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Holder: Race Relations ‘in a Better Place’ After My Tenure



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Attorney General Eric Holder defended the White House’s record on race during an interview on Thursday, claiming America is “in a better place” on race relations after six years of his and President Obama’s leadership.

As his tenure comes to a close, Holder spoke with MSNBC’s Joy Reid about what his legacy may look like. The attorney general explained that he’s “been really out there in talking about things racial, and gotten a lot of criticism for it. You know, that’s fine.”

“I think raising these issues, and I think coming up with substantive programs, as we have in the Department of Justice — I think we’re in a better place than we were before,” Holder continued. ”Maybe not as far as people expected with the first African-American president, or the selection of a first African-American attorney general.”

A strong plurality of Americans disagree with the attorney general’s contention, with a November NBC News poll showing 40 percent believe race relations have soured under President Obama while just 20 percent felt they had improved. 

Now Movie Theaters Can’t Show Team America Either



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And yet worse. Per the Daily Beast:

Three movie theaters say Paramount Pictures has ordered them not to show Team America: World Police one day after Sony Pictures pulled The Interview from release. The famous Alamo Drafthouse in Texas, Capitol Theater in Cleveland, and Plaza Atlanta in Atlanta said they would screen the movie instead of The Interview but Paramount has ordered them not to do so. (No reason was apparently given and Paramount hasn’t spoken.)

It can only be a matter of hours until James Bond is outlawed, too.

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Cuba’s Maximum Wage, Or What Life Is Like When You Follow Gawker’s Economic Policy



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Below, Andrew Stuttaford notes Michael Totten’s City Journal article from earlier this year about the tragic realities of life in the Castros’ Cuba. One absurdity Totten mentions: Cuba, years ahead of Gawker, has long had a maximum wage, of late about $20 a month.

The reality is a bit complicated — people are mostly paid another wage, in non-convertible pesos, etc. — but that’s essentially the deal: Cubans, no matter what profession they do, aren’t officially paid more than a pittance of hard currency (i.e., currency other people will actually accept).

There are lots of ways Cubans unofficially try to get around it — but not many of them get to do so with part of a fat U.S.-taxpayer-provided salary. Several years ago, I got to know two Cuban doctors who were getting by doing just that.

Cuba, as apologists for the Castro regime make well known, churns out an incredible number of doctors, and sends many of them abroad to purchase foreign-policy leverage. Two of them were stationed in the same town where I lived for one summer in rural Namibia, a country that has a historically friendly relationship with Cuba. They weren’t even the only doctors in the town of a few thousand: There were two Zimbabwean doctors whose salary was being paid by the U.S. government, thanks to President Bush’s huge (and hugely successful) anti-AIDS campaign, PEPFAR. There was also a Congolese doctor who supervised them, which is a good reminder that exporting doctors isn’t exactly the best sign of a country’s health.

The consensus was that the Zimbabweans were vastly more skilled (they got their training before Robert Mugabe turned Zimbabwe’s medical system into a patronage machine), and the Cubans could barely speak English. But that still wouldn’t justify the fact that the Cubans were getting paid the same hard-currency wage — about 20 dollars a month — that Cubans back home, who could spend the government’s fake currency, got subsidized food, etc., also lived on. So the Zimbabwean doctors, who made a handsome enough living from their U.S.-government salaries and private work that one of them drove a new white Mercedes C180 around town, paid for the Cubans’ food, beers, cell phones, and more. It was that summer that Cubans back home, apparently, were finally permitted to buy cell phones — the Cubans in Namibia, for a change, were on the right side of history.

It was an oddly efficient arrangement. And if you were wondering, yes, they did trade jibes about whose dictator was worse.

Web Briefing: December 28, 2014

Obama Admin Won’t Rule Out Castro Visit to White House



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White House press secretary Josh Earnest refused to rule out a visit by Cuban President Raúl Castro to Washington, noting that leaders from other countries with spotty human rights records have already met with President Obama in D.C. 

After Wednesday’s surprise announcement that the administration would seek to “normalize” relations with the embargoed Caribbean nation, Earnest said President Obama is open to visiting Cuba in the future.

And on Thursday, the press secretary made clear that the White House is also considering playing host to the aging Communist revolutionary.

“The analogy that we’ve tried to draw — or at least identify — is that there are important national security reasons for the president to travel to other countries that have what we would describe, at best, as having checkered human rights records,” Earnest said, referring to recent state visits to China and Burma. 

“Having an open relationship, in which the president engages with the leaders of other countries, can actually serve as a useful way to shine a spotlight on the shortcomings of other countries’ records as it relates to human rights,” he continued. 

“So I guess the point is, that the president has had the leaders of both Burma and China to the United States,” Earnest concluded. “And for that reason, I wouldn’t rule out a visit from President Castro.”

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Putin Unchained: Russian Prez Warns the West Is ‘Trying to Chain’ the Bear



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Russian President Vladimir Putin poetically described his view of the punishing sanctions placed on his nation after the slow-motion invasion of Ukraine, explaining the West was seeking to “chain” and declaw the mighty Russian bear. 

At his annual televised news conference, a defiant Putin told reporters that the ongoing collapse of the Russian ruble — brought on by sanctions and plummeting oil prices – will not deter him from encroaching on Ukraine and other Eastern European neighbors.

“Maybe the bear should sit quietly, rather than chasing wild boar big and small on the taiga, and should switch to eating berries and honey,” Putin said angrily. “Will he be left in peace then? No way?”

“They will keep trying to chain him,” the Russian leader warned. “And as soon as he’s chained, his fangs and claws will be pulled.”

Putin continued the metaphor while describing the perceived hypocrisy of Western powers, who have called on Russia to relinquish their claim on Crimea and cease meddling in eastern Ukraine.

“To chop Texas from Mexico is fair, but when we make a decision about our territories it is unfair,” he said. “Do they want our bear to become a stuffed animal?”

The Russian ruble took a severe tumble this week, losing fifteen percent of its value and setting off a wave of purchases throughout the country. The president would only admit that about a quarter of Russia’s economic catastrophe was caused by Western sanctions.

Marquette Suspends Professor Who Blogged About Free-Speech Violations



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A student taped a Marquette teacher telling him opposition to gay marriage would not be permitted in her class. Another Marquette professor blogs about this inappropriate conduct. Guess who gets disciplined at this Catholic university?

I joke but this is outrageous. 

Republican Martha McSally Wins AZ-02, Midterms’ Last Undecided House Race



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Add one more to the House total. Following a mandatory recount, Republican Martha McSally has been certified as the winner in Arizona’s Second Congressional District, cinching the only remaining undecided House race. Via Politico:

Results unveiled Wednesday by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper — more than six weeks after the Nov. 4 election — showed McSally ahead by 167 votes. McSally, a retired Air Force officer and the first female to fly in combat, previously led the vote count by 161 votes, but a mandatory recount followed because the margin was not wide enough.

“There’s no getting around that this was an incredibly close and hard-fought race,” McSally said in a statement after officially being declared the winner. “After what’s been a long campaign season, it’s time to come together and heal our community. That’s why my focus will be on what unites us, not what divides us, such as providing better economic opportunity for our families and ensuring our country and community are kept safe.”

McSally’s win adds to the GOP’s historic 2014 gains in the House. When the new Congress convenes in January, Republicans will control 247 House seats, compared to 188 for Democrats.

Wondering What to Get Your Favorite Religious-Liberty Advocate for Christmas?



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You can pick up a print of a most excellent NR cover from earlier this year:

I’m embarrassed to say I only a few days ago realized there’s a Roman Genn gallery of NR cover art to shop from.

‘The Castros Finally Hit the Jackpot’



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I wrote about the Cuba changes for Politico today:

The trade of Alan Gross, the American aid worker jailed in Cuba for the offense of trying to help Jewish Cubans get on the Internet, for three Cuban spies is understandable (we also got back one of our spies, and Cuba released several dozen political prisoners as a sweetener).

The rest of Obama’s sweeping revisions — diplomatic relations and the loosening of every economic sanction he can plausibly change on his own — are freely granted, no questions asked. It is quid with no pro quo. Even if you oppose the isolation of Cuba, this is not a good trade.

After waiting out 10 other U.S. presidents, the Castro regime finally hit the jackpot in Obama, whose beliefs about our Cuba policy probably don’t differ much from those of the average black-turtleneck-clad graduate student in Latin American studies.

Every dictator around the world must be waiting anxiously for a call or a postcard from Obama. The leader of the free world comes bearing gifts and understanding. He is willing to overlook human-rights abuses. And his idea of burnishing his legacy is to clinch deals with his country’s enemies.

Holy See Diplomacy: It Didn’t Begin with Cuba Yesterday



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Francis Rooney served as a U.S. ambassador to the Holy See under George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008, and is author of the book, The Global Vatican: An Inside Look at the Catholic Church, World Politics, and the Extraordinary Relationship between the United States and the Holy See. I talked with him about the Holy See diplomacy in light of Pope Francis’ role in the release of Alan Gross.

KJL: What do you make of the pope’s reported involvement with the Allan Gross release? 

Ambassador Francis Rooney: Here we see yet another important exercise of the Holy See’s “soft power” diplomacy, working privately, behind the scenes, to accomplish a diplomatic objective which is central to its core principles, the protection of human dignity and the right to personal freedom. 
 

KJL: How does this fit into the history of Vatican diplomacy? 

AMBASSADOR ROONEY: This is consistent with many centuries of active engagement by the Holy See with secular sovereigns to resolve differences and solve problems, whether in mediating border disputes, seeking hostage releases or calling out for economic and individual freedoms. 

 

KJL: What do you say to people who think this is bad policy? That the pope might be dangerously or unwisely intervening in U.S. public policy? 

Ambassador Rooney: I think the pope is pursuing traditional Holy See diplomacy centered on improving the human condition and seeking to resolve differences among secular countries. The difference now is that the U.S. administration wanted to accomplish something which happened to align with these objectives as far as Cuba is concerned. 
 

Keep reading this post . . .

We Already Trade with Cuba, a Lot



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With the debate over U.S. policy toward Cuba raging, I came across this information from my friend Steven Hill this morning. He makes a few important points:

Keep in mind that the broad commercial embargo is codified in law and would require a Congressional enactment to undo. At the same time it’s interesting to note–and many people do not realize this–the US is actually one of the largest importers into Cuba, mostly agricultural, pharmaceutical, and medical devices that can be exported via carve-outs that Congress created in 2000. That’s probably why there has been no great commercial lobbying pressure to do away with the embargo.

Here is a link to the information. A summary of Cuba’s trade:

Top 5 Products exported by Cuba Raw Sugar (25%), Refined Petroleum (15%), Nickel Mattes (14%), Rolled Tobacco (14%), and Hard Liquor (6.7%)
Top 5 Products imported by Cuba Refined Petroleum (6.1%), Wheat (3.9%), Corn (3.8%), Poultry Meat (3.3%), and Concentrated Milk (2.4%)
Top 5 Export destinations of Cuba China (30%), Spain (11%), Brazil (5.1%), Belgium-Luxembourg (5.0%), and Italy (3.2%)
Top 5 Import origins of Cuba China (18%), Spain (16%), Brazil (9.4%), United States (7.6%), and Mexico(5.5%)

After looking around a little, I found further information from a 2009 article by then–director of trade policy at the Cato Institute, Dan Griswold:

In 2000, Congress approved a modest opening of the embargo. The Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act allows cash-only sales to Cuba of US farm products and medical supplies. The results of this modest opening have been quite amazing. Since 2000, total sales of farm products to Cuba have increased from virtually zero to $691m in 2008. The top US exports by value are corn, meat and poultry, wheat and soybeans. From dead last, Cuba is now the number six customer in Latin America for US agricultural products. Last year, American farmers sold more to the 11.5 million people who live in Cuba than to the 200 million people in Brazil.

Not many people know much about our exports to Cuba, which is too bad — for one, not all U.S. exporters are equal before this embargo.

If There Ever Were a Place for Standing on Principle, It’s Cuba



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I’m still on the fence about the idea of unraveling the Cuban embargo, but over at WaPo Dan Drezner makes the most concise, convincing case I’ve seen.

But I’m not sold. Because even as he argues that over the medium term, normalization will (marginally) increase the chances of liberalization in Cuba (Drezner guesses “maybe from 2 percent to 10 percent”), he yields that the immediate effect will be to “extend the Cuban government’s ability to survive, not hasten its demise.” That’s because the Castros will most certainly direct new trade inflows to shore up internal support and reward loyalists.

Now I’m with Charles Lane and others in thinking that the embargo, while basically ineffectual, is nevertheless important as a matter of principle. So the question becomes: Why crap out on a half-century-old, principled stand, and reward human-rights-abusing evildoers, for that little upside? In the very least, why not wait until the Castros join the People’s Putrefaction Army before you cave? Why give Beardie McMarxis the last laugh?

Drezner rejects that premise for the same reasons I’ve seen deployed by just about every lefty with three credit hours of poli-sci and a Twitter account. The short version of which is: “The embargo is hypocritical because Saudi Arabia.”

But Drezner actually undermines this argument elsewhere in the post. In explaining why it’s wrong to compare the prospect of normalization with Cuba to the prospect of normalization with another bad actor like North Korea, he writes that “North Korea poses a serious security risk far beyond its human rights debacle. Its nuclear program makes the country a clear threat to key U.S. treaty allies.” In other words, you don’t deal with a major strategic threat in a region vital to U.S. interests the same way you deal with a octogenarian Commie in your backyard.

But of course that cuts both ways. You strike an alliance with a Saudi regime with a less-than-stellar human rights record because it’s surrounded by strategic threats in a region vital to U.S. interests. Cuba, by contrast, is parked in the middle of an American lake. We’ve had the run of the hemisphere for 120 years. If ever there’s a place where realist considerations leave room for taking a stand for liberty — even a largely symbolic one — it’s there.

Should We Import Scandinavian Public Policy?



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How can Scandinavians tax so much? London School of Economics professor Henrik Jacobsen Kleven takes up this question in the most recent issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives. His is a fine paper. But of course it’s not perfect, doesn’t settle the question, and Professor Kleven is appropriately cautious:

How are Scandinavian countries able to combine exceptionally large tax takes with some of the strongest economic outcomes in the world? The wider question  extends beyond Scandinavia. Is it in general possible to design a tax and enforcement system that raises large amounts of revenue while keeping tax evasion and labor market distortions at a modest level, or is there something special about the Scandinavian countries that make it hard to replicate their successful outcomes in other settings?

We do not claim to provide an exhaustive or conclusive treatment of these big questions. The descriptive cross-country evidence is consistent with social and cultural factors playing a role, although we are far from being able to interpret this evidence fully. But the discussion has also identified a set of concrete policies that can go some way towards explaining the Scandinavian puzzle, namely the use of far-reaching information trails that facilitate tax compliance, broad tax bases that limit the scope of legal tax avoidance, and large public spending focused on complements to work. Indeed, these factors may intertwine: that is, the social and cultural factors may make it easier to enact these kinds of policies, and in turn the social and cultural norms may themselves be driven by the design of policies and institutions.

As we continue our efforts to understand and draw lessons from the social and economic success of the Scandinavian countries, it is worth remembering that these countries have some specific traits. They are small and homogenous, racial and religious diversity is limited, human capital is high, and they have been largely unaffected by violent conflict. It is not clear to what degree lessons learned from Scandinavia carry policy implications for large, diverse, and unequal countries such as the United States. Certainly the political economy surrounding the implementation of the policies proposed here would be different in the United States — indeed this is partly why we observe stark policy differences to begin with — and conditional on political feasibility, the effects and appropriate design of those policies might be different in the United States. Hence, replicating the Scandinavian policies and institutions in societies that are fundamentally different is unlikely to be achievable or perhaps even desirable. The point is instead for countries everywhere to think carefully about how to collect taxes and redistribute income with less distortion from tax evasion, tax avoidance, and reduced labor supply, and the Scandinavian experience may provide ideas on how to expand the conversation about these important questions.

I don’t have much of a problems with any of these paragraphs.

I’m quoted in an article in the New York Times on the paper, and as the article reports I do think that we can learn some things from Scandinavia — better transportation, better public education — and I oppose expanding the government’s role in child care (we have enough middle-class entitlements, thank you very much).

But naturally, these quotes don’t exhaust my views on the subject. I agree with professor Kleven that there are limits to what we can learn from his paper specifically, and from Scandinavia generally.

Dr. Kleven spends most of his time on tax policy and policies that compliment work because those are the policies that he can most accurately measure. But he, correctly, discusses cultural factors — much harder to measure but that, I would speculate, matter quite a bit to Scandinavia’s situation — that would make importing Scandinavia’s policies to the U.S. very difficult.

I would make two other points as well. Americans might be willing to fork over more of their hard-earned cash to the government if they had more confidence that the government would spend the money in a productive way.

And, as I have written, very high marginal income tax rates would likely be very damaging to the long-term future of the United States. Why would a young person want to be a surgeon or an entrepreneur if the government will take seventy cents of her top dollars of income? Like Scandinavian culture, the longer-term reactions to high top rates — skill acquisition, occupational choice, general attitudes about work — are much harder to measure. And it is fine for economists to focus on what they can measure when writing their papers. But it is not fine for the public debate to assume that these effects are zero just because economists can’t measure them.

Let me close by offering for your consideration the reaction of my Dutch colleague Dr. Stan Veuger.

A small number of overwhelmingly white Northern European countries with a Christian cultural heritage or even a Protestant established church are, for quite a few American progressives, the place to turn to for public policy inspiration. This can probably be explained by a strong belief that those countries – Denmark, Sweden and Finland, perhaps even Iceland, the Netherlands or Austria – are characterized by more equal outcomes, higher rates of social mobility, better public education and higher taxes. (I suppose that secularism, drug policy and bike lanes help as well.)

The high taxes are particularly awesome, especially because they don’t seem to destroy everyone’s willingness to show up to work. Now, it is obviously infuriating to believe that other countries have discovered and implemented a technology to immanentize the eschaton, and that you could, too, if only your political opponents believed in science and weren’t so racist. Why, you ask, why, tell me why!

You can find the rest of his answer here.

— Michael R. Strain is deputy director of economic policy studies and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MichaelRStrain.

Studio Cancels North Korea Thriller with Steve Carrell



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Following Sony’s lead, another studio is scrapping plans for a North Korea–related film. Via Deadline:

New Regency has scrapped another project that was to be set in North Korea. The untitled thriller, set up in October, was being developed by director Gore Verbinski as a vehicle for Foxcatcher star Steve Carell. The paranoid thriller written by Steve Conrad was going to start production in March.

Carrell is likely not happy about the preemptive surrender. Responding to Sony’s decision to pull The Interview yesterday, the actor tweeted:

Carrell’s former Office costar, Rainn Wilson, jokingly pitched a new project, in light of recent events.

Carrell might consider signing on. It’s one movie that would actually get made.

WaPo Slams Obama’s Cuba Move



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The editorial board of the Washington Post is decidedly displeased with Barack Obama’s Cuba announcement. A sample:

IN RECENT months, the outlook for the Castro regime in Cuba was growing steadily darker. The modest reforms it adopted in recent years to improve abysmal economic conditions had stalled, due to the regime’s refusal to allow Cubans greater freedoms. Worse, the accelerating economic collapse of Venezuela meant that the huge subsidies that have kept the Castros afloat for the past decade were in peril. A growing number of Cubans were demanding basic human rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly.

On Wednesday, the Castros suddenly obtained a comprehensive bailout — from the Obama administration. President Obama granted the regime everything on its wish list that was within his power to grant.

The full editorial is here.

Texas Theater to Show Nork-Needling Team America in Place of The Interview



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Calling all lovers of freedom in the Dallas–Fort Worth metro area. Via Hollywood Reporter:

After Sony canceled the release of the North Korea assassination comedy The Interview, a Texas theater said it would swap the film with Paramount’s 2004 film Team America: World Police for one free screening.

“We’re just trying to make the best of an unfortunate situation,” James Wallace, creative manager and programmer at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s Dallas/Fort Worth location, tells The Hollywood Reporter

American flags and other patriotic items will be given out by theater employees, Wallace says. 

Team America: World Police, released in 2004, follows a team of supermarionettes as they try to save the world from a terrorist plot orchestrated by former North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il — who is finding it tougher than he expected to be a tyrant (brief language):

This is not the first time Texas’s Alamo Drafthouse cinema chain has grabbed national headlines. In 2011, a customer who was thrown out of an Austin-area theater for using her cell phone during a screening left a colorful voicemail declaring her displeasure. Alamo Drafthouse featured the voicemail in a subsequent advertisement asking moviegoers not to use their phones in the theater. The ad has since gone viral.

Alison Lundergan Grimes Vows to Sue Rand Paul If He Runs for President



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Kentucky secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes is vowing to sue Rand Paul if he tries to run for reelection to the Senate and for president in 2016. 

“The law is clear,” Grimes, who lost her Senate bid to Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell earlier this year, told Louisville’s WHAS-11 TV on Wednesday. “You can’t be on the ballot twice for two offices.”

Paul is openly mulling a presidential bid and has already announced that he will seek reelection to his Senate seat. He pushed unsuccessfully last year for the Kentucky legislature to clarify a state law that prohibits candidates from appearing on the same ballot twice. Paul argues that the law applies only to state officeholders and that applying it to federal officeholders is unconstitutional, and he has pledged to fight it in court

As for Grimes’s threat, the senator’s political team appears uncowed. ”I think we will let her talk by herself,” Paul’s chief political adviser, Doug Stafford, tells National Review Online. Grimes garnered a reputation on the campaign trail for making unforced errors and verbal gaffes, refusing to say, for example, whether she had voted for President Obama. 

Whether it is Grimes or Paul who brings the lawsuit, it’s looking increasingly likely that Rand Paul’s presidential campaign will begin in a courtroom. ​

 

A Bunch of North Korean Hackers Just Censored American Civil Society



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It just gets worse. Yesterday evening, I lamented the astonishing news that the American film industry was being dictated to by a bunch of North Korean hackers. At the time of writing, the following had happened:

First, Sony Pictures, which produced the film, canceled tomorrow’s inaugural showing. (“Security concerns,” natch.) Then the Carmike Cinemas chain, which owns 278 theaters in 41 states, announced that it would not be showing it at all. In the last few hours, the Hollywood Reporter has suggested, the other four giants of American cinema — Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment, Cinemark, and Cineplex Entertainment — elected to join in the boycott. And, finally, the studio pulled the December 25 release entirely

Now, per Reuters, Sony has pulled the whole thing:

Sony Pictures has canceled the release of a comedy on the fictional assassination of North Korea’s leader, in what appears to be an unprecedented victory for Pyongyang and its abilities to wage cyber-warfare.

Hackers who said they were incensed by the film attacked Sony Corp (6758.T) last month, leaking documents that drew global headlines and distributing unreleased films on the Internet.

Washington may soon officially announce that the North Korean government was behind the attack, a U.S. government source said. 

This decision is not restricted to theaters:

“Sony has no further release plans for the film,” a Sony spokeswoman said on Wednesday when asked whether the movie would be released later in theaters or as video on demand.

In other words, a group of computer experts — which may or may not be backed by the North Korean government — has managed to convince a major American industry to write off a $44 million investment because . . . they don’t like some of its jokes. How utterly grotesque. How shameful. How antithetical to all of those principles for which the people of the United States are supposed to stand.

Worse still, those hackers have managed to convince Hollywood to cancel future projects, too. Deadline Hollywood reports:

The chilling effect of the Sony Pictures hack and terrorist threats against The Interview are reverberating. New Regency has scrapped another project that was to be set in North Korea. The untitled thriller, set up in October, was being developed by director Gore Verbinski as a star vehicle for Foxcatcher star Steve Carell. The paranoid thriller written by Steve Conrad was going to start production in March. Insiders tell me that under the current circumstances, it just makes no sense to move forward. The location won’t be transplanted. Fox declined to distribute it, per a spokesman.

If this is to be our approach, why not formalize the arrangement and run every script idea past our enemies before production starts? In fact, why not submit all creative speech to the roving gangs of outrage merchants and armed hecklers to which our appeasement is granting hope? I daresay that most books, movies, newspapers, television shows, and websites contain material that someone doesn’t like. Why not include them in the party, too? Sure, by the time that an idea has been scrutinized by Tehran, Moscow, and the University of Berkeley it will probably have been stripped of all its charm. But we wouldn’t want anybody to be upset, would we?

I’ve heard people arguing that this reflects “only on Sony.” But it doesn’t, really. It reflects on the many, many theater chains that canceled their screenings. It reflects upon a general corporate culture that is just too damn risk averse. And it reflects upon the zeitgeist, within which caving to pressure from the “offended” has become the unlovely norm. We are now reaching a point at which no college commencement speaker is permitted to do his thing unless he has been neutered, read whatever catechism is en vogue this week, and then had his entire past vetted by the most boring, self-indulgent, ignorant people in the world. George Will wasn’t allowed to speak at Scripps because a few of its students objected to a column he’d written in a newspaper. What exactly did we think was going to happen when the censors threatened to turn up with guns?

America doesn’t feel very free, or very brave, today.

The Three Cuban Spies Released by Obama Helped Murder Four Americans



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The three Cuban spies traded to the Castro regime in exchange for American contractor Alan Gross and a U.S. spy went far beyond the usual political or economic espionage carried out by foreign agents. 

In fact, the Communist agents were engaged in detailed reconnaissance against U.S. military bases in south Florida, and fed information to the Cuban government that resulted in the murder of four American citizens.

Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, and Ramón Labañino were part of the “Miami Five,” a group of Cuban intelligence officers arrested in Miami in 1998. They were part of the Cuban government’s “Wasp Network,” a south Florida–based intelligence unit designed to keep an eye on the Cuban expatriate community and gauge U.S. military capabilities.

Court documents explain how the agents worked to earn one of the spies a position as a day laborer at the Key West Naval Air Station, where he meticulously documented the comings and goings of military aircraft and personnel. Other agents attempted to “penetrate” the Miami facility of Southern Command, the U.S. military headquarters that runs all operations in Latin America.

Those attempts proved unsuccessful. But other intelligence gathered by the group had real-world consequences. One of the Cuban-exile groups targeted by the agents was “Brothers to the Rescue,” a Miami-based aviation organization that flew small aircraft over the strait between Florida and Cuba in search of refugees on rafts. They also twice strayed into Havana airspace in January 1996, where they dropped anti-Communist leaflets and infuriated the Castro regime.

Hernández, the leader of the network, sent information about the group’s flight plans to the Cuban government. The regime warned the agents — who sometimes flew along, undercover, with the “Brothers” — not to fly between February 24 and 27, 1996. On February 24, two of three “Brothers” planes were shot down by Cuban jets as they flew away from Cuba in international airspace. Four Americans were killed, and Hernández was charged with conspiracy to commit murder in addition to the espionage charges.

The “Miami Five” — two of which were released in 2011 and early 2014 — were hailed as heroes and terrorist fighters by the Castro regime, with their continual imprisonment seen as a gross injustice by many Cubans. 

The release of the remaining three agents on Wednesday — particularly Hernández — outraged the families of the four who lost their lives in 1996. 

“I would just like [President Obama] to know that I feel that he has completely disrespected and dishonored my father, who was a volunteer Vietnam veteran,” said Marlene Alejandre-Triana, whose father was killed in the shoot-down. ”The only thing that we had in the form of justice . . . was this one man that he just gave up.”

Better than the Rest



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