December 2008


A Peruvian woman gave birth to a boy on Christmas Day, not anything unusual about that, as there are approximately 200,000 babies born in the world daily.

But this baby is somewhat unique.

LIMA (Reuters) – Virgin Mary, a 20-year-old Peruvian woman, gave birth to a baby boy on Christmas day and named him Jesus, Peru’s state news agency said on Friday.

The baby’s father, Adolfo Jorge Huamani, 24, is a carpenter. Religious Peruvians compared him to Joseph the Carpenter in the Bible.

“Two thousand years later the story of Bethlehem is relived,” read the headline about the birth in El Comercio, the main newspaper in Peru, a predominantly Catholic country.

The mother, Virgen Maria Huarcaya, delivered the 7.7 pound (3.5 kg) boy, Jesus Emanuel, in the early hours of Christmas at the central maternity hospital in Lima, the capital.

“A few days ago we had decided to name my son after a professional soccer player,” the father said. “But thanks to a happy coincidence this is how things ended up.”

Mr. Huamani could have it both ways. HIs son could be Jesus the Soccer Star.

Meanwhile, I am going to Mass this weekend.

You just never know.

The Obama administration-elect, is talking up the possibility of cozying up to the Cuban government, and dropping sanctions:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Five decades after Fidel Castro toppled a U.S.-backed dictator to take power in Cuba, the Cold War rivalry with Washington could be thawing as President-elect Barack Obama looks to ease sanctions against the communist-run island.

Obama has made clear he favors relaxing restrictions on family travel and cash remittances by Cuban Americans to Cuba, which this week marks the 50th anniversary of Castro’s revolution.

Obama could also reverse other steps taken by outgoing President George W. Bush to tighten sanctions on Cuba, such as the prepayment of food imports from the United States, and he is expected to restore migration talks broken off by Bush.

If prepayment of food stops being a requirement, that means that goods will be sold to Cuba on credit.

The administration-elect is not the only one pushing for this easement of sanctions…

In a letter to Obama this month, a coalition of business, agriculture and trade groups called USA*Engage said it was time for a new Cuba policy and proposed lifting all sanctions and allowing American tourists to travel to Cuba.

The coalition –which includes the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the National Retail Federation — called for an immediate exemption for the sale of farm machinery and heavy equipment to Cuba.

“We support the complete removal of all trade and travel restrictions on Cuba,” it said. “The United States could engage in bilateral discussions with the Cuban government.”

It further proposed that Obama license direct banking services with Cuba, a major obstacle of the embargo that pushes up the cost of doing business with Cuba.

What’s the hullabaloo about anyway?

Is there really an American economic “blockade” of Cuba?

What is it that these Federations, Associations, and business coalitions want anyway?

Why are they so eager to sell their goods and services to a bankrupt nation?

Dunn and Bradstreet rate Cuba as one of the riskiest economies in the world: only Angola, Congo, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Iraq are worse.

There are widespread reports of payment problems with Japan, Spain, France, Britain, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Venezuela and others. Citing chronic delinquencies and mounting short-term debts, Moody’s lowered Cuba’s credit rating to Caa1 – “speculative grade, very poor” – in late 2002. For example, Cuba defaulted in October 2002 on a $750 million refinancing agreement with Japan’s private sector after having signed a debt restructuring accord with Tokyo in 1998. Japan, Cuba’s single-largest creditor, had expected to see the first payments in 2003 on part of the $1.7 billion owed to Japan by the Castro regime.

– Cuba suspended all payments in October 2002 on $380 million owed to Bancomext, the Mexican Government’s export financing bank.

– Cuba’s petroleum debt with Venezuela’s State Oil Company, PDVSA, rose to $266 million by May 2003. The Castro regime has fallen behind on payments to PDVSA repeatedly since Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez signed a trade agreement in October 2002. PDVSA supplies approximately 35% of the island’s oil under generous financing terms that amount to a 25% price subsidy over 5 years.

– In 2002, Cuba fell into arrears on $100 million in short-term credit lines from Panamanian banks and trading companies based in the isthmus’s Colon Free Zone.

– In May 2003, Madrid acknowledged in response to a Spanish parliament inquiry that Cuba is Spain’s top foreign debtor government, presently in default on an estimated $816 million.

– France’s export financing agency, COFACE, suspended Cuba’s $175 million credit line after Havana fell more than a year behind on annual loans for the purchase of French agricultural products and capital goods in 2001.

– The Italian Government withdrew a proposed $40 million aid package in early July 2003 in response to Castro’s crackdown on internal dissent. The Cuban Government had already accumulated a short-term debt of $73 million with Italy.

FOREIGN DEBT SNAPSHOT
(All amounts are converted to U.S. dollars.)

EUROPE: $10.9 billion. Paris Club creditors (Source: Banco Central de Cuba.) In 1986, Cuba suspended payments of the debt. Despite on-going negotiations, Cuba has yet to service its debt to the Club since issuing a moratorium in 1987.

Eastern Europe: $2.2 billion.

Russia: Estimated at roughly $20 billion.

Canada: $73 million (Excludes short and medium-term commercial debts to Canadian suppliers.)

ASIA
Japan: $1.7 billion (Japan is Cuba’s principal creditor, excluding the former Soviet Union.)

China: $400 million.

LATIN AMERICA
Argentina: $1.58 billion. (Cuba’s second largest creditor behind Japan.)

Mexico: $380 million.

Chile: $20 million.

Venezuela: $266 million. (Mostly in unpaid petroleum purchases, even under highly favorable terms.)

South Africa: $85 million

A few things can be determined from the information above, the most immediately visible one being that Cuba hasn’t stuck the US with one single dollar worth of bad debt in the fifty years that the supposed “blockade” has been in place. The second noticeable fact being that there is no “blockade” in the true sense of the word, but rather a refusal by the US to do extend credit to the Cuban government.

In that sense, the “blockade” has been a resounding success.

Yet the question of why so many US businesses are lobbying in favor of changing this enormously successful policy, so that they can risk not getting paid for their sales to the Cuban government remains unanswered.

Enter the U.S. Export-Import Bank:

The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) is the official export credit agency of the United States federal government. It was established in 1934 by an executive order, and made an independent agency in the Executive branch by Congress in 1945, for the purposes of financing and insuring foreign purchases of United States goods for customers unable or unwilling to accept credit risk. The mission of the Bank is to create and sustain U.S. jobs by financing sales of U.S. exports to international buyers. The Bank is chartered as a government corporation by the Congress of the United States; it was last chartered for a five year term in 2006.[1] Its Charter spells out the Bank’s authorities and limitations. Among them is the principle that Ex-Im Bank does not compete with private sector lenders, but rather provides financing for transactions that would otherwise not take place because commercial lenders are either unable or unwilling to accept the political or commercial risks inherent in the deal.

To further clarify the role of the Ex-Im Bank, please examine the text below:

Export Credit Insurance from Export-Import Bank of the United States provides insurance policies to U.S. companies and banks to mitigate risks of non-collection from foreign buyers and borrowers. Risks covered include default due to commercial reasons, such as buyer insolvency and cash-flow problems, as well as political risks such as war, civil unrest and currency flow restrictions.

Export Credit Insurance policies can be issued to companies directly exporting, or to banks lending to foreign buyers.

So, in lifting the trade sanctions, US companies get to move their products into Cuba, a known non-payer of her foreign debt, and collect payment from the US taxpayers via the Ex-Im Bank’s Export Credit Insurance program!

In lifting trade sanctions against Cuba, the Administration-elect expands their “spread the wealth” policy to an international level, by giving Cuba access to a credit line guaranteed by the American taxpayer.

The water just got a little warmer folks.

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge—and more.

In perhaps, one of the most inspiring inaugural speeches of the 20th Century, second only to everything that Ronald Reagan ever said, John F. Kennedy challenged the people of the nation to put selfishness aside, and ask themselves what they could do for the country. Today, nearly five decades later, JFK’s last surviving child, inspired by President-elect Obama’s election, is looking to take up politics, and is asking the State of New York to do something for her…fifty-one years of living in the shadow of the whole “ask not what your country can do for you” thing, and little Miss Camelot didn’t get it.

Ms. Kennedy (B.A. from Harvard/Radcliffe, and a J.D. from Columbia Law) was recently interviewed by The Daily News on the subject of her filling the seat left empty by Sen. Clinton in New York, and from reading the interview, one gets the distinct notion that oratorical skills are not genetically transferred from one generation to the next..

Here are her remarks:

I’m really coming into this as somebody who isn’t, you know, part of the system, who obviously, you know, stands for the values of, you know, the Democratic Party

I know how important it is to, you know, to be my own person. And, you know, and that would be obviously true with my relationship with the mayor.

I’m not as shy as everybody makes me out to be.

Andrew is, you know, highly qualified for this job.

He’s doing a, you know, a great job as attorney general, and we’ve spoken throughout this process.

You know, I think, you know, we’re sort of, uh, sharing some of this experience. And um, as I’ve said, he was a friend, a family member, and um so, and uh obviously, he’s, you know, he’s also had an impressive career in public office.

It’s really, you know, it’s not about just the Kennedy name. It’s about my own work and what I’ve done with those values.I’m starving.

That’s 165 words, peppered with 11 “you knows”, and two “ums”.

Let’s see how that plays with Dad’s earlier speech:

Let the word, you know, go forth from this time and, um, place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been, you know, passed to a new generation of, um, Americans—born in this century, tempered by, you know, war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our, um, ancient heritage—and unwilling to, you know, witness or permit the slow undoing of, you know, those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we, um, are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every, um, nation know, whether it wishes us well or, you know, ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any, you know, hardship, support any friend, oppose any, um, foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of, you know, liberty.

This much we pledge—whatever.

Ok, that wasn’t fair, Caroline hasn’t used “whatever”…yet.

“Esta noche es Noche Buena,
vamos al monte hermanito.
A buscar un arbolito
porque la noche es serena.”

That’s the first Christmas song I ever learned. My mother sung me to sleep with it longer ago than either one of us care to admit.

“Tonight is Christmas Eve,
let’s go to the woods little brother.
To find a little tree
because the night is serene.”

There is an unbroken thread running through my life, stretched out in a thin line running back to the very beginning of my consciousness that reminds me of who I am and what I believe in. It anchors my future by reminding me of the past with the strength of family and tradition.

I have two brothers, one born there as I was, and one born here. They fell asleep to that song as well. I have been thinking about that a lot lately.

In the country where I was born, La Noche Buena is the most significant of our cultural traditions. It is a night for family and a celebration to life; a night when we immerse ourselves in the waters of tradition in a baptism of love and togetherness. And the memories of a land existing only in the hearts of those who left come alive and keep that tradition from fading even today.

Memories of a house on the side of a hill with old, wooden walls, with Grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins and nieces and nephews…………all gathered together under one roof, creating the expected chaos a gathering of that proportion brings about. There were a lot of us then, as I seem to recall, in those Noche Buenas of my boyhood days.

The women preparing the side dishes, the aroma of black beans and rice and garlic filled the air in the house, mingling with the laughter and the happy confusion of several loud conversations being carried simultaneously. There was yucca with tangy “mojo criollo”, fried plantains and sweet, ripe avocados sprinkled with olive oil. Most of all there was love.

We kids seemed to do nothing but get underfoot as we flew through the old house, engaged in a million make-believe games consisting mostly of running around making lots and lots of noise. Most of our games interrupted by a collective shout of “you kids go outside and play!” coming from the general area of the kitchen. We fled to the backyard and the men of the family.

They sat around an open pit where the traditional main course, a well-dressed and better seasoned young hog, sizzled over carefully watched glowing-red embers. The smell of the roasting meat hung in the air and was joined there by the aroma of fine cigars, hand-rolled from good Pinar Del Rio leaves. Loud, good-natured discussions of every theme imaginable carried the conversation, speckled with laughter and old jokes.

Christmas 1967 was the last one celebrated on the Island by my immediate family, there where few of us left there by then. There was no pig roasting over an open pit, no grandparents, few uncles and aunts, fewer kids. Hushed concern permeated our traditionally boisterous celebration as the end was in sight and our departure imminent. It was the last time I would spend Noche Buena in the old house on the side of a hill. The last time I would run my hands over the old wooden walls, the last time I would fly recklessly between the old orange trees in the backyard into my grandfather’s arms. It was to be our farewell to the country which gave us our identity, our good-bye to roots older than the oldest among us.

This year we will gather once again, as we always have, in our celebration of life and love. We will rejoice in the gifts showered on us by the Creator. We will renew the strength of the family and pay homage to all the members departed both here and there.

There will be much activity in my parent’s kitchen as old, familiar smells and sounds will fill the house at the end of the cul de sac in Miami. There will be children, my children, playing games older than time itself with friends and cousins, being told to “run outside and play” from somewhere within that kitchen, a kitchen filled with grandmothers and aunts and mothers happily preparing the traditional fares. They will fly recklessly, happy and carefree, between citrus trees and jump into the open arms of grandfathers and fathers sitting beside an open pit, watching over the main course while smoking good cigars rolled from fine American leaves. There will be love and continuity.

And while we will miss those who have gone on before us, their presence will be felt in our hearts and their voices heard in the sound palm fronds make when the wind runs through them.

On this Noche Buena, this special night, we will once again give thanks to the land that gave us shelter from the storm of oppression and to the good Lord that saw us safely here. We will rejoice in the dreams of freedom that drove us to these shores and pay tribute to the American dream and to the people who welcomed us with open arms.

In hour darkest hour, on that Noche Buena in 1967, we looked to America to find hope. And like so many before us we found a wondrous, magnificent, generous Nation and peoples. We forged a home on fruitful soil and have grown strong; we preserve our traditions with great care and add them to the American Tapestry like so many before us. And we stand willing and able to fight for this, our home, for the Constitution and the everlasting ideals set forth by the Founding Fathers.

We have indeed been blessed and we have much to be thankful for.

Last night, my youngest son was too excited to fall asleep, looking forward to the events being planned for the Christmas Eve celebration, and opening the gifts under the tree. I lay with him and told him stories from my childhood. I placed my hand on his head and softly sang him to sleep with an old familiar carol.

“Esta noche es Noche Buena,
vamos al monte hermanito.
A buscar un arbolito
porque la noche es serena.”

Jerry Jones is the reason for the Dallas Cowboys not having won a playoff game since 1996.

There…I’ve said it.

Sure, Wade Phillips is a mediocre Coach at best, and Jason Garret seems a bit overrated, and to quote ESPN “his stock is in a free fall”; Romo threw 45 times in the loss against the Ravens, and America’s Team (on paper anyway) gained 92 yards on the ground in the team’s last game in Texas Stadium. With legendary Cowboys like Roger Staubach, Drew Pearson, and Bob Lilly in attendance, Saturday’s performance went way beyond embarrassing.

It’s Jones that’s been the constant in Dallas however, not Phillips, lover boy, or Tantrum Owens. It’s Jones that was calling the shots in 1996 (the last time the Cowboys won a post-season game), and Jones that’s there today, still calling the shots of what’s shaping up to be the twelfth year that the blue and silver will not make it into the playoffs.

Dallas was picked to win this year’s Superbowl before the team took their first snap of the season, everyone agreeing that the depth of talent in the team would cruise through the season, and right into Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium. But Romo appears to be far better at penetrating leggy blond bombshells than tight coverage. T.O. is a loud mouth narcissist who has caused trouble in every team that he’s ever played for, and while possibly possessing the biggest heart in the Cowboys’ offense, Marion Barber is less player than his contract would have you believe.

These lone-star-wearing underachievers lack discipline, heart, passion, and team cohesiveness, all clear indicators of two massive problems within the Cowboys organization: poor coaching, and bad management that consistently hires bad coaches, or worse, hires GOOD coaches and then takes from them the ability to run the team effectively.

All these things can be fixed with the proper leadership, and that leadership MUST come from the top. But can they be fixed by next week, when the Cowboys travel to Philly and face an Eagles team fighting for their own playoff berth?

Jerry Jones is in a tough spot…his team needs to win championships in order to fill the seats of his new, $1.1 billion pro football Cathedral opening next year. Judging from the playoff drought of the past eleven years under the Cowboys’ current management, change in management is needed to bring the franchise back to its former glory, and Jerry Jones, the owner, needs to fire Jerry Jones, the General Manager, and that’s the 500-lb gorilla in the Cowboys board room.

Well Jerry, this long-time Cowboys fan wants you to fire yourself and find a real GM and a real coach for America’s Team, and until you do, I will not spend one tin dime on anything Cowboy related.

No t-shirts, no hats, not NFL Ticket from my cable provider, no Cowboys coffee mugs, boxer shorts, sleeping wear, antenna toppers, bumper stickers, bobbleheads, flags, team logo sneakers, Cowboys toothbrushes…nothing. I won’t even spend the gas to travel to a sports bar to watch games not broadcast by my local TV stations.

The ball’s on your court Jones.

Raul Castro wants to trade prisoners with the US. He made the offer while visiting Brazil:

Answering a reporter’s question about political prisoners in Cuba, Castro said he would consider releasing some as a gesture to opening talks with the new administration.

But he said the U.S. government would need to reciprocate.

“Let’s make a gesture for a gesture,” said Castro, who took over in February from his ailing brother, Fidel. “We will send those prisoners you talk about (to the United States) with their families. But give us back our five heroes.”

The Cuban president referred to the so-called “Cuban Five,” who were convicted in 2001 in Miami on espionage charges and are lionized by the Havana government as heroes.

Bush needs to make this deal before he leaves office.

He can pull this off at the eleventh hour, and have the news covering the release of people like Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, and founder of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet by the week before the Inauguration.

The mental image of a newly-sworn in President Obama meeting Biscet (and any number of additional dissidents included in the deal) on the tarmac at Andrews, has “Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Barack Obama” written all over it.

Bush gives up five worthless scumbags, and we get a free Oscar Biscet standing next to W at the press conference welcoming the Human Rights prize winner to America days before the Obamassiah’s ascension?

That’s not a fair exchange.

The GOP needs to own this story.

I just ran across this headline flashing across the ABC News website:

UN Gives OK to Land, Air Attacks on Somali Pirates

Now, I’m no Sun Tzu, but shouldn’t we be attacking pirates on the high seas, not land?

What’s next?

Naval maneuvers to flush the last remaining insurgents from Baghdad?

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