The re-education of Florida Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen is nearing completion. After uttering an unauthorized statement about Fidel Castro a couple of weeks ago, the formerly outspoken sports team manager has progressed through the stages of public shaming, ownership, confession, self-censorship, and repentance. All that’s missing was the show trial; all that’s left is the loyalty test.
Known for saying a lot of crazy stuff about a lot of different things, Guillen told Time magazine, alongside a heap of other provocations, “I love Fidel Castro … I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that motherf**ker is still here.”
He was suspended from his job, and like a communist party member who failed to toe the line, his career and livelihood became threatened.
That alone is sad, but the submission and self-renouncement in his words is sadder still. “I put myself on probation, me, nobody else,” Guillen said. “Probation about growing up and being better…”
“The message is clear: you can say whatever you like in America, but you’d better not.”
Of course, two weeks is a short time to complete a real political re-education, but no one truly cares about Guillen’s beliefs; what upset the Cuban-American community is his First Amendment expression and the fact that it doesn’t contain the hatred they feel for Castro. Their pressure led to his team suspending him for five games, but Cuban-American activists will be soothed only when the media have beamed Guillen’s self-flagellation to every corner of the land and all have received the message: you can say whatever you like in America, but you’d better not.
As Bill Maher put it on his TV show, “Castro is a communist, and if you say something communists don’t like, they take away your job and send you to a re-education camp until you come out with the one approved opinion. And we wouldn’t want to have that happen here in America!”
(It seems obvious but necessary to note here that Guillen did not endorse Castro’s policies anyway, but rather admired his resilience in the face of repeated attempts to overthrow and assassinate him.)
And let’s not forget, no one should be looking to the manager of a baseball team for pronouncements on foreign affairs anyway, any more than people seek assessments of a pitcher’s throwing arm from the Secretary of State. Whether you think Guillen’s opinion is misinformed or not, what’s truly stupid is getting offended by the offhand remarks of a baseball player.
And demanding an apology. In a sorely-needed and long overdue piece, Please Stop Apologizing, which ran in the New York Times before this latest teapot tempest, the same Bill Maher asks, “When did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don’t like?”
This faux scandal hasn’t sparked a debate about the most effective ways of improving life for Cubans given the failure of the embargo to do much more than keep the Castros in power. And therein lies the hypocrisy in the Cuban-American community’s rhetoric: they rightly bemoan the oppression of Cubans but will not tolerate free expression here, nor entertain an open debate about how to lift the oppression of Cubans. Their hatred of Castro precludes their consideration of policies that might deliver sooner to Castro’s people the same freedoms they themselves enjoy on this side of the Straits of Florida.
Lastly, I return to Maher for a little perspective. We should care about Cuban dictators, but why don’t we ever get riled up about the others? “There are worse dictators in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Equatorial Guinea and Turkmenistan. And those are just our friends.”
A sane person might think that in a race for the presidency of the United States, the challengers would be asked about the big issues of the day. Like, “Mr. Romney, what do you think of the big issues of the day?” And if no one thought to ask them, you might think they’d speak up for themselves. But somehow, the Republican party is trying to choose the right wealthy white male to end the tyranny of President Obama without asking a single substantive question on war or the financial crisis.
Like, “If elected President, would you return this great nation to its panicked state of 2008 when insolvency ripped through banks like wildfire and no one knew where the contagion would end?”
Wait, that was a loaded question. How about, “Mr. Romney, you criticize the Obama administration for not having restored the economy fast enough. Yet you’ve called for the repeal of the Dodd-Frank bill, the only serious attempt since the crisis to restore oversight of the banking industry. How would restoring the conditions that gave birth to the financial crisis not encourage the same reckless gambling?”
Instead, debate moderators leave Romney and Gingrich to dance in sideshows — their demonizing of Freddie Mac, for example (the G.O.P.’s favorite housing-crisis scapegoat, whose mortgages were better secured than those of private banks). And when the two admit during the last Florida debate that they’re both investors in Freddie Mac, they snipe back and forth about who earns more interest.
“…It’s easy to see why the G.O.P. won’t revisit the early days of the crisis. It would force the nominees to either oppose the Bush bailouts — thereby losing the confidence of business — or support them, thereby losing the Tea Party and (even worse) having to agree with Obama.”
The current nomination battle is doing nothing to inform voters whether a different president would speed up the economic recovery or hasten the arrival of another crisis.
Imagine the economy is a big ship. In the 90′s and after, investment bankers in the first-class cabins are bribing successive captains (Clinton, Bush Jr.) to deregulate their industry. President Bush is at the helm when the ship hits an iceberg. It starts taking on water fast. He initiates a massive bailout, followed later by a stimulus package, and manages to slow the water gushing into the ship’s hull. Bush’s party is relieved of duty, and Barack Obama takes the helm. The ship is still listing badly, so Obama signs a second stimulus bill, and eventually signs a bill restoring some (but not enough) oversight of the banking industry. Finally the hole is patched (though not fixed), and while there’s still too much water in the hull for the ship to regain full speed, its pace is slowly increasing.
What would a Romney presidency do to the recovery? Let’s ask him.
Mitt, so you want to be president? You’re running on your knowledge of how this ship runs, but before you can reach the helm and challenge Captain Obama to a fight there’s a big Newt Gingrich blocking the passageway! He’s sweaty and mad and he wants to throw you overboard (he’s thrown two others over the railing already and he was married to both of them.) You need to get Newt out of the way by showing the passengers that he doesn’t understand ships and that he’d be a bad captain. The microphones are on and you can expose him for the charlatan he is.
What would you ask him? Maybe what Newt would have done if he were in charge in 2008? Would he have bailed out the water or not? If not, how would he have stopped the ship from sinking? And what would he do to make sure such a disaster doesn’t happen again?
Instead Romney asks, “Newt, you earned money advising one of the corporations that financed some of the cabins on this ship, you’re not a conservative, are you?”
And Newt, for all his “big thinker” thinking, won’t look at the big picture either, preferring instead to attack Romney’s business, as if the cause of 9% unemployment were venture capital rather than unregulated investment banking. (That confusion alone should be enough to disqualify Newt.)
It’s easy to see why the G.O.P. won’t revisit the early days of the crisis. It would force the nominees to either oppose the Bush bailouts — thereby losing the confidence of business — or support them, thereby losing the Tea Party and (even worse) having to agree with Obama. And discussing the causes of the crisis would be even more inconvenient. All the major candidates still support the kind of anti-regulation fundamentalism that allowed the banks to bet on a bubble with taxpayers’ money in the first place.
The nomination battle is just as removed from other big issues. How all the G.O.P. candidates can wave off the most serious long-term threat to the nation’s environment and economy — climate change — is a question no one on Fox (or CNN for that matter) is asking. Climate change only comes up as a tool for Romney to beat Gingrich with in front of conservatives — as in, “See you guys, why, Newt once agreed to work with Speaker Pelosi on something, Newt’s not one of you! (I mean, not one of us!)”
In matters of war, anyone challenging Obama from the right is in the awkward position of finding fault with him for killing Osama bin Laden or bringing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan towards their long overdue ends. Instead, you’ll hear Romney criticizing the president for “apologizing for America” — a silly diversion that PolitiFact thoroughly disemboweled.
On Libya, Gingrich criticized Obama for not intervening, until Obama did intervene, at which point Newt criticized him for intervening, saying it reeked of opportunism. (Oh irony of ironies!) Obama then went on to assemble a coalition to overthrow Gadaffi with an effective combination of speed, multi-national co-operation, local support, international legitimacy, and low casualties — an operation that today’s Republicans praise in theory only.
It’s a strange election, this race to overthrow a successful (if over-hyped) president. Republican voters tend to agree that the most important thing is defeating Obama (who has been such a “disaster,” they all say), but his challengers can’t verbalize what he’s actually done that’s been so disastrous (besides not more quickly reviving the economy that deregulation destroyed). As for how their fatal allergy to regulation will prevent the next major crisis, no one will say.
Or even ask.
Not so far from here.
(Maps to scale)
Here are some moving photos from Tyler Hicks, New York Times
For a country that did something truly revolutionary 235 years ago and is rightfully proud of it, our reactions to the recent protests in the Arab world would leave all but the most cynical person scratching their heads.
Libya is the latest dictatorship whose people are rising in protest, and embattled dictator Moammar Ghadaffi has shut down the information pipes in an effort to avoid becoming the latest regime to topple.
Of course, America can take credit for the protests in this African country which borders Chad, Niger, and so on, for it wasn’t until a plucky U.S. president dared to send his own people to fight the people of Iraq that freedom ever crossed the minds of young Libyans. Granted that was 2,000 miles away and eight years ago. But since the G.O.P. changed its mind and decided that that war was about democracy rather than defense, it’s entitled to take credit for any uprising that emerges in any sandy country from that point forward. (And the Saudi uprising of 2022? Students in Riyadh will march under banners lovingly depicting the Crusader from Crawford.)
Unfortunately, the U.S. media no longer melt in the presence of Rumsfeld; their new crush is Facebook and Twitter. How conceited it was to think it was American force in Iraq that enabled democracy in Tunisia and Egypt — it was actually American entrepreneurs! We’ve been told for years now that i-Phones and You Tubes are nothing short of revolutionary, so who can blame us if we think that Twitbook and Facetube are as important as the courage to face down soldiers with machine guns? The impact of these technologies has been anecdotal and the protests thrived even after web and cell connections were cut, but inspiring stories of oppressed people putting their lives on the line for freedom is somehow less compelling unless we are somehow involved.
“… We’ve been told for years now that i-Phones and You Tubes are nothing short of revolutionary, so who can blame us if we think that Twitbook and Facetube are as important as the courage to face down soldiers with machine guns?”
The protests have succeeded in Egypt and Tunisia, but history’s still underway in Libya. Ghadaffi seems as willing to slaughter his own people as a homeowner is to phone an exterminator, so thousands of lives are truly on the line. Given our Republican party’s eagerness to rid Iraq of its oppressive regime, you’d think they’d be demanding that President Obama initiate Operation Free Libya, or at least that he petition the U.N. to impose a no-fly zone so Ghadaffi can’t strafe his own people from the air. But distant crickets on a summer night are louder. (The Democrats aren’t much better, though Sen. John Kerry has made a start.)
And you’d think for all our American pride about freedom and for our leaders’ flowery speeches citing foreign peoples looking to the U.S.A. for inspiration and encouragement against tyrannical regimes, that we’d demand our leaders do everything possible to support the Libyan revolution, perhaps seeing the same glimmers of independence that we think of so fondly when we quote our own founding fathers and revolutionaries.
But after the latest estimated death toll (likely over 1,000) or wacky pronouncement from Ghadaffi (al-Qaeda is “putting drugs in protesters’ milk and coffee“), the analysis soon turns to what really concerns our own regime and media: the flow of oil (Libyan output down 75%).