Franz Schubert

Franz SchubertOn this day in 1797, the great composer Franz Schubert was born. He is probably the only Romantic period composer who I unreservedly like. But if I were perfectly honest, the music coming into and going out of the Romantic period is generally much better than the straight Romantic stuff. That gives me some wiggle room with Beethoven, who is usually overdone for my tastes, but still ridiculously great.

Schubert was a full generation later than Beethoven, and very much influenced by him. Of course, Schubert was arguably even more influenced by Mozart. And he seems to have been somewhat like Mozart in the rapidity of his composing. Schubert died at the age of 31 of typhoid fever — or syphilis. Yet he left an enormous amount of music. And this may be one of the reasons that he has historically been discounted. There is no question but that he had the ability to quickly grind out facile works. But look at his later compositions, which show such control of emotional tempo and complex harmony.

If you look at what he wrote, Schubert would be considered a vocal composer. In addition to writing hundreds of songs, he wrote a couple dozen operas and singspiels. Yet his operas aren’t much performed, except for Fierrabras — and even it not that much. I don’t understand it. It is beautiful work — and far better than much of the opera that came after it. Whatever. A lot of what gets performed is just a matter of fashion. Here is Jonas Kaufmann performing “Was Quälst du Mich, o Mißgeschick!” (“Why do you torture me, misfortune!”?) from Fierrabras:

But I can’t think of Schubert without immediately hearing the String Quartet in G major. And here is a great performance of it by the Pražák Quartet. It is a very fast way to pass 45 minutes:

Happy birthday Franz Schubert!

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Socialist vs Liberal Websites

Socialism according to an idiot conservativeI’ve noticed something recently. I’m not very happy with liberal websites. It’s not that I especially disagree with them, although I often do. It is more that it is mostly really boring. I find myself more and more gravitating to straight up socialist websites. Primarily, they understand the fundamental problems with capitalism — especially the way it is practiced in the United States and Europe. What I never find on socialist websites, as I discussed earlier, are things like Jonathan Chait’s rejoicing about Obama pushing for state and local governments to access the usefulness of barber licensing. Read the article for my take on it. The main point here is just: who cares?

But this is what we get from liberals. It reminds me of something I heard a long time ago. When I was in college, I saw a talk by Jeff Cohen. He noted that the PBS NewsHour would bring in two conservatives to talk about a subject. They would be presented as center-left and center-right. But if it was a discussion of the military, it would doubtless be Sam Nunn — generally a conservative southern Democrat — very conservative when it came to the military. He would be joined by some Republican who was on the far right. And they would have a “Yes, but…” conversation. For example, “Yes, I agree that we must build the Mx Missile, but I think we should build 40 rather than 100.” Because what we really needed in 1985 was more ICBMs and the only possible debate was the number that we needed.

Things really came to a head during the discussion of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Like most people, my first reaction was disgust at the attack. But then it became a cause. But a cause for what? The cause of freedom of speech? Was that really a discussion we needed to have? After all, this wasn’t a question of the government stifling speech. This was a couple of thugs with guns who killed a bunch of people for their own reasons. But it did cause the French government to stifle speech as a result of it. It wasn’t the liberal blogs that were all over this hypocrisy. It wasn’t even much of the libertarian blogs. They were mostly interested in self-congratulation for just how committed to freedom they all were.

I also noticed just how widespread a certain strain of casual Islamophobia is around in the liberal world. It kind of goes along with the whole Jonathan Chait PC article brouhaha. I have this feeling that simmering below the surface of American liberalism is a kind of hatred and intolerance for anything that is socially acceptable to hate. Muslims are fine to hate, as long as you speak carefully like Sam Harris. Uppity transgender people are fine to hate, as long as it is their “intolerance” and not gender that you claim to hate. The primary difference between liberals and conservatives seems to be how much time it takes to move them kicking and screaming into the future.

The funny thing about all of this is that I don’t really consider myself a socialist. I believe in robust market economies. But because I am relatively conservative in the traditional sense of the work, I think a strong state is essential. And anyone who doesn’t see that is just not paying attention. Not only is a strong state necessary to take care of those thing that the market economy does not (social order, healthcare, guaranteed minimum income), we need it in order to make the market economy function correctly. But in the United States, politics is so screwed up that a conservative believer in robust market economies is well to the left of the traditional left.

But my increasing interest in socialist thought really doesn’t have to do with agreeing with it. I don’t agree with it any more than I agree with liberal thought. But I wonder what good liberal thought is when it doesn’t really counter the status quo. It is very much arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. We will fight endless wars in foreign lands regardless who is president, and the liberals will grumble. We will see the working class fall further and further behind regardless who is president, and the liberals will murmur. The poor will die much younger than the rich regardless who is president, and the liberals will whimper. But they won’t say that something is fundamentally wrong with the system, because they are as committed to the status quote as the conservatives.

Afterword

None of this means that my thinking on politics has changed. I’ve always been on the “radical” side of liberal politics anyway. But I am still a Democrat — because there is no better choice. And ultimately, I’m a pragmatist. But there are only so many hours in the day. And what am I going to spend them doing? I could read stuff with the same old boring points of view that don’t much enrich my thinking. Or I would challenge myself. Prepare for some changes to the links on the right.

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Mainstream Media’s WikiLeak Contempt

Trevor TimmIn the past four years, WikiLeaks has had their Twitter accounts secretly spied on, been forced to forfeit most of their funding after credit card companies unilaterally cut them off, had the FBI place an informant inside their news organization, watched their supporters hauled before a grand jury, and been the victim of the UK spy agency GCHQ hacking of their website and spying on their readers.

Now we’ve learned that, as The Guardian reported on Sunday, the Justice Department got a warrant in 2012 to seize the contents — plus the metadata on emails received, sent, drafted and deleted — of three WikiLeaks’ staffers’ personal Gmail accounts, which was inexplicably kept secret from them for almost two and a half years…

Most journalists and press freedom groups have been inexplicably quiet about the Justice Department’s treatment of WikiLeaks and its staffers ever since, despite the fact that there has been a (justified) backlash against the rest of the Justice Department’s attempt to subpoena reporters’ phone call records and spy on their emails. But almost all of the tactics used against WikiLeaks by the Justice Department in their war on leaks were also used against mainstream news organizations.

For example, after The Washington Post revealed in 2013 the Justice Department had gotten a warrant for the personal Gmail account of Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2010 without his knowledge by explicitly accusing him of being an espionage “co-conspirator” (for having the audacity to arrange to confidentially speak with a source), journalists and privacy advocates understandably reacted in shock and outrage.

WikiLeaks staffers faced virtually the same tactics: they had their Gmail seized by the government in secret, they didn’t find out for years after the fact (so they had no way to challenge it) and, according to WikiLeaks’ lawyers, the warrant specifically indicates the Justice Department is investigating WikiLeaks for “conspiracy to commit espionage.” …

Unfortunately the news world has never rallied around WikiLeaks’ First Amendment rights the way they should — sometimes even refusing to acknowledge they are a journalism organization, perhaps because they dare to do things a little differently than the mainstream media, or because WikiLeaks tweets provocative political opinions, or because they think its founder, Julian Assange, is an unsympathetic figure.

Those are all disgraceful excuses to ignore the government’s overreach: the rights of news organizations everywhere are under just as much threat whether the government reads the private emails of staffers at WikiLeaks, Fox News or the Associated Press.

—Trevor Timm
The War on Leaks Has Gone Way Too Far When Journalists’ Emails Are Under Surveillance

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Heterodox Economics Helps Create Bad Policy

Mike KonczalDespite the fact that I often hate the results of them, I greatly admire heterodox economists. It is really important to have people who push against the grain of what everyone else “knows.” Usually, everyone else thinks they know things because they are more or less right. But not always. And sometimes heterodox economists have important results that everyone just chooses to ignore. Alan Greenspan showed that unemployment could go way down without causing inflation, yet most economists continue to believe that an unemployment rate much below 5.5% will bring back the 1970s. This tends to be the way of it. When a new idea comes around that helps working people, the economics profession is very skeptical.

The problem with hererodox economists is that when they come up with an idea that is completely wrong, but which justifies what the power elite want to do, it is accepted as Hoyle in much of the policy establishment. There were two big examples of this recently. First there was Alberto Alesina’s work that purported to show that cutting government spending in a recession was consistent with economic growth: expansionary austerity. And then there was Reinhart and Rogoff’s idea economic that growth stalled out after government debt reached 90% of GDP. Neither of these theories was ever compelling, but it told conservatives what they wanted to hear, “The budget must be balanced!”

The great Mike Konczal at Next New Deal brought my attention to another heterodox paper from a group at National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) that already has conservatives all tittering. He discussed it in, Did Ending Unemployment Insurance Extensions Really Create 1.8 Million Jobs? The idea is that cutting off unemployment insurance to 1.3 million people suddenly made 1.8 million people employed. It isn’t impossible in theoretical terms; it could be that there is a kind of multiplier effect: when one person gets a job, he’s able to spend more and that works its way through the economy.

One of the problems with the paper is that it uses a model that is “an empirical disaster.” This is very typical of Chicago school type models. Decades ago, they decided that it wasn’t necessary for their economic models to actually mimic or predict the real economy. And there is something to be said for this. One can learn things from models that aren’t predictive. Just the same, because of this, pretty much all the policy models are New Keynesian. And one has to wonder why economists would make claims about the real economy when using models they know don’t model reality.

There are many other problems with the NBER paper — read Konczal’s article for all the details. I’m more interested in (and worried about) the fact that this will be used by conservatives to claim that the only reason we ever have unemployment is because we are so nice to the unemployed. (Insert Paul Ryan hammock remark here!) Somehow, the 25% unemployment rate in 1930 — before these was UI — doesn’t seem to matter to these people. We end up with these horrible false equivalence arguments: “Some economists (99%) say that unemployment insurance raises the unemployment by a couple of tenths of a percentage point, and other economists (1%) say that unemployment insurance raises the unemployment by over a percentage point. Who can say?!”

This is a fundamental problem with economics and public policy. And this was the only valid criticism of Seven Bad Ideas. Many people, most notably Brad DeLong, noted that the bad ideas listed in the book weren’t really what economists believe. But the bad ideas are everywhere in economic policy debate. And heterodox papers like this new one from NBER only intensify this problem.

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Professional Licencing Reform Will Just Enrich the Wealthy

Professional LicenseWatching economic policy debate feels very much like watching a doctor set a broken arm while the patient dies with blood gushing out of an artery. We look at minor issues and ignore major ones. And then when someone like me points this out, people complain, “Well at least they’re doing something!” That might be a sensible retort if the minor things that were being done were unquestionably good. But that’s never the case.

Take the case of Obama’s new budget line item that gives $15 million to states so that they can evaluate the costs and benefits of professional licensing. Jonathan Chait wrote a very excited article about it, Obama Budget Attacks Big Small Government. In many ways, I agree. The truth of the matter is that if you are going to be oppressed by the government in the United States, it is almost certainly going to be by state and local government — not the federal government. And a lot of professional licensing really is stupid. I’ll go further: there are tremendous state and local regulations that are extremely onerous to people like me who operate what I’ve come to think of as micro-businesses — businesses that consist of one or two people that often don’t even have store fronts.

Where I part company with Chait is in thinking that licensing requirements are really what are getting in the way of people climbing the economic ladder. To begin with, property tax laws that require businesses to pay taxes on all their inventory that they might some day sell are far more inhibiting than licensing. Or consider one of Chait’s favorite examples: barbers. Having to go to school and be licensed is certainly a barrier to entry. But it isn’t as big a barrier to entry as having to rent a shop rather than working out of your house.

But the macro-scale problem is worse. Becoming a barber is currently a path to the middle class precisely because it is a licensed profession. Get rid of that barrier to entry, and more people come into the field, and the quality of the job goes done. And pretty much, the quality of the job goes down to the same extent that it becomes an easier job to have. Allow people to have barber shops in their kitchens and it becomes as much a pathway to the middle class as itinerant farm work.

But hey, that’s the free market, right? Sort of. The truth is that writ large and long, the economy would grow as a result of cheaper haircuts. But there are two reasons why we shouldn’t care. The first is just a matter of fairness. Why is it that it is always the middle and lower-middle classes that have to suffer so that the poor might get a small advantage? We saw this during many of the lame attempts at integration in the early 1970s. The ultimate effect was that the lower and middle classes were disrupted and minority groups ended up just as segregated as when they started. This is what happens when the power elite decide that the only way to help the disadvantaged is by disadvantaging a different, almost as powerless, group.

The other issue is that I just don’t care about economic growth. Over the last four decades, we have seen the effect of economic growth. The rich (top 1%) have gotten way richer. The upper half of the upper class (top 10%) has gotten marginally richer. And the rest have either gotten nothing or have actually lost. So when cheaper haircuts stimulate economic growth, there is no reason to think that the very people who see their wages cut will get any offsetting benefit from it.

Last week, Dean Baker discussed, Ubernomics. It turns out that despite the fact that Uber drivers have enormous upfront costs and are basically just their own businesses, they seem to make less per hour than traditional cab drivers. This doesn’t even take into account that Uber and similar services are flouting the law. As Baker noted, “Find a way to get around the rules and then claim it as a great innovation.” Regardless, this is also the typical story of our economy: lower wages for poor and middle class workers while the rich pocket the savings.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t look at professional licensing. But it is a minor issue. We are looking at it because it is an issue that doesn’t threaten the power elite. I understand: that’s politics. But there is a problem with supposedly liberal commentators claiming that this is something great. It isn’t. The long-term effects of this will be to lower the wages of middle class workers. But on the up side, Jonathan Chait will get cheaper haircuts.

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Mark Eitzel

Mark EitzelThe great singer-songwriter Mark Eitzel is 56 today. He is best known for his work with American Music Club. The interesting thing is that Eitzel started in punk rock in 1980. Most people think of AMC as a pretty mellow affair. But that’s the great thing about it. It is fundamentally a punk band. I’ve never seen punk as a style of music. Rather, it is an attitude — FUBU for white people. And AMC definitely has that. I’ve heard a definition of depression as “anger turned inward.” I think that’s a terrible definition of depression, but it is a rather good definition of AMC. But what really makes Eitzel great is that he takes his anger and depression and combines it with a wry sense of humor.

Although American Music Club has managed to get back together and put out a couple of albums over the last decade (Good albums!) Eitzel seems to perform more as a solo act. I think he is at his best when he’s working with Vudi in AMC. But it doesn’t much matter from our perspective, there is really not much good online. But here is “Johnny Mathis’ Feet” from their major label debut Mercury:

Happy birthday Mark Eitzel!

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Slap Shot as Prophetic Tragedy

Slap ShotI watched the 1977 film Slap Shot the other night. It’s a George Roy Hill film, and so that’s why I decided to view it again. I didn’t like it that much as a kid, but I figured I would like it a lot more now. That wasn’t really true. But I know what I found troubling as a kid: the gratuitous violence. It is meant to be funny, but I was always very sensitive to that. And now I just don’t think it works. But I’m in the minority. A lot of people really like the film. I’m not saying that I dislike the film, however. It is just that it is deeply depressing from the vantage point of America 2015.

The film came out the year after Rocky and I think Hill was trying to get the same feel in Slap Shot. The home town in the film seems every bit as dirty and unpleasant as the Philadelphia in John Avildsen’s classic. Similarly, the indoor scenes are under lit, giving it a very natural feel. But it is easier to take in a drama than a comedy. Here it is oppressive. In fact, I felt oddly disconnected from the characters, who seemed to be a lot more sunny than I was feeling.

One aspect of the film that stands out is how working class it is. But it is hard not to see it as pandering. For example, Charlestown, where the Chiefs are located, is a one factory town. And that factory closes in the middle of the film, throwing 10,000 people out of work. But no mention is made of this later in the film. The town doesn’t seem to have been affected by it. And the people on the team are just interested in getting bought by someone else, so they can continue to play in some other town. That’s understandable, but there is absolutely no solidarity.

Maybe that’s the way it should be. Films reflect the society. And 1977 was the leading edge of America’s hard right turn. People tend to think that things started to go bad under Reagan. That’s not true. The social decay and the destruction of the middle class really took off under Reagan, but it was Carter who started the whole neoliberal process with its deregulation. If Slap Shot has a theme, it is that everyone is so desperate that they don’t have the ability to care about anyone else.

This is most demonstrated in Paul Newman’s character, Reggie Dunlop. He isn’t so much callous towards others as he is just lost in his own fantasies. Throughout the film, there is a subplot about Dunlop trying to get back together with his wife, Francine, played by Jennifer Warren. At the end, Francine is moving to New York because business is so bad in Charlestown — the only (implicit) acknowledgement of the town’s economic problems. Dunlop is going on to coach another team in Minnesota. When Dunlop is asked if Francine will be coming to join him, he says, “Oh, for sure!” But of course, she isn’t. And he knows it. Your dreams only take you so far. In 1977, it was possible to still have dreams. It is 38 years later, and dreams seem like a quaint affectation of a bygone era. There are no more factories to close. No more wives to win back. No more jobs waiting in another town.

No wonder I didn’t find Slap Shot very fun. It was created at the start of our hopelessness. When Dunlop looks out at his wife as she drives away, he’s looking decades into the future. He sees that it doesn’t get better.

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Libertarians Crazy in Judiciary Too

Michael O'DonnellRoot traces the battle over judicial restraint to a notorious 1873 Supreme Court decision known as the Slaughterhouse Cases. The decision concerned a group of butchers who challenged a Louisiana law that, ostensibly for health reasons, relocated and consolidated the New Orleans slaughterhouse industry into a state-controlled monopoly. The butchers sued, claiming that the law violated their rights as small-business owners. It was the Supreme Court’s first chance to interpret the new Fourteenth Amendment, passed in the wake of the Civil War and guaranteeing citizenship, due process, and equal protection to all people born or naturalized in the United States. But the Court read the great amendment narrowly and rejected the butchers’ claims. Justice Stephen Field dissented and unwittingly became the patron saint of the libertarian legal movement.

Note what has happened here: libertarians claim as their hero a judge who from the outset saw the Civil War amendments as a shield with which white people could protect their property. Of course, the amendment is broadly and grandly worded, and encompasses far more than the antislavery intentions that propelled it into existence. And most observers today agree that Slaughterhouse was wrongly decided. But it is distasteful to raise up Justice Field as the Fourteenth Amendment’s champion: Field, who voted with the majority in Plessy v Ferguson that separate is equal; Field, whose majority vote in the Civil Rights Cases restricted the Fourteenth Amendment’s ability to target the Ku Klux Klan; Field, who outrageously suggested in Slaughterhouse that Louisiana had treated the white butchers as “slaves” under the Thirteenth Amendment. Had Field gotten his way in both Plessy and Slaughterhouse, the Fourteenth Amendment would perversely stand for property rights but not freedom from racial discrimination.

If Field is Root’s hero, then Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr is his villain. This again is a strange choice. Holmes is regarded across the political spectrum as one of the great justices in the history of the Supreme Court. His elegant opinions on subjects from contracts to torts to habeas corpus did more for the development of American common law than those of perhaps anyone since John Marshall. And, alongside Louis Brandeis — another justice whom libertarians disdain — Holmes helped establish a strong First Amendment. Freedom of speech being the most elemental of rights, one would think that libertarians would embrace Holmes. But they dislike him because he was the Court’s leading proponent of judicial restraint; he famously dissented in Lochner. Courts should not dream up constitutional rights where none exist and interfere with legislatures, said Holmes. Yes, they should, libertarians retort.

Root completely misses the reason that Holmes is revered. Unlike most proponents of judicial restraint, Holmes did not let his politics interfere with his judging. It is well and good for a social conservative like Robert Bork to call for a restrained court when the effect of this is to uphold state laws banning abortion and contraception. Those are results that he wanted, making it impossible to tell whether his methodology was in service of his politics or vice versa. But Holmes was the closest thing to an apolitical justice that we’ve had. Root does not mention this, choosing to associate Holmes with the Progressive Movement, but the great jurist’s own economic views were distinctly libertarian. The fact that he refused to write them into constitutional law when he had a chance in Lochner reveals him to be a jurist of rare principle.

This is not the only inconsistency in judicial libertarianism. In a real sense it is a movement on a collision course with itself. Root calls for activist courts to strike down laws that hamper individuals’ freedom of contract. But states pass far more laws than Washington does. And states are supposed to be the laboratories of democracy; libertarians profess to believe in local rather than centralized government. But Root seems to think the more laws the courts invalidate, the better. Here we approach the nihilistic side of libertarianism: less government is better government, wherever the trims are made. Libertarianism, so principled, so carefully thought out, does not appear to have grappled with the conundrum of using courts to shrink local government.

—Michael O’Donnell
SCOTUS Heads Toward the Cliff

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Worker Delusions and Corporate Profits

Not FedExI learned from my father today that a FedEx driver he was talking to has been greatly harmed by Obamacare. It seems the driver was complaining because he used to pay $1,200 per year for his health insurance and now he has to pay $3,000. Thanks Obama! I smelled a rat — a dead one that had been festering for a few days. I mean, how is it that Obamacare would have any effect on employer provided healthcare? I could think of a few reasons, but they weren’t compelling. It could be that the insurance the company was providing was something useless and Obamacare does require that insurance not be useless. But that was unlikely at that cost. It could be the tax on “Cadillac plans.” But that would not cause the cost to go up two and half times.

Much more likely was something we are seeing far too often. Many companies are using Obamacare as an excuse to cut worker benefits. It is very difficult for an employer to get its workforce to take a pay cut. But making them pay more for their insurance is much easier. And doing it because of “Obamacare” makes it that much easier. But could workers really be that gullible? With a willing media that has manage to confuse and distort the law, it isn’t much of a problem. And without a union to protect and inform employees, there is no one to prevent it.

There hasn’t been much coverage of what happened, but I did manage to find an article in The Commercial Appeal, FedEx Shifts Gears on Health Insurance. But based upon the article, it doesn’t look like the company was even pushing the Obamacare angle — although it may well have been internally. The only reference to it is that FedEx is making this change “to protect against Obamacare’s penalties on overly generous plans in the future.” This is a nice bit of disingenuousness, “We’re cutting your benefits now because there might be penalties in the future!” But this is a minor thing — it isn’t the main rationalization for the cuts.

The main reason for the cuts is the same as it always is: profits. The article stated, “The change is designed to slow down one of the company’s fastest-growing expenses.” But given that healthcare represents 3.5% of their expenses, that doesn’t mean quite as much as it could. What it really means is that the company wants to increase profits at the expense of its workers. There was a time 50 years ago when this would have been considered outrageous. Today it is thought of as the way things ought to be and even a great thing. As we are told all the time, “The only purpose of a corporation is to increase shareholder value!” Yea team.

But the whole affair highlights how American politics is so screwed up. Here is a worker, who in decades past would have been proudly union — in solidarity with other workers. But now, he’s repeating the lies of the corporate class. The problem isn’t that the company sees easy profits by squeezing him. It is that all those poor people are getting free healthcare and all the corporations are getting unfairly attacked.

Afterword

From the experience of my business partner Will, who has a great deal of shipping experience, the US Postal Service is by far the best shipping company. Both FedEx and UPS suck. This goes along with my experience as well. And the Republican attacks on the USPS are all about providing FedEx and UPS with access to the most profitable USPS routes so they can leave the unprofitable ones to the government so that we taxpayers can pay for them. Capitalism when it is good for corporate America and socialism when it isn’t! And many American workers cheering it on.

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American Double Standard on Spying

Alan GrossDuring the State of the Union address, you may have noticed a guy who was recently released from prison in Cuba. His name was Alan Gross, and President Obama told us, “[A]fter years in prison, we’re overjoyed that Alan Gross is back where he belongs.” Gross has been portrayed as a naive do-gooder, who the evil Cuban government treated like a spy. But the truth is at least a whole lot more complicated than that. And I would argue that the Cuban government treated Gross like a spy because Gross acted like a spy. He may not be a spy in the sense that he doesn’t work as an agent of the CIA. But he was working as a contractor for the US government doing espionage in Cuba.

What Gross was supposedly doing was setting up internet access for the Cuban Jewish community. That’s true in a sense. But as John Stoehr noted, “In 2009, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) paid Alan Gross, through a third party, almost $600,000 to go to the island nation to install military-grade internet equipment in Jewish synagogues that could not be detected by the government in Havana.” This is the kind of equipment that only the military and intelligence agency can get their hands on. Gross very clearly and knowingly broke Cuban law and was sentenced to 15 years for “criminal acts against the independence of the Cuban nation.” That it was — just as surely as the Bay of Pigs was.

The obvious retort to this is if Jewish synagogues want to have this kind of equipment they ought to be allowed. I totally agree! But you know who doesn’t agree? The United States government. If the Cuban government sent agents into the United States to install high tech gizmos for the purpose of evading surveillance, our government would arrest those agents and throw them in prison — very likely for a lot longer than 15 years. So it is just outrageous for the United States to claim that Cuba is in the wrong here when its government acted the same way that ours would.

Let’s remember: Edward Snowden is living in Russia right now. He not only can’t come back to the United States, he can’t even leave Russia. After Evo Morales said that he would consider giving Snowden asylum in Boliva, the US government got his plane forced down in Austria where it was searched in total disregard for diplomatic protocol. Similarly, Julian Assange is effectively under house arrest at the Ecuadoran embassy in London because the US wants to put him in prison for the rest of his life.

I’m for freedom of speech and the right to privacy — in the extreme. But until my own country shares my commitment, I’m not going to complain about other countries that are similarly small minded. (And Cuba has a much more valid reason for worrying than we do.) But this is always the way in the United States — not just with the government but also with our media. If a country is an enemy, whatever it does is bad and whatever we do to it is good. I discussed this a couple of days ago regarding the different treatment we give to Venezuela and the far, far worse Saudi Arabia, American Double Standard Regarding Democracy. So Obama and the rest can claim that Cuba was wrong to imprison Alan Gross. But they would have been all for it if the parties had been reversed.

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