Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Castro tyranny turns another year older

This is the regime that no liberal can find it in his heart to condemn.  They would much rather condemn democratic Israel

Jeff Jacoby

NEW YEAR'S Day marks the 55th anniversary of Cuba's communist revolution. It is the oldest — indeed the only — full-blown dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere. As Human Rights Watch noted in April, no other country in Latin America is ruled by a regime that "represses virtually all forms of political dissent." More than half a century after Fidel Castro seized power with the promise that "all rights and freedoms will be reinstituted" — and more than seven years since Raúl Castro succeeded his brother as tyrant-in-chief — Cuba is consistently rated "Not Free" in Freedom House's annual index of political and civil liberties worldwide.

All this is borne out by the US State Department's most recent report on Cuba's human-rights practices. Though written in mostly dry bureaucratese, the document confirms that the island is no Caribbean paradise for Cubans who have the temerity to oppose the regime. Skim just the opening paragraphs and phrase after phrase stands out, evoking the reasons why Cubans remain so desperate for freedom that even now many will gamble their lives at sea to escape the Castro brothers' nightmare:

"Authoritarian state" … "Communist Party the only legal party" … "elections were neither free nor fair" … "government threats, intimidation, mobs, harassment" … "record number of politically motivated [and] violent short-term detentions."

So when dissidents and pro-democracy activists held peaceful gatherings across the island to commemorate International Human Rights Day on December 10, they knew what to expect. Security agents were deployed to threaten, beat, and arrest the protesters; meetings were violently broken up; as many as 300 people were detained. Among the victims were dozens of members of Ladies in White, a dissident movement comprising the wives and mothers of Cuban prisoners of conscience. At least one woman was so severely beaten that she was taken to the hospital in Santiago for emergency surgery.

It would be heartening to report that the world erupted in outrage at this latest illustration of the Cuban government's brutality, which was all the more vile given Cuba's recent election to the UN Human Rights Council. Alas, no. While Raul Castro's thugs were attacking and arresting nonviolent dissidents, Castro himself was at Nelson Mandela's funeral in Soweto, where Barack Obama made a point of greeting the dictator with a friendly handshake. That got plenty of attention. It certainly got more than any gesture Obama has ever made to show solidarity with Cuba's beleaguered human-rights heroes.

When he was running for president, Obama told voters in Florida that he would "never, ever, compromise the cause of liberty" and that his policy toward Cuba would "be guided by one word: Libertad." In reality his policy has amounted to little more than dialing back US restrictions on travel and business with Cuba. That has proven an ideal way to further enrich the Castros and the Cuban military. It has done nothing to mitigate human rights atrocities in the hemisphere's most unfree country.

If the president wishes to send a powerful message of support and encouragement to the champions of Cuban libertad, he need only share their stories with the world. Men and women are still being persecuted, tortured, and murdered in the Castros' hellhole. Dissidents are still disappearing. Or dying in suspicious road accidents. Or being drowned while trying to flee the country.

Perhaps the president could spare a few minutes to look at a new report from the Cuba Archive, a US-based research project that seeks to meticulously chronicle every political killing or disappearance committed by Cuban rulers dating back to the Batista regime in 1952. For all the speculation that Raul's accession to power would finally usher Cuba into a new era of pragmatism and reform, the toll in human lives keeps climbing higher and higher.

A president who has sworn to "never, ever compromise the cause of liberty" might speak out, for example, about the fate of Roberto Amelia Franco Alfaro, who was warned by the police to stop opposing the government — and then disappeared when he wouldn't. He might call attention to the death of Sergio Diaz Larrastegui, a blind human-rights activist who was threatened with revenge if he wouldn't turn informer — then fell abruptly, fatally ill. There have been scores of such cases in recent years, many thousands in the last few decades.

There is only one dictatorship in the Americas. On New Year's Day it turns another year older. Cry, the beloved island.



My Christmas Gift to the Obamas

Deane Waldman

This author is a member of the Board of Directors of the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange (NM HIX). I am also Adjunct Scholar (for Healthcare) for the Rio Grande Foundation, a public policy think tank. Because of these connections, three colleagues from think tanks from around the country recently asked me, "What was going on in New Mexico?"

Our state-based exchange has been hailed as one of the best in the country and yet signup numbers are low. "Why," they queried?

NM HIX has a well-functioning, user-friendly website, in contrast to healthcare.gov. Our call center gets you a human to talk to inside of two minutes. Our carriers' prices are accurate and easily comparable, again unlike the FFM (federally facilitated market). Our increase in insurance premium costs is generally less than 10% higher than pre-Obama, in marked contrast to our one-over neighbor Nevada, where insurance prices have skyrocketed 179%.

The NM HIX has extensive educational outreach activities as well as slick (and expensive) marketing programs in the several languages of our multicultural state. We have "boots on the ground" as navigators and in-person assisters as well as widely-distributed private insurance brokers with long-standing ties to their local communities.

With all this and having already spent or committed well over 50 million dollars, the number of individual New Mexicans who have signed up for Obama's health insurance is... 291.

Washington can spin the facts into pretzels and sow its disinformation. It can outright lie about consequences, such as Obama's Lie of the Year for 2013 (per Politifact). They can hail Covered California -- the ObamaCare Health Exchange in the Golden State -- as a great success, even though seventy percent of California doctors say they will not accept patients "covered" by Covered California because its reimbursement schedule is below their cost of staying in business.

The NM HIX did everything right to sell Obamacare. The people are not buying. The conclusion is simple. The President refuses to listen or more likely, he is unable to hear anything that contradicts what he is convinced is true.

Mr. President, we won't buy Obamacare because we don't like what you are selling. And when you try to force us to buy; when you condescendingly assure us that "Father Knows Best," we do what Americans have always done since 1776. We resist central control of our lives and most particularly, of our freedom to choose.

First Lady Michelle Obama recently urged Americans to, "Make it a Christmas treat to talk about health insurance." To both her and the president I offer my Christmas gift of the truth. They may view it as a lump of coal in their stocking, but truth is always a gem of the first water. Besides, quoting the Bible is a good idea at this time of the year. (John 8:32) "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."



The Orphaned Middle Class

Victor Davis Hanson

On almost every left-right issue that divides Democrats and Republicans -- as well as Republicans themselves -- there is a neglected populist constituency. The result is that populist politics are largely caricatured as Tea Party extremism -- and a voice for the middle class is largely absent.

The problem with Obamacare is that its well-connected and influential supporters -- pet businesses, unions and congressional insiders -- have already won exemption from it. The rich will always have their concierge doctors and Cadillac health plans. The poor can usually find low-cost care through Medicaid, federal clinics and emergency rooms.

In contrast, those who have lost their preferred individual plans, or will pay higher premiums and deductibles, are largely members of the self-employed middle-class. They are too poor to have their own exclusive health care coverage but too wealthy for most government subsidies. So far, Obamacare is falling hardest on the middle class.

Consider the trillion-dollar student loan mess. Millions of young people do not qualify for grants predicated on either income levels, ancestry or both. Nor are their parents wealthy enough to pay their tuition or room-and-board costs. The result is that the middle class -- parents and students alike -- has accrued a staggering level of student loan debt.

Universities are of no help. Their annual tuition costs have usually gone up faster than the rate of inflation. On too many campuses, vast increases in well-paid administrators, and lower teaching loads for tenured professors -- as well as snazzy new campus recreation facilities -- were all predicated on students obtaining more federal loans and going into astronomical debt to pay for those less accountable and far better off.

Illegal immigration also largely comes at the expense of the middle class. The supporters of amnesty tend to be poor foreign nationals who desire amnesty. Corporate employers and the elites of the identity-politics industry do not care under what legal circumstances foreign nationals enter the United States. Instead, the two kindred pressure groups seek cheap and plentiful labor and plenty of ethnic constituents.

Lost in the debate over "comprehensive immigration reform" are citizen entry-level job seekers of all different races who cannot leverage employers for higher wages when millions of foreign nationals, residing illegally in the U.S., will work for less money. Likewise, few worry about would-be legal immigrants without political clout who have played by the rules and are still waiting in line for a chance at U.S. citizenship.

Middle-class taxpayers are most responsible for providing parity in subsidized housing, legal costs, health care and education for those who entered the country illegally, especially once corporate employers have let their undocumented older or injured workers go.

There is a populist twist to new proposed federal gun-control legislation as well. The wealthy or politically influential, who often advocate stricter laws for others, usually take for granted their own expensive security details, many of them armed. In contrast, new gun control initiatives would mostly fall on the law-abiding who hunt and wish to defend their own families and homes with their own legal weapons.

Energy policy has become a boutique issue for the wealthy who push costly wind, solar and biofuels, subsidized mostly by the 53 percent of Americans who actually pay federal income taxes and are most pressed by the full costs of higher fuel, electricity and heating costs.

Yet the best friends of the middle class have been frackers and horizontal drillers taking their own risks on private lands. They -- not the government and not environmentalists that oppose such exploration -- are mostly responsible for the recent drops in gasoline, natural gas and propane costs to the consumer.

The Federal Reserve's policy of quantitative easing and de facto zero interest rates have stampeded investors desperate for even modest returns from the stock market -- to the delight of wealthy Wall Street grandees. The poor are eligible for both debt relief and cheap (and often subsidized) mortgage rates that remain near historic lows.

The real losers are frugal members of the middle class. For the last five years they have received almost no interest on their modest passbook savings accounts. In other words, we are punishing thrift and reminding modest savers that they might have been better off either borrowing or gambling on Wall Street.

In the last election, Republican Mitt Romney was caricatured as a voice of the wealthy pitted against Barack Obama, a redistributionist railing for more subsidies for the poor. But millions of Americans in between are not so worried about capital gains cuts on stock sales, or more food stamps and free phones. And no one is Washington seems to be listening to them.




Gold bugs crying:  "Gold will finish the year as one of the worst-performing asset classes, bringing to an end a decade-long rally in the precious metal.  Gold has suffered its sharpest fall in 30 years, down almost 28pc over the past 12 months to close 2013 at about $1,200 (£725) an ounce.  That compares badly against other assets, with the S&P 500 up 28pc, the FTSE 100 gaining around 13pc and Brent crude oil futures up about 2.5pc in the same period.  “Equities have won the battle over gold for investors’ money this year,” Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank, said. Last year, Mr Hansen correctly predicted that gold would finish the year at $1,200 and for 2014 he is forecasting that prices may have already bottomed out."

There is a  new  lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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