Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Holy Moly Things are Changing

Leave for a while to visit the 'socialist paradise' in the Caribbean and what happens? 'The more things change, the more they say the same', as some French wit once remarked. It seems like it's been THE month for popular uprisings - Tunisia and Egypt, now Libya with ongoing rumbles on Morocco, Algeria, Yemen, the Gulf States and the counterpoint that's been part of the background noise in Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan for years. All this, supposedly about 'democracy'. What's really amazing is the lack of such 'popular' uprisings in those pariah states where, we're told, the tyrants are on the bones of their ass - namely Iran, North Korea and Cuba.

Let's take a look at Cuba for a minute. I was in Trinidad recently (on the south coast half-way down the island). The town is a world heritage site as, apparently,  it's location, (inland a bit), stopped  whatever  predators have been known to burn down parts of Cuba in order to assist regular urban renewal, from torching the place much. The city buildings are of some antiquity and hence are archtecturally interesting.

Things haven't changed much in terms of infrastructure, if you don't count a new airport building and two markedly upgraded 'cafe' businesses just outside the terminal at Cienfuegos. Trinidad is a very old city sprouting some of the appurtenances of modernity. The city itself is remarkable for a recent outburst of housing additions - building an extra story on the roof. Some of these look like a 'dodge' of  city planning ordinances and don't look like they could be trusted in an earthquake. There is also some new 'foreign investment building underway - a couple of Novotel projects in the works. The 'casa particular' (bed and breakfast/lunch/dinner) operations seem to be expanding along with a number of private restaurants. It could be a sop to the 'new economic reality', but it is a sign that the Cubans are doing something.

In like manner a host of newly-built (in the last 8 years) communal housing developments in rural areas are noteworthy. There doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to having them located as they are, except for one in the middle of a cane plantation of some size and another, under construction, nearby what I was told is a Cuban holiday spot  at the mouth of a river. The schools look more dilapidated than before, but the kids seem just as clean and well-turned-out as ever.

The resort we stayed at was in turmoil of sorts while we were there. The government austerity plan announced last summer - which was to see the civil service and military reduced by 30 percent, had worked it's way down to the tourist spots where the wait staff and cameraras were being told which of them was soon to be out of work. As a friend noted,  'connections' seemed to take precedence of actual ability,  for those bartenders and waiters with the laziest streak seemed to be the ones who were 'OK'.

For the first time,  we met Americans who had 'sneaked' into Cuba - taking a flight over from Cancun. They seemed nice, but were the sort who were either 'sorry' for what America was doing or self-described as the "last socialists in America". Nice to see them, they certainly made a less gaudy show than the returned 'Miami Cubans' with their rented 'bling' and 'boss' attitudes. The Cubans seem to really enjoy 'banging' them an extra 15 percent for exchanging their US dollars. Maybe, if they were staying with family, instead of at a tourist resort, they'd be better received. It was also surprising to note the lack of full-time resident tourists this time round. The place was virtually empty most afternoons. The Europeans all seemed to be on bus tours that pulled-in in time for supper and left right after breakfast. The entertainment staff must have appreciated the evening crowd. I'd say, however, that tourism seemed to be way down, so that has to hurt the economy.

One would think the Cubans had every reason to be 'out on the street' - unemployment way up, an educated population of underutilized young people, etc. It isn't for the lack of cell phones - as every second Cuban I saw had one. So it must be 'fear of repression', or just not feeling they have to.

In like fashion the Iranian young people have hesitated to throw themselves under the bus of  freedom and the North Koreans still seem to be content to goose step around Red Square and make moues at the fightin' forces of liberty around Panmunjom. But maybe they're just the well-fed ones,  keeping the others down.

In Baghdad it's different - they're protesting about economic conditions and a government's failure to 'get going'. In Afghanistan they're still protesting about the regular killing of civilians by ISAF, and ISAF's failure to be able to protect the others, killed by the insurgents. Even in places like Madison, Wisconsin you have Americans out on the street protesting. OK, the latter are middle-class types like teachers, cops and firemen coming face-to-face with a reality that the local governments they work for have failed to meet their obligations to fund retirements and other employment benefits. Now the 'debt crunch', caused by too many tax cuts, has come home to roost. Rather than raising taxes on business or the 'haves', the only 'solution' the latter-day neocons can see is to level the playing field between the US and the Third World by making those who don't have, take less. The poor have already had their 'screwing', and it's not as if all that 'negative' social spending on hand-outs was really the problem. Those 'savings' weren't enough to change anything. The solution now is to take more from the middle class, particularly public employees. But those savings won't be enough to change anything either so, who's next? Ordinary Americans - like ordinary Egyptians Iraqis, Tunisians, Moroccans and most of the ordinary people on earth are about to undergo a serious change of lifestyle because of the economic shenanigans of the 'elite'.

Prices are  rising just like those who have to raise prices said they would. Amazing that the same guys who couldn't see an economic hurricane bearing down on Wall St. have such clairvoyance about rising prices. Actually there's no rocket science there, either. Raising prices is the one thing these guys can, and do. Just like fleecing suckers. Right now they're making noises about how world events - that changing weather we don't have to worry about, and increasing numbers of people starving, or dying from imported lead poisoning, are the 'natural forces' making us all  pay more. But just maybe, one of these years, when they report another surge in profit, dividends or compensation levels, the sheeple will just 'go nuts'.

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