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.

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).

The Ridiculous U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

The U.S. State Department, pursuant to legislative authority, annually identifies countries that have “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” and designates them as “state sponsors of terrorism.”[1] The U.S. currently designates the following four countries as “state sponsors of terrorism:” Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.[2] Note that Libya and North Korea, which were previously on the list, are no longer present; these are two stories for others to pursue.

The following is the complete text of the State Department’s rationale for its most recent designation of Cuba:[3]

  • “The Cuban government and official media publicly condemned acts of terrorism by al-Qa’ida and affiliates, while at the same time remaining critical of the U.S. approach to combating international terrorism. Although Cuba no longer supports armed struggle in Latin America and other parts of the world, the Government of Cuba continued to provide physical safe haven and ideological support to members of three terrorist organizations that are designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the United States.”
  • “The Government of Cuba has long assisted members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army of Colombia (ELN), and Spain’s Basque Homeland and Freedom Organization (ETA), some having arrived in Cuba in connection with peace negotiations with the governments of Colombia and Spain. There was no evidence of direct financial support for terrorist organizations by Cuba in 2009, though it continued to provide safe haven to members of the FARC, ELN, and ETA, providing them with living, logistical, and medical support.”
  • “Cuba cooperated with the United States on a limited number of law enforcement matters. However, the Cuban government continued to permit U.S. fugitives to live legally in Cuba. These U.S. fugitives include convicted murderers as well as numerous hijackers. Cuba permitted one such fugitive, hijacker Luis Armando Peña Soltren, to voluntarily depart Cuba; Peña Soltren was arrested upon his arrival in the United States in October.”
  • “Cuba’s Immigration Department refurbished the passenger inspection area at Jose Marti International Airport and provided new software and biometric readers to its Border Guards.”[4]

One of the factual predicates for the designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” is true: FARC, ELN and ETA have been designated “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” by the State Department, and such designations presumably are well founded. But what has Cuba done with respect to these three organizations? It has provided “physical safe haven and ideological support to [an unspecified number of their] members.” How many members? What were the particulars of the safe haven?  We are not told other than “living, logistical, and medical support.” And some of these members, the State Department concedes, were in Cuba to participate in peace negotiations with the governments of Columbia and Spain. Moreover, by the State Department’s own admission, there “was no evidence of direct financial support [by Cuba] for [these three] . . . organizations in 2009.”

Further qualifications to this basis for the designation were made in the State Department’s prior annual antiterrorism report, which said that “on July 6, 2008, former Cuban President Fidel Castro called on the FARC to release the hostages they were holding [in Colombia] without preconditions.”  Fidel  “also had condemned the FARC’s mistreatment of captives and of their abduction of civilian politicians [in Colombia] who had no role in the armed conflict.”[5]

The other factual predicate for the most recent designation, I submit, is outright insufficient. Cuba, the State Department says, has continued to permit an unspecified number of U.S. fugitives (“convicted murderers and numerous hijackers”) to live legally in Cuba. Even if true, it is difficult to see how this is support of terrorism. Moreover, we are not told how many such fugitives there are and the circumstances of their cases. The State Department does not even call them “terrorists.” Again, the State Department’s prior annual antiterrorism report on Cuba provides details further undermining this charge.  It stated, “The Cuban government continued to permit some U.S. fugitives—including members of U.S. militant groups such as the Boricua Popular, or Macheteros, and the Black Liberation Army to live legally in Cuba. In keeping with its public declaration, the [Cuban] government has not provided safe haven to any new U.S. fugitives wanted for terrorism since 2006.”[6]

The balance of the State Department’s most recent “rationale” is, in fact, complimentary of Cuba. “”The Cuban government and official media publicly condemned acts of terrorism by al-Qa’ida and affiliates.” “Cuba no longer supports armed struggle in Latin America and        other parts of the world.” “Cuba cooperated with the United States on a limited number of law enforcement matters.” “Cuba’s Immigration Department refurbished the passenger inspection area at Jose Marti International Airport and provided new software and biometric readers to its Border Guards.” Another complimentary comment was made in the prior annual report:  there is “no evidence of terrorist-related money laundering or terrorist financing activities in Cuba.”[7]

The designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” has been reviewed by the Congressional Research Service, which said in 2006: Cuba was first designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1982. Although it has ratified all 12      counterterrorism conventions, it has remained opposed  to the U.S. global war on terrorism. The CIA judged in August 2003 that ‘We have no credible evidence, however, that the Cuban     government has engaged in or directly supported international terrorist operations in the past decade, although our information is insufficient to say beyond a doubt that no collaboration has occurred.'”[8]

Some prior U.S. antiterrorism reports talked about Cuba’s alleged weapons of mass destruction program, but note that there is not any mention of such an alleged program in the most recent report. This canard was also rebutted by the Congressional Research Service: “The Administration’s assertions concerning Cuba’s WMD programs, which some observers dispute, focus on limited biological weapons research and development. Construction at the Juragua nuclear facility (two incomplete Russian nuclear power reactors) was indefinitely postponed in 1997.”[9]

The State Department’s best case for calling Cuba a “state sponsor of terrorism,” upon analysis, is ridiculous. The designation should be rescinded, and the U.S. and Cuba should get down to the real business of engaging in face-to-face, serious negotiations to resolve their many long-accumulated differences.


[1]  Countries determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism are designated pursuant to three laws: section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act. (U.S. State Dep’t, Country Reports on Terrorism 2009 (Aug. 5, 2010), http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2009/index.htm.) Such designation results in the following sanctions by the U.S.: (1) a ban on arms-related exports and sales; (2) controls over exports of dual-use items, requiring 30-day Congressional notification for goods or services that could significantly enhance the terrorist-list country’s military capability or ability to support terrorism; (3) prohibitions on economic assistance; and (4) imposition of miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.

[2]  Id.

[3]  Cuba is the oldest member of the list; it has been on this list since January 1, 1982. Id.

[4]  Id.

[5]  U.S. Dep’t of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2008, ch. 3 (April 30, 2009), http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2008/122436.htm.

6]  Id.

[7]  Id.

[8] CRS, Globalizing Cooperative Threat Reduction: A Survey of Options (Oct. 5, 2006), http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/74901.pdf. See also CRS, Cuba and the State Sponsors of Terrorism List (May 13, 2005), http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/terror/RL32251.pdf.

[9]  Id.

My First Ten Years of Retirement

It is hard to believe that the 10th anniversary of my retirement from the practice of law is nearly here. I have no regrets. I made the correct decision. Here is my own grading of how I have met my retirement goals that I set 10 years ago.[1]

Being a good Grandfather. I now have four grandchildren, two in Minnesota and two in Ecuador. My wife and I obviously spend more time with the Minnesota kids, and our Ecuadorian grandson spent last Fall in Minnesota going to school with his cousins. We also frequently have traveled to Ecuador to see our family there although we have decided not to spend significant amounts of time there. I recently took my 10-year old Minnesota grandson to visit two federal judges and some friends at my former law firm and to observe parts of a trial and a court hearing.[2] I leave it to the grandkids to judge me on this goal, but I think I have done a pretty good job. I know I enjoy being a grandfather.

Being a good Father and Husband. I also have been making an effort to be a good father and husband. I am still working at it.

Learning Spanish. I have not taken the time to improve my very limited Spanish ability. I still wish that I were fluent in that language, but do not see myself taking the time to do this. Sorry.

Law Teaching. I had a goal of teaching law in Ecuador. I was interviewed by a university in Quito about teaching law in the English language, but I was not offered a position. My son who lives there went to the interview with me in case I needed an interpreter, and afterwards he said he thought that my positive comments about liberation theology may not have been appreciated by the university officials. In retrospect, I am not unhappy with this result. I would have had to work very hard to organize and teach one or more courses in this foreign country.

Moreover, this development opened the door for my having the opportunity to co-teach one course (international human rights law) at the University of Minnesota Law School for nine years (2002-10). This built on my experience as a federal court litigator and as a pro bono asylum lawyer. It also allowed me to work with, and become friends of, other professors at the Law School and many U.S. and foreign students. One of the foreign students was a Hubert Humphrey Fellow from Brazil who was a Professor of Law and Criminology at the Catholic university in Rio de Janeiro, and at her subsequent invitation, I presented a paper on the Truth Commission for El Salvador at a conference in Rio in 2009. In addition, through my work at the University of Minnesota I developed a strong interest in, and some expertise about, the International Criminal Court, and I have made many presentations about the ICC and have served as the Provisional Organizer for the Minnesota Alliance for the ICC.[3]

I recently decided that I would retire from this teaching job even though I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I wanted to have more time for writing as discussed below.

Human rights legal work. Without the support of a law firm, including its professional liability insurance, I decided I was not able to do pro bono legal work in retirement. But as mentioned above, I have been able to teach human rights and learn more about the subject myself. I also have developed an interest in the ICC and found a way to make use of that interest.

News “distributor.” Although not one of my goals from 2001, I have developed a practice in retirement of regularly reading many news sources online (New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post (Politics page), Wall Street Journal, Guardian (from the U.K.) and Granma (English translation of Cuba’s major national newspaper) and occasionally others (New York Review of Books, Atlantic and Harpers). After doing this for a while, I started sending by email interesting articles on human rights, the ICC, immigration, Cuba and Africa to friends who were interested in these subjects.

Arbitrator. Another retirement activity I had not anticipated in 2001 was being an arbitrator. But I have done so for disputes between investors and financial firms through the Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (FINRA; f/k/a National Association of Securities Dealers), usually as chair of a panel of three arbitrators, and I have enjoyed this challenge. I try to act like the arbitrators and judges I respected in my practice: fair, impartial, respectful of the law, organized, decisive and clear (unlike some of the judges on the TV show “The Good Wife”).

Recently, however, I decided that I no longer wanted to spend my time working on other people’s problems and will not take any more cases. Sounds like my 2001 decision to retire from practicing law.

Obituary writer. Yet another surprising development over the last half-year has been being an obituary writer. As a member of my Grinnell College class’ 50th reunion committee, I have been responsible for writing or commissioning obituaries for our 53 deceased classmates. This used my factual research and writing skills from lawyering. I also came to see this activity in some cases as one of pastoral care for the families of the departed.

International travel. In addition to many trips to Ecuador and my trip to Brazil, my wife and I have been on many other fascinating international trips in the last 10 years. They include an Elder Hostel trip about Mozart to the Czech Republic and Austria, Turkey, Spain, England and Scotland, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Canada, Mexico, El Salvador and Peru plus my church mission trips to Cuba and Cameroon. These were great, educational experiences.  I was really glad that I was in good health to be able to take these trips. I also have been able to chair a committee that supervises the global partnerships of Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Historical research and writing. I wanted to conclude my research about Joseph Welch and Edward Burling and write articles about them. I have done so, as was mentioned in a prior post.[4] I will share some of the key points of that research in future posts. On the other hand, I have not yet been able to do additional research on two of my ancestors, but it is still a goal.

Personal journal and memoirs. I have not been able to make much progress on the goal of writing a personal journal and memoirs. I was hung up on the issue of how do I organize or structure such a writing project. Recently, however, I started this blog and have found it a great way to do the writing that I wanted to do. I do not have to worry about how I might organize all of these thoughts. It is really exciting to be able to write this blog.

Physical exercise. I have been more diligent in my personal exercise program although I should be doing more.

Financial planning and management. With the assistance of an able investment professional, I have developed appropriate methods for financial planning and management for retirement. Like nearly everyone else, we suffered financially in the recent deep recession, but we have made progress since then. I know that I am fortunate when I read articles about the many people who have not saved enough for retirement or who lost their pensions or retirement savings in the recent deep recession or through collapse of their former employers or financial fraud or who struggle to survive with investments in bank CD’s or federal securities that now pay virtually nothing in interest.

In short, I am happy with my efforts to meet my retirement goals over the last 10 years. Now I need to continue my pursuit of these now modified goals during the next phase of my life.


[1] Post: Retiring from Lawyering (4/22/11).

[2] This trip to the federal courthouse and my former law firm was inspired, in part, by recent comments of Mary Robinson, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Post: Tip for Grandparents (4/11/11).

[3] The Minnesota Alliance is part of the American NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court or AMICC, http://www.amicc.org.

[4] Post: Adventures of a History Detective (4/5/11).

 

Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church

Growing up in the small Iowa town of Perry, I was an active member of the local Methodist Church. I was president of MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship), and our pastor, whom I respected, encouraged me to go into the ministry.

Once I went to college, however, I soon convinced myself that all religions were antiquated superstitions that were of no use to an intelligent, hard-working person like myself. This not uncommon sophomoric rebellion lasted for the next 24 years.

Westminster Presbyterian Church Sanctuary

In 1981 I could admit to others and myself that I did not have all the answers and that there was an inner emptiness in my life. I started attending and then joined Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (http://www.ewestminster.org). A friend was a member there. I worked downtown, and the church was open to the downtown community, especially through its Westminster Town Hall Forum, which brought notable people to speak on key issues in ethical perspective. This was a church, I came to understand, that respected intellect as an important aspect of religious faith and life. Its mission statement provides that “In response to the grace of God through Jesus Christ, [its mission] is:

• to proclaim and celebrate the Good News of Jesus Christ;
• to gather as an open community to worship God with dignity and joy, warmth and beauty;
• to nourish personal faith through study, prayer, and fellowship;
• to work for love, peace and justice;
• to be a welcoming and caring Christian community, witnessing to God’s love day by day;
• to work locally and beyond with our denomination and the larger Christian Church; and
• to be a telling presence in the city.”

I have been and continue to be an active member of Westminster, serving as an elder and member of various committees. Most recently I have been chairing its Global Partnerships Committee that supervises our partnerships with churches and other organizations in Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, and Bethlehem. This is one way we endeavor to fulfill the Biblical injunction from Apostle Paul: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of [us] are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26, 28)[1] In other words, we are all brothers and sisters without the artificial distinctions that so often divide us from one another.

Getting Started

In my 70-plus years I have developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics, economics and history.

This is due to an excellent education at Grinnell College and the Universities of Oxford and Chicago, 35 years of practicing law in New York City and Minneapolis, being a pro bono lawyer for asylum seekers, teaching international human rights law, international travel and wide reading. These activities by themselves provide additional subjects for commentaries.

These interests also have been furthered by a renewed Christian faith and an active membership in Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. This faith and learning about other religious traditions are other major interests of mine.

As will become apparent in subsequent postings, I have particular interests in certain legal topics–refugee and asylum law; litigation in U.S. federal courts under the Alien Tort Statute that covers lawsuits by foreigners for human rights abuses; U.S. constitutional law; and alternative dispute resolution– and in certain countries–Great Britain, El Salvador, Ecuador, Cuba, Brazil and Cameroon.

I already have written a lot on these subjects and have decided to share these writings on this blog. I also will comment on other issues as they arise. Many of these writings will be longer than a typical blog. In subsequent postings I will describe my political philosophy and Christian faith that I hope is evident in my writings.