Tag Archives: castro

Jay Inslee turns up the pressure on the DNC to host a climate debate

The Democratic National Committee sets the tone for the Democratic party every big election. Issues like healthcare and jobs have always been much higher on the organization’s list of priorities than climate change — a topic that got a total of five minutes and 27 seconds of debate time in 2016. But this presidential election is sure to be different: Scientists say we have little time to avert climate catastrophe, extreme weather chewed through swaths of the country last year, and a majority of voters are worried about climate change. The 2020 Democratic primary even has its very first climate candidate.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is betting that he can stand out in a crowded 2020 primary by making climate change the centerpiece of his campaign. His very presence in the field, and the relative expertise with which he talks about thorny topics like nuclear energy and geoengineering, will put pressure on his rivals to clarify their own climate platforms. That is, if Inslee manages to get more than a few words in edgewise.

On Earth Day, Inslee penned an open letter to his fellow 2020 Democrats asking them to join him in asking the DNC to hold a climate debate. “This is an urgent problem, and we can’t resolve it with soundbites and one-off questions,” he wrote. The DNC, however, doesn’t seem particularly enthused about the idea. “[W]e will absolutely have these discussions during the 2020 primary process,” a spokesperson said, which is a polite way of saying, “Settle down, pipsqueak.”

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But Inslee might be able to generate some momentum by double-dog daring his opponents to match his climate fervor. Already, two of them have endorsed his idea. “A DNC debate focused on climate change would show the world that America intends to lead again on this issue,” New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand told the Daily Beast in a statement last week, when Inslee first called on the DNC to host a climate debate. “I’m in!” Obama’s former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro tweeted on Monday, even though his climate record is light and a little spotty.

Recent polls show Castro and Gillibrand both polling at around 1 percent — why not make a splash on climate? Other candidates, like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, may not feel the need to respond to Inslee’s bait: They have both been long-time climate advocates. Warren just proposed a public lands climate bill.

At one point or another, all of these Democrats are going to have to tell us what they really mean when they say they support climate action or something like the Green New Deal. “Each 2020 candidate needs to have a concrete plan to take on this challenge  —  and we deserve to hear those plans,” Inslee wrote.


Jay Inslee turns up the pressure on the DNC to host a climate debate

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Pissed Off About Something You See on the Web? Call Out the Person, Not the Organization.

Mother Jones

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Over at National Review, David French writes:

For a ‘Peaceful’ Group, Black Lives Matter Sure Does Love Cop Killers and Murderous Dictators

I don’t know how I missed it, but this sickening essay from Black Lives Matter has to be read to believed. Entitled “Lessons from Fidel: Black Lives Matter and the Transition of El Comandante,” it begins….

I’m not especially trying to pick on French here, but this gives me an excuse to gripe about something that I see too often these days.

Let’s stipulate that the essay in question is horrible. I don’t care one way or the other. What I do care about is that French attributes it to “Black Lives Matter.” But that’s not the case. It was written by a specific person, not by BLM as some kind of official position statement. It represents them no more than I represent Mother Jones.

Still, at least MoJo employs me and has some responsibility for what I write. You can’t even say that much about the author of the Castro piece. To the extent that there’s an “official” BLM organization, it’s here. This is the organization founded by Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza. But pretty much anyone can set up shop under the BLM name, and the essay French links to comes from a Medium site called @BlackLivesMatterNetwork. It has posted a grand total of three pieces in the last two months. I have no idea who wrote them or who the site is associated with.

Condemn the piece all you want. But it’s not fair to use it to tar “Black Lives Matter.” They aren’t responsible for everything that’s tossed onto the web under the BLM banner.

UPDATE: It turns out that the official BLM site shared the Castro essay on its Facebook page. So it’s fair to call them out for promoting it.

My general complaint stands, however. If I write something, it means “Kevin Drum says,” not “Mother Jones says.” If David French writes something, it means “David French says,” not “National Review says.” Needless to say, this rule is for personal opinion/analysis pieces. News organizations are corporately responsible for editorial opinions and straight news.

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Pissed Off About Something You See on the Web? Call Out the Person, Not the Organization.

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Cuba’s Organic Revolution: Coming to Your Fridge?

Mother Jones

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When President Barack Obama earlier this week became the first sitting US president to visit Cuba since the revolution, he brought along a veritable army of representatives of US business interests—including agribusiness lobbyists. Among the most prominent was Devry Boughner Vorwerk, a former Cargill executive who now chairs the US Agriculture Coalition for Cuba.

The Coalition launched early last year, soon after Obama announced he would ease trade and travel restrictions imposed by the long-standing US embargo against Cuba, and that he would prod Congress to revoke the trade ban altogether. It’s a conglomeration of grain-trading giants like Cargill (the globe’s largest grain trader and the biggest privately owned US company), Archer Daniels Midland, and Bunge, as well as industry groups including the North American Meat Institute and the American Soybean Association. The group represents what might just be the wedge that will ultimately convince the GOP-led Congress to put aside its staunch anti-communism and agree to lift the embargo: As much as heartland Republican politicians despise the Castro family and all it represents, they love the agribusiness interests that dominate their states.

It’s easy to see why US agribusiness has set its sights on the island nation just 90 miles southeast of Florida and quite close to the Gulf of Mexico ports through which most American grain and meat exports flow. Before the revolution, the United States and Cuba maintained a robust trade in foodstuffs. At inflation-adjusted prices, pre-1959 Cuba imported about $600 million worth of US food—mostly meat and rice—according to a 2015 US Department of Agriculture report. Cuba, in turn, sent about $2.2 billion (current dollars) worth of sugar, tobacco, and pineapples our way. But then the revolution launched an era marked by a thwarted CIA-led coup and attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, culminating in an embargo banning US trade with Cuba.

In 2000, Congress eased the embargo on food exports to Cuba, but in the 15 years since, they’ve rarely reached pre-revolutionary levels. Cuba is reluctant to trade with its old enemy, and lingering restrictions from the embargo make it difficult to do so. While US companies like Cargill are allowed to sell their goods to Cuba, they’re still prohibited from financing the sales with credit—they are required under the embargo’s terms to demand cash up front. That leaves them at a big disadvantage compared with companies from other exporting nations that don’t restrict Cuban trade.

While Obama would like to end the credit restrictions, he can’t do so by executive order. That’s why the US Agriculture Coalition for Cuba is pushing Congress to repeal the embargo altogether. To get an idea of what kind business opportunity post-embargo Cuba might offer US agribusiness, the 2015 USDA report points to another Caribbean island nation with a similar population size and per-capita income: the Dominican Republic. US agribusiness firms export about $1.1 billion worth of goods to the DR annually, representing more than 40 percent of its food imports. In 2014, the USDA reports, US companies exported $286 million worth of food to Cuba, accounting for just 15 percent of its food imports, and less than competitors based in Brazil and the European Union.

So, there’s a lot of money on the table, which might explain why US agribusiness firms are licking their chops at the prospect of open trade with Cuba. But what do the thawing of US-Cuba relations and the potential end of the embargo mean for Cuba’s domestic farms and urban gardens growing vegetable and fruits for local consumption?

As readers might remember, necessity forced Cuba to embark on a remarkable experiment in essentially organic, local food production in the mid-1990s—a story explored in-depth by the climate writer Bill McKibben in this 2005 Harper’s piece and by scholar-activist Peter Rosset here. The short version: Until the 1990s, the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc nations propped up Cuba’s food supply by sending over boat loads of wheat and rice, as well farm machinery and petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides, which the communist nation put to use on large, state-run farms. In exchange, Cuba exported its old colonial-era crop, sugar, at a wildly inflated price. When the Soviet Union collapsed, those perks dried up, and Cuba’s sugar exports didn’t earn nearly enough on the open market to maintain the same level of food and farm-supply imports.

The result was what became known in Cuba as “the Special Period.” According to McKibben, citing the Food and Agriculture Organization, per-capita food intake on the island plunged from 3,000 calories in 1989 to 1,900 four years later, the equivalent of removing one meal per person a day. What happened next has been described as an “agro-ecological revolution.” Here’s McKibben:

Cuba had learned to stop exporting sugar and instead started growing its own food again, growing it on small private farms and thousands of pocket-sized urban market gardens—and, lacking chemicals and fertilizers, much of that food became de facto organic. Somehow, the combination worked. Cubans have as much food as they did before the Soviet Union collapsed. They’re still short of meat, and the milk supply remains a real problem, but their caloric intake has returned to normal—they’ve gotten that meal back.

Jullia Wright, a senior research fellow at the United Kingdom’s Coventry University who studies Cuba’s post-Soviet food system, told me that the nation’s urban-farming networks remain highly productive today. The government doesn’t keep precise data on how heavily Cuba’s urban dwellers rely on these operations for food, but they supply a “high percentage” of the leafy greens, fruits, herbs, fresh corn (for human consumption), beans, and small livestock consumed in cities, she says.

Of course, most of what Cargill and its US peers want to export into Cuba doesn’t compete directly with these products—they’re more interested in exporting things like corn and soybeans. At least initially, they’ll be be trying to displace commodity-crop producers in Brazil, Canada, and the European Union, not market gardeners in Havana.

For that reason, the eventual end of the embargo don’t present an immediate threat to Cuba’s small producers, said Miguel Altieri, a professor in the department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California–Berkeley who visits Cuba regularly. “The basic situation hasn’t changed for the peasant movement,” he said. Even if US firms eventually buy land in Cuba to grow export crops—say, pineapples or mangoes—it wouldn’t necessarily affect the smallholder movement, he said, because only about 70 percent of Cuba’s arable rural land is currently in production. So there’s room for both the kind of industrial production that might interest US agribusiness firms and the small operations currently supplying Cubans with fresh food.

The problem, Altieri said, is that unlike those agribusiness lobbyists now on the ground in Havana, the main smallholder groups are “not actively involved in the conversations about the transitions in Cuba.” The first generation of small-scale ag leaders were close to Cuban President Raul Castro—”they could go to Raul and say, ‘Hey, man, don’t forget about us—we’re important,'” he said. But that generation has passed away or retired, and the new leaders don’t have nearly the same access to decision-makers, Atieri said.

With the right policies in place, Cuba’s highly productive small farms could both feed Cuba and earn foreign exchange by exporting, Altieri said. The worst-case scenario is that the small farmers now feeding Cubans will start exporting their crops to the United States en masse to take advantage of higher prices, removing a reliable source of affordable food from the island, he added. He said that such a situation could be avoided if Cuban policymakers put incentives into place to ensure that about a third of farmland remains devoted to providing food to Cubans, but it remains to be seen whether the government views Cuba’s robust domestic food system as an “achievement of the revolution” that’s as much worth preserving and expanding as gains in health care and literacy.

Meanwhile, US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who accompanied Obama on his Cuba foray, has articulated a post-embargo vision of Cuba as a major supplier of organic vegetables to the US market. In an interview with Modern Farmer after he led a trade delegation on a trip to the island in November, Vilsack marveled at the productivity of Cuba’s farms, noting the “impressive array of root vegetables,” the “fairly significant garlic production,” and the bounty of citrus and avocados. “I think they just have an unlimited opportunity” for exporting organic produce to the United States, he said.


Cuba’s Organic Revolution: Coming to Your Fridge?

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President Obama Meets With Raul Castro for a Historic Meeting in Cuba

Mother Jones

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A day after making history by becoming the first sitting US president to visit Cuba in 88 years, President Barack Obama joined Cuban president Raúl Castro for a joint press conference inside the Palace of Revolution in Havana, where the two leaders candidly discussed the steps both countries would need to take to begin normalizing relations.

“This is a new day—es una nueva día—between our two countries,” Obama said.

In their addresses, both leaders acknowledged the profound differences that remained between the two countries on subjects such as human rights and democracy. Castro urged the United States to lift decades-old economic sanctions and also called for its departure from Guantanamo.

“We recognize the position President Obama is in and the position his government holds against the blockade, and that they have called on Congress to lift it,” Castro said.

Then, in the rare Q&A session that followed, Castro appeared defensive when asked about the regime’s political prisoners. “Give me a list of those political prisoners and I’ll release them,” he said. “If we have those political prisoners they will be free before nighttime.”

His frustration continued when Obama gently nudged him to answer another question, this time about human rights violations. (Castro had said he’d answer just one question.) “Human rights,” he eventually said, “should not be politicized.”

With such remarks, it’s not exactly surprising the press conference ended on this uncomfortable note:

MORE: How did the Obama administration finally break through years of deadlock on Cuba? Read our story on the crazy back-channel negotiations here.

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President Obama Meets With Raul Castro for a Historic Meeting in Cuba

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Marco Rubio’s Cold War Approach to Cuba Is Losing Him Voters

Mother Jones

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Presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) probably thought that his hawkish, Cold War foreign policy would endear him to Cuban Americans—but he may be in for an unwelcome surprise. Cuba policy is close to Rubio’s heart—his parents fled the country in 1956—and he has denounced the Obama administration’s détente with the Castro regime as “disgraceful” and “willfully ignorant.” Historically, this kind of rhetoric has earned Republicans support among Cuban Americans. But polls suggest that things have changed, and that Rubio’s strident Cuba outlook could damage his standing among a constituency that has buoyed his political career.

Every year since 1991, Florida International University has surveyed Cuban Americans’ attitudes on US-Cuba policy. The most recent poll, taken in 2014, reveals that those who took to Miami’s streets in December 2014 to protest the US restoring relations with Cuba are in the minority: 52 percent of poll respondents oppose continuing the embargo, and 68 percent favor the reestablishment of diplomatic relations. More than 70 percent say the embargo has worked poorly. How Cuban Americans of different ages responded reveals a stark generational split: A majority of those aged 65 and older still favor the embargo, but two-thirds of those aged 18 to 29 oppose it. Nearly 90 percent of millennial Cuban Americans favor reestablishing ties too.

For the 43-year-old Rubio, who is trying to brand himself as a new generation of Republican, this could be a problem. According to Guillermo Grenier, a Cuban studies expert at FIU, Rubio’s Cuba policy “doesn’t have legs” for the future. “People are changing. Rubio’s position will resonate among a certain percentage of the population—a shrinking percentage.” The younger generation, Grenier says, “say things like, ‘How can Rubio be against the embargo—doesn’t he know it hurts Cubans on the island?'”

Not long ago, candidates of both parties had to reassure Cuban Americans of their anti-Castro bona fides. Obama, as a candidate in 2008, addressed an audience of Cuban Americans and promised to maintain the embargo unless several conditions were met. Now, Grenier says, those days are drawing to a close. Politicians such as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who built a decades-long career out of antagonizing the regime, did not challenge Obama’s decision to take Cuba off the official list of state sponsors of terror earlier this year. And even though Cuba remains far from being a free democracy, most Cuban Americans believe that US policy has made things worse.

As Cuba continues to play a larger role in foreign policy debates, Rubio may have to tread lightly—strategically “not emphasizing his views” in some situations, Grenier says. But it will be hard to downplay a career of fiery anti-communist Cuba rhetoric. On Fox News, Rubio called the December 2014 prisoner swap that began the recent diplomatic warming “absurd.” He went on to describe it as “part of a long record of coddling dictators and tyrants that this administration has established.” And Rubio is likely to mention recent Cuba developments during his major policy address today at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

But Rubio is unlikely to moderate his position. In December, he said defiantly: “I don’t care if the polls show that 99 percent of people believe we should normalize relations in Cuba.”

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Marco Rubio’s Cold War Approach to Cuba Is Losing Him Voters

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Final Fundraising of 2014

Mother Jones

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This is it: absolutely my last fundraising request of the year. After that, 2014 will be in the books. So if you’re in the mood to make a final, year-end contribution to Mother Jones, now’s the time. Small amounts are fine. Large amounts are even better! You can use PayPal or a credit card. Every little bit helps.

So thanks once again for another year of reading my rants and raves, and thanks in advance for whatever donation you can afford. Here are the details:

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Final Fundraising of 2014

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Obama Shakes Hand With Raul Castro; Right Prepares to Freak Out

Mother Jones

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At Nelson Mandela’s memorial ceremony today, President Obama shook hands with Cuba’s Raul Castro. The Guardian reports:

The controversial handshake with Castro is likely to dominate headlines back home in the US, where many conservatives fear the White House is preparing a broader rapprochement with communist leaders in Havana, but Obama’s surprisingly political speech also included veiled criticism of dictatorships that neglect human rights and conservatives who ignore inequality.

Will conservatives flip out over this? The quickest way to find out is a trip to The Corner, and Mona Charen comes through:

Alan Gross has been rotting in a Cuban prison for going on five years….That the Obama administration has not seen to his release is outrage enough — but to witness the handshake between Obama and Raul Castro makes the stomach turn. Even without the Gross case, the nature of the Cuban regime should be enough to cause our president to find some way to avoid a handshake. Shameful day to be an American.

OK then. Cue freakout. It’s near the top of Drudge too, and if it weren’t for Matt Drudge’s peculiar preoccupation with weather news, it would probably have a screaming siren there. I guess this is going to be the right’s shiny new toy for the week.

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Obama Shakes Hand With Raul Castro; Right Prepares to Freak Out

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