Cuba: “Who fears the billboard?”

August 18th, 2015

David Feith tells the story behind the U.S. Embassy’s ticker in The Bare Flagpoles of Havana
Before Obama restored ties to Cuba, he ended an inventive U.S. effort to promote freedom.

Victor Davis Hanson on Obama: Earning Contempt, at Home and Abroad

The Castro brothers just upped their rhetoric, as Fidel demanded millions of dollars in embargo reparations as part of President Obama’s “normalization” of relations with Cuba — apparently to remind the world that the Cubans have no intention of paying back the billions of dollars they confiscated 55 years ago in American capital and property, much less of easing up on human-rights activists. Why would the Castros do that at this point, when no American president in a half-century has been more deferential to their Stalinist government? Is their defiance cheap public grandstanding for the benefit of Cuban hardliners, or a more natural reaction known to benefactors and beneficiaries alike as something like the following: “If he gave a wretch like me something for nothing, then he either did not deserve what he had or he should have given me even more”?

Indeed. When Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla brazenly lied about Cuba and insulted the U.S. during their joint press conference, Kerry stood there like patience on a statue and took it (starting at 12:15 in the video. The video is from Jaime Bayly’s show last Friday. Bayly was incensed.)

My translation:

“Cuba is not a place where there is racial discrimination, police brutality, or where deaths occur from these issues. Neither is under Cuban jurisdiction the territory where people are tortured or held in legal limbo.”

At 13:07, continuing my translation,

“I have asserted to the Secretary of State that lifting the embargo, in our opinion, is essential for having normal relations with the United States, along with returning the territory usurped from our country and [sic] at the naval base on Guantanamo Bay. Likewise, we find it necessary to further the subject of compensation to the Cuban citizens, for human damages and for the economic losses brought about over more than five decades.”

John Kerry obviously knows enough Spanish (earlier in the video he reads his speech quite well) to understand what Rodríguez was saying, never mind that he has simultaneous translation in his earphone: There was no getting around the fact that Cuba is not only not giving an inch, it’s asking for more.

In two words: shameful spectacle.

Capitol Hill Cubans:

Thus, in hindsight, after seeing the moral mediocrity — with the exception of three U.S. Marines — that populated the Embassy’s courtyard on Friday morning, it was clear that no one there was worthy of the presence of Cuba’s courageous dissidents.

Eliott Abrams on Kerry in Cuba: More Interested in Cigars Than Dissidents.

Priorities, priorities.

“Culture is how we pass the time between hypocrisies.”

August 18th, 2015

This morning, while dealing with a brand-new washing machine spewing out soapy water all over the garage floor, I’ve come across a number of articles bemoaning the death of culture.

The first one was at American Digest’s Sidelines,

Our culture has continued to slide giggling into the pit.

It is now thirty years since you last heard anyone hum a tune from a current popular song.

Concerts of serious music rarely include anything less than half a century old. Very few of us could name a living painter or architect. Entire years pass when no American outside the academy spontaneously quotes a line of verse written by any American poet younger than Elizabeth Bishop (b. 1911), or a British poet younger than Philip Larkin (b. 1922). The middlebrow novel is slipping into extinction. Movies are an extension of the comic-book industry; only TV drama shows occasional flashes of brilliance. The churches are branch offices of Globalist Multiculturalism, Inc.: the Episcopal church in my sleepy, 360-year-old Long Island town advertises Misa en Español. A Report from the Conservative Movement’s Dustbin – The Unz Review

Inclined as I am towards ancient music, non-fiction books, and not going to church, the moaning about “It is now thirty years since you last heard anyone hum a tune from a current popular song” tells me that the person who wrote that doesn’t have young children incessantly playing the brainworm-inducing Happy and Let It Go. Never mind that up until a couple of years ago the only living painter most people could name was Thomas Kincaid, the Leonardo of QVC.

The second is Joshua Cohen’s review, Mario Vargas Llosa’s ‘Notes on the Death of Culture’. Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society is Vargas Llosa’s latest book, where he bemoans “our” lack of common culture, deploring “The Civilization of the Spectacle,” an essay I read while my mom was looking at Vargas Llosa himself on the cover of ¡Hola!. Don Mario was having lunch with his latest mistress, Julio Iglesias’s first wife, and pop! the paparazzi caught the spectacle.

The third was this beaut from Boer Deng at the WaPo, Ballet is more diverse than ever. Why is the audience still so white?
Changes to American ballet go beyond Misty Copeland.
Ms Deng is uniquely ignorant of the several principal dancers of Spanish and South American ancestry at the NYCB & the ABT over the decades, and insultingly ignorant of this.

Yes, there is a coarsening of society in general. If you, my gentle reader, are bothered by it, don’t sponsor and don’t frequent those engaged in what bothers you. Continue to engage and support that art which feeds your soul, and bring a friend or two when you do. (While you are at it, you may buy Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society through my Amazon links.)

If you want to be more proactive, The Western Canon and The Educated Child are two good resources. Dress up, including during travel. Come up with something that promotes the culture you appreciate.

As for the rest, I agree with Joshua Cohen when he says, “Culture is how we pass the time between hypocrisies.”

Blogging on Latin America shall resume shortly.

Linked to by American Digest. Thank you!

Brazil: Will Dilma get it?

August 17th, 2015

Impeachment, that is,

Protesters Call for Ouster of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff

Wrapping themselves in the national flag, Brazilians swarm city centers

According to Brazilian media and on social networks, protests were staged in all of Brazil’s 26 states, as well as in the capital district of Brasília.

In the city of São Paulo, the antigovernment protest was the second-largest since March, with estimates ranging from 135,000 to 350,000 protesters on Avenida Paulista on Sunday afternoon.
. . .
Yet, over the past two weeks, some of Ms. Rousseff’s severest critics have been making conciliatory remarks, suggesting that Brasília’s ruling elites are looking for ways to defuse the crisis without a regime change. Moody’s Investors Service recently reduced Brazil’s credit rating to one notch above junk status, lending urgency to some politicians’ desire to end the standoff quickly.

O Globo has a photo gallery, complete with blow-up doll of Lula in stripes.

I could find no information on the line of succession in case of presidential impeachment in Brazil. Does it mean there will be an immediate election? Considering the rumors around when Dilma was re-elected, what measures would guarantee a clean vote?


In US news,
Trump’s Defective EconomicsThe candidate is promoting currency devaluation—he should ask Argentina and Brazil how that worked out.

If “competitive devaluation” worked, Argentina would be the national equivalent of Donald Trump. That means very, very rich, in case you somehow missed the Donald’s constant assertion about his net worth.

Brazil has a similar history. It began to cultivate middle-income earners only after it pegged its currency to the dollar in 1994 to halt hyperinflation. Brazil abandoned the peg in 1999 but that didn’t make the Brazilian economy more globally competitive. Quite the opposite occurred, because devaluation acts as a form of protectionism. When the Brazilian real weakens, Brazilians lose purchasing power and can no longer afford high-tariff imports. They’re forced to buy lower-quality goods from inefficient Brazilian industries.

Read the whole thing.

Mexico: @Leon_Krauze looks at the big White House

August 17th, 2015

León Krauze reports on Mexico’s Telenovela First Lady
Angélica Rivera may have dazzled on the TV screen, but her shady relationship with a government contractor has wreaked havoc on her husband’s presidency.

The disappearance and apparent brutal slaying of 43 students from Ayotzinapa in Guerrero State started the downward slide. The government’s clumsy response, including the president’s reluctance to handle the issue personally, made things much worse. 

A couple of months later, Peña Nieto’s image was damaged even further by the publication of a blockbuster investigation into a luxurious residence owned by Mexico’s first lady, the actress Angélica Rivera. Known as the “Casa Blanca”—the White House— for its imposing white walls and interiors, it was built and financed by one of Peña Nieto’s favored government contractors, and it had a $7 million price tag, which is an excessive figure even for Mexico City’s swankiest neighborhoods.

Read the whole thing, and watch León’s report,
A year ago I asked @EPN [Enrique Peña Nieto] if he would commit to ensuring that #ElChapo would not escape again. ‘It’d be unforgivable.’


There’s no Carnival of Latin America and the Caribbean this week due to server issues.

Sunday palate cleanser: Joe Cocker, 2013

August 16th, 2015

at Lanxess Arena

Joe Cocker – vocals
Nick Milo – keyboards
Jack Bruno – drums
Gene Black – guitar
Oneida James-Rebeccu – bass
Herman Jackson – Hammond B3
Norberto Fimpel – sax, percussion
Nichelle Tillman, Laura Jane Jones – background vocals

Ecuador: More protests

August 14th, 2015

Including against his insistence in running indefinitely,

Ecuador Native Groups, Opponents Strike Against President CorreaThousands march to Quito, block roadways throughout the nationOpponents of President Rafael Correa’s policies, many of them from indigenous groups, protested against government policies on Thursday, including one that would permit the populist leader to run for office indefinitely.
. . .
Thousands of members of the powerful native group, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or Conaie, have marched to Quito to back a grab bag of demands, including a rollback in the government’s proposed changes to the constitution, a halt to mining concessions, and an end to negotiations for a free trade with the European Union. The native groups joined other opponents to protest government policies in Thursday’s national strike.

Indigenous groups have organized protests in the past, including this one in 2011,

S&P lowered its sovereign credit ratings on Ecuador to B from B+ on Wednesday.

No matter what, Correa, like his Venezuelan counterpart Maduro, is not going to cede power willingly.


August 14th, 2015

Secretary of State John Kerry is in Havana today for the opening of the U.S. Embassy. Read my article and roundup here.

Politico’s “formidable agent of change” on the job


Follow the Slim & Clinton money: Perfect together?

August 14th, 2015

Maybe not?

Clinton Foundation Quietly Revises Mexican Billionaire’s Donation
Carlos Slim was listed as a seven-figure donor last year. Now the foundation says he’s given far less

Prior to the update, Slim was listed as a $1 million to $5 million contributor. The updated version of the site says he has donated between $250,000 and $500,000.

We’re talking bucks, not only by Slim individually, but through his TracFone, Inmobiliaria Carso, and Telmex companies:

Slim, the world’s second-wealthiest man, runs a number of telecommunications companies in his native Mexico. One of them, TracFone, is a prominent U.S. federal government contractor. The company paid $40 million to the Federal Trade Commission in January to settle allegations of deceptive advertising practices.TracFone has donated between $5 million and $10 million to the Clinton Foundation, according to its website.

Another Slim company, Inmobiliaria Carso, appeared on the Clinton Foundation’s donor lists for the first time this year. The company contributed between $1 million and $5 million, according to the foundation’s website.

A charitable group associated with Slim’s Telmex, which controls most of Mexico’s landline phone market, has donated another $1 million to $5 million, including contributions in 2015 (the dates of its contributions, and the extent of its support this year, are not known).


Unlike the Eychaner and Lessfield updates, however, Slim’s revised contribution numbers reveal a new vehicle for his donations to the foundation in Inmobiliaria Carso, which had not previously appeared on the foundation’s donor list.

The company’s donations are also of note given controversy over ties between the foundation and the New York Times. Inmobiliaria Carso is the investment vehicle through which Slim owns his sizable stake in the New York Times Company, according to publicly available financial statements.

As of January this year,

Slim has become the largest shareholder of New York Times Co (NYT.N) after exercising warrants to double his stake in the publisher to 16.8 percent

He recently was in the news when his television production company, Ora TV, dropped a project with companies owned by Donald Trump.

Slim is rumored to be eyeing a bid for Univision, home of illegal immigration activist Jorge Ramos.

New York Times’ Top Shareholder Is a Clinton Foundation Donor

A rundown of the many connections between the Times and the Clintons

Mexicans account 44% of the increase in the total immigrant population in the last year UPDATED

August 13th, 2015

Paul Bedard reports:
Census: Record 42.1 million immigrants in U.S., Mexicans drive latest surge

• Growth in the last year was led by a rebound in the number of Mexican immigrants, which increased by 740,000 from 2014 to 2015 — accounting for 44 percent of the increase in the total immigrant population in the last year.

• The total Mexican immigrant population (legal and illegal) reached 12.1 million in the second quarter of 2015 — the highest quarterly total ever.

• The Department of Homeland Security and other researchers have estimated that eight in 10 illegal immigrants are from Mexico and Latin America, so the increase in immigrants from these countries is an indication that illegal immigration has begun growing again.


Read the whole thing.

Univision keeps to its agenda, California Ban on the Word ‘Alien’ Hailed on Univision

Bond roulette: Puerto Rico, Venezuela

August 13th, 2015

Which Puerto Rico Bond Defaults Next? 46% Yields Provide a Clue Bloomberg lists the most recent trading prices of bonds that aren’t insured against default:

Puerto Rico defaulted for the first time on Aug. 3, when a little-known agency, the Public Finance Corp., paid investors just $628,000 of the $58 million they were owed.

The Finance Corp. is only one of the 17 arms of the U.S. territory that have sold tax-exempt bonds, according to the Government Development Bank. Unlike debt typically issued by countries, the securities carry varying degrees of risk because they’re backed by different sources of funds and legal safeguards.

So as the island burns through cash, there’s the obvious question: which bonds could be next?

By Insurer’s Calculation, Puerto Rico Debt Burden Is Lowest, but I’d listen to Moody’s,

Excluding the island’s utility bonds and adding the U.S. debt to each state based on their population, Puerto Rico has a lower debt-to-income ratio per capita than even Maryland or Virginia, which have top credit ratings, National [Public Finance Guarantee Corp.] said.

The analysis is in stark contrast with data from Moody’s Investors Service, which gives Puerto Rico the third-worst credit rating and says its net tax supported debt per capita is the highest among U.S. states and 11 times greater than Virginia’s. Moody’s projects recovery rates from 35 percent to 80 percent on commonwealth bonds.

VENZ/PDVSA: The Mixed Martial Arts of Bond Trading

To be clear, trading VENZ is to normal bond investing what mixed-martial-ats is to thumb-wrestling. It’s a crazy, high-risk world where a good day in the WTI oil market, or a couple of anodyne bureaucratic announcements, are enough in to set off a mad bull-rush, with venny traders tripping over one another to snap up paper.

For the rest of us, it’s all gambling. I could only find this scene dubbed in French – lay down your bets, ladies and gentlemen,