Sunday, October 31, 2004

Faulty Logic 

The Palm Beach Post endorsed long-time incumbent E. Clay Shaw, Jr.(Republican from Fort Lauderdale), for another term in the U.S. House of Representatives, but the Congressman didn't like the way it was done. In his response he summarized the Republican position on discussing the war in Iraq:
I am engaged in the decision-making and policy discussions of this global war on terror. I attend the classified congressional briefings by our military leaders and defense officials. I know the challenges of this war as well as anyone. For The Post to say that I am living "in the state of denial," or that I have dismissed the troubles in Iraq "as easily as a double-bogey on the 18th hole," is entirely inaccurate and just plain offensive. You know that as well as I do. So let's just skip to the facts.

I know that this war is not easy; no war ever has been without intense challenges, and we still have a hard road ahead. I can tell you that despite these challenges, we have made an overwhelming impact on eliminating terrorism and cultivating democracy not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but throughout the entire Middle East.

My concern about the column and editorial has nothing to do with my political image, nor the president's. Rather, I am deeply concerned about the impact that your rhetoric has on the morale of the troops who are fighting in Iraq, to say nothing of those troops who are poised to go into battle. Critics of the war in Iraq have become a mouthpiece for retreat and appeasement. The bottom line is: American troops have made our world safer today, and are making it safer for tomorrow. No one should tell them differently.
In other words, there can be no criticism of the President's handling of the war because that is the equivalent of giving aid and comfort to the enemy. But a great many people belive that it is President Bush's mishandling of the conflict in Iraq that is helping our enemies.

Rep. Shaw has served in Congress since 1981 and has been, in many ways, a moderate Republican. He is seen by his constituents as a pragmatic conservative. In this instance, at least, he is misguided in substituting a shallow political argument for good reasoning. Very disappointing.

Fear of Voting 

The Tampa Tribune lets us know that voter intimidation is nothing new in Florida.
The 2004 election is a model of order compared with the Tampa municipal elections of 1876, when about 40 Reconstruction-era black Republicans exchanged gunshots with about the same number of white Democrats.

No one was killed, but some were wounded, said Brown, who has written a number of books on Florida history.

In the 1935 Tampa mayoral election, it was two white factions ready to do battle. One candidate hired thugs with billy clubs to intimidate voters. They squared off with sheriff's deputies, allies of the other candidate. The National Guard was called in to restore order, but many people stayed home on Election Day.

Staying home was the rule for many poor whites and poor blacks during the early 20th century. Florida voters were required to pay poll taxes to cast their ballots, a strategy that helped protect the white power structure, said historian Gary Mormino, a University of South Florida professor.

``One of the great fears [of the whites] was that there would be a coalition of poor whites and blacks'' voting against them, he said.

But blacks experienced the most overt and brutal intimidation. In 1921, an Ocoee man was shot and killed simply for trying to register to vote. The result, as planned, was that many blacks were terrified to go to the polls before the civil rights movement, said Delano Stewart, a Tampa lawyer and civil rights activist.

With Deadline Near, Write Anything 

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel's political columnist, Buddy Nevins, often has a perceptive take on local politics, but sometimes he is just lazy. Take for instance the following from his most recent column:
More than most people, Ian Pearl has a reason to want stem-cell research to succeed.

Pearl of Southwest Ranches has had spinal muscular atrophy since birth. Now 32, he is in a wheelchair and must use a ventilator to breath.

So, it is a surprise to find out Pearl differs with Kerry, who has said federal stem cell research is a potential panacea for millions with serious spinal disorders.

Kerry promises to allow expanded use of stem cells. Because they come from embryos, the move is opposed by President George W. Bush and anti-abortionists.

Since he has plenty of time, Pearl says he does lots of reading about possible cures including the future use of stem cells.

"I am personally outraged by the Kerry-Edwards campaign's distortions. We are decades away from stem cells curing anything," Pearl said.

Pearl said it is largely a non-issue anyway, since European countries and private companies are fully funding stem cell research.
Would Nevins have written this if Mr. Pearl was not suffering from spinal muscular atrophy, but had still had done "lots of reading" about the issue? In what way is Mr. Pearl significant among those who are afflicted with spinal cord damage -- does he represent the prevailing view, or is he highlighted because he is the exception? Moreover, how did Mr. Pearl come to Nevins' attention?

Buddy Nevins might think Mr. Pearl has something important to say, but he doesn't go to the trouble of telling us why.

Bad Vibes 

The St. Petersburg Times is rightfully concerned about underhanded and illegal tactics being used to intimidate voters or make sure their vote won't count:
The kinds of tactics surfacing throughout Florida invite the attention of Attorney General Charlie Crist, who could send an important message about the seriousness of election fraud and intimidation. Elections supervisors already report such incidents as: voters getting a knock at their door and being asked to hand over absentee ballots to people they don't know; voters being asked by people posing as elections workers about any history of arrest or outstanding parking tickets or personal debt; voters being told they can register their vote simply by telling their choices to someone who visits their home.

But the problems don't stop there. The major political parties and various public interest groups are sending an estimated 5,000 official observers to the polls on Tuesday, observers who could by law challenge the right of anyone who tries to vote. Those numbers may be dwarfed by those who will stand outside the polling places, at least 50 feet away if they are following the law, and attempt to size up or influence or frighten voters.
Compound this with problems within various Supervisor of Elections offices (as of Friday, a close relative had not received an absentee ballot that had been applied for at least a month ago), and one has to wonder how close the final tally will reflect the will of the people.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

An Ill Wind 

The Sun-Sentinel's Stephen Goldstein provides twenty-five reasons that George W. Bush is more damaging to Florida than all our hurricanes put together.

I Guess it was Just a Matter of Time 

I have joined Michael Froomkin and many others in having my Kerry-Edwards yard sign stolen.

My wife and I were out of town for five days, and I was somewhat surprised to see that my sign was still in place when we returned yesterday. But as I pulled into my driveway this afternoon I noticed it was gone.

I think I'll do what another person in our neighborhood has done, and put up a replacement sign that says "Another Stolen Kerry Sign."

But I suppose it could be worse.
An 18-year-old Marine recruit remained in jail on Wednesday, charged with threatening to stab his girlfriend over her choice for president. . .

The enlistee, Steven Scott Soper, of Lake Worth, became enraged Tuesday night when his 18-year-old girlfriend said she was leaving him -- and voting for John Kerry for president.

Soper, who will enter the Marines as soon as he passes the GED test, solidly supports Bush. He allegedly told girlfriend Stacey Silheira, "You'll never live to see the election."
Actually, a good Bush supporter -- you might question his judgment, but at least he acts decisively.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

I Don't Care Where I'm Going, As Long as I'm Following a Strong Leader 

The Palm Beach Post's Jac Wilder VerSteeg thinks the war in Iraq has been botched up badly, but as far as the election goes, that's beside the point.
At least America is fighting somebody.

That sentiment is behind much of President Bush's support. Even lots of people who will vote for Mr. Bush know in their hearts that Iraq has been a disaster. The president started the war too early and with bad intelligence. The president didn't line up sufficient allies. President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld sent the troops to war without enough equipment. Maybe that's one reason they didn't send enough troops, either. With more boots on the ground, the shortage of body armor would have been even worse. But America is fighting somebody.
I hear this reasoning all the time. On the Dennis Miller Show recently, Miller was talking with his guests and admitted the war wasn't going as planned and that he didn't agree with Bush's positions on a significant number of issues, but then discounted all that with declaration, "But I don't care, because he's got balls!"

Sorry, No Money Left for Students 

Government leaders at every level are not overly hesitant to provide direct financial incentives for companies, if they think it will spur economic growth.

But apparently it works the other way with a proven economic engine -- our state universities.

The latest proposed "student tax" is a technology fee.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Listen to Your Friends 

The Tampa Tribune is, with the exception of Jacksonville's Florida Times-Union, Florida most conservative major daily newspaper.

It is, therefore, worth noting that it is not endorsing President Bush this time around.
As stewards of the Tribune's editorial voice, we find it unimaginable to not be lending our voice to the chorus of conservative-leaning newspapers endorsing the president's re- election. We had fully expected to stand with Bush, whom we endorsed in 2000 because his politics generally reflected ours: a strong military, fiscal conservatism, personal responsibility and small government. We knew him to be a popular governor of Texas who fought for lower taxes, less government and a pro-business constitution.

But we are unable to endorse President Bush for re- election because of his mishandling of the war in Iraq, his record deficit spending, his assault on open government and his failed promise to be a ``uniter not a divider'' within the United States and the world.
The Tribune notes that it has endorsed the Republican candidate for president in every election since 1952, with the exception of 1964, when no endorsement was offered.

The Tribune outlines its concerns about Bush's performance in office -- a comprehensive indictment that if made by the New York Times or Washington Post would bring howls of outrage from the right.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Let Me Think About This 

There are eight constitutional amendment proposals on the ballot in Florida this time around, and I dare say most people have little idea what they might be. This is due, in no small part, to the paucity of information in the campaign ads -- both pro and con -- for the initiatives.

The St. Petersburg Times' Howard Troxler is ready to help out with his "Handy-Dandy, Totally Biased Guide" for voters.
AMENDMENT ONE: PARENTAL NOTIFICATION: You know this issue. Passing this amendment allows the Legislature to require minors to notify their parents, or else get a judge's permission, to have an abortion.

Each of us has a personal morality on this question. Me, I have no taste for forcing terrified young incest victims to parade down to the courthouse, or making them "notify" the responsible parent. But the polls say I'm on the losing end of this one.

AMENDMENT TWO: EARLIER DEADLINES FOR PETITIONS: There was an attempt to crack down on citizen petitions for constitutional amendments this year, but it fizzled. All that's left is this amendment, which would set an earlier petition deadline of Feb. 1. The deadline now is only 90 days before the election. More time for debate is not a bad idea, but I'm gonna vote no just to spite the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which led the campaign to limit citizen petitions.

AMENDMENT THREE: LAWYER FEES: This is the incredibly bad, too-simple idea of Florida's doctors. (For the incredibly bad, too-simple ideas of Florida's lawyers, see #7 and #8 below.) Legal fees in malpractice cases would be capped at 30 percent of the first $250,000 awarded in malpractice cases, and 10 percent for anything above that. This is another baby-with-the-bathwater approach. Anyway, lawyer fees are already capped in Florida, just not quite this much.

AMENDMENT FOUR: SLOT MACHINES: Having been rebuffed in several statewide elections, now the casino-types are shooting for Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Forget all the bull about economic impact. If you like gambling or are feelin' libertarian, vote yes. If you hate sneakiness and the sleaziness gambling brings, vote no.

AMENDMENT FIVE: MINIMUM WAGE: Apparently it is going to destroy the entire economy of Florida if somebody makes $6.15 an hour instead of $5.15. Why, the gall of these people! Next they'll probably want to eat some cake, too.

AMENDMENT SIX: REPEAL OF HIGH-SPEED RAIL: Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature so resent the high-speed rail project passed by the voters in 2002 that they simply have refused to carry it out. Now they are asking the voters to repeal it.

I say that if the voters defeat this amendment, and show that they Really, Really Meant It, then the governor and the Legislature are honor-bound to get out there and start laying the track themselves. Either that, or they should be impeached.

AMENDMENT SEVEN: PATIENTS' RIGHT TO KNOW: This would allow patients to review the records of past "adverse medical incidents" of doctors and medical facilities. Some of this information is secret now.

Again, this is a simplistic, feel-good idea. But it's mostly an attempt by lawyers to hurt doctors. Lawsuits will increase, the cost of lawsuits will increase, and the honest internal review of medical mistakes - that "peer review" that is an essential part of medicine - will suffer. Says me.

AMENDMENT EIGHT: "THREE STRIKES" FOR DOCTORS: One more sweet-sounding but awful idea. The claim of this amendment is that any doctor guilty of three instances of malpractice would be de-licensed. Sounds great, right?

This amendment will create enormous pressure on doctors and their insurance companies simply to settle lawsuits, rather than risk losing a case - creating open season for lawsuits. It is a meat-ax, one-size-fits all approach. It'll probably pass.
There are some effective television advertisments for these amendments (such as one with the father talking about his daughter's death), but I'll be damned if I can remember what amendment they are referring to.

Why Should We Listen To You? 

The race for the U.S. House of Representatives in Florida's District 20 pits liberal Democrat Debbie Wasserman-Schultz against conservative Republican Margaret Hostetter.

Ms. Hostetter is typical of so many of those who vocally espouse "family values" -- they're always talking about someone else.
"Marriage is and always has been, and must remain for any civilized and decent culture, a union between a man and a woman. Period," she said.

When asked if her two divorces reflect the traditional values she espouses, she says, "I am an imperfect person."
Exactly. But wouldn't you think that would give her pause to consider that since she's been wrong before, . . . well you get the point.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Dollar Bill 

Ft. Myers News-Press columnist Sam Cook listened to FGCU's President William Merwin's explanation for canceling a speaker whose words he couldn't control.
"I don't know if she was going to mention George W. Bush, but Florida is a swing state, it would be nine days before the election and she is a Kerry backer," Merwin says.
It all came down to an understanding of what his job is all about, and "Merwin put financial considerations ahead of the educational experience."

A Learning Experience 

The Palm Beach Post's Jac Wilder VerSteeg looks to make even hurricanes a teachable moment.
Living in Florida in September without electricity gives you a new appreciation for the hardiness of the folks who came down here before air conditioning was common. In rural North Carolina, where I grew up, air conditioning still was relatively new in the 1960s, and lots of folks could remember when they "got the electricity" on their tobacco farms.

Striving to make Frances something of a learning experience, my wife and I explained to our 14-year-old daughter that less than a century ago, most people in the countryside lived their whole lives without electric lights or running water. It's a hard concept to grasp for someone who has grown up with cable TV, laptop computers, cellphones and the Internet.

Now, courtesy of Frances, she was experiencing those pioneer days for herself. It was kind of a nightmare field trip in which she got to hunker down in a hot, humid, dark bedroom and pray that a cooling breeze would find its way through the window screens.

We might have spoiled the effect just a bit Monday night when we cranked up the battery-powered portable DVD player to watch The Emperor's New Groove. But, hey, the battery on that thing lasts only two hours. Oh, the hardship.
Without electricity there really isn't much to do once the sun goes down. It certainly help explain why families were so large a century ago.

Martinez's War on Terror (and the Truth) 

Sun-Sentinel columnist Stephen Goldstein takes Mel Martinez to task for his dishonest attacks on Betty Castor for being soft on terrorism.
While Martinez hopes Florida voters can be duped into believing that Castor is a female Osama bin Laden, he's been tugging at voters' heartstrings, posturing himself as a modern-day Peter Pan -- one of the Cuban kids who flew to Miami to live the American Dream.

But he's really Pinocchio. Spreading lies about his opponents is his MO. He even trashed his Republican primary opponent, Bill McCollum [accusing him of supporting the "gay agenda"].

Having fled Castro's dictatorship, you'd think he would have learned to respect people's constitutional rights, not to mention the truth. But apparently, American values to Martinez are no more substantial than Tinker Bell's dust.

Through all the mudslinging, Castor has refused to stoop to his level. The moral of this story is: It takes a lady to be a man.
Martinez's slimy and dishonest campaign is an insult to the intelligence of Floridians.

UPDATE: Mark Lane's Flablog quotes Castor aide Dan McLaughlin on the Martinez campaign: "[It is]the ugly mutated life form of what Lee Atwater started and which today's Republican Party, with the likes of Karl Rove, are continuing. They make stuff up after their polling identifies divisive or polarizing issues that they can use to drive home with ethnic groups or other constituencies."

And at Bark Bark Woof Woof, we see that Martinez cannot even keep track of who he is attacking.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


The University of Florida's Independent Florida Alligator is advising everyone to leave their signs at home and concentrate on what's really important.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Fear and Loathing on Campus, Part II 

In a previous post, I faulted Florida Gulf Coast University's president, William Merwin, for canceling a scheduled speaker, author Terry Tempest Williams, for fear she might present an unbalanced and anti-Bush point-of-view close to the election.

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education puts the controversy in clear perspective (subscription required):
William C. Merwin, the university's president, announced on Wednesday that he was postponing the campus's annual celebration for freshmen out of fear that the invited speaker, Terry Tempest Williams, would turn the event into a political rally against President Bush.

Mr. Merwin told the university's Board of Trustees at its regularly scheduled meeting that he would delay the event, which had been scheduled for October 24, until after the November 2 election. The trustees voted, 10 to 1, to support Mr. Merwin's decision.

In a subsequent interview, Mr. Merwin said he believes that Ms. Williams strongly favors the Democratic Party and that she would have shown her bias in her speech. "How could you have a one-sided blatant political commentary on the eve of an election without balance?" he asked.

Mr. Merwin said he had felt no outside political pressure to make his decision, but affirmed that his concerns did run beyond political balance to the university's balance sheet. He said he understood that the university could face repercussions from donors, lawmakers, and trustees for allowing a partisan speech attacking the president, whose brother is Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, in a swing state just days before the election.(emphasis mine)
Now if Governor Bush actually cared about Florida and its universities, he would have been on the phone that very day, telling President Merwin to call Ms. Williams, apologize to her and invite her to speak on the day originally designated -- and then to apologize to his students.

Alas, who could believe Gov. Bush would make such a call?

Oh, by the way, Vice President Cheney will be holding a campaign rally on the FGCU campus this coming Thursday. (I know, its an entirely different thing).

Government by Bungling 

The prospect for Florida having an election that has credibility with the citizenry seems to be vanishing. In large part this is due to incompetent leadership (which, I guess, is not really leadership at all) from the Secretary of State, Glenda Hood.

The St. Petersburg Times's Lucy Morgan thinks we're heading for chaos:
Picture this: thousands of people who think they are eligible to vote showing up on Election Day and being turned away. Toss in hundreds more who drop in at dozens of precincts demanding to cast provisional ballots.

Can't blame them if they are angry but it's not the fault of the poll workers and elections officials, who will take the blame.

Some elections officials are beginning to think this is chaos by design - a deliberate attempt to disrupt an election and make it easier to raise questions about the outcome.

On Wednesday, the Tallahassee office of Secretary of State Glenda Hood received a box of about 400 voter registration forms. The box was postmarked Oct. 5, a day after the deadline.

State workers are sorting the forms to send to the counties that have to register the voters, but it's likely none of them will be registered in time to vote on Nov. 2.
I believe we set ourselves up for this mess when the Secretary of State became an gubernatorial appointment, rather than being elected statewide.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Debating the Debate 

I have to agree with Mustang Bobby at Bark Bark Woof Woof on the stage presence of the two candidates last night.
Kerry looked calm and in control. Nothing seems to rattle him; even as Bush repeated his lines over and over - lines that have been discredited by the facts and reality. He was engaged with his audience and made eye contact, doing something that Bush has trouble doing. That comes from his experience as a litigator, and he knows how to talk to a jury. Bush came across as one of those Sunday morning televangelists who stands up in front of a crowd and talks at them, confident that they are listening and in agreement with him, but doesn't expect any response other than the occasional "Amen."
This is probably a good strategy for Bush, though, since I would guess much of his support is based on faith rather than intellect.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan sees the same thing: "The contrast between a man who can make an argument and one who can simply assert what he believes to be a truth was striking. If we have learned anything these past three years, it is that conviction is not enough."

More College Pranks 

The Palm Beach Post's Stebbins Jefferson is concerned that Florida's traditionally black state university, FAMU, is suffering from a "covert agenda" to marginalize its place within the state university system.

Jefferson points to the scrapping of the Board of Regents as the start of FAMU's problems
. . . for almost 30 years . . . all state public universities had been supervised by a single Board of Regents, a design instituted to eliminate turf battles among institutions and to reduce disproportionate allocations of state money. Only within the past 10 years of this governance system had the regents begun to grant FAMU a significant degree of parity.

Such hard-won progress would end in 1998, when the state directed Adam Herbert, the state's first black university chancellor, to set up a new tiered system. That hierarchical arrangement would be followed in 2001 by replacement of the statewide Board of Regents with individual 13-member boards of trustees to serve each institution. Fair-minded Floridians can see readily that this back-to-the-future strategy reduces public scrutiny and makes advancement of each institution of higher learning almost exclusively dependent upon access to the governor and powerful legislators.
Of course the change in the governance of the state university system was not about education, it was about power. Without a Board of Regents speaking for all state universities, the individual institutions would lose the buffer that had been in place between the colleges and the politicians, and therefore could be more easily intimidated (see previous post)or ignored.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Fear and Loathing on Campus 

The leadership at Florida Gulf Coast University has failed its students and the citizens of the state.

FGCU's president, William Merwin, and the university's board of trustees decided to cancel a planned speaking engagement by the author of a book assigned to all incoming freshmen, because concern that the talk would be "an unbalanced political commentary."
A Utah author’s speaking event at Florida Gulf Coast University was postponed after President William Merwin and the board of trustees decided Wednesday that the forum would be too politically unbalanced and negative toward President Bush.

The author, Terry Tempest Williams, disagrees. She said the decision to postpone the event, initially scheduled for Oct. 24, is politically motivated. She said the school’s 13 trustees, six of whom are directly appointed by the governor, have ties to the Bush family.

Williams said her book, “The Open Space of Democracy,” is not an attack on President Bush but a book about environmental policies and democracy.

“The irony here is that this book is about dialogue and the ability to face opposing points of views with mutual respect,” said the 49-year-old author from Castle Valley. “This is not only a breach of contract, it is a breach of democracy. We had an opportunity to model an open space of democracy at this distinguished university. By the decision he made, I feel he has closed the open space of democracy.”
There is no other explanation for this other than pure politics. The time to decide that a program might be "unbalanced" is when it is being set up, not when it appears that the election might be close. I'm absolutely sure that this action was taken from fear of retaliation by Governor Bush and the Republican legislators against the university.

Shame on William Merwin. Shame on the board of trustees. Pity the FGCU students.

UPDATE: It gets worse. This from an article in the Naples Daily News:
Student Government President Matt Hall, who sits on the Board of Trustees and supports postponing Williams' visit, said he had not read the book and he was concerned because students wouldn't have an opportunity to rebut what could be a political speech.

[President]Merwin said he doesn't want there to be even the suggestion that the university is endorsing a presidential candidate or giving one candidate an advantage. Merwin, who contributed $2,000 to the Bush campaign in 2003 and another $1,750 to the Republican Party of Florida and candidates since 2002, said he would have had the same decision if Williams' views were on any other politician. (emphasis mine)
What has happened to my state?

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

National Pastime 

While the national media is assessing the likely move of the Montreal Expos to Washington D.C., in Florida the Ocala Star-Banner is touting the move of the Florida State League's Tampa Yankees to Marion County. John Travolta and George Steinbrenner, both of whom have residences in the Ocala area, have expressed interest in making the move happen.
Minor league baseball teams are coveted by communities for both the tangibles and intangibles they offer. To be sure, they attract visitors, especially an organization with the marquee value of the Yankees. But beyond that, baseball is clean, wholesome entertainment that is a social event as much as a sporting event.

Anyone who has ever lived in a community with a minor-league team knows those teams offer a long lineup of fund-raising and promotional opportunities for charitable and civic organizations, not to mention providing a facility for potential state and regional baseball tournaments.

Bringing a minor-league team to Ocala/Marion County, finally, would be an impressive addition to the civic resume of a town that is growing up fast. Like a nationally recognized museum, a top-notch civic theater, a respected community college and a modern library, a minor league sports team would be another positive in measuring our quality of life. Look at the communities around the country that have minor-league teams. We suggest those are the communities that are progressive and moving forward.

Ocala/Marion County should be flattered that two of its most famous residents want to team up and bring pro baseball here. That's not to say we should rush into any relationship blindly. But we, that is, our city and county officials, certainly should listen intently to their game plan and be prepared to offer reasonable — and we're not yet sure what constitutes reasonable — support and encouragement.

The worst that can happen is the Travolta-Steinbrenner consortium would love us and leave us. And when it comes to minor-league baseball, it wouldn't be the first time that's happened.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Cuba Again 

A reader emailed me, asking why I was "obsessed" about Cuba. My reply is that I'm hardly obsessed -- in fact I rarely give it a lot of thought except when U.S. policy infringes on my freedoms, such as the right to travel. Moreover, I think that America's Cuban policy is counterproductive to our own best interests and exhibits the worst in political pandering.

In today's Sun-Sentinel, guest columnist Carmelo Mesa-Lago points out the inconsistencies of the Bush administration's recent restrictions on travel and family remittances while increasing agricultural sales to the island.
In contrast, since the end of 2001, U.S. merchants and farmers (many of them Republicans and several from Texas) have sold close to $1 billion to Castro in agricultural products, transforming the United States into the first supplier of such products and the sixth largest trader with the island. In 2004, at the same time restrictions were imposed, such sales have increased 25 percent and are projected to reach a record $400 million, carving a huge hole in the embargo. In addition, the Republican-controlled Senate appropriations subcommittee on agriculture voted unanimously last month to approve a bill making it easier for U.S. companies to market agricultural and medical goods to Cuba.
So on the one hand the U.S. government is telling its citizens that they are not allowed to travel to Cuba, while on the other it permits the sale of millions of dollars of goods to the Castro government.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Hey, What About Our Rights? 

Shouldn't Americans be free to read whatever they want? According to an article in the Miami Herald, not if the publication is from Cuba.
Seeking to overturn restrictions against publishing works from Cuba and other blacklisted countries, a group of scholarly publishers and authors sued the U.S. Treasury Department on Monday.

"Ideas should not be embargoed," said Janet Francendese, editor in chief of Temple University Press, one of five publishers that have frozen Cuban projects for fear of being fined from the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Six Cuban publications -- the most from any embargoed nation -- are on the groups' list of in-limbo works. Their topics range from birds to music to short stories.

The suit comes amid a Bush administration crackdown on relations with Cuba. Earlier this year, travel to the island was curbed and the amount of family remittances slashed. Now, publishers say, they, too, are falling victim to the get-tough policy.
Meanwhile, in case anyone was confused about this issue and thought the above policy was related to tangible products such as books and journals, and not ideas, other actions were taken to make the U.S. policy perfectly clear.
The Bush administration has denied entry to all 61 Cuban scholars scheduled to participate in the Latin American Studies Association's international congress in Las Vegas next week, deeming them "detrimental to the interests of the United States."

The last-minute move, which comes on the heels of new restrictions on travel by Americans to Cuba, is provoking anger and dismay among leading American academics, who called it an unprecedented effort to sever scholarly exchanges that have been conducted since 1979.
A representative for the Bush administration explained these measures
"Restricting access of Cuban academics to the United States is consistent with the overall tightening of our policy," [State Department spokeswoman Darla] Jordan said, noting that Cuban academic institutions are state run.
State run? We certainly can't have any of that!

UPDATE:The Palm Beach Post editorializes on President Bush's Cuba policy:
No one really expects any rational ideas about Cuba to surface until after November, if they surface at all. The hope is that, until rationality someday prevails, the damage to innocents will be minimal. The crackdown against scholars is the most recent reminder about how warped the thinking about Cuba has become.

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