  • “Cuba also harbors several U.S. fugitives from justice wanted on or convicted of charges of political violence, many of whom have resided in Cuba for decades.  For example, the Cuban regime has refused to return Joanne Chesimard, on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List for executing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973; Ishmael LaBeet, convicted of killing eight people in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1972; Charles Lee Hill, charged with killing New Mexico state policeman Robert Rosenbloom in 1971; and others.”
  • “Cuba returns to the SST list following its broken commitment to stop supporting terrorism as a condition of its removal by the previous administration in 2015.  On May 13, 2020, the State Department notified Congress that it had certified Cuba under Section 40A(a) of the Arms Export Control Act as “not cooperating fully” with U.S. counterterrorism efforts in 2019.”
  • “In addition to the support for international terrorism that is the basis for today’s action, the Cuban regime engages in a range of malign behavior across the region.  The Cuban intelligence and security apparatus has infiltrated Venezuela’s security and military forces, assisting Nicholas Maduro to maintain his stranglehold over his people while allowing terrorist organizations to operate.  The Cuban government’s support for FARC dissidents and the ELN continues beyond Cuba’s borders as well, and the regime’s support of Maduro has created a permissive environment for international terrorists to live and thrive within Venezuela.”
  • “Today’s designation subjects Cuba to sanctions that penalize persons and countries engaging in certain trade with Cuba, restricts U.S. foreign assistance, bans defense exports and sales, and imposes certain controls on exports of dual use items.”
  • “The United States will continue to support the Cuban people in their desire for a democratic government and respect for human rights, including freedom of religion, expression, and association.  Until these rights and freedoms are respected, we will continue to hold the regime accountable.”

So far in 2022, the U.S. has not taken any further action regarding this designation. However, at a July 21, 2022, press conference a journalist asked, “Is the administration’s position that Cuba still meets the legal requirements to be a state sponsor of terrorism?” The only response to that question came from  Ned Price, the Department’s spokesman, who said, “The fact pattern that led a previous administration to [so] designate Cuba . . . is in the public record.”

One year after the July 11, 2021 protests in Cuba, the United States recognizes the determination and courage of the Cuban people as they continue to fight for respect for human rights and persevere through repression during a historic year. We celebrate the Cuban people and commend their indomitable determination.

Conclusion

This blogger strongly favors a return to the Obama Administration’s pursuit of normalization of relations with Cuba as well as its rescinding the designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” and its support for abolishing the U.S. embargo. These opinions are further supported by the recent explosion of Cuba’s oil storage tanks and its being hit by Hurricane Ira as well as recognizing that Cuba is a much smaller country than the U.S. with much more limited military and security forces.

Comments from readers to correct or supplement any of the discussion or citations to the record of these complex issues would be appreciated.

================================

[1] White House, Background Press Call By Senior Administration Officials On New Cuba Policy (May  16, 2022).

[2] Sheridan & Chaoul, As Biden eases Trump’s sanctions, Cubans hope for an economic life, Wash. Post (June 2, 2022); Armario, Last year, Cubans took to the streets. Now they’re fleeing the island, Wash. Post (July 11, 2022); Isikoff, Former top Obama aide accuses Biden of ‘gaslighting’ Cuba: ‘Disappointed doesn’t begin to scratch the surface,’ Yahoo News (Sept. 14, 2022); Matanzas oil storage facility explosion, Wikipedia (Aug. 5, 2022); 17 missing, dozens hurt as fire rages in Cuban oil tank farm, MPRNews (Aug. 6, 2022); Fire at Cuban oil storage facility further exacerbated electricity shortages, wsws.org (Aug. 12, 2022); Cuba’s oil fire is contained—but the disaster has sparked U.S.-Cuba diplomatic flames, wusf news (Aug. 12, 2022); Finch, Residents in Cuba wake-up to waist-deep water after Ian makes landfall, Accuweather.com (Sept. 7, 2022); Last Minute, Hurricane Ian: the center leaves Cuban soil, but continues to hit with intense  winds, rains and strong swells, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 27, 2022); Byrne, Latest AccuWeather Eye Path forecast takes Ian’s landfall south of Tampa, Acuweather (Sept. 27, 2022); Live: the passage of Hurricane Ian through Cuba, Granma.com (Sept. 27, 2022); Cuba Foreign Ministry, The economic blockade against Cuba must end, (Sept. 7, 2022).

[3] United States embargo against Cuba, Wikipedia; UN General Assembly calls for US to end Cuba embargo for 29th consecutive year, UN News (June 23, 2021); U.N., Schedule of General Assembly Plenary and Related Meetings (Sept. 27, 2022). See also posts listed in the “U.S. Embargo” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba (as of 5/4/20].

[4] See posts listed in “Cuba: State Sponsor of Terrorism?” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries: Topical—Cuba [as of 5/4/20].

[5] Ibid.

[6] See President Obama Rescinds U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” dwkcommentaries.com (April 15, 2015).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Crowley, Augustin & Semple, Pompeo Returns Cuba to Terrorism Sponsor List, Constraining Biden’s Plans, N.Y. Times (Jan. 11, 2021 & updated 2/15/21).

Pandemic Travel-Trailer Trip: Minneapolis to Los Angeles  

Minneapolis friends, John and Linda, provided the following account of their recent  travel-trailer trip to Los Angeles, September 22 – October 18, 2020.

“Our daughter, her spouse and their 22 month-old little girl live 2,000 miles away, in Los Angeles, a Coronavirus hotspot. The pandemic had precluded our seeing them since early this year, but at our vulnerable ages (mid-70’s), we were not about to use air travel. In fact, we’ve reached the age where our grown kids sometimes dictate to us, and our daughter told us no way she would let us get on an airplane. So what to do?”

“They were equally opposed to flying themselves in the midst of a pandemic, unwilling to manage a 22-month old in an airport and on an airplane, where they (especially their daughter, who likely would show no symptoms) could pick up the virus, then infect us during their visit. We were equally unwilling to drive out there using motels, restaurants and gas station bathrooms. Our answer to this dilemma was to use our travel trailer to make the trip.”

“Our travel trailer is quite basic — 21 feet, one room with a bed, small kitchen with propane stove and refrigerator, and a tiny bathroom. We bought it in 2013 so we could travel to and stay in the ‘back country’ more comfortably than in a tent, and that’s how it’s been used — trips up the Alaska Highway to remote parts of Alaska and the Yukon, trips out to the remote reaches of Newfoundland and Labrador, trips into some of the more remote regions of the American southwest, etc. But we now realized that our trailer could serve as a mobile “shelter in place” bubble if we towed it out to Los Angeles.  With advance campground reservations, we could even pull into and out of campgrounds without ever being indoors or even within 6 feet of another person outdoors.”

“We took the southern route, down through Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas to Oklahoma, then west through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, in order to avoid serious wildfires raging along the shorter northern route through Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. Sticking to 2-lane roads and state parks whenever possible, we were able to relax with our ‘bubble,’ untroubled by any evidence of the virus as we worked our way through iconic rural and small-town America.   We had stocked up on groceries before we left, with bacon & eggs for breakfast and meat and veggies for dinner, cooked on a propane grill that attaches to the side of the trailer.  During the day, we’d look for a nice pull-off where we’d make sandwiches for lunch.”

“Our driving days also provided some respite from the emotional intensity of the election.  The campgrounds where we stayed had no TV hookups (thankfully!), but we subscribed to Sirius radio so that we could occasionally tune in to Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and other news stations while we were driving.

“Political signage dominated the roads of rural Minnesota and Iowa (Trump signs vastly outnumbering Biden signs), but we saw surprisingly few political signs for either candidate during the rest of the trip, which was through mostly ‘Red’ states.   However, the ‘Red’ states were clearly not requiring or even encouraging protective masks.

Although we never had to go inside of gas stations (we had our own bathroom), they were very busy, and we could see that virtually no one was wearing a mask.  Restaurants and bars in the small towns also appeared to be open, busy, and mask-less, including one boasting the unforgettable (and unappetizing) name ‘Bucksnort Bar & Grill.’  On the other hand, we could see that the national chains in the small towns — McDonalds, Dairy Queen, etc. — had signs on their doors requiring masks and were allowing only drive-up orders.”

“And while RV enthusiasts are usually stereotyped as conservatives, the handful of RV’s we saw with political bumper stickers only slightly favored Trump. One monster truck pulling a 5th- wheel travel trailer with South Dakota plates — which we assumed would be a Trump supporter — boasted this bumper sticker: ‘Republicans against Trump — You can’t fix stupid, but you can vote it out.’”

“That said, RV campers have enough in common outside of politics to make for interesting conversations even in the middle of a heated election and a politicized pandemic, and it’s easy to enjoy safe outside ‘social distance’ chats in a campground.  The guys talk about ‘tow vehicle’ capabilities, tricks for managing the ‘black water’ tank, and maintenance challenges (which are never-ending with a travel trailer), while the wives trade stories about the travails of trying to guide their tone-deaf husbands in backing their trailers into campsites.  Of course, we also share tips about where else to travel and camp all over North America.

A special treat on this trip was meeting three other couples who, like us, were on journeys to visit their children and grandchildren.  In fact, reports in the media about the explosion in RV activity are accurate, as we saw a lot more of them on the road than usual for this time of year, and the campgrounds were always near capacity.”

“Our campground outside of Los Angeles — where we spent two weeks — was surprisingly open and rustic. We had feared the worst, given LA’s density, but this campground was near the foothills some 30 miles east of downtown, with spacious ‘full hook-up’ sites overlooking a large regional park with mountain views.  Unfortunately, this view was obscured off and on — especially later in the day — by smoke from one of the many wildfires raging through California, the nearest one only 20 miles away, but reportedly fully contained.”

“After seeing so many news reports before we left that showed raging fires, evacuations, and homes consumed by flames, we were surprised at what seemed to be a lack of concern about the fires on the part of our daughter’s family and campground neighbors.  There had been an evacuation just 10 miles north of our daughter’s home, but she said there was no concern that the fire would spread that far south, and the awful air quality seemed to be a nuisance to be endured by just staying indoors.  Our campground neighbors said pretty much the same thing.  They expressed the same concern we did about the unusual extent of the fires and the urgent need to deal with the root causes — global warming and inadequate resources.  But they felt no sense of personal danger, nor did they express any desire to move out of California.”

“We were glad that we had brought along an air purifier. We were also happy that our trailer had an air conditioner, as the daytime temperatures every day during that first week topped 100 degrees! Our days were simple: coffee, of course, together with breakfast cooked outdoors over a camp stove and enjoyed with our lovely mountain view, then drive 30 miles on the LA freeway to our daughter’s house — sometimes congested and stop & go, but mostly open, with six lanes of traffic impatiently roaring around us at 70 to 80 miles an hour.”

“Our daughter and spouse have both been extremely careful and have been working at home during the pandemic, so we had no concerns about catching the virus from them. Dinner with them was all take-out, with the grandparents (of course) picking up the tab.  The restaurants they used seemed quite busy when we stopped to pick up our orders — and absolutely everyone was wearing a mask.  On several days during the second week, which was cooler and less hazy, our daughter’s family came to spend the day with us. We picnicked at the trailer site, then enjoyed the nearby park playground, where no other children were playing. Our granddaughter hit it off with us right away, despite having not seen us for 8 months or so, and it was idyllic having nothing to do every day but hang out with her, enjoying her antics and totally unfiltered efforts to talk to us.”

“Our two weeks went by much too quickly, but this turned out to be a perfect way to minimize the risk of the pandemic, spend some quality time with our little granddaughter at a very precious age, and enjoy a nice camping trip — a true ‘three-fer.’”

“In fact, at the end, we decided we wanted to come back in February for a much longer stay, using the trailer for a winter get-away, both to visit our daughter’s family and just enjoy the warm weather.

This decision required leaving the trailer out there, since we had no interest in braving winter storms across the Great Plains to tow a travel trailer from Minnesota to California in February.   Fortunately, we discovered that acres of huge warehouse buildings are available out there to accommodate all of the RV’s that people own in such a densely populated area.  Some of them even offer valet service, delivering the RV to your door when you want it, cleaned and ready to go, then picking it up when you’re done.  They’ll even take it to and from one of the regional campgrounds for you.  We didn’t opt for that extra bit of luxury, but we had no trouble finding a place to store our little trailer until March.”

“So now the challenge was to drive home with minimal pandemic risk.   The solution was to limit ourselves to 3 motel nights (4 driving days of 500+ miles), obsessively sanitize our motel rooms upon arrival, and avoid restaurants and gas station bathrooms.  We wore our masks whenever we were outside the car, and we found that the interstate rest stops and truck stops not only had large and well-ventilated bathrooms, but required their patrons also to wear masks.  We even carried in and ran a HEPA air purifier in our motel room for several hours after we checked in, and we had pizza delivered.”

 

 

 

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 33): More Thoughts on the New Normal

Victor Davis Hanson, the Martin and Lile Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and an avowed Trump supporter, [1] has commented on whether changes we already are seeing in the U.S. reaction to the COVVID-19 Pandemic will be part of the new normal after we hopefully survive that pandemic. First, we will look at Hanson’s commentary, and then examine a Minneapolis perspective.

Hanson’s Commentary[2]

Initially Hanson notes, “Rents, home prices and office occupancy rates in major cities, especially on the two coasts, are dropping fast. Techies and young professionals have discovered that they can work from home without paying sky-high housing costs in order to be close to the office.”

Moreover, “Those more fortunate wonder why they should get bogged down with commutes and urban traffic — or navigate city sidewalks amid homelessness, crime, racial tensions and urban unrest — when they can make as much money while staying distant in quieter landscapes. Some react by moving to quieter, low-tax states such as Idaho, Tennessee or Utah. Others flee New York City or the Bay Area/Silicon Valley corridor to upstate New York or California’s Central Valley. Who would have ever believed that housing prices in picturesque San Francisco would be falling while housing prices in pedestrian Sacramento and Fresno are soaring?”

“Worries about COVID-19 in high-density cities, and unreliable city services add to the unhappiness. Residents want less dependence on mass transit and elevator living. Constant human contact is seen more as risky than desirous.” In addition, “gun sales are at record highs. When some cities take steps to defund police and some soften bail laws, citizens quietly go to the local gun store and stock up on ammunition. Many of the people who have never before owned firearms are no longer clamoring for gun control. A ‘man’s home’ is now becoming his armed castle.”

“As a general rule, any business or activity that does not bother, judge or lecture Americans and instead allows them to work or relax in peace is preferred. That may explain why Zoom and Skype use is soaring while TV ratings for the woke NBA and NFL are down.”

“Why are Amazon and Walmart booming while smaller businesses are going broke? Largely because home delivery better serves those who are barricaded at home, terrified both of the virus and government reaction to it. Family businesses [on the other hand] are not vertically integrated. They have few cash reserves and no special insider exemptions from government officials. How ironic that in our quest to become safe and in control of our own destinies, we empower the anonymity of huge conglomerates and erode the viability of reliable, service-friendly, mom-and-pop stores.”

“For the first time in their careers, many teachers and professors are careful not to go off-topic and rant to their high school and college students. Their video streams are not only seen by captive classroom audiences but occasionally peeked in on by the parents and taxpayers who pay their salaries.”

“This is the first autumn in memory that a huge percentage of college students are staying home. And no one is sure of the ensuing consequences. Will students revolt over borrowing money simply to watch lectures on their basement computers? Will they be less likely to vote in November when they are isolated at home, rather than congregating on campus near polling places and subject to constant peer pressures to vote — and to do so in predictable ways?”

“With college revenues dropping, will ambitious promises to hire more diversity administrators, build more self-segregated racial theme houses and increase campus social services be seen as just more costly overhead that shorts classroom teaching?”

“During the pandemic, government has become more intrusive and yet seemingly more impotent and incompetent. Pick a month and some government official issues yet more contradictory orders on mask wearing, social distancing and lockdowns — all to be soon reversed. Taxes stayed high and yet urban services got worse. Increasingly, American city dwellers don’t always count on the power going on when they flip the switch, or the bus or train always showing up, or the police always answering 911 calls.”

Hanson concludes, “We still do not know the full consequences of these radical changes in American life, especially whether they will continue after the COVID-19 virus abates and quarantines end. The cultural currents are often contradictory. They defy easy political analysis and seem at times counterintuitive.”

“But there is one historical constant. When institutions and politicians cannot accommodate radically changed circumstances, people will no longer value institutions and politicians. In their place, citizens will seek to ensure their own livelihoods, leisure and safety in ways that are more reliable and affordable — with their circumstances in their own hands rather than in those of distant others.”

“And their adjustments won’t always be calm or polite.”

Comments

I agree with Hanson that “We still do not know the full consequences of these radical changes in American life, especially whether they will continue after the COVID-19 virus abates and quarantines end.”

Here is a perspective on this issue from downtown Minneapolis, which is seeing positive developments despite current difficulties. First, the business news. Then, a look at residential real estate.

Local Business Developments[3]

Our local newspaper, the StarTribune, reports, “Creating that feeling of safety is job one for Minnesota employers hoping to woo back thousands of virus-leery staffers after months of working from home. It’s been slow going. To date only one in 10 workers in Minneapolis and St. Paul office towers have returned to the office hub. Most businesses expect more to follow sometime next year.”

One of the major downtown employers, Target Corporation’s headquarters, is essentially closed with virtually all of its personnel working remotely and currently not scheduled to return to their offices until next June.

Another downtown employer is the headquarters for Delta Dental of Minnesota, one of the largest providers of dental benefits in the Upper Midwest, serving more than 8,800 Minnesota- and North Dakota-based purchasing groups and 4.1 million members. It recently completed a remodeling of its Minneapolis offices: installation of an automated temperature and face-scanning station that reminds . . . [everyone]  to ‘wear a mask,’ . . . portable air filters, . . . automatic doors that open with the wave of an ID badge or hand, and . . . 180 workstations encased in 6-foot-tall plexiglass.” Now there are only three employees working on one of its floors.” https://www.deltadentalmn.org/about-us

“Commercial tenants inside [downtown Minneapolis] office venues such as the IDS Center, City Center, . . . Capella Tower and the SPS Tower. . .— each home to more than 2,000 workers — are laboring to keep people distanced from one another in elevators, cubicles and conference rooms and adopting motion sensors and software so workers can keep germs to themselves and stagger their attendance.”

When the pandemic hit earlier this year, Buhl Investors, was in the process of “converting a former 1883 railroad warehouse and soap factory” in the downtown (renamed Switch House). To respond to enhanced concerns over virus transmission it installed a ”needlepoint bipolar ionization system,” which produces “electrically charges ions in the air that cling to viruses, allergens, mold and other particles, rendering them inert.”

The 10-story Nordic building, also downtown, installed a different Covid-19 inspired technology. This will allow  the Chicago-based technology consulting firm, West Monroe, to move its 120 Minneapolis employees into its 42,000 square-feet second and third floor offices with 40 phone and meeting rooms.

Other positive news for downtown Minneapolis are the recent announcements by Deluxe Corp., which has expanded its business to include more than its initial check-printing, has decided to move its headquarters to downtown Minneapolis and by Principal Financial’s decision to lease 45,500 square feet of space in a downtown tower.

The most significant and flashy downtown development is the completion of the construction of the $125 million project for the headquarters of Thrivent Corporation, a nonprofit financial services organization (formerly known as Lutheran Brotherhood) with more than $16 billion in assets under management. With 264,000 square feet of open work spaces in a “new, airy , eight-story glass-and-stone building,” it features open work-spaces, sprawling breakrooms, credit union, library, chapel, art gallery (with works from the 13th century to the modern day), coffee shop, gym and underground parking. I look forward to walking around this new building.

John Breitinger of Cushman & Wakefield’s Minneapolis Real Estate Development Advisory practice is in charge of selling Thrivent’s new building with a 20-year leaseback as a means for Thrivent to recoup its investment in constructing this new building and redeploying the capital to grow and serve more clients. According to Breitinger, “Downtown Minneapolis is still seen as a safe bet by institutional real estate investors, given the diversity of our [institutions] and the quality of our workforce.”

These “efforts suggest that reports of the death of the American office may be premature. Many businesses ‘had this notion that we can do [remote work] forever,’ said Jim Montez, Minnesota leasing vice president at Transwestern. ‘But increasingly, what I’m hearing from business leaders is ‘We can’t do that forever because I am losing the bond that I have with my team. I am losing the culture [and] the brand identity of my enterprise. To maintain that, we need our people back together.’ ”

Local Residential Real Estate Developments[4]

 Jim Buchta of the StarTribune, starts, “As in many U.S. metro areas, the suburbs of the Twin Cities have enjoyed surging interest from home buyers as the global pandemic has upended how and where people work. Amid rising crime and lingering unease following spring riots, many suburban buyers have relocated from the urban core of Minneapolis and St. Paul, where the number of homes for sale has swelled.”

But “this doesn’t mean a new urban exodus is underway. Also on the rise in both of those cities: home sales, driven in part by record low mortgage rates that have enticed entry level buyers despite a grim economy. ‘If there is an exodus’ of buyers exiting urban neighborhoods, says sales agent Pat Paulson, ‘there’s an inflow as well.’

“In Minneapolis, there’s been an 11% increase in listings through the first nine months of this year, buoyed in part by a recent rise in condos for sale. Pending sales, or signed purchase agreements, are also up 3% . . . . In the suburbs, where listings are off 2%, pending sales have increased 7%. In both areas, houses are selling at a record clip and median prices are at an all-time high.”

Conclusion

As a Minneapolis downtown citizen and resident. I hope that these positive developments will continue.

========================================

[1] Victor Davis Hanson, Hoover Institution; Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers, Hoover Institution.

[2] Hanson, Will changes to American life after pandemic become permanent, Washington Times (Oct. 21, 2020); Hanson, Let’s count the ways 2020 will change our lives, StarTribune (Oct. 26, 2020).

[3] DePass, Workers return warily to the office, as employers embrace slew of safety measures,  StarTribune (Oct. 24, 2020); DePass, All Thrivent’s new Minneapolis headquarters needs now is employees, StarTribune (Oct. 26, 2020); Kennedy, Deluxe moving its headquarters from Shoreview to downtown Minneapolis, StarTribune (Sept. 14, 2020); DePass, Safety issues just add to uncertainty facing Minneapolis commercial real estate, StarTribune (Oct. 4, 2020).

[4] Buchta, Minneapolis, St. Paul housing exodus more myth than reality, StarTribune (Oct. 24, 2020).

Pandemic Journal (# 32): Another Vision of the New Normal  

Whenever we in the U.S. and elsewhere are able safely to leave the restrictions of the COVID-19 Pandemic, we, in my opinion, will not return to what we regarded as “normal” before this pandemic. Nor do we know what the “new normal” will be. A previous post discussed noted commentator Fareed Zakaria’s opinion on this subject.[1]

Now we look at another vision of the new normal from Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist, author and native Minnesotan.[2]

He opens with this blockbuster, “When we emerge from this corona crisis, we’re going to be greeted with one of the most profound eras of Schumpeterian creative destruction ever — which this pandemic is both accelerating and disguising.” Indeed, “No job, no K-12 school, no university, no factory, no office will be spared. And it will touch both white-collar and blue-collar workers, which is why this election matters so much. How we provide more Americans with portable health care, portable pensions and opportunities for lifelong learning to get the most out of this moment and cushion the worst is what politics needs to be about after Nov. 3 — or we’re really headed for instability.”[3]

“The reason the post-pandemic era will be so destructive and creative is that never have more people had access to so many cheap tools of innovation, never have more people had access to high-powered, inexpensive computing, never have more people had access to such cheap credit — virtually free money — to invent new products and services, all as so many big health, social, environmental and economic problems need solving.”

Friedman gains support for these startling predictions from Ravi Kumar, the president of Infosys, an Indian tech services company with his office in New York City and corporate headquarters in Bangalore.

According to Kumar, “the Industrial Revolution produced a world in which there were sharp distinctions between employers and employees, between educators and employers and between governments and employers and educators, ‘but now you’re going to see a blurring of all these lines.’”

“Because the pace of technological change, digitization and globalization just keeps accelerating, two things are happening at once: the world is being knit together more tightly than ever . . . and ‘the half-life of skills is steadily shrinking.’ As a result, whatever skill you possess today is being made obsolete faster and faster.”

Therefore, “the most critical role for K-12 educators . . . will be to equip young people with the curiosity and passion to be lifelong learners who feel ownership over their education. . . . self-motivation to be a lifelong learner will be paramount.”

Moreover, “explained Kumar, accelerations in digitization and globalization are steadily making more work ‘modular,’’ broken up into small packets that are farmed out by companies. Companies, he argues, will increasingly become platforms that synthesize and orchestrate these modular packets to make products and services.”

“Kumar added, ‘work will increasingly get disconnected from companies, and jobs and work will increasingly get disconnected from each other.’’ Some work will be done by machines; some will require your physical proximity in an office or a factory; some will be done remotely; and some will be just a piece of a task that can also be farmed out to anyone, anywhere.”

These changes will enable “many more diverse groups of people — those living in rural areas, minorities, stay-at-home moms and dads and those with disabilities — . . . to compete for it from their homes.”

All of these changes are “already having a big impact on education. ‘We have started hiring many people with no degrees,’’ explained Kumar. ‘If you know stuff and can demonstrate that you know stuff and have been upskilling yourself with online training to do the task that we need, you’re hired. We think this structural shift — from degrees to skills — could bridge the digital divide as the cost of undergraduate education has increased by 150 percent over the last 20 years.’’’

Today Kumar’s company, Infosys, “is not looking just for ‘problem solvers,’ he says, but ‘problem-finders,’  people with diverse interests — art, literature, science, anthropology — who can identify things that people want before people even know they want them.”

Kumar also claims, ‘We’re seeing the democratization of software — the consumers can now be the creators.’ It shows you how AI will take away jobs of the past, while it creates jobs of the future.”

Significant changes are in store for postsecondary education. According to Kumar, it “will be a hybrid ecosystem of company platforms, colleges and local schools, whose goal will be to create the opportunity for lifelong ‘radical reskilling.’” Already some companies like Infosys, IBM and AT&T are “creating cutting-edge in-house universities that partner with traditional universities and even high schools.

Conclusion

 Wow! What a lot of thoughts to ponder and evaluate! Comments with informed reactions to this Friedman column are encouraged.

As a retired, older individual, I have mixed reactions. On the one hand, I am glad that I will not have to face these changes in my own life. On the other hand, I regret not being able to be around for many more years to help in some small ways society, my sons and grandchildren cope with these challenges.

================================

[1] Pandemic Journal (#31): What Will Be the New Normal?, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 6, 2020).

[2] Friedman, After the Pandemic, a Revolution in Education and Work Awaits, N.Y. Times (Oct. 20, 2020)

[3] This Friedman passage refers to the famous concept of “creative destruction” by Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950), an Austrian political economist, who emigrated to the U.S. to become a professor at Harvard University. His 1942 book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, argued that capitalistic economies proceeded by creative new processes, products and structures that destroyed the preceding ones. (See Joseph Schumpeter, Wikipedia; Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Wikipedia; Creative destruction, Wikipedia.

Cuba Eliminates List of Permissible Activities for Private Sector 

On August 7, Cuba’s Minister of Labor and Social Security, Maria Elena Feitō Cabrera, announced that the government was eliminating the list of permissible activates for the island’s private sector because “it does not promote the development of natural creativity that the Cuban has.”[1]

A private entity will still have to submit a proposed activity to this Ministry, but the proposed activity will only have to be legal with resources and raw materials of legal origin. The Minister added that the government procedures for such applications still need to be simplified.

She added that this change was prompted by “positive experiences” with confronting the Covid-19 crisis. The move also is seen as an attempt to address the island’s current economic crisis after the recent opening of a wholesale outlet to private eateries and the authorization for private businesses to import and export (via state companies).

============================

[1] The Government will eliminate the list of activities allowed for the private sector in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 7, 2020); Reuters, Cuba to Scrap ‘Too Restrictive’ Private-sector Activities List as Economic Pressures Grow, N.Y. Times (Aug. 6, 2020); Assoc. Press, Economy Tanking, Cuba Launches Some Long-Delayed Reforms, N.Y. Times (Aug. 6, 2020).

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 27): More Reflections on the Pandemic

The July 26 New York Times proclaims the statistics of the pandemic’s toll: [1]

  • For the world, there have been 16,034,200 cases in nearly every country with 644,925 deaths while the number of new cases is growing faster than ever with a daily average of more than 200,000.
  • The U.S. (including four territories), with at least 4,190,400 total cases has the most of any country in the world while recoding 146,314 deaths. “Case numbers are surging throughout most of the United States, including in many states that were among the first to reopen. Because the number of people hospitalized and the percentage of people testing positive also are rising in many of those places, the case spike cannot be solely explained by increased testing. Still, coronavirus deaths remain well below their peak levels. And as some places reimpose restrictions, others continue to reopen their economies.”
  • The State of Minnesota has had at least 50,331 cases and 1,611 deaths. “Over the past week, there have been an average of 689 cases per day, an increase of 22 percent from the average two weeks earlier.”

The pandemic has been having and continues to have a major negative impact on the world and U.S. economies. For the week ending July 25, the initial U.S. jobless claims rose to 1.4 million. This increase was the first in nearly four months, “a sign the jobs recovery could be faltering.” Now the $600/week jobless aid is nearing an end. Evictions loom for millions who cannot afford their rent while foreclosures loom for homeowners who cannot pay their mortgages. And the U.S. federal government recorded a budget deficit of $ 3 Trillion for the 12 months ending this June.[2]

These calamities have had a disproportionate impact on our African-American brothers and sisters. For example, in Minnesota 48% of Black workers have filed for unemployment compensation versus 22% of white workers. “One of the big reasons for the unemployment disparity in Minnesota is that Black Minnesotans are more likely to be employed at hotels, restaurants, retail, health and other service-related industries that have seen the most job losses because of stay-at-home orders and other pandemic-induced slowdowns.” In addition, “the pandemic also has disproportionately hurt American Indian, Latino and Asian American employment in the state. Women, younger workers and those with less education have also taken a bigger hit.”[3]

In the midst of these immense problems and challenges, President Trump continues to lie and demonstrate his incompetence. As a result, the rest of the world is shocked and dismayed.[4] I worry that Trump will attempt in some fashion to try to steal the election.[5]

Although I am retired with good health and financial savings and thus not personally affected (so far) by these woes, I worry about the impact of these crises on my sons and grandchildren. More generally I am worried about the negative impact of these crises on people and countries all over the world and the U.S. in particular that will linger for all their lives as I believe happened to those who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

“Investing in the Future” was the sermon today at Westminster Presbyterian Church by Associate Pastor Sarah Brouwer. It drew upon Jeremiah 19: 1-14, where the Prophet sends a letter to the Jewish people who have been taken into exile in Babylon after the Babylonians had destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. God tells the exiles, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

This passage of Jeremiah continues. “Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will [the Lord] visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to [Jerusalem]. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord., and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you [Jerusalem] into exile.”

According to Rev. Brouwer, this passage reminds us today to shed our expertise and judgment, relearn old ways and accept marginal status in the current pandemic in order later to flourish.

================================

[1] Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak, N.Y.Times (July 26, 2020, 9.21 a.m. EDT); Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, N.Y.Times (July 26,2020, 9.21 a.m. EDT); Minnesota Coronavirus Map and Case Count, N.Y.Times (July 26,2020, 9:21 a.m. EDT); Hyatt, Minnesota COVID-19 cases up by 871; 3 more deaths reported, StarTribune (July 26, 2020). See also List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: Pandemic Journal.

[2] Davidson, Coronavirus Spending Pushes U.S. Budget Deficit to $ 3 Trillion for 12 Months Through June, W.S.J. (July 13, 2020); Kiernan, Evictions Loom for Millions Who Can’t Afford Rent, W.S.J. (July 16, 2020); Chaney & Mackrael, Jobs Recovery Shows Signs of Slowing as Coronavirus Surges, W.S.J. (July 17, 2020);Benoit, What Banks Tell Us About Business: Everybody Is Struggling, W.S.J. (July 18, 2020); Morath & Chen, As $600-a-week Jobless Aid Nears End, Congress Faces a Quandary, W.S.J. (July 19, 2020).

[3] Kumar, Half of Black workers in Minnesota have lost work during pandemic, StarTribune (July 18, 2020).

[4] E.g., Achenbach, Wan, Brulliard & Janes, The crisis that shocked the world: America’s response to the coronavirus, Wash. Post (July 19, 2020).

[5] E..g., Sonmez, Trump declines to say whether he will accept November election results, Wash. Post (July 19, 2020). See also, Election Officials’ Dread About This Year’s U.S. Election, dwkcommentaries.com (July 11, 2020).

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 26): Reflections on Life During the Pandemic  

Here are my latest reflections on living through this pandemic.

The morning news on July 1 reported that there have been 10,483,100 people in the world who have been sickened with the coronavirus with 511,540 deaths, all occurring in nearly every country in the world. For the U.S. the numbers are 2,653,200 cases and 127,461 deaths. The recent hotspots are Arizona, Florida, California, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Washington and Mississippi.[1] My state of Minnesota has had 36,338 cases and 1,476 deaths.[2]

On June 30 in testimony to a U.S. Senate committee, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said  the rate of new coronavirus infections could more than double to 100,000 a day if current outbreaks were not contained, warning that the virus’s march across the South and the West “puts the entire country at risk.” He added, ““I can’t make an accurate prediction, but it is going to be very disturbing, I will guarantee you that [3]because when you have an outbreak in one part of the country, even though in other parts of the country they are doing well, they are vulnerable.”

These are grim statistics and predictions that are endlessly noted in newspapers and television and radio news programs. As an 81-year-old who has been isolated in his downtown Minneapolis condo building since March 19, all I can do is continue to spend time in my condo with my wife, wear a face mask and “physical distance” at least six feet from other people when I leave the condo to buy groceries, walk in nearby parks and go biking.

While in the condo most of my time is spent reading multiple newspapers on my computer and writing blog posts, usually watching MSNBC at night and occasionally other programs. I have to make time to read books for my men’s book group. Within the last week our building’s swimming pool, hot tub and exercise facilities have re-opened to one or two persons at a time, and I have started to use them again.

I have noted the reports that on June 28, Gilead Sciences announced the pricing for the drug remdesivir, the first drug authorized by the U.S. for treatment of COVID-19. The prices were $3,120 for commercially insured U.S. patients (for the shorter treatment course at $520 per dose) and $5,720 for the longer treatment course. For certain U.S. government programs (but not Medicare or Medicaid) and the rest of the world, the price will be $2,340 (for the shorter course at $390 per dose) and $4,290 (for the longer treatment course).These prices were deemed reasonable by the supposedly independent Institute for Clinical and Economic Review on the basis that use of the drug was expected to enable earlier discharge from the hospital and thereby “save” additional hospital expenses. Gilead’s shares suffered a small decline after the announcement based on certain analysts’ belief that the prices for the drug would be higher.[4]

In my opinion, this is a strange way to assess whether a price is reasonable. The proper method, I thought, was to calculate the cost of producing the drug or other product, after subtracting any costs that had been paid for by the government (or by converting that financial contribution into common or preferred stock and paying dividends to the government), and then adding a percentage of the cost as profit, whose reasonableness could then be assessed.

On May 25th I was shocked to hear the news that George Floyd, an African-American man, had been killed by Minneapolis police in south Minneapolis about 3.5 miles from our condo building. To see the teenage bystander’s video of the last minutes of this human being’s life was excruciating. I did not attend any of the immediate protests at this site, but a couple of weeks ago on a pleasant weekday morning, my wife and I visited the site, which felt like visiting the memorial to a martyred saint. As a result, most of my blog posts since then have been about this killing and the related issues of reforming the Minneapolis and other police departments.

Although I believe that the Minneapolis Police Department needs various reforms, I do not support the City Council’s proposed amendment to the City Charter, which will be discussed in a future post.

I also worry about the U.S. and world economy and the financial struggles of so many people, small businesses, political campaigns and our many worthy nonprofit organizations. This concern was voiced in the June 30th testimony of  Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell before the House Financial Services Committee. He stated that although May employment and sales numbers were better than expected, the path forward would depend on both how the virus evolved and a willingness at all levels of government to provide policy support as long as necessary.[5]

I continue to be grateful that I am retired and not worried about keeping or finding a job. Instead I sort through the many requests for contributions and notices of webinars and other ZOOM meetings. I try to respond as I am able.

My church, Westminster Presbyterian in downtown Minneapolis, is shut down because of the pandemic. But every Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m.it has a worship service on ZOOM that is broadcast in the afternoon on local TV station KSTP. Also available on ZOOM are other services on Sundays at 5:00 p.m. and on Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m. Adult education is available on Sundays at 9:15—10:15 a.m. on Zoom. Check the church’s Livestream button for details.

Especially enriching have been Westminster’s conversations with other pastors and theologians about important issues. A future post will discuss the June 21st “Conversation on Big Questions for a Changing Church” between Westminster’s Scholar for Adult Education, Rev. Dr. Matt Skinner, who is a Professor at Luther Seminary, with Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

I also continue to be shocked by the incompetence and outrageous comments from the mouth of President Trump and have to restrain myself from letting them distract me.

=============================

[1] Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak, N.Y. Times (July 1, 2020, 9:32 am (EDT)); Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, N.Y. Times (July 1, 2020, 9:32 am (EDT).

[2] Minnesota Coronavirus Map and Case Count, N.Y. Times (July 1, 2020, 9:32 am (EDT)); Carlson, Minnesota deaths up 6, to 1,441, in COVID-19 pandemic, StarTribune (June 30, 2020).

[3] Stelberg & Weiland, Fauci Says U.S. Could Reach 100,000 Virus cases a Day as Warnings Grow Darker, N.Y. Times (June 30 & July 1, 2020)/

[4] Walker, Covid-19 Drug Remdesivir to Cost $3,120 for Typical Patient, W.S.J. (June 29, 2020); Grant, Gilead Is Wise to Leave Remdesivir Money on the Table, W.S.J. (June 29, 2020); Carlson, COVID-19 drug price deemed ‘reasonable,’ StarTribune (June 29, 2020).

[5] Rappeport & Smialek, Mnuchin and Powell Offer Mixed Views of Economic Recovery, N.Y. Times (June 30, 2020).