Mark Falcoff: Castro’s dreams come true

Mark Falcoff is resident scholar emeritus at AEI. He is the author of several books including Cuba the Morning After: Confronting Castro’s Legacy. He writes to offer his thoughts on today’s developments:

There are many aspects of this story that have not made the media. May I offer a few?

Alan Gross was hired by an AID contractor to take computers (and I believe cell phones) to the minuscule Jewish community in Cuba. My understanding is—I get this from the vice president of the contracting company—he was to be paid $250,000. for this.

Now, carrying out what was sure to be viewed as espionage by a dictatorship like Cuba is a dangerous business, so of course it had to carry a high price tag. (Whether it was worth the taxpayer’s dollar, or rather dollars, is another matter, and not a small one.) Gross took the wager and lost.

For years now the US government and elements of the Cuban-American community (some of whom are friends of mine) decided to make the Gross case the centerpiece of our non-relationship with the Castro brothers. I thought this was wrong, but they went ahead heedlessly. The results are clear to see. Obama picked up the cord lying on the ground and yanked it.

I will not attempt to speculate on what ideological currents inspired the President to do this. In any case one does not need a Ph.D. in political science to imagine what they might be. Nor do I know what the legal aspects might turn out to be, since there is a huge amount of legislation on the books which bars Mr. Obama from doing exactly what he is planning to do.

But I cannot help commenting on another aspect. The normalization of relations with Cuba comes at precisely the moment that the Castro brothers need it the most, since their principal foreign patron, Venezuela, is running out of money because of the collapse in the world price of oil. In effect, Mr. Obama has decided to make the United States a replacement for Maduro. It couldn’t come at a better time for the Cuban regime and gives it yet another lease on life.

It seems to me entirely appropriate that John Kerry, who during his time in the Senate did all he could to help consolidate a Communist regime in Nicaragua, should be making a trip to Cuba to reopen diplomatic relations. I do not believe that Mr. Kerry believes this will lead to democracy on the island, but if he does, he is a fool, and a useful one at that.

Barack and Michelle, Victims of Racism!

Pretty much everyone is all over this story, but what the heck: why not pile on? The Obamas are trying to catch the wave of racism that supposedly is sweeping across the land. They may live in the White House, but hey–they are still subjected to racial bias. No, they don’t mean getting preferential treatment when applying to colleges and law schools, or being taken seriously as a presidential candidate after two undistinguished years in the Senate, or getting a $300,000 job with a hospital for no discernible reason. They mean the other kind:

President and Michelle Obama personally identify with everyday experiences of racial bias in America that have underpinned recent protests across the country, they told People magazine in an interview to be released Friday. …

On one occasion, [Michelle] said, her husband “was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee.”

President Obama said he’s even been mistakenly treated as a valet.

“There’s no black male my age, who’s a professional, who hasn’t come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn’t hand them their car keys,” he said, according to excerpts of the interview released today.

Actually, you don’t have to be black to experience incidents like this. I was once working out in my club’s gym and an older member, mistaking me for an employee, asked me to get him a towel. You can even be a four-star general and have some unaccomplished twit demand that you bring her another glass of wine. Is that racist, or what?

The first lady also described being mistreated at a Target store in suburban Washington, during a shopping trip she took in 2011.

“Even as the first lady,” she told the magazine, “during the wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf.”

My wife was shopping at a Target store yesterday and another lady asked her to get something from a shelf that she couldn’t reach. Racist? You be the judge! The funny thing about the Target anecdote is that Michelle described it completely differently to David Letterman, as Tom Maguire recalls:

“That’s my Target run. I went to Target,” she said. “I thought I was undercover. I have to tell you something about this trip though. No one knew that was me because a woman actually walked up to me, right? I was in the detergent aisle, and she said — I kid you not — she said, ‘Excuse me, I just have to ask you something,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, cover’s blown.’ She said, ‘Can you reach on that shelf and hand me the detergent?’ I kid you not.”

As the audience laughed, she went on, “And the only thing she said — I reached up, ’cause she was short, and I reached up, pulled it down — she said, ‘Well, you didn’t have to make it look so easy.’ That was my interaction. I felt so good. … She had no idea who I was. I thought, as soon as she walked up — I was with my assistant, and I said, ‘This is it, it’s over. We’re going to have to leave.’ She just needed the detergent.”

Emphasis added. And yet, when asked to recount a racist incident that is seared into her memory, the best Michelle could come up with was a friendly encounter that “felt so good.” Because the other woman was short and Michelle is tall.

For the Democrats, it is always 1963 in Selma, Alabama. Not much has changed. But the fact that the Obamas can’t come up with more compelling (or even authentic) instances of racial slights shows how different today’s world actually is. What is significant here is not that a short woman asked Michelle Obama to reach for some detergent; what is significant is how desperately the Democrats have to try to keep alive the narrative of race discrimination.

Another Reason Not to Diet: Global Warming

I’ve joked over the years that Al Gore’s expanding girth was merely his personal, one-man carbon sequestration project.  Now the problem with humor like this is that it runs the risk of coming true, and then you’re defeated as a satirist.

Sure enough, dieting contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution.  As reported in EurekaAlert, a British Medical Journal study finds:

The authors show that losing 10 kilograms of fat requires 29 kilograms of oxygen to be inhaled and that this metabolic process produces 28 kilograms of carbon dioxide and 11 kilograms of water. . .

If you follow the atoms in 10 kilograms of fat as they are ‘lost’, 8.4 of those kilograms are exhaled as carbon dioxide through the lungs. The remaining 1.6 kilograms becomes water, which may be excreted in urine, faeces, sweat, breath, tears and other bodily fluids, the authors report.

So another reason to stop exercising and load up on donuts and cheeseburgers instead.

Meanwhile, I wonder what are the greenhouse gas implications of releasing your inner chakra?  In three, two . . .

(Hat tip: JZ)

Breaking: McSally Wins!

Scott has followed Martha McSally’s race for an Arizona House seat here and here.  She’s just been officially declared the winner in the nation’s last remaining undecided House contest, by a margin of 167 votes.  From the AP:

PHOENIX (AP) — Republicans will have their largest U.S. House majority in 83 years when the new Congress convenes next month after a recount in Arizona gave the final outstanding race to the Republican challenger.

Martha McSally won a House seat over Democrat Ron Barber by 167 votes out of about 220,000 cast, results released Wednesday show. . .

More interesting in this story is that it appears the usual Democratic “vote finding” tactics didn’t work:

As he saw his lead slip away during the vote count, Barber fought in several venues to get additional votes counted but was turned away at every effort. He tried to get the board of supervisors from Pima and Cochise counties and the secretary of state to order rejected provisional and early ballots counted. When that failed, he turned to a federal judge to get the provisional ballots counted.

Separately, a group of voters tried to get the state Supreme Court to halt the recount because of the computer program used. That too was rejected.  (Emphasis added.)

Congratulations to McSally, and welcome to Washington.

Rubio responds to Bush’s preemptive strike

I suspect that Jeb Bush is launching his presidential bid so early in part as a preemptive strike against Marco Rubio, his fellow Floridian. If Bush gains the inside track on key donors, especially ones from Florida, it might cause Rubio to think twice about running. If Rubio stays out, the benefit to Bush is obvious.

To forestall Bush’s attempt at a preemptive strike, Rubio promptly announced that he is still prepared to seek the presidency. His spokesman declared:

Marco has a lot of respect for Governor Bush, and believes he would be a formidable candidate. However, Marco’s decision on whether to run for President or re-election will be based on where he can best achieve his agenda to restore the American Dream—not on who else might be running.

Rubio obviously believes he can “best achieve his agenda to restore the American Dream” from the White House, not as the junior Senator from Florida.

How formidable a candidate Bush will be remains to be seen, but it’s quite likely that Bush will be a formidable obstacle to Rubio. Tim Alberta of the National Journal reports that “many Republicans believe the popular former governor would suck Florida’s donor community dry and leave Rubio without a political home base.”

I doubt that Rubio needs “a political home base” in any geographic sense (funding, of course, is another matter). But he could use an ideological home base, either as the favorite of the “establishment” or as the favorite of the conservative base.

After his amnesty frolic, Rubio, it seems to me, has no chance of being the favorite of the base. And with the seemingly inevitable entry of Jeb Bush, his chances of being the establishment favorite — always problematic because Rubio is young, lacks experience governing, and sometimes comes off as wet behind the ears — have dimmed further.

But Rubio retains paths to the nomination. The first path is as the one candidate in, essentially, a three candidate race (let’s say a Bush-Cruz-Rubio contest) who is acceptable to both the establishment and the base. This path sounds better on paper than it probably is in reality. It used to work in the 19th century when nominees often were chosen in a smoke-filled room, but the last election I can recall it applying to is the fictional one in Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man.”

The 2016 election could be a pattern-breaker, but Rubio will need tons of money to hang in the race as everyone’s second or third choice. I think he’ll find it difficult to bring that money in on those terms.

The other path opens up if Bush can’t get off the ground and no other establishment favorite — neither Romney nor Christie — enters. Bush is vulnerable because of his support for immigration reform and common core and because of his name. Rubio is even more vulnerable on immigration and the Bush name will, if anything, help Jeb with establishment-leaning voters — the ones who paved the way for the last two Republican nominees.

This leaves common core. I don’t think this issue will keep establishment-leaning voters from supporting Bush in states like New Hampshire, Michigan, and Ohio, but who knows? And who knows how effective Bush will be on the campaign trail and in debates? It’s been a long time since he’s run for anything.

So Rubio, though he should be discouraged by Bush’s entry, still has good reason to pursue his presidential aspirations in this cycle, just as Jeb Bush was wise to try to get the drop on Rubio.

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz has reason to be happy that Rubio isn’t ruling out competing with Bush for donors and center-right support. And “anyone-but-Cruz-and-Paul” donors have reason to make an early call on whether to support Bush’s preemptive strike against other potential entrants of center-right orientation.

An open letter to the Washington Post

A Power Line reader copies us on his letter to the editor of the Washington Post. His letter presumably will not see the light of day in the Post. I have lightly edited the letter and added internal links:

To the Editor:

The Washington Post suggests using a fictional rape as a jumping off point for finding solutions, likely draconian, to the “issue of rape on college campuses” (“After the Rolling Stone story, what’s next for U-Va.?,”, December 13). Shouldn’t a very real case of journalistic malfeasance cause the Post to deal with the very real issue of journalistic malfeasance? I suggest you start with Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin’s hit piece on the Koch Brothers “The biggest foreign lease holder in Canada’s oil sands isn’t Exxon Mobil or Chevron. It’s the Koch brothers” (March 20,2014).

Philip Piasecki
Montgomery, AL

Sportsmanship’s Luck

In a college course on the literature of the Renaissance we read Montaigne’s essay “That to philosophize is to learn to die.” Talking with me about it outside of class, the professor remarked that he thought participation in sports taught the wisdom of Montaigne. He recalled watching a Dartmouth team being trounced on the field, yet continuing to perform intensely with a kind of detachment reflected in Montaigne’s teaching. He thought that the athletes had learned something important about life from their sport. Sportsmanship, he seemed to think, is to learn to die.

Wall Street Journal reporter Kevin Clark poses a mystery he leaves unresolved in “Andrew Luck: The NFL’s most perplexing trash talker.” Luck was a renowned player at Stanford before he went into professional football. Now he is the Indianapolis Colts quarterback who, in his third season, has led his team into the playoffs for the third year in a row.

Clark introduces the mystery of Andrew Luck. “[A]mong NFL players,” he writes “the gossip around Luck concerns a peculiar brand of on-field chatter so confusing and brilliant that no one knows quite what to make of it.”

Clark quotes one of Luck’a defensive opponents, Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan: “In all the years I’ve played football I have never heard anything like it. Nothing even close.” Clark explains:

Luck has become famous for congratulating—sincerely and enthusiastically—any player to hit him hard. Any sack is met with a hearty congratulations, such as ”great job” or “what a hit!” He yells it after hard hits that don’t result in sacks, too. It is, players say, just about the weirdest thing any quarterback does in the NFL.

Clark explores the mystery, hypothesizing that the praise constitutes “trash talk” intended to mess with the minds of his defensive opponents. What is this guy up to? Clark shares the results of his research:

The Wall Street Journal contacted 12 NFL players who recorded a sack or knockdown of Luck, and each player said he received the same message from Luck. Some were different than others—Kerrigan’s sack resulted in a fumble, so Luck, who was scrambling to retrieve the ball, could never offer his congratulations. So he looped around later in the game to tell Kerrigan how great he was doing.

“You want to say thank you but then you say ‘wait a second–I’m not supposed to like you!’” Kerrigan said.

Luck did not respond to requests for comment.

Clark also leaves open the possibility of another explanation (Clark invokes the concept of “a really nice guy”), but readers are left to their own devices to sort out the mystery. Clark unloads the rest of his research, revealing that Luck’s mysterious practice extends back in time to Luck’s high school days:

Those who know him best say the most likely reason behind his comments is that he’s just a really nice guy. Former Stanford teammates, for instance, say there’s likely an element of gamesmanship, but that’s secondary to his sincere respect for a good play—even one that resulted in him getting knocked off his feet.

“My wife and I raised all four of our kids with appropriate values, with respect for other people and to be kind and generous and I guess that carried over to the football field,” said Luck’s father, Oliver, a former NFL quarterback who is now the athletic director at West Virginia University.

Oliver Luck said he first heard that his son was congratulating those who sacked him when Andrew was playing high-school football in Texas. Oliver said Andrew had played so many sports in middle school throughout the Houston area that he knew most of the opposing players he faced, so saying “great job’” was natural because he was among friends.

Washington Redskins linebacker Trent Murphy, Luck’s teammate at Stanford, said Luck would interrupt film sessions to praise an opponent’s hit of him. The harder the better.

“He’s yelling ‘nice hit, nice hit!’ and we’re like ‘uh, no one else does this.’”

Murphy said Luck’s “over-the-top positive” demeanor has never included genuine trash-talk. “His idea of trash talk is complimenting people,” he said.

Former Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, acknowledged Luck is probably playing head games to some extent. But Ertz said that’s not Luck’s main concern. For evidence, he submitted that if Luck himself makes a great play, he usually says nothing—no matter the situation. Ertz said Luck, who is 6-foot-4, can dunk a basketball “pretty effortlessly.” And even when dunking on teammates, he never howled in delight. “He’d just giggle and jog away chuckling because he knew he got the better of you.”

The hypothesis that Luck’s practice represents trash talk is extraordinarily thin. Moreover, it is inconsistent with evidence Clark presents including Luck’s comments on game film in private outside the presence of his opponents.

Based on the evidence Clark presents, I’m going out on a limb to solve this mystery. I’m guessing that that’s not trash talk. Like the classical concept of virtue (i.e., human excellence), the concept represented by Luck’s conduct has fallen so far out of favor that no one even offers it up. I believe it’s called sportsmanship.