A Message for Speaker Boehner

Time is running out on increasing the U.S. debt ceiling by our Congress. The latest spectacle of the increasingly dysfunctional Congress is the inability of John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to muster a majority vote by his fellow Republicans for his plan to raise the debt ceiling.

As a result, last night I sent the following email message to the Speaker:

  • In your recent speech to the nation, you said that you were Speaker of the House, not of the Republican Party or its Tea Party component.
  • The time has come for you to rise to the occasion, to in fact be the Speaker of the entire House.
  • You need to craft a truly bipartisan bill on the debt ceiling and budget that garners the support of responsible members of the Republican Party and of the Democratic Party. Immediately!
  • I obviously am not in your District, and I am not a Republican. But our country needs to avoid a default on its debt. I think you know that such a default would have catastrophic consequences for the U.S. and global economy and financial markets.
  • Do the right thing.

 

Westminster Town Hall Forum

The Westminster Town Hall Forum engages the public in reflection and dialogue on the key issues of our day from an ethical perspective. The Forum is nonpartisan and nonsectarian.[1]

Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis

Forums are free and open to the public. They are held on select Thursdays from September through May from noon to 1:00 p.m. (CT) at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nicollet Mall and 12th Street, in downtown Minneapolis. Each forum is preceded by music at 11:30 a.m. A public reception and small group discussion follow the forum from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. The Forum presentations also are broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio.

The Forum started over 30 years ago with its first speaker, Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. Since then it has featured over 200 speakers, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the inspirational South African leader; Elie Wiesel, the author and Holocaust survivor; Arthur Schlesinger, American historian and presidential assistant; Ellen Goodman, newspaper columnist; Cornel West, Princeton University Professor; Gwen Ifill, television journalist; Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist; Robert Coles, author, child psychiatrist and Harvard University Professor; Walter Mondale, former U.S. Senator and Vice President; Salman Rushdie, novelist;  and Edward Albee, playwright.

David Brooks at Forum

David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, author and commentator, has appeared twice in recent years at the Forum, to audiences of over 3,000 each time.


[1] Westminster Town Hall Forum, http://westminsterforum.org/.

Disgusting U.S. Political Scene

The current political wrangling in the U.S. Congress over the U.S. debt ceiling is disgusting.

In order for the U.S. to avoid defaulting on its Treasury securities, the U.S. Congress needs to pass a bill to increase the debt ceiling before August 2, 2011. If the Congress does not do so, then there would be catastrophic consequences for the U.S. and hence the global economy. Most economists and informed commentators, I think, are agreed on these propositions. Moreover, in my opinion, it is too risky to experiment and test the contrary views expressed by the minority.

Some stupid suggestions have been made to evade the above analysis and not raise the debt ceiling. Former Minnesota Governor and presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty said the U.S. could continue to pay interest on its securities (a lot of which are held by the Chinese government) and not pay U.S. military personnel and ordinary Americans.[1] Another Minnesota presidential candidate, Michelle Bachmann, has taken a similar position.[2] Even if such absurd actions could avoid adverse reaction in the world market for U.S. securities, which I doubt, who can seriously believe that there would not be a horrendous chain of reactions from our military personnel and citizens?

How can Pawlenty and Bachmann be taken as serious presidential candidates in light of just these stupid suggestions? Yet I read that Bachmann was number one in recent opinion polls of Republicans.

U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, has admitted that not raising the debt ceiling runs a very high risk of causing disastrous consequences to the U.S. Therefore, he has proposed what is sometimes referred to as “Plan B,” a bill that would allow President Obama unilaterally to raise the debt ceiling for the balance of his term of office. This plan, McConnell crassly admitted, was motivated by his desire not to help President Obama get reelected.[3]

The Republicans’ call for reductions in government spending  flies in the face of the elemental formula for Gross National Product: B (business spending) + C (consumer spending) + G (government spending) + E (net exports or exports- imports) = GNP (Gross National Product). Reducing government spending their way will reduce the incomes of many people dependent upon the government and, therefore, probably cause a reduction in consumer spending. Moreover, it is delusional, in my judgment, to believe that reducing government spending will cause an explosive increase in business confidence and spending to counterbalance the reduction in the former. Many corporations already have huge stashes of cash that they are not spending because consumer spending is weak. Consumer spending is weak because of high unemployment, general economic anxiety and reduced consumer wealth associated with declines in home values. In short, reducing government spending the way the Republicans want to do it will worsen our stalling recovery.[4]

Moreover, the Republicans’ call focuses on the smaller slice of the federal budget devoted to improving our deteriorating infrastructure and maintaining the frayed social safety net for our citizens. We the People should be able to see these adverse developments with our own eyes. And those who know something about what is happening in the rest of the world know that the U.S. is falling behind many other countries on many facets of a healthful society.[5]

No one, to my knowledge, is discussing the most important issue, in my opinion, that is raised by the huge and mounting U.S. national debt that needs to be addressed. What is a new U.S. national security strategy that protects the vital interests of our country while vastly reducing the size and global span of the U.S. military? Is the U.S. now in the position of earlier empires whose foreign expenditures to maintain their empires dragged down those regimes?

We the People and all of our elected representatives need to recover the spirit of moderation.

Learned Hand

This spirit, said Learned Hand, “is the temper which does not press a partisan advantage to the bitter end, which can understand and will respect the other side, which feels a unity between all citizens–real and not the factitious product of propaganda–which recognizes their common fate and their common aspirations–in a word, which has faith in the sacredness of the individual. . . . [Such a spirit and faith] are the last flowers of civilization, delicate and easily overrun by the weeds of our sinful human nature. . . . They are the fruit of the wisdom that comes of trial and a pure heart; no one can possess them who has not stood in awe before the spectacle of this mysterious Universe; no one can possess them whom that spectacle has not purged through pity and through fear–pity for the pride and folly which inexorably enmesh men in toils of their own contriving; fear, because that same pride and that same folly lie deep in the recesses of his own soul.”[6]


[1] E.g., Kane, Pawlenty: If debt ceiling not raised, pay “outsie creditors” first, (July 15, 2011), http://www.rawstory.com.

[2] E.g., Bachmann, No Debt Ceiling Increase, http://www.michelebachmann.com; Drum, Bachmann and the Debt Ceiling, (July 20, 2011), www. motherjones.com.

[3] E.g., Stein, McConnell Debt Ceiling Strategy: “I refuse To Help Obama Reelection,” Huffington Post (July 13, 2011).

[4] E.g., Krugman, The Lesser Depression, N.Y. Times (July 21, 2011).

[5] E.g., Thomas Friedman, Still Digging (Dec. 7, 2010).

[6]  Learned Hand, The Spirit of Liberty at 164-65 (3d ed.; Phoenix ed.; Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press 1977).

Blogging in Havana

 

The blog from Havana– “Generation Y”[1]— is Yoani Sanchez’s courageous effort to let the world know about the daily life      and frustrations of ordinary Cubans.

She provides sketches of daily life in Cuba–“a dreary, enervating routine of food shortages, transportation troubles and          narrowed opportunity.”[2] Other major themes are the need for political and economic changes in Cuba and the Cuban          regime’s efforts to stifle her criticisms of the government.

 

A collection of her blog posts from 2007 through 2010 has been published as Havana Real.[3] Two of them prompt comments based upon my three church mission trips to Cuba since 2001.

Most Cubans struggle to survive. Those who have jobs generally make around $20 to $30 per month. They still have rationed basic food essentials at subsidized low prices, but as the blog emphasizes, many of these rationed essentials are very small quantities and are not really always available, and the government recently has talked about ending or reducing these pitifully limited rations. One day, Yoani’s mother called her to report that there was toilet paper available at a distant market, but that Yoani needed to hurry to get there because the “tp” would soon be gone.[4] On my last trip to visit our partner Presbyterian church in the city of Matanzas, its pastor told us that he was not able to buy any “tp” for our visit and stay in the church’s dormitory. He, therefore, asked the members of the congregation to give the church any extra “tp.”

Not surprisingly Yoani has negative reactions to Cuban political speeches that talk about the Cuban Revolution’s being “eternal.” She says she avoids using words like “eternal,” “always” and “never.” The word “eternal”, she says, means something that “lasts into the future ad infinitum,” but also something that “has no beginning.” There is little, if anything, that meets those requirements. She concludes with these words of wisdom, “It’s a relief that all the things in this world’s days are numbered.”[5]

In addition to her own blogging, she helps organize and present workshops in Cuba on creating blogs on “wordpress.com.”

Yoani has won many international awards for her blogging: one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World and Best Blog (Time Magazine), Ortega y Gasset Prize for digital journalism (Spain), one of the 100 Most Notable Hispanic Americans (El Pais Spanish newspaper), World Press Freedom Hero award (International Press Institute) and Young Global Leader (World Economic Forum).[6]

“Generation Y” honors those people like Yoani whose have names containing the Greek Y letter, so unusual in Spanish, but relatively common in Cuba in the 1970’s and 1980’s when Cuba was under Russian or Soviet influence.


[1] http://www.desdecuba.com/generationy/. The blog also has links to other Cuban blogs in English and in Spanish as well as her articles and interviews.

[2] Rohter, In Cuba, the Voice of a Blog Generation, N.Y. Times (July 5, 2011).

[3] Sanchez, Havana Real (Brooklyn: Melville House 2011).

[4]  Id. at 361-63.

[5]  Id. at 31-33.

[6]  Id. at 2.

Oxford’s Lord Franks

Lord Franks

In February 1962, Sir Oliver Shewell Franks was installed as the Provost of Oxford’s Worcester College. Three months later he was awarded a life peerage as Lord Baron Franks, of Headington in the County of Oxford.[1]

As a Worcester student at the time, I soon learned that Franks was “Mr. Establishment.”

After a brilliant performance as a Classics student at Oxford with a Congratulatory First in 1927, Franks immediately was elected a Fellow in Philosophy at Oxford’s Queens College. There he helped to establish the new degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). In 1937 Franks moved to Glasgow University to hold the Chair in Moral Philosophy, a post once held by Adam Smith.

With World War II on the horizon in 1939, he was conscripted into the U.K. Civil Service to work in the Ministry of Supply, which was in charge of production of war material and equipment. His successful efforts to replenish the British military equipment after the forced withdrawal of forces from Europe at Dunkirk in 1940 drew praise, and by the end of the war Franks was Permanent Secretary of the Ministry. For this exemplary public service, he was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1942 and a Knight Grand Cross in 1946.

After the war in 1946, Franks returned to Oxford’s Queen’s College to be its Provost. He was able to hold this position for only two years, but thereafter was a lifetime Honorary Fellow of the College.

The reason for his 1948 departure from Oxford was his acceptance of a request by Prime Minister Clement Atlee to be the U.K. Ambassador to the U.S., a position he held until 1952. During these years he headed the British delegation for European discussions about what became the Marshall Plan for U.S. aid to Europe. He helped to found the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and became Chairman of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation.

In 1953 Franks had many offers of important jobs in the U.K. and Europe. The one he chose in 1954 was Chairman of Lloyd’s Bank, one of Britain’s largest banks, and he held this position until 1962, when he became Provost of Worcester College. Franks also headed many important commissions of inquiry and was on the board of trustees or directors of other important institutions in the U.K.

In 1960 Franks, with the support of influential heads of several Oxford colleges, was a candidate for the Chancellorship of the University of Oxford, its titular head. His main opponent was Harold Macmillan, then Prime Minister. I recall reading in Anthony Sampson’s Anatomy of Britain (1962) that the Chancellorship was an office elected by the holders of Oxford M.A. degrees, who were physically present at a meeting in Oxford’s Sheldonian Theater. Sampson also reported that Macmillan thought that losing this election to Franks would be a political embarrassment and so ordered or persuaded the many government officials and civil servants who held Oxford M.A. degrees to go by train to Oxford that day to vote for Macmillan. With that special effort, Macmillan won the election by a narrow margin and became the Chancellor. He still held that position in 1983 when he attended the dinner to celebrate Worcester College’s 700th anniversary.[2]

In 1962 when Franks became Worcester’s Provost, he turned down an offer from Prime Minister Macmillan to be the Governor of the Bank of England. He retired from Worcester in 1976, but remained active on the boards of various important institutions and government and university commissions until his death in 1992.

Through this life of remarkable service, Franks gained a reputation as the “Divine Authority” or the “Headmaster of Headmasters.” At 6’2″ with a high brow, he gave the impression of all-seeing omniscience. It was said that if you managed to break the ice with Franks, you would find a lot of cold water underneath.

With such a record and reputation, Franks was an imposing figure for a lowly Oxford undergraduate like me to encounter. I, therefore, was surprised to discover a shy, engaging human being.

At a sherry party in the Provost’s Lodgings at Worcester, Franks once asked me, “Krohnke, do you know why The Times (of London, of course) has advertisements on its front page?” I did not know, so he told me that in the great houses of Britain the butler ironed The Times before the head of the house read the newspaper. I thought that was a bit silly, but there is a scene in the movie The Remains of the Day in which the butler played by Anthony Hopkins is ironing the newspaper. And in the 2011 version of Upstairs, Downstairs a fuss is made when the newspaper arrives too late for the butler to iron the newspaper. (The Times many years ago ceased the practice of front-page advertisements only.)

In the Spring of 1963 Franks lead a “revision” session on political philosophy for Worcester students who were taking PPE Schools that year.[3] Franks mentioned “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” from the U.S. Declaration of Independence.  One of the English students who had attended Eton College, the preeminent English “public” school, interrupted to say, “I am sorry, I did not get that all written down. Would you repeat that phrase, please?” (Perhaps it was just my American background, but I always thought it odd that an Oxford University student, in PPE, would not know that phrase.)

In June 1963, after I finished PPE “Schools,” my fiancée and I were married in Oxford’s Manchester College Chapel. As a wedding gift, Lord and Lady Franks gave us a beautiful colored print of the Worcester Provost’s Lodgings.

After I had obtained a First in PPE, Franks sent me a short typed note with his “warm congratulations” and announcement of my receiving a “College Prize for your performance in the examination.” (The prize was “books to the value of ten guineas.”) Another short typed note at the same time stated that he  was “glad to give you the College Grace to take your B.A. degree.” (This undoubtedly was a form note that gave the college a lever to force you to pay all of your college bills.)

My best Franks story, however, took place earlier in one of Worcester’s Senior Common Rooms when my philosophy tutor gave an oral “report card” on my performance to Franks as the head of the College. All of us were in suit and tie, of course, and covered by academic gowns. My tutor must have given a positive report on my performance although I do not recall what he said. Franks responded, “Krohnke, your tutor says you are doing very well. But I do think there is more time for devilry.” I was caught totally off-guard by this note of levity from the august personage of Lord Franks. The word “devilry” was not in my vocabulary, but it sounded mischievous. I had no response.


[1] Wikipedia, Oliver Franks, Baron Franks, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Franks,_Baron_Franks; Middlemas, Obituary: Lord Franks, The Independent (Oct. 17, 1992), http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-lord-franks-1557796.html; Lambert, Lord Franks, Diplomat Who Led Marshall Plan Effort, Dies at 87, N.Y. Times (Oct. 18, 1992)(http://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/18/world/lord-franks-diplomat-who-led-marshall-plan-effort-dies-at-87.html?pagewanted=print&src=pm; Alex Danchev, Oliver Franks: founding father (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1993);Michael Hopkins, Oliver Franks and the Truman Administration: Anglo-American Relations, 1948-1952 (London: Frank Cass 2003); Smethurst, Oliver Shewell Franks, 139 Proceedings of the American Philosophical Soc’y 83 (1995); Franks, Britain and the Tide of World Affairs (London: Oxford Univ. Press 1955); Somerville, Oliver Franks, hsommerville.com.

[2] See Post: Celebrating Worcester College’s 700th Anniversary (May 29, 2011).

[3] See Post: Reading PPE at Oxford (June 6, 2011); Post: PPE Examinations at Oxford (June 10, 2011).

Reading PPE at Oxford

Once I knew I would be going to the University of Oxford in the Fall of 1961, I had to decide what I was going to study. At the time, most American Rhodes Scholars read for a second bachelor’s degree that involved Oxford’s traditional tutorial style of education. (Today, more choose to seek advanced degrees.)

I rejected “reading” Jurisprudence for a B.A. degree because at the time that required translation of Roman law from Latin into English, a skill I did not have and did not think I could acquire “on the side” while doing everything else at Oxford.

Instead, like many American Rhodes Scholars, I chose Philosophy, Politics and Economics or PPE.[1] It was also known as “Modern Greats” to indicate that it was designed in the 1920’s to replicate some of the features of Classics or Greats or Literae Humaniores (Greek and Latin), one of Oxford’s traditional and famous courses of study. PPE, on the other hand, was designed to be a well-balanced course of study of the social problems of the modern world.[2]

PPE was organized in two subjects in each of the three PPE disciplines: General Philosophy (from Descartes to the present); Moral and Political Philosophy; Theory and Working of Political Institutions; British Political and Constitutional History Since 1830; Principles of Economics; and Economic Organization. The student also selected two additional subjects to study; I chose two in economics–Public Finance and Currency and Credit.

During Oxford’s three eight-week terms of the academic year, you had two tutorials a week in these subjects. For the six required subjects there were usually only two students with tutors from your own college. For the optional subjects, you usually were alone in the tutorial and sometimes with a tutor from another Oxford college who specialized in those subjects.

Each week the tutor would set the problem and suggest relevant readings for the next week. The subject would always be put as a question that required you to come to a conclusion and marshal the evidence and arguments for your conclusion. Here are examples of such problems:

  • “The Left was never right.” Discuss this verdict with regard to British foreign policy between the world wars. Was the Right ever wrong?
  • What do we mean by “James who now does this is the same person who did that?” How do we know we are correct?
  • Is the City [London’s financial industry] vital to the U.K.’s role in world trade?
  • Can it ever be justifiably claimed that a tariff is imposed for revenue purposes only?
  • Is infallibility a pre-condition for knowledge? If not, why do we often think it is?

During the following week, if you were doing your work, you would read at least the suggested readings and prepare an essay analyzing the problem. At the following tutorial one of the students (if there were two) would read his essay, and the tutor would comment, ask questions and start discussions about the problem. The tutorials, by the way, were held in the tutor’s rooms in the college, and the students were required to wear their academic gowns. (Although I was a Rhodes Scholar, I was not a scholar of Worcester College and, therefore, was not entitled to wear a scholar’s longer gown. Instead, I wore a skimpy “commoner’s gown.”)

The philosophy tutorials were the most difficult and frustrating for me. Oxford was then in the throes of linguistic analysis with its emphasis on careful examination of the language of philosophical argument.[3] We frequently were assigned very abstruse articles in British philosophical journals —Mind and Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. One of the articles that I recall had a title like “What do we mean when we say this is a Grade A apple?” I kept wondering  why I was spending my time reading these articles. Usually, however, during the tutorial I would say to myself that this was a worthy activity for someone like the tutor who was really good at it. But it was not for me. The tutor probably would say to himself, “Oh, these pragmatic Americans, they don’t get it.”

In addition to preparing for and participating in tutorials, the students could, if they wished, attend university-wide lectures on the PPE subjects (or, if you wished, on any other subjects that interested you.) I attended some and heard some of the famous Oxford dons of the day: J. R. Hicks (economist), Gilbert Ryle (philosopher) and A. J. Ayer (philosopher) are ones that I remember.

Finally during your “vacs” (vacations) and especially the “long vac” (the four-month summer vacation), you were encouraged to study independently. During one vac, for example, I spent several weeks at St. Deiniol’s Library (n/k/a Gladstone’s Library), a residence library near Hawarden, Wales[4] where I had room and board and a quiet library in which to study. (The Library was founded for “Divine Learning” by William Ewart Gladstone, Britain’s 19th century Prime Minister, and is close to Hawarden Castle, which was Gladstone’s estate.)[5]

At the end of each term, as I recall, your tutors gave practice exams, which were evaluated and returned with comments. Also at least once a year one of your tutors would give an “oral report card” on your performance to the head of your college.

The only “real” examinations were those given at the end of your time at Oxford. This memorable experience will be described in a subsequent posting.

As I reflect on this educational experience, I especially value the way that the subjects were presented to the students. You were forced to come to a conclusion and justify that conclusion, rather than saying a lot about a subject and avoiding coming to your own conclusions. You also had great freedom. You could look for, and read, resources beyond those suggested by the tutor. You could attend lectures if you wanted to. Given the one-on-one nature of tutorials, a student could not hide and never say a word.


[1]  Two of the more famous American Rhodes Scholars, Pete Dawkins and Bill Bradley, for example, read PPE. (See Post: Oxford in New York City (May 17, 2011).) Bill Clinton, who was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, 1968-70, started in PPE, but soon abandoned the program because he thought it was too repetitive of his U.S. undergraduate education. Clinton first switched to a graduate degree program (B. Litt. in Politics) that did not involve tutorials, but required a 50,000-word dissertation. His tutor, however, persuaded him that was a mistake and to switch instead to a graduate degree (B. Phil. in Politics), that had tutorials, essays, exams and a shorter thesis. Clinton made the switch, but did not finish this program and did not earn an Oxford degree; his memoir says he chose to go to Yale Law School rather than finishing the Oxford degree. (Bill Clinton, My Life at 141-43, 171 (New York: Knopf  2004); Ralph Evans (editor), Register of Rhodes Scholars 1903-1995 at 306 (Oxford: Rhodes Trust 1996).) In 2003 my wife and I attended a celebration of the centennial of the Rhodes Scholarships at Westminster Hall in London where Clinton was one of the speakers. He said his family was always embarrassed he had never earned an Oxford degree, but that year his daughter Chelsea redeemed the family honor by earning such a degree the prior day. (Bill Clinton, Speech: Rhodes Trust Centenary Celebration, July 2, 2003, http://www.clingtonfoundation.org.) Other American Rhodes Scholar-politicians who read PPE are U.S. Senator Richard Lugar and former Senators David Boren and Paul Sarbanes. (Register of Rhodes Scholars 1903-1995 at 201, 203, 269.) The current British Prime Minister, David Cameron, also read PPE, as did other prominent U.K. politicians (Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, Shirley Williams, Edwina Castle). (Wikipedia, David Cameron, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Cameron; BBC News, Why does PPE rule Britain? (Oct. 31, 2010), http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11136511.

[2]  Handbook to the University of Oxford at 147-50, 158-60 (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1960); Wikipedia, Philosophy, Politics and Economics, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy,_Politics_and_Economics.

[3]  Wikipedia, Analytical Philosophy, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analytic_philosophy.

[4]  Wikipedia, Gladstone’s Library, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gladstone’s_Library.

[5]  Wikipedia, William Ewart Gladstone, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Ewart_Gladstone.

The U.S. Should Pursue Reconciliation with Cuba

U.S. reconciliation with Cuba is in the U.S. national interest. Cuba poses no threat to the U.S. Reconciliation would help improve the lives of many Cubans now living on the margin. Reconciliation also would advance U.S. economic and other interests.

I will explain why I reach these conclusions. Then I will set forth what I see as the topics to be addressed in the necessary bilateral negotiations to reach the reconciliation goal along with a process to facilitate such negotiations.

Why U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation Is in the U.S. National Interest

First, Cuba poses no threat to the U.S.

Our population of 313.2 million is over 28 times larger than Cuba’s of 11.1 million. Our economy of         $ 14.62 trillion is 254 times as large as Cuba’s of $57.5 billion. Our annual defense expenditures of $593.6 billion is over 270  times larger than Cuba’s of $ 2.2 billion, and Cuba’s military equipment suffers from lack of replacement parts while we all know about U.S. military capabilities’ exceeding the rest of the world combined. And our land mass is over 88 times larger than Cuba’s (9,827,000 sq. km. vs. 111,000 sq. km.). (These comparisons are based on public statistics published by our CIA.) [1]

Yes, Cuba is one of four countries on the U.S. list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” but such designation is not justified.[2] Furthermore, there is absolutely no reason why the stated reasons for the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” could not be successfully addressed in a good faith negotiation between the two countries.

Second, Cuba’s regrettable human rights violations are understandable and could be more successfully addressed in direct negotiations between the two countries.

Yes, Cuba has committed violations of human rights, as illustrated by the most recent U.S. State Department Human Rights Report on Cuba.[3] As a human rights advocate, I deplore these violations.

Yet given the long-standing U.S. hostility towards Cuba and the immense U.S. superiority in economies and militaries, it is understandable why Cuba has harshly treated what we call “dissidents.” Remember the U.S. usurpation of Cuba’s war for independence from Spain in the late 19th Century and our making Cuba a de facto U.S. protectorate in the early 20th Century. Remember too the U.S.-supported invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs in 1961, and the Cuban missile crisis of 1963 and the CIA plots to kill Fidel Castro. The U.S. embargo of Cuba has now lasted for nearly 52 years. Most recently the U.S. Government’s Commission on Assistance for a Free Cuba set forth a U.S. blueprint for taking over Cuba.[4] In short, Cuba has many legitimate reasons to be afraid of the U.S.

And we should know from our own history since 9/11 that societies and governments tend to clamp down on civil liberties when they fear outside interference or attacks.

Cuba’s human rights record is often used as another justification for U.S. continued hostility towards Cuba and the maintenance of the embargo. Yet, I submit, this has been a failed strategy, and there is no reason to suspect that continuation of this hostility will bring about a change in Cuban human rights.

Instead, good faith negotiations between the two countries aimed at normalization of relations, I believe, hold more promise for improving human rights in Cuba.

Third, normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba would be in the economic interests of the U.S.

Prior to the recent global financial and economic turmoil, Cuba had the highest economic growth rate in Latin America. This was due in substantial part to increasing world prices for two of its exports, nickel and cobalt. Exploration for oil off the north coast of Cuba is now proceeding. Cuba needs to import many agricultural products. Foreign tourists (mainly Canadians and Europeans) enjoy Cuba’s beautiful beaches and resorts.

The global financial and economic turmoil has had a huge negative impact on the Cuban economy. The Cuban government wants to lay off 500,000 public employees (nearly 10 % of the total labor force), leaving them to try to support themselves as barbers, hairdressers and similar occupations. The government also wants to eliminate the food ration card system that provides limited quantities of basic foods at low, subsidized prices. Such changes increase the economic incentives for Cubans to leave the island and somehow get to the U.S.

Our economic embargo of the island deprives our own businesses and farmers from benefiting from trade with the island. In addition, our embargo provides economic opportunities for other countries, and increasingly China, to fill the void.

Fourth, normalizing relations with Cuba would be in the overall interest of the U.S.

The U.S. has many pressing real problems in the world, and Cuba is not one of them. Normalizing our relations with the island would be seen by most people in the world, especially Latin America, as a sign that the U.S. is a mature, rational country.[5]

Topics for U.S.-Cuba Negotiations

I am not a U.S. government employee and thus am not privy to all of our Government’s issues regarding Cuba. As a concerned and informed U.S. citizen, however, I believe that any U.S.-Cuban negotiations would include at least the following subjects:

1. re-establishment of full diplomatic relations;

2. termination of the United States’ embargo against Cuba;

3. termination of the United States’ restrictions on its citizens’ travel to Cuba;

4. compensation by Cuba for expropriated property of U.S. citizens and businesses;

5. emmigration and immigration of citizens between the two countries;

6. enhancement of human rights of Cuban citizens;

7. the status of Cuba’s lease of Guantanamo Bay to the United States; [6]

8. the continued U.S. imprisonment of the so-called Cuban Five;[7]

9. the continued Cuban imprisonment of U.S. citizen, Alan Gross;[8]

10. U.S. fugitives in Cuba;[9]

11. exploration and drilling for oil in the Caribbean Sea between the two countries;[10]  and

12. Cuba’s re-entry into the Organization of American States.

Process for U.S.-Cuban Negotiations

Given the long period of hostility between the two countries and the apparent lack of movement toward negotiations, I believe that the assistance of a neutral third-party mediator would be helpful to both countries. Such a mediator, in my opinion, should be someone who is bilingual in English and Spanish with experience as an international mediator, who is in fact and perceived to be neutral and who has the time (and staff?) to make a major commitment to this process.

Such a mediator indeed could step forward and invite representatives of both countries to participate in mediated negotiations, rather than wait on them to agree on such a process. As a private citizen I unsuccessfully have tried to interest two international organizations in doing just that.[11]

Conclusion

As a result of the above analysis, I strongly disagree with the stated position of the Obama Administration. On May 13, 2011, President Obama said (in Miami), “I would welcome real change from the Cuban government … For us to have the kind of normal relations we have with other countries, we’ve got to see significant changes from the Cuban government and we just have not seen that yet.”[12] He and Secretary of State Clinton previously have made similar statements.[13]

The Administration, in my opinion, is wrong on this policy for two reasons.

First, the U.S. should not insist on another country’s making certain internal changes before even talking about a whole range of issues that need to be resolved in a bilateral relationship. Indeed, this is exactly what the U.S. is advocating for Israel and the Palestinians.

Second, the Administration is wrong as a matter of fact about the changes that have been happening in Cuba over the last 18 months or so. The Cuban government has announced major changes in the economic structures–planning to fire 500,000 public employees and allowing greater private enterprise and economic freedom. Some workers are organizing unions. A small farmers group is calling for an end to the state’s food distribution monopoly. The government is cracking down on corruption. Cuba as a result of an agreement that was brokered by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Havana has released most, if not all, of its political prisoners.


[2]  See Post: The Ridiculous  U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” (May 20, 2011).

[3]  U.S. State Dep’t, 2010 Human Rights Report: Cuba (April 8, 2011),    http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2010/wha/154501.htm.

[4]   U.S. Commission on Assistance for a Free Cuba, http://www.cafc.gov. The Commission apparently has been abandoned by the Obama Administration because it is not mentioned on the current U.S. State Department website.

[5]   E.g., Thompson & Romero,  Clinton Aims to Improve Ties with Latin America,, N.Y. Times (May 19, 2011), http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/19/world/americas/19policy.html

[6]  From 1903 through 1933, the annual rent for the U.S. lease of Guantanamo was $2,000 (U.S. gold coins), an amount that was initially seen as generous to Cuba. From 1934 through 1971 it was $3,336 as a result of the U.S. going off the gold standard. In 1972 it was adjusted to $3,676 (due to revaluation of the U.S. Dollar to gold). In 1973, another adjustment for the same reason produced an annual rent of $4,085 which is still in effect today. Thus, for many more recent years the rent is seen as nominal. Moreover, starting in 1960 (soon after the Cuban Revolution took over the island), Cuba has refused to cash the annual rent checks. Thus, for over half a century the U.S. has not paid anything for leasing Guantanamo. (Michael Strauss, The leasing of Guantanamo Bay at 126-37 (Westport, Conn.: Praeger Security Int’l 2009); id. at 214-33 (text of the actual lease agreements).)

[7]  The “Cuban Five” are five Cubans in U.S. prisons after convictions for conspiracy to commit murder; conspiracy to commit espionage; conspiracy to commit crimes against the U.S.; use of false identity and documentation; and being unregistered agents of a foreign government. In Cuba, they are regarded as heroic patriots. A future post will discuss their case.

[8]  Gross is a U.S. citizen who was arrested in Havana in December 2009 and later convicted of illegally distributing in Cuba satellite communications equipment as a subcontractor of USAID.

[9]  E.g., Puerto Rican Nationalist: Not Guilty in Bank Heist, N.Y. Times (May 21, 2011),    http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2011/05/20/us/AP-US-Puerto-Rico-Robbery.html?sq=CUBA&st=nyt&scp=3&pagewanted=print (Puerto Rican nationalist pleads not guilty in 1983 U.S. bank robbery; another suspect in the robbery is believed to be living in Cuba).

[10]  E.g., Howell, Oil Spill Panel’s Chairman Says His Push for Cuba Talks Irked Obama Admin, N.Y. Times (May 17, 2011); Reuters, Cuban Oil Rig Set to Cause Waves in Washington, N.Y. Times (May 17, 2011).

[11]  The two organizations were The Elders, an independent group of eminent global leaders focused on peace building (http://www.theelders.org/elders) and the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights (http://www.oslocenter.no/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12&Itemid=29).

[12]  Reuters, Obama wants “real change” in Cuba before Normal Ties (May 13, 2011).

[13] Ariosto, Cuba to free five more prisoners, CNN, Oct. 21, 2010 (Obama said, “I think that any release of political prisoners, any economic liberalization that takes place in Cuba is positive, positive for Cuban people, but we’ve not yet seen the full results of these promises”); Oppenheimer, Obama unwilling to make new gestures to Cuba without action from Havana, Miami Herald (March 23, 2011)(Obama said, “The Cuban government made some gestures about releasing political prisoners and starting some market-based economies with small business opportunities. (But) we haven’t seen as much follow-through as we would like”); Secretary of State Clinton, Remarks at the 41st Washington Conference on the Americas, (May 11, 2011) (Secretary of State Clinton said the U.S. “could do more  [to improve relations with Cuba] if we saw evidence that there was an opportunity to do so coming from the Cuban side because we want to foster these deeper connections and we want to work for the time when Cuba will enjoy its own transition to democracy, when it can look at its neighbors throughout the hemisphere and the people in Cuba will feel that they, too, are having a chance to choose their leaders, choose their professions, create their businesses, and generally take advantage of what has been a tremendous, great sweep of progress everywhere but Cuba.”); Lopez, The “Low Point” in U.S.-Cuba Relations–One Year Later  Havana Note (May 2011).