Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunday Globe Goes to Cuba

"In booming Old Havana, Trump plan puts Cubans in a bad mood" by Nick Miroff Washington Post  June 17, 2017

HAVANA — Few Cubans seemed to tune in President Trump’s speech Friday, though it was broadcast live on state television by the Venezuela-based Telesur network. 

I only caught brief passages through the static, but the mention of Venezuela reminded me that there hasn't been much in my Globe about them for a while now, meaning the coup attempt has been forestalled?

But as word began to trickle out that Trump was ‘‘canceling’’ his predecessor’s Cuba policy, the mood in Old Havana’s booming tourist quarter turned foul.

Well, he has a way of doing that to people save for his own narrow slice of controllers and confidants. Don't take it personally.

A bartender at a Harley-Davidson-themed café shook his head in disbelief as he talked by phone to a friend who had seen the speech. A cashier at a doughnut shop called the American president something unprintable.

(Blog editor smiles; he probably could have here)

Few areas of the city have been so physically and economically transformed by the easing of US travel restrictions as the touristy part of Old Havana, a major beneficiary as the number of American visitors to the island has grown threefold.

Hey, a cui bono answered! 

That's the 21st-century foundation for economy, and never you mind all the greenhouse gases you are belching during the trips.

Both the communist government and private entrepreneurs have been trying to get in on the gold rush. It’s been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise stagnant, state-dominated economy.

And of they go! I'm no better. When I see gold I lose it and just start repeating the word in a troubling high-pitched frenzy. Then I'm thankful there is none of that stuff around the house. It'd be nice, but that's not the antidote to fiat money. Who do you think holds all the gold?

GAESA, the military-affiliated Cuban mega-corporation that Trump’s new policy aims to deprive of US dollars, had assumed control of Old Havana’s state-owned hotels and restaurants since Obama came to town.

They have an MIC, we have an MIC, he has an MIC, they have an MIC, what is the big deal?

Just doin' bu$ine$$!

Just across the park from the theater where Obama spoke, GAESA’s subsidiaries have partnered with Swiss luxury chain Kempinski to open a $500-a-night hotel atop a new luxury mall that sells $3,000 Montblanc wristwatches.

Oh, the $wi$$ are in there -- and so is everybody else, most likely. Why did you think Obama eased restrictions? If he hadn't, American business was going to get cut out of the loot. What did you think it was, American altruism? After the decades of sabotage and terrorism waged against the island? Uh-huh!

But private business owners and investors in Old Havana have been getting more than crumbs. Driven largely by a boom in Airbnb rentals, entire city blocks of decaying century-old buildings are under renovation, racing to reopen as privately owned hostels and restaurants.

Ernesto Castillo has been banking on the boom to continue. With his future Peruvian-themed restaurant still a construction site, he didn’t have time to watch Trump’s speech, but he said he’d been bracing for bad news. ‘‘I expected it,’’ he said with a sigh.

I wouldn't, bank, no.

Castillo was trying to stay optimistic. ‘‘The tourism business in Old Havana was here before the Americans came, and it’ll still be here if they’re gone.’’

That's a good attitude!

Cuba received a record 4 million tourists last year, and of those more than 600,000 were US visitors, second only to the Canadian beachgoers who favor the island’s tourist resorts.

Oh, so the economic impact won't be that great after all, and they also proved my point regarding Obama's gracious offering to the Cubans.

Those other people coming whether AmeriKa says so or not! Might as well get your piece of fle$h along with the rest of the pack. 

Don't get me wrong, I want things as open as they can be with all nations on Earth. I want my government to stop pushing a fight with anybody in the neighborhood, anybody at all. I'm just pointing out that the stated reasons in the propaganda leaflet handed out by my pre$$ here is not the reasons for the rapprochement, $uch as it is (maybe Amazon can benefit).

Of those, nearly 300,000 were non-Cuban American travelers, and this year that category of US visitors has been on pace to double again. While non-Cuban American visitors accounted for only about 7 percent of Cuba’s tourists last year, they have a disproportionate impact on the burgeoning private sector of Havana’s tourist economy, unlike the Europeans and Canadians who gravitate toward government-owned resorts.

‘‘Everyone knows that Americans are the biggest spenders and leave the best tips,’’ said Castillo.

They must be getting the 1%ers.

Fueling the explosive growth in US travel was Obama’s move authorizing Americans to travel independently — without a tour group — as long as their activities were broadly educational and brought them into contact with ordinary Cubans.

Instead of riding around in buses with government-appointed tour guides, US visitors could mostly do whatever they wanted, knowing there was little chance they’d get in trouble with US authorities if they spent a day at the beach or went out dancing.

Now Trump’s reversal will take special aim at those travelers and will force American visitors back to the authorized tour providers who work with Cuban state-run tourism companies. Fewer independent US travelers is likely to mean fewer dollars for independent Cuban businesses. 

So he is actually helping the government? 

The feeling here is that block of Cubans in South Florida is crucial to the 2020 campaign. That keeps Florida in his electoral column.

Of about a dozen Cubans asked about the Trump measures Friday, Luis Cardenas, 25, was the only one in Old Havana who applauded it.

A large American flag flapped on his handlebars as he peddled the narrow streets, laboring in the sticky heat for a meager living.

‘‘I’m sick of the Castros,’’ he said. ‘‘They’re getting rich from all these tourists.’’

Yeah, the Castros. One down, one to go.


"Trump’s plan to end most individual travel to Cuba" by Christopher Muther Globe Staff  June 17, 2017

President Trump’s plan to tighten rules on Americans traveling to Cuba will put an end to most individual travel to the country and subject those who do visit to closer scrutiny.

The good news is that US residents will still be able to visit Cuba. The bad news is that Trump’s new restrictions will make it much more difficult to do so. Most travelers will now have to visit the country as part of a group tour or on a cruise ship rather than being able to explore on their own.

According to Eben Peck of the American Society of Travel Agents, the embargo rollback will take several months to implement, so those with immediate plans to visit Cuba will not be affected. Under Trump’s order, the Treasury and Commerce departments will be given 30 days to begin writing new regulations, and they will not take effect until they are complete.

“Yes, you can go,” Peck said. “Yes, you should go. These rules will not take effect immediately. Even after that you’ll still be able to visit Cuba, but there will be more hoops.”

Americans are allowed to visit Cuba under one of 12 categories, including for religious, journalistic, and artistic activities. Most Americans have been going to Cuba under a category called people-to-people. Individual people-to-people visits were the most popular category of the 12. But Trump has instructed the Department of Treasury to end individual people-to-people visits.

Trump’s new restrictions are aimed at stopping tourists from spending money at Cuban government-owned hotels and restaurants. Visits to those establishments will now be prohibited. However, visitors will still be able to eat at paladares (restaurants operated out of private homes) and can stay in private homes or Airbnb properties.

The stricter rules do not interfere with commercial flights from the United States to Cuba, but they will undoubtedly curb demand. Earlier this year, several airlines already cut back on service to Cuba after over-anticipating demand. With Trump eliminating individual people-to-people travel, demand is certain to drop further.

They denied direct flights to and from Logan anyway, so.....

Trump’s stricter rules will probably boost interest in private tours and Cuban cruises, which will not be affected.

“We will review the extent of the tightening of the travel rules, but our guests have already been traveling under the 12 approved forms of travel to Cuba since we first undertook our historic first cruise to Cuba more than a year ago,” Carnival Cruise Line said in its statement.

The near-universal sentiment from the travel and hospitality industries was that Trump’s decision would be bad for both US tourists and residents of Cuba.

Yeah, he better watch himself. You start pissing off the money and bad things happen to you. We got your back, Mr. President, but we got no power except the soapbox.

Marriott International, which already has one hotel open in Cuba and plans for a second, urged the Trump administration to rethink its decision.

“We are at an important moment in the relationship between the United States and Cuba,” Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson said in a statement. “Travel between our two countries continues to increase and strengthen an evolving bilateral relationship. It would be exceedingly disappointing to see the progress that has been made in the last two years halted and reversed by the administration.”

I agree. I wasn't all hot for why Obama made the agreements with Cuba and Iran, but it is a much better world when war is on the back burner. If that means looters get to have more fun, fine. At least people are living and their lives are not totally disrupted to the point of migration.


RelatedUS-Cuba relations must continue to move forward

One is my Congre$$man, and when do Democrats start voicing criticism of the escalating militarism, Jim?

Coming the other way:


"Tax overhaul in trouble as opposition to import tax grows" by Stephen Ohlemacher Associated Press  June 17, 2017

WASHINGTON — A key part of House Republicans’ plan to overhaul the way corporations pay taxes is on life support, leaving lawmakers scrambling to save one of President Trump’s biggest priorities and increasing the chances the GOP will simply pass a tax cut instead of overhauling the tax code.

A proposed tax on imports is central to the GOP plan to lower the overall corporate tax rate. It would generate about $1 trillion over the next decade to finance the lower rates without adding to the deficit.

It would also provide strong incentives for US-based companies to keep their operations in the United States and perhaps persuade companies to move overseas operations to the United States.

But the tax faces strong opposition from retailers, automakers, and the oil industry, and a growing number of congressional Republicans have come out against it. They worry that it will increase the cost of imports, raising consumer prices.

You can't fight globali$m.

Majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, says there probably aren’t enough votes to pass the import tax in the Senate — not a single Republican senator has publicly endorsed it. And a powerful group of House conservatives says it’s time to dump the idea.

‘‘The sooner we acknowledge that and get on with a plan that actually works and actually can build consensus, the better off we will be,’’ said Representative Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican and chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus.

Even one of the biggest backers of the new tax says he is open to other ideas. 

Well, if you don't believe in your own.... argh. It's show, isn't it? That's all.

It wasn’t received well by opponents.

But if the import tax is dead, then what?

Thirty-one years after the last tax overhaul, there is widespread agreement that the current system is too complicated and picks winners and losers, compelling companies to make decisions based on tax implications instead of sound business reasons. 

Think of that: for 30 years we have been told how much better the U.S. economy is than everyone else, how we have had these record expansion under Clinton and Obama, and even recently the alleged low unemployment rate has been cited as a strength of the economy. This as all the multinationals shield trillions from taxes and still invert(?).

Now we find out, well, you know, it's all been $hell game $tuff because of the tax code and the same guys who made it that way are going fix it and dry up their campaign funds in the process. Yu-huh. That's why it is morphing into a tax giveaway that even Democrats can get on board with. They do this every year, renew the tax cuts. It's their way of continuing to have a lever in the symbiosis between corporations and the contribution of campaign loot. Looks like legalized bribery is what it looks like. We give you the tax loot and the lobbyists kick back the loot.

The goal — for now — is to simplify the tax code and make it more efficient in a way that does not add to the federal government’s mounting debt. That means some would pay more and some would pay less, a heavy political lift among politicians who have deep political and practical disagreements.

When they use words like simplify to make more efficient, that's when you reach for your wallet. 

We know who will be paying le$$ and who will be paying more, don't we?

Lawmakers also are trying to overhaul taxes on individuals, which raises another set of big challenges.

The new import tax, which is called a border adjustment tax, would radically change the way corporations are taxed. Under current law, corporations pay a top tax rate of 35 percent on their profits. But the tax code is filled with so many exemptions, deductions, and credits that most corporations pay a much lower rate.

Or they do not even pay at all; in fact, they get billions in "refunds."

Under the proposed system, American companies that produce and sell their products in the United States would pay a new 20 percent tax on the profits from these sales. However, if a company exports a product, the profits from that sale would not be taxed by the United States.

Foreign companies that import goods to the United States would also have to pay the tax, and they would not be able to deduct the cost of the imported good as a business expense.

Republicans in Congress and at the White House have been meeting behind closed doors for weeks to come up with viable alternatives. Democrats have been largely excluded from the talks, leaving Republicans with little room for error.

‘‘I still think that Republicans, out of pure political necessity, if nothing else, are likely to find a way to get some sort of tax bill to the president’s desk for his signature,’’ said Rohit Kumar, a former tax counsel to McConnell who now heads PwC’s Washington tax office.....

Will that be before or after they raise the debt limit?


"Medical aid group says Border Patrol raids put lives at risk" by Astrid Galvan Associated Press  June 17, 2017

PHOENIX — The use of military tactics and a search warrant suggested a new strategy by the Border Patrol leadership in the region. The agency had previously abided by an informal, Obama-era agreement allowing migrants to seek medical help at the camp without fear of arrest.

Thursday’s operation was part of a US government crackdown along the border with Mexico, but volunteers with the aid group No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes described it as a ‘‘staged military siege’’ that they said could put lives at risk. The group provides refuge and water for migrants.

Seems to be the AmeriKan empire's SOP, doesn't it? Doesn't matter who you are!

The enforcement action comes as President Trump has made securing the border a top priority of his administration, including a campaign promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico.

His presidency has coincided with a big drop off in immigrants crossing the border from Mexico, but immigration authorities have been arresting more people who are in the country illegally, and doing so in places they had previously avoided, like courthouses.

Catherine Gaffney, a longtime volunteer who was present during the arrests, said volunteers were escorted to a different part of the camp as a helicopter circled overhead and the agents arrested the four men, who are between the ages of 19 and 40.

‘‘They didn’t need 30 agents to apprehend four sick people,’’ Gaffney said, adding that the agency’s public relations team filmed the encounter.

Well, better to be safe than sorry. Overwhelming force has been US doctrine since Powell, right?

The Border Patrol says agents found the men were in good health but took them to a hospital as a precautionary measure.

The agency’s Tucson Sector, which covers most of Arizona, says it has launched a campaign to warn migrants about the dangers of crossing the border in the summer. The sector has 34 strategically placed rescue beacons that migrants can activate for rescue. More than 200 agents in the Tucson Sector are emergency medical technicians, and about 25 are paramedics, the agency said.

And given the heat..... 

"In Southern California, inland valleys, mountains, and deserts are likely to bear the brunt of the heat wave. Other parts of California, ironically, are still clearing snow from mountain roads....." 

Yeah, how "ironic" that there was not a flake in my Globe of the recent June snowstorms over there.

Agents in that area conducted more than 1,400 rescues and reported 84 deaths last fiscal year, according to agency statistics. So far this year through April, agents in the Tucson Sector have rescued 160 people and reported 14 deaths.

‘‘Our primary mission is to conduct law enforcement operations along the border and in the course of our duties we’re often the first responders to emergency situations,’’ Border Patrol spokesman Vicente Paco said. ‘‘We are one [of] the largest agencies that have resources in the desert where we respond.’’

Paco said the agency understands the mission of No More Deaths but doesn’t condone its actions because it encourages illegal immigration.

‘‘We do believe in saving lives, and we have multiple resources such as the rescue beacon towers,’’ he said. ‘‘Regardless of their immigration status, we render aid.’’

Gaffney said the camp would carry on with normal operations.

‘‘We’re not able to stop our work, and we’re not going to let the government create a trap for people seeking help. I think that’s what Border Patrol’s intention is to deter people from seeking help when they need it and to entrap anybody who does,’’ she said.....


Related: Trump's TSA

You know what will get you acro$$?

Globe milking it:

"The Milk with Dignity program was developed in 2014 by farm workers and the Vermont group Migrant Justice to ensure that farms provide them fair wages and working conditions and decent housing. Ben & Jerry’s touts its social activism as much as its quirky ice cream flavors...."

They are all one now.

Meanwhile, overseas:


"Iraqi forces capture border crossing to Syria from IS" by BASSEM MROUE and BALINT SZLANKO Associated Press  |   June 18, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) —  Saturday's push by Iraqi troops came nearly three weeks after Iraq's paramilitary forces — mostly Shiite fighters with close ties to Iran referred to as the Popular Mobilization Forces — reached the Syrian border in northeastern Iraq.

Earlier this month, Iranian-sponsored pro-Syrian government forces outflanked U.S. advisers and rebels holding the Tanf border crossing to establish their own link to Iraq for the first time in years. The Iraqi side is still held by IS.

But the Iraqis are getting closer to meeting up with Syrian troops and their allies.

Syrian troops in the area are preparing to march on Islamic State positions to the north, in the Euphrates River Valley.

Related: The Great Game 

He's leaving it to the generals.

The push by Iraqi forces came as the Syrian military announced Saturday the cessation of all combat operations in the southern city of Daraa for 48 hours in support of national reconciliation efforts after days of violence in the area.

The announcement comes days after the contested city witnessed some of the worst fighting in months amid fears by opposition activists that the government will try to take Daraa, where the country's civil war began in 2011.

A "de-escalation agreement" brokered by Iran, Russia and Turkey in May has brought hardly any relief to the city, activists said. The agreement covers four zones in Syria where the rebels are fighting pro-government forces.

A western diplomat said in Beirut this week that the U.S., Russia and Jordan were holding closed-door meetings in Amman to halt the fighting between rebels and the government in southern Syria.

Related"Russia has proposed July 4 as the start of a two-day round of Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan's capital Astana. Russia, Turkey and Iran have brokered several rounds of peace talks in Astana this year, bringing together the Syrian government and rebel forces....."

I'm sorry, but I no longer take any talk of peace seriously when it comes from a war paper. Been reading them too long. Have had my hopes dashed so many times. Meant for you to catch your breath before the next escalation and clue that the war operations are going badly.

The three nations are debating the boundaries of a cease-fire line between the government and rebels in what is hoped to be a comprehensive agreement that would delineate the control of border crossings with Jordan, the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

In the northern city of Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State group, a U.S.-backed Syrian force entered new neighborhoods east and west of the city adding that they were able to free dozens of civilians who were trapped in the fighting..... 

The ones that survived the air raids, that is.



"An Afghan soldier opened fire on American soldiers Saturday, injuring at least seven, the US military said. It was the second such insider attack by an Afghan soldier in the past week. The 209th Army Corps confirmed that an attack took place at a camp in Mazar-e Sharif. The soldiers returned fire and killed the attacker. One Afghan soldier was killed and one wounded. The Taliban praised the attack but did not claim responsibility."

Also seeA zombie war in Afghanistan We have lost the war in Afghanistan. In fact, we lost it years ago.

Yeah, like five

And now their answer is to send more troops because winning is all about, well, just being there. Pretty bad deal, huh?

"Palestinian militants disputed an Islamic State claim Saturday that it was behind a deadly attack against Israel, saying it was their people who killed a female police officer on duty near Jerusalem’s Old City. Family members of the attackers said they were deeply religious men who acted on their own. ISIS took responsibility for the stabbing and shooting attacks Friday evening."

Smells like a crock of crap to answer criticism that ISIS surrounds Israel but never attacks it, with the double bonus of tarring Palestinians who would never countenance the existence of such cretins in their midst.

"An Egyptian criminal court on Saturday sentenced to death 31 Islamists for their part in the June 2015 assassination of the country’s top prosecutor, Hisham Barakat. The ruling referred the case of the 31 to the country’s top theologian to solicit his nonbinding opinion on the death sentences, a formality followed by courts in the case of capital punishment. The court will reconvene July 22 to reaffirm the sentences."

Egypt is an enigma. On the one hand, the regime that overthrew the democratically-elected Morsi is worse than the Mubarak regime that preceded it. On the other, it is fiercely independent and nationalist. In either case, it is without a doubt the key USraeli linchpin in the region. That's the real reason Morsi was dumped.

"On June 18, 1812, the War of 1812 began as Congress approved, and President James Madison signed, a declaration of war against Britain..... 

Please stand and rise for the national anthem, even if its meaning has been perverted.

In 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte met his Waterloo as British and Prussian troops defeated the French in Belgium....."

Those were my Waterloos, too, and I'll give you one guess what happened in 1940.