James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Friday, February 22, 2008

U.S. policy on Cuba: Stupidity and cowardice

So, have you heard the bold statements from Democrats about making efforts now to drop our senseless attitude –- one can hardly call it a policy in any real sense -– and reconcile with Cuba?

Oh? You haven't.

Of course not.

The Dems are exactly like the Republicans on this one: There will be no change in our treatment of our little neighbor until the entire Castro family is dead and the country returns all of its wealth to a few U.S. corporations, to organized crime and a very small number of rich Cubans who now live in multi-million dollar compounds in and near Miami.

For about 30 seconds there, I hoped the Democrats would grab the opportunity presented by Fidel Castro's resignation, but it wasn't real hope so much as a dream. Why would anyone expect Hillary Clinton or Barak Obama to put good policy ahead of political expediency?

The door to reconciliation has always been open, of course, but Castro's stepping down offers a way to swing it wide while at the same time countering the negative propaganda that would sprout like Jack's beanstalk from the mouths of the caves where the neocons and their allies dwell.

Firm decisions, bold moves, courage displayed by Democrats?

'Tis but a dream.

What we'll get from Democrats and Republicans at least until Raul Castro becomes incapacitated or dies, and probably until other, younger, allies of the Castros disappear, is more of the same stupidity and cowardice that has prevailed for 50 years.

Why, Cuba is a communist country, doncha know. The Castros are commies and therefore not to be dealt with by honest, God-fearing Americans. We must continue the embargo against travel and trade and diplomatic relations until all signs of commoonism are gone from that isle.

Now and then, a touch of rationality strikes in certain circles in the United States – usually among people who read and think, but sometimes even among those who haven't read a book since a high school English teacher made the effort all but impossible to avoid.

It dawns on quite a few people at odd moments that cutting off Cuba while cozying up to all sorts of butchers, rapists and murders elsewhere on the globe is...let us say, inconsistent.

In truth, the “hate Cuba, hate Castro” blathering of the American right and the former exploiters now mostly living in Florida never did grab the people of this country. Mostly they've been indifferent from the start, and the use-by date is long gone. But what we think doesn't matter. As usual.

George W. Bush regularly and literally embraces leaders of bloodily repressive Arab regimes. Hell, he and his Republican buddies are responsible for the fact that Communist China – far more repressive than Cuba – not only has made a home for much of the industry that our leaders have shipped out of the this country, but also owns about a third of our national debt.

Bush & Co. have been embarrassing in playing tickle-and-slap with Pakistan's brutal and treacherous Pervez Musharraf.

And George made a complete fool of himself –- not a long way to go, obviously -– by hanging on Vladimir Putin like a teenager in love even as Putin worked feverishly and successfully to return Russia to dictatorship.

What's the difference?

The money and political clout of Cuban exiles, primarily in Florida but in some other warm states, too. And the money and political clout of a couple or three dozen American corporations that got the boot from Cuba when Castro ousted the American-supported dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

That's it. Those are the main reasons this country has behaved so stupidly toward Cuba for all these decades, the main reasons we're not now seeking to restore a relationship with that little country.

It remains an article of faith among American “conservatives” that we must not deal with Communist Cuba.

This is the plain truth:

A small number of American corporations continue on an annual basis to press claims against Cuba with our government. Most of those companies, probably all, actively cooperated with the American mobsters –- yes, the mafia -- who ran Cuba's “hospitality industry” before 1959. They were tight as frat brothers with Cuba's very rich elite, and actively engaged in repressing the vast majority of Cubans and stealing the country blind. They still demand to have the property they controlled under Batista returned to them -– and they're dead serious about it.

And a powerful body of Cuban exiles in Florida –- though most now are U.S. citizens -- still hope to go back to Cuba to resume their positions of wealth and authority and do away with all of the reforms made by Castro in the intervening years. They don't even pretend otherwise.

Many of those exiles have real money, and they spread much of it around to politicians who support their stance and the policy of embargo against Cuba. Many now have risen to positions of power, particularly in Florida. They run big banks and other corporations, they're big time lawyers and city and state officials, and they control a lot of votes. And Florida, of course, often can move national elections one way or the other.

And, not to be subtle about it, some of those Cuban exiles are vicious crooks who, when it's useful to them, scare the living hell out of anyone, including politicians, who oppose them.

Not all of the Cuban exiles now living in this country are crooks or moneyed aristocrats, of course. Quite a few – I've known some – would be happy to see this country establish normal relations with Cuba. They'd like to visit back and forth freely and to help out poorer family members in Cuba.

But some of them even up here in the cold regions, far from the stomping grounds of the tough guys, are afraid to openly oppose those who want to go back and turn Cuba into what it was in the 1950s. They fear social reprisals and worse. I know this because a few have told me so, after I assured them I would never identify them in connection with such statements.

Our politicians, almost all of them, are afraid, too -– if not of tough guys, then of losing the campaign money and the votes of the exiles.

Then, too, arrogance and hubris are characteristics taught to Americans from the crib on. It's easy to persuade a majority of people here that it is our right to declare how Cuba, or any western hemisphere country, should be ruled. We're not passionate about it, but we'll go along with the politicians on that.

We believe, almost all of us, that western hemisphere countries must be “friendly.” To our leaders, that means open to control of their resources by U.S.-based corporations. They must be willing to live for our economic benefit.

And then there is the unspoken issue that keeps American business leaders, the wealthy elite and corporate moguls genuinely passionate in their opposition to Cuba as it now exists. It grinds their guts and, though neither the corporate executives nor the the captive news media will ever mention it, it seriously disturbs their minds.

That issue is this: Castro did what China and Russia and other communist nations never did: He actually, powerfully improved the lives of Cuba's citizens.

His regime is repressive of freedoms, yes, to a degree none of us think we would tolerate. (We'll see.)

But in a country in which a large majority of the population was illiterate, and where a great majority had no -– repeat, no -– access to health care, never in all their lives saw a doctor or a dentist, everybody now can read, everyone can go to school, and even to college if he or she has the smarts, and all have access to very good health care on a routine basis. (On several standard measurements of health care, Cuba does better than this country.)

That success, so close to our shores, is what really rankles our right wing elite.

The politicians never get so far as to figure those things out, of course. They just know about all those campaign dollars and political clout and, to a probably diminishing degree, the scary guys in Miami.

A true story:

In 1978, I went to Miami to accept an award from the InterAmerican Press Association, an organization of Western Hemisphere newspaper publishers and editors, for a book-length series of articles I wrote about Cuba the year before. I extended the trip to see what I could learn of the Cuban exile community there.

At one point, with the help of a Miami Herald reporter who was himself a Cuban exile, I arranged to interview a man who reportedly was a very important “leader” of the exile community. In fact, his reputation was as something akin to a warlord. He reportedly controlled a big portion of Miami's Little Havana section, and a lot of people voted and otherwise acted as he ordered. He also was supposed to have played a part in the Bay of Pigs fiasco and other armed attacks on Cuba and on people in this country who were deemed insufficiently anti-Castro. The Herald reporter was inordinately nervous about making the arrangements for me.

I showed up a little early at the address in Little Havana. It was a structure that reminds me now more of rural compounds in Morocco than of any houses I saw in Cuba. There were buildings on three sides, a wall right up against the sidewalk on the fourth side. The big, heavy wooden door to the enclosed compound was in that wall.

When I knocked the first time, someone shouted at me to go away. I identified myself and was told I was early and should go away until the appointed time. So I went across the street and stood until exactly the time of the appointment.

I knocked on the door, was admitted by two men, both armed, one with a pistol, the other with some sort of automatic weapon. Or maybe they both had automatic weapons; my memory is a little fuzzy on that one detail. A third man stood nearby. He led me up a flight of stairs that opened on to the courtyard, while the two armed guys, working very hard at looking tough, followed me.

A door at the top of the stairs opened into a large, very bare room. Da boss, the guy I was to interview, sat at a bare wooden table on a plain, armless wooden chair. Two more men with automatic weapons stood three or feet behind him and slightly to either side. My escorts remained behind me. I was directed to the only other chair, also wooden and armless, and sat about six or eight feet from Mr. Big, facing him.

I asked my questions. He snarled or laughed nastily at each one, and didn't give me a straight answer to a single one. After about 15 minutes of that charade, I got up and said I was leaving, which I did. The armed geezers followed me to the gate, opened it for me and shut it behind me, and that was that.

It was an act designed to intimidate and frighten me, obviously, though I will never know why that jackass thought it would be worthwhile to do that. And, in any case, all it did was make me angry.

On reflection, though, I'll bet that kind of stagecraft scared plenty of ill-educated, poor folks who, by the nature of that society, had to avoid getting on the wrong side of that fool.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A puzzle for you...or maybe not

What follows is a report of facts, gathered from several sources, without comment from me, other than, perhaps, an occasional shot at some blatant absurdity. I make no proposal of meaning.

On Feb. 7, 2008, The Progressive magazine published -- with a somewhat breathless claim for exclusiveness -- an article about InfraGard, an organization of business people begun by the FBI during the Clinton administration and now greatly expanded and guided by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security under the Bush.

Well, OK, it is an exclusive story. That's so because the corporate news and propaganda outlets won't touch this one with long poles while wearing hazmat suits. It's toxic to both corporate and political powers, and therefore off limits.

InfraGard's purpose, said writer and Progressive editor Matthew Rothschild, is to provide information to the government about threats to the country's (apparently loosely defined) infrastructure and to protect said infrastructure. Members of the rapidly growing organization ”receive secret warnings of terrorist threats before the public does -– and, at least on one occasion, before elected officials,” wrote Rothschild.

InfraGard now is made up of more than 23,600 individuals representing mostly big banks, utility companies and other large corporations. They are organized in 86 “chapters,” each guided by an FBI agent.

That's up from 1,700 members in 2001. The number continues to grow rapidly, Rothschild said.

An individual can't walk in off the street and sign up, however. To join, you must be sponsored by “an existing InfraGard member, chapter, or partner organization,” according to the organization's own Web site, and then approved by the FBI.

Rothschild quoted Phyillis Schneck, chair of the board of directors of the InfraGard National Members Alliance, at length. It is essentially an FBI operation, she told him: “We are the owners, operators and experts of our critical infrastructure, from the CEO of a large company in agriculture or high finance to the guy who turns the valve at the water utility.”

She is, by profession, the vice president of research integration (whatever that is) at Secure Computing, a large though publicly little-known international company that provides computer hardware and software to protect the computer systems of businesses and other organizations, including government agencies, from various threats.

The article still is available, at this writing, on The Progressive's Web site: http://www.progressive.org

I strongly recommend it.

Among the major points:

* There is evidence that InfraGard is a private-sector spy organization for the FBI; its members are in a position to observe the activities of millions of their customers.

The Rothschild article also makes clear that the participating companies are in a powerful position to spy on their own employees and that the FBI might, in exchange for corporate spying, help the companies take action (unspecified) against “disgruntled employees who might use knowledge gained on the job against their employer.” The FBI offer does not state, so far as I can learn, that the “disgruntled employee” actions must be illegal before the agency will act.

* InfraGard communications with the FBI and Homeland Security have been placed beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act under the “trade secrets” exemption from that act. The exemption was put in place to stop one business from getting its hands on legitimate trade secrets from another business; it's stated purpose has nothing to do with protecting businesses that spy on individuals for government bodies. Communications of InfraGard members with the public and news organizations are to be pre-approved and rehearsed.

* Members receive “almost daily updates” on “threats” from “both domestic sources and overseas,” but we, the public, have no idea how “threats” are defined or what they are. Could they include purely business threats -– say a takeover bid -– against a corporate management? Don't know.

* InfraGard members have “contributed to about 100 FBI cases,” Schneck told the writer. “We want everyone to have a little black book,” she also said. No indication of what cases, or what kind of cases, or whether anyone actually was accused of, let alone convicted of, a crime. The American Civil Liberties Union is not at all happy about those “little black books.”

We have no idea what criticisms and accusations might be leveled against employees by their employers or whether there are any restraints to prevent a boss from going after an innocent but disliked employee.

* InfraGard members told Rothschild that they are being advised on how to deal with a “martial law situation.” In some cases, they are being given very specific directions on what to do “when, not if” martial law is declared, one member said. Others confirmed that, but would not allow their names to be used by Rothschild.

A few members reported that they were told they could “shoot to kill” to protect “infrastructure,” although others denied that. Those who talked about their possibly violent role after the declaration of martial law also said they were promised some things in return: No repercussions for killing or injuring someone while “protecting infrastructure,” and they are to have the right to protect certain other individuals from arrest and interment, for example, and the right to travel to “restricted areas.”

Schneck told Rothschild the claims of the members who said such things are not true, and an FBI spokeswoman called them “ridiculous.”

Read the article.

I know of at least one reporter who is looking for more information on InfraGard. That reporter says the Twin Cities chapter of InfraGard meets every other month, at a different location each month. Meetings are scheduled for May, July and at the Republican National Convention, which will be in St. Paul on Sept. 1 to 4.

We should note that InfraGard began with Presidential Directive 63 issued by Bill Clinton on May 22, 1998. That directive since has been “extended and amplified” by George W. Bush.

Now then:

On June 21, 2007, I published on my blog an essay that essentially is a list of what seemed to me possibly connected facts. If you are reading this on the blog, http://www.jamesclayfuller.com you can see that earlier piece by going to the list of dates on the right side of the page and clicking on 6/17/2007-6/24/2007 and then scrolling to the second article, entitled “The Picture of Dorian Bush.”

In brief, the points were these:

* The Bush administration's private army, paid for with taxpayer dollars, has grown to include hundreds of thousands of mercenary troops. The infamous Blackwater USA is the largest unit, but there are several others, mostly with names unknown to the American public.

* Under the Bush administration, much intelligence gathering also has been “privatized” -- farmed out to mercenary organizations who undergo no oversight by Congress or other governmental agencies.

* In April and May of last year, several members of the Bush administration happily told reporters that the administration was “fixing it” so that regardless of the outcome of 2008 elections, the U.S. will not be able to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

* On May 9, 2007, George Bush released National Security Presidential Directive 51, giving himself the power to take control of all branches of our government in case of a “catastrophic emergency,” and assigning solely to himself the right to define and declare such an emergency.

* In January 2006, Kellog Brown & Root, then a Halliburton subsidiary, received a $385 million contract through the Army Corps of Engineers to build “detention centers” for the Department of Homeland Security. The number and location of those “centers” still are secret, and there has been no official comment on who is to run those concentration camps –- for such they are -– and who is to be imprisoned in them. The only solid fact to be gleaned from the contract, according to various news organizations, is that each of the unspecified number of camps is to be built to hold up to 5,000 prisoners. A handful of the biggest corporate newspapers printed short reports when the contract was let, and have never again mentioned the camps.

* However, and this is new, a Feb. 13, 2008, article in the San Francisco Chronicle claims that the camps are scattered through most of the states of the union and that they may hold, in total, up to a million prisoners, although the article contains no documentation of that number.

The writers of the Chronicle article –- Lewis Seiler, president of Voice of the Environment, Inc., and Dan Hamburg, a former U.S. Congressman from California and a peace activist who now is executive director of Voice of the Environment -– also stated that the government has signed contracts with several companies to build “thousands” of rail cars, “some reportedly equipped with shackles, ostensibly to transport detainees.”

* Another point which was not in my June list but should have been: The Military Commissions Act of 2006, pushed through a timid Congress right before midterm elections, gives the administration the right to imprison anyone who donates to a charity that turns up -- possibly placed there after the donations are made -- on a government list “terrorist organizations.” We don't know how such determinations are made. The bill also allows the administration to imprison people indefinitely for a wide range of administration-determined reasons and allows for secret trials of citizens and noncitizens.

* Several military and Bush administration insiders told reporters last year that our occupation of Iraq will continue for decades. That's no longer news. Recently, Republican presidential candidate John McCain said, flippantly but with serious intent, that we may be there “a hundred years.” He has not recanted.

* Last spring the administration was furiously pushing a propaganda campaign apparently aimed at arousing public support for an attack on Iran. That's eased off, of course; this is a major election year. But the threat has not been withdrawn.

* The Bush administration is building a huge U.S. government “embassy” compound on 104 acres in Baghdad at a (publicly reported) cost of slightly under $600 million – making it by far the biggest and most expensive U.S. embassy anywhere in the world. It is akin to a tiny, self-contained principality such as Monaco or Lichtenstein, but capable of being more self-sufficient. It is, in fact, a heavily protected facility capable of housing a government for Iraq.

* Although the U.S. has what diplomatic sources describe as a “critical shortage” of diplomatic personnel -– a judgment confirmed by some administration insiders -- the Bush administration has been downgrading high-level diplomats and pushing many into early retirement because they are not regarded as sufficiently loyal to Bush himself and the neocon agenda. The administration also has suspended the security clearances of dozens of Foreign Service officers, effectively ending their careers, on grounds that Foreign Service people say range from flimsy to obviously fictitious.

* In the June 21 list, I left out one point I'd meant to include: That some news organizations in the American South have reported that Homeland Security has recruited and is training a number of (mostly southern-style evangelical) clergy to calm and reassure their congregations and get them to comply with government orders in the event martial law is declared.

Now add what is said in The Progressive's article on InfraGard. Draw your own conclusions, or decide there aren't any to be drawn.