Of Vietnam, Cuba, and Trump

Of Vietnam, Cuba, and Trump

I see President Trump is meeting with a totalitarian leader from a country has threatened the U.S., its people are starving, and are lacking the basic necessities of life. Trump is meeting that leader at another country where socialism and communism are enshrine in their recently adopted constitution.

No, I am not talking about Venezuela and Cuba, of course. I am talking about North Korea and Vietnam.

Trump is actually praising Vietnam, suggesting to North Korea to follow their model. Think about that. Let it sink in. Could you imagine Trump visiting Cuba and suggesting to Venezuela to follow Cuba’s model?!?

Vietnam, a country where tens of thousands of Americans less than 50 years ago fought in a failed, lost war… Vietnam, a self-proclaimed, practicing communist country. A country with little freedom, a centrally controlled economic system, and government control of most means of information… A country, in other words, much like Cuba.

Yet the U.S. has no problem having American companies there. The U.S. has no problem having people visit there. The U.S. has no problem lauding its successes.

The naysayers will tell you: “The difference is Vietnam never expropriated American properties.” Fair enough. And Cuba never killed over 50,000 Americans… What is more important?!? Hmmm…

Few in the U.S. blinked an eye when President Clinton re-established diplomatic relations with Vietnam. Many in the U.S. shivered when President Obama re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba.

To this day, many are dead set against removing the archaic embargo the U.S. has against Cuba. An embargo that is used by the Cuban government as an excuse to be on guard for an “imperialistic invasion.”

And then there is Venezuela… If only I could believe that Trump’s interest is the Venezuelan people! Yeah, right. Trump’s interest is Venezuela’s oil.

Cuba is no Venezuela. It is an island. Its people cannot so easily flee. Aid cannot so easily be brought in… And, most importantly, for anyone wishing for a Cuban uprising, forget it. Many in Cuba are skeptical of any substantive change that would bring to power expats who clamor for unregulated capitalism. Many Cubans are skeptical of the inevitable inequalities that drastic changes would accentuate, including  the loss of (albeit non-existing) government health care and education, and the perceived sense of personal safety – even though this is so at the cost of personal freedom of expression and a result of draconian gun control laws that keeps guns exclusively in the hands of the military.

Never mind that there are many Cubans of good will – inside and outside the island – that would welcome substantive structural changes to decentralize the economy, rid the country of the enslavement of the two currency system so Cuba could rejoin the World Bank and IMF, and institutionalizing diversity of thoughts in a functioning civil society – something non-existant in today’s Cuba. However, the fear of the unknown and the chaos that an abrupt transition may bring keeps Cuba inching along the path of liberalization rather than galloping to economic and political diversity… And that fear is instilled and promogated in a big way by the Trump administration and Marco Rubio… And, the Cuban government uses that fear to their advantage as they keep a tight control on the Cuban people, manipulating and staging the results of supposedly democratic constitutional reforms – which is turning out to be yet another sham of a failed Revolution.

Of course, lifting the embargo would help – tremendously. And it would also help if the Cuban government was not so intransigent, and so insistent in protecting its power base at the cost of any meaningful progress.

Yet, if Trump was to take the same tact he is seemingly taking with Vietnam with Cuba, things would be oh so very different… So, tell me again, why is he not doing so?

Could it be that Trump refuses to take a different tact with Cuba because the politics of Florida? Could it be that his insistence that the U.S. be firm and strong against Cuba is simply a political ploy for votes? Could it be it is all about politics, not about what is good for the people of Cuba?

Of course it is! This man Trump has no capacity to do anything other than what is exclusively in his self-interest. This means a non-negotiable NO to lifting the Cuban embargo, removing travel restrictions, or negotiating in good faith the thorny issue of corporate and personal assets stolen by the Cuban government in the early days of the Revolution – nearly 60 years ago.

So things inch along – sometimes taking one step forward and two steps backward –  waiting for a change in administration here and the death of the remaining (Raul) Castro there…


Declaring a national emergency to build a piece of wall at the U.S./Mexico border is simply indefensible

Declaring a national emergency to build a piece of wall at the U.S./Mexico border is simply indefensible.

  • First, to understand – in generalities – the numbers:
  • One billion equals one thousand millions.
  • 1B=1,000M
  • A billion has 9 zeros. 1,000,000,000

To build a 4 lane highway is costs about 5-10M / mile – about the same as for Trump’s wall. Trump wants approximately $5B.

… not that there’s anything wrong with the idea of securing the border by undertaking a massive infrastructure project. Except. Except we have choices to make. Everyone is in favor of border security. And most folks understand that public infrastructure expense is generally a good idea.

But, specifics matter. Process matters.

Public policy is not as simple as choosing between ‘guns or butter’ or ‘law and order or fairness and equity’… Life is complicated. Collective decision making – democracy – is messy… Yet, sometimes simple examples and comparisons may help.

What else can $5B in infrastructure get you? Take your pick – or a combination of:

  • 5,000 rural community centers
  • 50,000 affordably priced apartments.
  • 100,000 opioid treatment centers
  • 1,000,000 internet ready classrooms
  • 5,000,000 safe crosswalks
  • 10,000,000 phones for the homeless

Every year, somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 people in the U.S. die each from:

  • Overdose
  • Gun violence
  • Car accidents

That’s over 100,000 people dead. Every year. Could you imagine how many of these deaths could be avoided if $5B was dedicated to addressing these issues?

On and on and on… Statistics can only take us so far….

… just think: Future Presidents will be tempted to use “national emergencies” to address any of the above data points. They will all have credible rationale to justify going around the power of Congress to do it. Now they will have a precedent to declare a “national emergency” for political purposes.

If the the illogical, strong-man, near-dictatorial behaviour of this President does not bother you, then there’s nothing much we can talk about… There’s so very little ‘common ground’ or ‘intersecting agenda’.

Welcome to the new U.S.A.