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Six Weeks of Communists, Libertarians, Capitalists and Socialists

I’ll avoid the conclusions; they are for you to reach. I’ll just present the observations. Over a period of six weeks, I spent my time in roughly equal parts in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Cuba proudly proclaims itself a communist state. For fifty years, it has delighted in being the booger on the lapel of Uncle Sam’s fine and festive coat. Billboards all across the island remind Cubans of their communist and socialist heritage and strength.

The Dominican Republic appears to be as libertarian as any state in our hemisphere. Government regulation is minimal. The regulation that does exist doesn’t seem to be strictly enforced unless it serves to protect the individual rights of those in power. The common man in the D.R. has individual freedom whether he likes it or not.

Puerto Rico is a “possession” of the United States and shares our capitalistic ethos, system of government and economic structure (whether the people want it or not). It is exactly as it is in any other part of the United States except that the climate and geography are completely different, the history and heritage bear little similarity the rest of the U.S., its culture, music, dance, food, etc. are Latin, it is more racially homogenous and the people speak a different language. Other than that, it’s Ames, Iowa all over again.

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On the Failure (Success) of Cuban Communism

The first time I visited Cuba, I was just three years old. A young man named Fidel Castro had just graduated from college with a degree in law. Carlos Prío was president of a corrupt Cuban government. Bautista had not yet taken power. Even though I was a small child at the time, I still have some vivid memories of the Cuba of 1950, the narrow streets, the open stores and markets with meat hanging overhead, the sandy beach and a friendly police officer who carried me on his shoulders. This early experience in Cuba undoubtedly had a great impact on my lifelong love and intrigue with this beautiful Caribbean island.

Less than twenty years later, I had embarked on a career as a news reporter, writer and broadcaster. Thanks to the acrimonious relations between the United States and Fidel’s communist Cuba, I could no longer visit the island. Propagandists on both sides of the fence painted lurid pictures of their evil neighbors ninety miles away. As a reporter, I learned pure, unbiased, objective reporting was sometimes a noble goal, but was impossible to obtain. As often as not, it wasn’t even the goal. The news was and continues to be distorted with intent by the government, corporate sponsors and biased news reporters. I can guarantee you that our views of Cuba, the embargo and the people of Cuba are colored by the lenses we’re forced to look through as we try to interpret the island that has been taboo to Americans for more than fifty years.

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The Tea Party’s Assault on the 1st Amendment

You really have to love these guys. Well, maybe that’s pushing it a bit. But you have to admit, if they weren’t so inept and dangerous to our nation’s wellbeing, members of the Tea Party would be fun to watch – sort of like a kid with a feather and honey. They’re drawing a lot of attention to themselves with some pretty nonsensical and destructive behavior. The problem is they’re dragging more rational, clear thinking people into the maelstrom they’re creating. Blinded by their anger and deafened by their din, they rail against one cause after another.

The latest bit of pure insanity involves the issue of “net neutrality”. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t fully comprehend the significance of the issue and many don’t care because they believe the issue doesn’t impact them directly. Believe me, it does. It is one of the biggest issues facing our nation today. It threatens to undermine our entire concept of freedom.

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Democracy on the Brink

I was in Manhattan last month. As I walked along the Hudson, I knew New York’s weather just didn’t get any better than it was that beautiful day. Blue skies were daubed with the kinds of big cumulus clouds that photographers dream about. The cooling wind stirred up the water just enough to make it picture perfect. My eyes became fixed on that beautiful lady that holds her torch skyward. It was hard to keep the mind from letting the wind take it on an emotional ride fluttering through our long history and what that lady has symbolized for America and for the world. Freedom, a policy of open arms, opportunity and democracy – those things that made us great.

Over the years, we encouraged democracy around the world, even if in recent years it has been more lip-service than by example. Yet I watch in horror as American democracy rots from within. Case in point – recent public meetings where right-wing gangs have attended town hall meetings and shouted down speakers opposed to their views. This radical, anarchistic behavior is being encouraged by groups aligned with the FOX “tea party” crowd, groups such as FreedomWorks, a right-wing organization whose goal is to herd the sheep over the cliff. The “me and mine” crowd not only falls right in line with the demagogues that shepherd them and lead them to slaughter, they have fallen prey to a diabolical trick that would make Karl Rove sing.

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Dick’s Thinking

The torture question just won’t go away.  Dick Cheney and others like him continue to defend torture as a justifiable activity when it produces information and makes America safer.  In his recent press conference, President Obama raised some bigger questions when he asked if the same or more information could be obtained using more civilized techniques.  He also suggested a greater debate might center on the question of “Is America actually safer as a result?”  It is conceivable the information obtained is of value, but that its value is more than compensated for by the loss of standing on the world stage.  Simplistically stated, if we use torture in violation of international treaty then we have demonstrated our contempt for treaties and we have essentially given justification to all our enemies to use whatever techniques, torturous or otherwise, they see fit.  We’re now in the gutter with them.

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Roll Another Doobie, Brother

It’s time to drop our Puritanical cloak of self righteousness, open our eyes and look at the question of legalizing marijuana with a common sense approach. It’s not “Refer Madness”; it’s just madness. Our justice system and prisons are overflowing with these terrible criminals that have made the mistake of rolling a joint and putting a match to it. Many of these convicts are young people that were otherwise contributing members of society or students preparing to become contributing members of society. Yet mandatory sentencing laws have given them a full scholarship to the big-house at tax payer expense. If we could break our own addiction to the fear spawned by propaganda, we might be inclined to use a little more sensible approach to the problem.

Before you start pointing fingers, let me assure you I do not smoke pot. I do not encourage anyone to smoke pot. It tends to destroy the short term memory, at least during the time frame the smoker is under the influence. It tends to destroy the short term memory, at least during the time frame the smoker is under the influence. When you get to my age, you need nothing to further harm the short term memory. It also tends to give its users cravings for Twinkies and cans of cold corn. I haven’t had a desire for Twinkies since college and I’ve never been a fan of canned corn. No, I don’t smoke pot and I do discourage people from doing so.

But I also have an open mind and realize we have a major problem. In case you’ve slept through the last fifty years, you may notice the old approach isn’t working. So let’s consider the reasons for keeping marijuana use a criminal offense.

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Democracy, Gays and The Constitution

Pasqual has been a good friend for many years.  My wife likes to tell people Pasqual was the “best man” at our wedding, a claim I earnestly deny.  “If he was the best man, why’d you marry me?”  Sometimes she’s hard-pressed to come up with an answer, but our next anniversary will be fifty years.  That’s twenty five for her and twenty five for me.

The friendship I’ve had with Pasqual all these years has not been built on a foundation of shared political beliefs; quite the opposite.  My opinions are generally formed only after I have researched the issue at hand, sometimes exhaustively.  On the other hand, Pasqual tends to adopt his political views more at the emotional level.  Research only clouds matters.  If it’s good enough for Rush Limbaugh, it’s good enough for Pasqual.  Don’t confuse him with the facts.  When it comes to political and social issues, he’s got a heart of gold, but a head of stone.

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