The Revolution Will Not Be Televised


While revolutions sweep the Middle East, one place that would seem ripe for revolution finds itself frozen in the tropics.  Last night I moderated a forum at the UCLA/Hammer with Annie Bardach and Max Lesnik.  She is a journalist and author who has covered Cuba and Miami for decades, and he is a former revolutionary who became disenchanted with his friend Castro and escaped into exile only to find himself the target of the Miami Cuban Mafia who bombed his newspaper eleven times because he opposes the American embargo.

I quickly learned that discussions about Cuba soon turn into arguments, and while the sparks flew, there was not much light shed on Cuba after the Castros, which was the title of the talk.  But both speakers did agree that there would not be a youthful revolution in Cuba, following the Egyptian and Libyan models, to get rid of a similar dynastic dictatorship.

Various reasons were given; the Stasi of the tropics, an omnipresent security apparatus with its embedded network of neighborhood snitches will nip anything in the bud.  The social network that does not exist; Cuba has the lowest Internet penetration in the hemisphere.  The Army will not side with the people; because of its loyalty to Commandante Raul, whose systematic purges have kept it obedient to the Castros.  And the hermetic information bubble Cubans are trapped in; with no outside media except for the official party line that does not print or televise the revolutions taking place now.

I was curious to get some insight on what young Cubans know and how they feel, and later I met with two audience members who spend about half of every year in Cuba.  One is involved in academic exchanges and the other with Cuba’s artistic community. 

First of all, as Max Lesnik made clear, there is “Radio Bemba” (radio lips) the Cuban gossip mill that started with the revolution but continues to spread information like wildfire, no matter how stifling the regime’s propaganda.  So whether it comes from tourists or through the cracks of a system that is crumbling like the buildings in Havana, young Cubans know exactly what is going on in the rest of the world. 

The Castros have kept the lid on for decades by exporting dissent to Miami where about a fifth of the island’s population has fled.  And while family exchanges keep the island up to date, Cubans don’t want to be rescued by their brothers in Miami who can’t wait to take over, as they feverishly plot and plan where to set up Dodge dealerships in post-Castro Havana. 

As depressed as the young Cubans are, and resigned to their fate that nothing will change until the patriarch dies, the picture that emerged was of a sad symbiosis between the Castros and the Miami Mafia.  Both profit from a stupid and counter-productive embargo that serves both of their interests. 

As long as the exile hard-liners in control America’s dysfunctional policy, based on the absurd notion that punishing the Cuban people hurts the dictator, nothing will change.  And of course the opposite is true.  If by some miracle we would wake up an end the embargo, the Castros would continue it.  They know better than anyone it’s what’s kept them in power all these years.

Yet every day there are more demonstrations across Cuba and as the Cuban economy grinds to a halt, it is possible that a critical mass of young people will take a cue from the unfolding youthful revolutions, whether they are televised or not.  If young Arabs can rebel against the vain/glorious patriarchs who stole their future, why not young Cubans?

Revoking Their Membership in the Washington Club

Kathleen Reardon has a powerful article at the Huffington Post that shreds the shabby myth of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, exposing the hollow ritual of Congressmen and women “respectfully disagreeing with my learned friend and colleague etc.” Even now with the slash and burn Tea party insurgents vowing to take no prisoners, the collegial nature of the “best club in the world” will eventually prevail.  It’s called bipartisanship and it is hailed as compromise and getting things done for the American people, but Kathleen Reardon is calling it what it is, cowardice.

Jim Hightower once said that the only thing in the middle of the road is yellow lines and dead armadillos, and without calling centrists road kill, it does appear they are irrelevant to the forces shaping American politics today.  I am sure the White House has the opposite view as they turn their back on the whining left and try to curry favor with the sensible center, however fickle it might be. 

Meanwhile the people who are really driving the agenda and getting the rewards in American politics are the super rich and the powerful corporations.  Using ideology as a fig leaf to dress up naked greed, they give money to both sides and always seemed to be satisfied with a compliant Democratic Party, but no more. Now they have clearly thrown their lot in with the Republican right who sound more like the party of Stalin than Lincoln and rather than debate, want to eliminate the political opposition as well as deny the Democrats the ability to compete for campaign funds.

So while Obama reaches out to swing voters extolling the virtues of working together, when nothing of the sort is going on, you can either conclude he is a delusional dreamer or a clever strategist who will be expose the obstructionists and get rewarded in 2012 by an electorate that no longer believes in the American maxim that nice guys finish last.

Just as the Arab “street” is changing politics in the Middle East; it will be the American “street” that changes politics here at home.  If the alternative is a compromise in which the American Middle Class negotiates its own surrender, then the Democrats have the right message. If getting an extension of unemployment benefits in exchange for continuing tax breaks for the wealthiest one percent is as good as it gets, then bring on the revolution.

The American people are not all battered housewives prepared to put up with endless insults while clinging to what little security they have. We have seen the first round of inchoate anger from the “grassroots” Tea Party captured by plutocrats and turned against working Americans. But the next round is likely to be the real thing.

Last time the Democrats allowed the Republican right to co-opt Main Street’s rage against Wall Street.  Next time the Democrats had better step up and represent the people and not the Beltway consensus.  They may still have the old government, but we will have a new people.

The End of Dictators


One after another they are falling as the tide of non-violent revolution sweeps the Middle East and drowns the racist myth that Arabs don’t want freedom and democracy.  But so far it has been relatively easy as the low-hanging fruit of corruption has been picked off. The tough slog is now on.

First in Libya, where the Qaddafi clan, surrounded by the dictator’s North Korean and East German trained cadre of female bodyguards, and supported by their African mercenary shock troops, seem prepared to hold on until the last bullet. They will be swept aside soon, but not after a lot of bloodshed and the Qaddafis will probably die before being able to retire in exile on the billions they have stashed in offshore accounts.  

Algeria appears poised to be next in line, but the military thugs who run that dictatorship, after years spent eliminating the Islamists, have had considerable practice at suppressing dissent and they too will make a painful exit.

The toughest nut probably with be the Assads (the lions) of Syria. They are a minority clan with a ubiquitous secret police apparatus who have demonstrated their ruthlessness against the Muslim Brotherhood and the Sunni majority by killing thousands in leveling the city of Hama. Governing by what is known as the Hama rules, the accidental heir to the dynastic dictatorship, a London-trained ophthalmologist Bashar al Assad, looks like a mild-mannered technocrat but he will kill as many as it takes to keep the hordes at bay.  

The two exceptions to the new rule are the Iranian and Chinese regimes. They will hang on longer in part because they were challenged prematurely. The Chinese Politburo learned from Tiananmen and have bribed the younger generation with material opportunity and distracted them with nationalistic pride, but beneath the surface dissent festers.  The theocratic thugs, who have captured the Iranian revolution, have also tried to nip history in the bud by brutally striking back against the Green counter-revolution but their days are numbered too.

What I take comfort in is that the alienated and irrelevant left can’t blame it on the CIA who totally missed the boat and are on the sidelines while history is being made. And on the right the bankruptcy of our neo-liberal free market ideology could not be more apparent as the revolutionaries fighting for freedom today are overturning the crony capitalist oligarchies that America has not only supported, but has become.

What is hopeful however, is what is happening in Wisconsin.  A revolution is beginning to take place in America against the corporate plutocracy and their theocratic and free-market fundamentalist lackeys in Congress.  America citizens are taking to the streets in Madison against the Koch brothers funded fraud mounted by the Republican right who are on a totalitarian bent to create a one-party corporate serfdom of uneducated debt slaves. 

But it looks like the passive consumers who lost their jobs to outsourcing and can no longer go to the malls, are becoming active citizens fighting back against the establishment the ruined the economy, then fleeced them to reward themselves. Adding insult to injury, the Kochs political front men are now forcing them to give up their pensions and healthcare in the name of reducing the deficit created by tax breaks for the rich.  While the rest of America, except Wall Street, is being asked to tighten its belt, will more and more citizens step up and refuse to take it any more? I think they will and it looks like it is beginning to happen.

On The Right Side With The Wrong People


Some of my friends have given up on me. Many of them just sigh with resignation that I just don’t get it. Others who were the first on the block to pronounce with perverse triumphalism, that “Obama is just like Bush”, shun me like a political leper.

Meanwhile I get indignant emails from angry listeners demanding that I justify my support for the president. But I am not an Obama supporter. I am a journalist trying to find out what is going on. I am not now, or have ever been, a member of anyone's cheer squad.

Here is a FACT to ponder...140 million voted in 2008 and only 75 million voted in 2010, thus allowing the Republican wrecking crew to take power in governorships, State Houses and the House of Representatives to break Unions, give what's left away to the super rich and ban abortion etc. I suspect most of my critics are among the many pissed off progressives who feel abandoned by Obama. But isn't it also true that Obama has been abandoned by progressives and is getting support where he can.

Who has his back? The left have left the field so why are they complaining that they are losing the game and the score is stacked against them? Elections have consequences. You get the government you deserve.

True, two years later Obama did not inspire those who showed up in 2008, so if you are looking for perfection then you made the right choice. The problem is that the bad choice won, making the good the enemy of the perfect.

Sure the decrepit democratic machine has been turning out that tired old tune for decades, warning that you have to vote for us otherwise crazies will take over the Supreme Courts. Well they have, and along with the totalitarian right and their Tea Party brigades, funded by billionaires, they WILL reshape America.

They are doing it now and this is a one-sided game that until Wisconsin, they have been winning by default. There is no doubt they have invented straw men like the “liberal elite” and the “liberal media”, but they DO have contempt for progressives. They DO want to eliminate liberals, not debate them, but destroy them!  

So my side is sitting on their hands nursing their hurt feelings while the motivated minority are driven to the polls by boiling hatred, stoked by bilious billionaires and their junk yard dogs on Fox and right wing radio.

What is the cost of punching your ticket every two years for democracy? Is voting a virtue to be protected and given only after considerable courtship. Or is it a practical duty to maintain an imperfect balance. Is it such a sacrifice? Is the choice between a gutless moderate and a corrupt corporate hireling or a venal and vindictive theocrat, too difficult to make or too much of a sellout?  Tell me.

Finally some recognition for Gene Sharp


It is great to see Gene Sharp on the front page of today’s New York Times and perhaps this belated recognition will spur some donations his way.  As the article points out, his Albert Einstein Institution is running on empty but still he manages to spread the word and shake the world.

When you consider the so-called Royal Family in Bahrain huddled inside their palaces as the tear gas wafts over the walls and Colonel Qadaffi lashing out at protesters as his secret police fill the overflowing prisons, it does indicate today’s bankruptcy of our political left/right labels. 

Since Gene Sharp is on the enemies list of the Burmese generals who are generally despised on the left, and has been denounced by Hugo Chavez who is often admired by the left and endlessly worshipped at Pacifica radio, you might ask for some more precision in political labeling.

Unlike fundamentalists, whether they are Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Marxist, Libertarian or Scientologist, I welcome deviations from the text and inconsistencies, otherwise known as the human factor.  I operate on the much simpler political theory of “would these assholes jail my friends?” And the answer is they all would.  Except perhaps for the Libertarians, who would bore them to death. 

With that in mind, I would like to invite you all to the UCLA/Hammer Forum in Westwood a week from today, Thursday February 24 at 7 PM for a free public forum on “Cuba After The Castros”.  Our speakers are a revolutionary compatriot of Castro’s, Max Lesnik, whose Miami newspaper was bombed eleven times by the fanatical Cuban exiles who have controlled our foreign policy like the tail of the junk yard dog wagging a giant poodle.  And joining him will be Annie Bardach, the acclaimed biographer of Castro and his regime.  She will offer a more critical view I suspect and I will learn a lot I expect, and so will the audience. 

So please come and ask questions, unless you are one of the 9/11 “truthers” who try to hijack these public events.  To them I offer a quote from Winston Churchill who described fanatics as “those who can’t change their mind and won’t change the subject”.