Category: History

Quiet heroes of the US-Cuba deal: Pope Francis and Canada

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The historic deal to begin normalizing relations between the US and Cuba, after 50-plus years of hostility, is being credited primarily to President Obama and Raul Castro, Cuba’s current de facto leader and the brother of Fidel. That is with good reason: Obama has been working on this issue throughout much of his presidency and Castro is taking a significant risk by allowing wider Internet access into Cuba as part of the deal.

But there are two actors that quietly played a major role in this: Canada and Pope Francis.

The negotiations that led to today’s announcement, in which the US and Cuba will take major steps toward normalization, took 18 long months, according to a report in the New York Times. And many of those negotiations were held in Canada, formally but secretly hosted by the Canadian government.

Canada was helping to solve two crucial problems. First, the talks needed to remain secret to have any hope of succeeding — had they leaked, the political backlash in the US would have almost certainly killed the deal.

Second, for diplomatic reasons, the talks could not be held on US or Cuban soil, but the negotiators needed a physical meeting place. The Canadian government, which unlike the US does have ties with Cuba but is also extremely close to the US government, was an obviously attractive broker for the US. While Canadian officials did not officially participate in the talks, their role in providing a secret and official channel was crucial, according to US officials.

If Canada was essential for providing the Americans with a safe and secure forum for talks, then Pope Francis played a similar role in helping to bring the Cuban leaders to the negotiating table. And, unlike Canadian officials, who did not sit at from the formal talks, Vatican officials participated actively in discussions.

Pope Francis’ role included sending a personal letter to both Obama and Raul Castro over the summer urging them to reach a deal (talks were already ongoing at that point). Francis also reportedly raised the issue repeatedly in his meeting with Obama in March. And Francis hosted the final negotiation session at the Vatican, where Vatican officials participated in the talks…

Nice to see a couple of competent, worldly participants take the lead in bringing the United States into reforming a diplomatic and political stance originated by thugs like the United Fruit Company in the era of Banana Imperialism. A half-century of embargo and blockade hadn’t dragged Cuba into subservience. Continuing the policy only reinforced the world’s perception of the United States as a bully.

Pope Francis continues to impress. I hope he has as much success bringing the Roman Catholic church into the modern era as he has – individually – as a representative of Christianity beginning to discover a bit of enlightenment.

Nice at least to see that Harper’s mean-spirited conservatism hasn’t yet affected Canada’s traditional leadership role in diplomacy among the Americas and beyond.

Australia tweeted #illridewithyou – and traveled in solidarity with Muslims

#illridewithyou

Against a backdrop of fear and uncertainty following the hostage taking in Sydney, thousands of ordinary Australians turned to social media to spread a message of unprecedented tolerance and solidarity.

Trending worldwide, the #illridewithyou hashtag was a response to a number of Muslim listeners who called Australian radio stations to say they were scared to travel in public as the siege unfolded.

Users offered to ride on public transport with anyone feeling intimidated. They posted their travel plans and invited others to get in touch if they were going the same way and wanted a companion.

Police stormed the Lindt cafe in the central business district, bringing an end to a day-long standoff with gunman Man Haron Monis. There is still uncertainty about his motive for taking up to 30 people prisoner.

But the sight of hostages being forced to hold a black flag bearing the shahada, the basic Islamic creed – “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God” – in the window of the cafe seemed enough to make innocent people concerned about a backlash if they wore Muslim dress in public.

There is little wonder that Australian Muslims are scared. As research has shown, terrorist attacks and events seen to be “the fault of Muslims” have been shown to catalyse a sharp increase in the number of Islamophobic attacks perpetrated against Muslims going about their everyday lives…

All this might make the popularity of the #illridewithyou hashtag surprising. But what really underpins this social media phenomenon is the fact that ordinary people are not only aware but are prepared to do something about the Islamophobia that ordinary Muslims face in the current climate…

In the world of bigots you don’t even need to be Muslim to be lynched. You simply have to “look” like a Muslim or “dress” like a Muslim. The first person I recall being murdered by a bigot right after 9/11 was a Sikh in Arizona. Reality didn’t matter in the least. The distance between Sikh and Muslim beliefs includes centuries and are nations wide. Meaningless to a narrow-minded fool.

I mentioned this response to the siege in Sydney to my wife and her first recollection was folks in a software company she deals with in much of her IT work. They’re in Georgia. After 9/11, folks throughout their company made it a point to travel together with many of their fellow workers, Indian, Pakistani, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist – everywhere – to act as an additional shield against the bigots and fools who wanted to kill a Muslim ar at least some kind of non-Christian foreigner.

China holds a Memorial Day for the victims of the Nanjing Massacre


Click for the story

If there is anything I truly hate it is war.

I’ve experienced some small participation in wars. I have had dear friends more directly affected over longer periods. Now gone. One who survived the Warsaw Ghetto uprising – made it through the sewers of Warsaw, through the countryside eventually to the Soviet Union. After healing physically, she went back to Poland to fight in the underground against the Germans.

I asked her once why she kept her Polish name from the Underground instead of returning to her Jewish family name. She told me that all of that life died with her husband and her daughters in a German death camp. Who she became after that was a different person.

My closest friend most of my life was the most decorated soldier in WW2 from our home state in New England. He was awarded every medal except the Congressional Medal of Honor and he was nominated for that. Surviving injuries at the Battle of the Bulge he was severely wounded at the liberation of the Buchenwald Death Camp – and had sixteen months in a veterans’ hospital to reflect upon how he got there.

They’re both gone, now. Someone like me has to remember.

It doesn’t matter where or when my thoughts are stirred to recall. I’ve written about Nanjing before; but, tonight I happened to switch over to CCTV America just as the ceremonies at the Memorial Site in Nanjing were wrapping up.

I sat and watched the last half-hour of the live telecast. I cried some for 300,000 civilians slaughtered by Japanese soldiers over a few weeks starting on December 13, 1937. I won’t forget Nanjing. China won’t forget Nanjing.

Tribes honor 2 Anglos who wouldn’t take part in Sand Creek massacre

Tribal members marked the 150th anniversary of one of the worst massacres in American history Wednesday by paying tribute at an old Denver cemetery to two U.S. Army officers who refused to participate in it.

On Nov. 29, 1864, Capt. Silas Soule and Lt. Joseph Cramer declined orders to open fire on an encampment of Cheyenne and Arapahoe men, women and children in southeast Colorado.

About 200 people were killed in a dry riverbed that cold morning in what became known as the Sand Creek massacre.

On Wednesday, about 70 tribal members took part in a sunrise blessing at Riverside Cemetery before completing an annual healing run to the state Capitol, where Gov. John Hickenlooper apologized on behalf of the state for the massacre.

Some descendants of Sand Creek survivors credit Soule and Cramer with preventing even more bloodshed…

Cramer and Soule’s courage in speaking out against their commander helped the nation finally come to terms with what happened at Sand Creek.

Both came to Colorado seeking gold and enlisted in the army to fight in the Civil War. They likely fought under Col. John Chivington, who would lead the Sand Creek raid, in a battle that helped turn back an attempted Confederate incursion into Colorado’s gold country.

Both also attended peace conferences with the Arapaho and Cheyenne earlier in 1864, and they witnessed U.S. military commanders assuring chiefs they would be kept safe…

With tension on all sides, Chivington, a Civil War hero and Methodist minister, led troops from Denver to the outskirts of the camp of about 700 Arapaho and Cheyenne. The Indians believed they were safe after making peace with the commander of nearby Fort Lyon. They even flew a U.S. flag at the camp.

The soldiers opened fire, and some later brought victims’ body parts back to Denver. Chivington originally was hailed as a hero.

Cramer and Soule were part of Chivington’s forces but refused to order their own units to open fire. They later reported what happened, prompting a federal investigation that ultimately contributed to the resignation of territorial Gov. John Evans for failing to work for peace with tribes.

Soule was later murdered in Denver. The soldiers who killed him were never arrested or indicted. But, then, you wouldn’t expect that, would you?

Cartoon of the Day

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The lies, the rationales, the bullshit reasons offered up by coppers who know they’re absolutely in the wrong – never change. Quite literally, I have been hearing this crap for over 60 years. I have been on the streets confronting the delusions of fairness and equity that everyone knows we’re supposed to have – even back in the day of Jim Crow laws around this hypocritical nation – since I was a teenager.

We’ve never had a government that could be counted on at any level, city, state or federal, that voluntarily took up the fight for equal opportunity for all Americans. Yes, there were laws passed after noisy battles in law-making bodies. Politicians pat themselves on the back for getting things done.

What you and I have to remember – and the political hacks, Republican or Democrat, will never admit – is that ordinary folks in the company of hundreds and thousands of our peers pushed and shoved, marched and confronted death and danger for decades to get any movement at all from the heroes who get their paintings on the walls of government. They needed their arms twisted then. They still do.

The New Yorker illustrates the racial divide in Ferguson, Missouri and the USA

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The NewYorker has long had the courage to take sides against bigotry and racism. Especially important in a nation that rationalizes away lynching-by-cop with sophistry about “two sides to every question”.

Vox has a short note about the magazine and Bob Stake who did this cover for next week’s edition.

Pic of the week


Click to enlargeREUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

Flowers are placed on a monument inside the Athens’ Polytechnic school, on the eve of the 41st anniversary of a 1973 student uprising against the then military ruling junta in Athens. Yes, the junta was supported by the United States government.

Republican policy on immigration is — NO! You expected different?


Obama’s advantage is that he has an immigration policy. Republicans don’t.

There’s one way President Obama’s executive action on immigration has been a boon to Republicans. Instead of coming up with their own immigration policy, the’ve been able to just unite against Obama’s. But fury isn’t a policy. And, as is clear, fury isn’t going to stop Obama’s policy.

But there is a simple way out of this immigration mess for Republicans: pass a bill that President Obama can sign.

Not a bill, mind you, that Obama necessarily wants to sign. It doesn’t even have to be a bill Obama does sign. It can be a bill Obama will loathe. Republicans can propose the most militarized border this side of the DMZ. They can erase the Senate bill’s path to citizenship. They can electrify the fence. They can wall unauthorized immigrants off from social services. Hell, they can even pass a bill authorizing funds to deport all 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the US.

But one way or another, Republicans need to decide what to do with the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country now. They need to take away Obama’s single strongest argument — that this is a crisis, and that congressional Republicans don’t have an answer and won’t let anyone else come up with one.

Republicans aren’t just the opposition party anymore. They are, arguably, the governing party — they will soon control the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, most state legislatures, and more governorships. And the governing party needs to solve — or at least propose solutions — to the nation’s problems. And that means the Republican policy on immigration needs to be something more than opposing Obama’s immigration policies. It needs to be something more than vague noises about border security…

“To those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill,” Obama said on Thursday…

Obama has one solid advantage right now…at least he wants to solve the problem. Republicans remain stuck into their legislative mantra for the last six years – stop Obama from solving the problem. Any problem. That’s not a winning position. 2016 is six years closer and all the Republicans have achieved for these last six years is demonstrating to all Americans how little they care about problem-solving other than earning their paycheck as pimps for Big Oil, Big Coal – and saying “NO” to everything else.