Sunday, December 30, 2007

Fidel defends naming brother Cuba's interim leader

December 30, 2007

HAVANA (AFP) — Cuba's ailing leader Fidel Castro has defended naming his brother Raul to stand in for him last year, saying no one in the communist country's national assembly saw it as nepotism.

In a letter to the assembly Friday, the 81-year-old strongman also again made an ambiguous suggestion that he could give up the presidency, saying that he had stopped clinging to power.

"There was a stage when I thought I knew what had to be done and I wanted the power to do it," he admitted, saying it was due to "an excess of youthfulness and deficit of conscience."

"What made me change? Life itself, tempered by the profound thought of (Jose) Marti and the classics of socialism," Castro said, in the letter read by assembly speaker Ricardo Alarcon.

In the letter Castro also referred to criticisms made by Washington that in choosing his brother Raul to steer the country he was being anti-democratic and reserving power to his family.

"In the proclamation signed on July 31, 2006, none of you saw it at all as an act of nepotism nor as a usurping of the functions of the assembly," he told the body.

The communist leader turned over his responsibilities to Defense Minister Raul Castro "temporarily" in July 2006 to recuperate from surgery. He has not been seen in public since, and there have been no clear reports on the state of his health.

The letter was the second time in a month that Castro, who has led Cuba since 1959, made an opaque reference to giving up power.

On December 17, Castro hinted in a letter read on television that he might step aside when he said that he would not cling to office or obstruct the rise of a new generation of leaders.

Meanwhile, Alarcon told the assembly Friday that Cuba's coming elections needed to be a "vigorous response" to the United States.

"The elections of January 20 must be a demonstration of patriotic unity, the country's vigorous response to those who tried to destroy us for half a century," he said, in a speech published Saturday in local media.

The January polls will choose the national assembly, with the number of candidates -- 614 -- equal to the number of seats to be filled.

Once the new assembly has been constituted, the deputies will elect the ruling Council of State, with 31 members, which will then choose the president.

Fidel Castro was renominated for the assembly on December 2, meaning he could resume the presidency.

But experts saw his December 17 statement as a suggestion that he might decline the leadership this time.

Granma: Fidel's message in English

Vatican's No. 2 says he hopes to meet Raul Castro in 2008 visit to Cuba

International Herald Tribune

The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY: The Vatican's No. 2 official said he hopes to meet with Raul Castro, Cuba's acting president, when he visits the island early next year, a report said Saturday.

The trip by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy See's secretary of state, will be the highest level visit by a Vatican official to Cuba during Pope Benedict XVI's tenure. It will mark the 10th anniversary of the historic pilgrimage there by the late Pope John Paul II.

"I really hope to meet Fidel Castro's brother, Raul, who runs the country today," Bertone was quoted as saying by Italian religious affairs weekly Famiglia Cristiana. The full interview will be published next month, but excerpts were released Saturday.

It was not clear whether Bertone planned to visit with the ailing Fidel Castro, who welcomed John Paul in Havana in January 1998.

The trip will take place in February, Bertone said, according to the report, although the exact date has not been announced. The cardinal said he will attend the inauguration in the central city of Santa Clara of a monument dedicated to John Paul and marking his visit's anniversary, the report said.

Many predicted that John Paul's pilgrimage would trigger changes in the Communist-run state. The pope urged Castro to increase freedom on the Caribbean island for both the Church and society, and denounced U.S. efforts to isolate Cuba.

But in the decade that has passed, Cuba's Catholic Church has made only some gains. Catholic leaders can speak or write in state media at times, but religious schools remain closed as they have been since the early 1960s when hundreds of foreign priests were expelled.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Felíz Navidad / Merry Cristmas


"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9)

Cuba, Venezuela sign 14 accords to strengthen cooperation

China View - Xinhua

2007-12-23 11:48:29

HAVANA, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) -- Cuba and Venezuela inked 14 agreements Saturday to broaden cooperation between the two countries, the Prensa Latina (PL) news agency reported.

The accords were signed during Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's visit to Santiago de Cuba, the second largest city in the country, the PL said.

According to the agreements, Cuba and Venezuela will promote cooperation in such fields as chemistry, petrochemistry, agriculture, fishery and food industry.

Venezuela will also provide funds for helping Cuba build a 175-megawatt thermal-power plant in the Holguin province, repair Havana's electricity grid and purchase two ships, said the report.

Chavez arrived in Havana Wednesday to attend the summit of PetroCaribe in the south central Cuban city of Cienfuegos.

The PetroCaribe was initiated by Venezuela in 2005 to supply oil to its Caribbean neighbors at preferential prices, .

He is expected to end his visit to Cuba and return home late Saturday, the PL said.

Editor: An Lu

Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Christmas from Barack Obama and family

Cuba plans to participate in 2009 World Baseball Classic

The Canadian Press

December 21, 2007

HAVANA - Cuba plans to participate in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, and the island's top sports official praised Major League Baseball for engaging in "respectful dialogue" when it looked like the embargo might keep the country out of last year's tournament.

Jose Ramon Fernandez, a Cuban vice-president and head of the Olympic Committee, said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press that "for awhile we have been thinking about the Classic."

"It's been authorized," he said. "We have said we are going to participate."

Fernandez told the AP in October that Cuba had received a formal WBC invitation from MLB, but refused to say whether the island planned to play.

Cuba finished second in the first edition of the WBC, falling to Japan 10-6 in the final in San Diego. But the team was almost barred from participating when the U.S. Treasury Department initially denied it a permit.

An appeal by MLB and a promise by Cuba that winnings would go to hurricane Katrina relief - thus ensuring no money went to Fidel Castro's government - successfully reversed that decision.

MLB and its players' association jointly ran the inaugural WBC. While no formal decision has been announced, it appears the second WBC will be played in March 2009.

Fernandez refused to comment on any active negotiations between U.S. and Cuban officials, but applauded MLB and U.S. baseball officials for allowing "a respectful and proper dialogue and looking for solutions for both sides" during the 2006 U.S. permit controversy.

In November, the United States beat Cuba 6-3 in Taiwan to win baseball's World Cup for the first time since 1974, ending the island's streak of nine straight titles. Still, Fernandez said his country's national team "has grown" since finishing second at the first WBC and considers itself a favourite to win in '09.

"I don't have the slightest doubt about Cuban talent, no doubt about the quality of Cuban baseball," he said.

"With the same players and other better ones than those who were there (in the 2006 WBC), are we in crisis? Please. Today we don't just have one team for the Classic, we have more than that."

Fidel and Chavez meet

President Fidel Castro met yesterday with his counterpart from Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Granma reported today.

The two leaders met for two and a half hours as a profound expression of the deep friendship which exists between the people and leaders of the two countries.

Fidel and Chavez talked about the IV PetroCaribe Summit which will start today at the central city of Cienfuegos to re inaugurate the Camilo Cienfuegos petroleum refinery, which will benefit both Cuba and other Caribbean countries.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Presidents Hugo Chávez and René Preval already in Cuba

Granma International

December 20, 2007

CIENFUEGOS.—Dressed up in its best, as only a city whose historic center is designated as a World Heritage Site can, Cienfuegos is ready for the 4th Petrocaribe Summit for which presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and René Preval of Haiti have already arrived in Cuba.

It is the first time that this city, in the central part of the island’s southern coast, is to welcome such high ranking representatives and delegations from the countries of the Caribbean, who are meeting here beginning December 21, according to an AIN report.

Residents of the city have put in long days painting buildings, streets and public spaces, cleaning parks, illuminating every corner as the city re-emerges not only as a maritime center but an industrial one as well.

Flags and billboards greeting the Caribbean delegations line this provincial capital’s main boulevards, such as the Paseo del Prado, the longest in Cuba, and Simón Bolívar Avenue that leads to the Camilo Cienfuegos oil refinery.

In the city’s streets, markets and work places the topic of conversation everywhere is the coming start-up of the refinery, which will greatly benefit all of Latin America.

Translated by Granma International

Congressional Democratic leadership has been a big disappointment

A year ago the American electorate, fed up with the war in Iraq, and the culture of corruption in Washington, D.C., handed the reins of Congress to the Democratic Party.

The top leadership, Pelosi and Reid have been a big disappointment.

With only the exception of the passage of the minimum wage increase, they have caved in to every request or demand of George W. Bush.

The war has not been slowed down and the Democratic leadership continues to acquiesce to the funding of a failed war that 70% of the American people oppose.

They have pushed for immunity of the telecoms in the illegal and unconstitutional wiretapping without warrants of the American people. Only the courageous stand of Sentor Chris Dodd put a temporary stop to this.

Democrats capitulated to another Republican demand by dropping tax increases for executives at hedge funds and private-equity firms.

Enough laws have been broken by George W Bush and Dick Cheney to start an impeachment investigation, yet the Democratic leadership clings to the “off the table” position.

Every time that the administration proposes something, Pelosi and Reid say “ME TOO!”

Politics as usual continue in Washington, D.C.

It is time to change that Democratic leadership. We need new policies that serve the people and not the big corporations.

First shipment of oil arrives at Cuban refinery

Caribbean Net News

Published on Thursday, December 20, 2007

CIENFUEGOS, Cuba (ACN): More than a half million barrels of oil have arrived in the province of Cienfuegos in Cuba for the start of operations at the Comandante Camilo Cienfuegos oil refinery December 22.

Recent rehabilitation works to the plant included repairing the refinery dock and dredging the canal entrance, under a joint venture between Venezuela and Cuba. The refinery, located on Cuba's south coast some 250 kilometers east of Havana, is expected to process some 65,000 barrels of crude oil per day at start up, reaching some 100,000 by the mid-term.

The reopening ceremony will be held during the Fourth Petrocaribe Summit being held Friday, December 21 in the city of Cienfuegos.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Slave labour that shames America

The Independent, United Kingdom

Migrant workers chained beaten and forced into debt, exposing the human cost of producing cheap food

By Leonard Doyle in Immokalee, Florida
Published: 19 December 2007

Three Florida fruit-pickers, held captive and brutalised by their employer for more than a year, finally broke free of their bonds by punching their way through the ventilator hatch of the van in which they were imprisoned. Once outside, they dashed for freedom.

When they found sanctuary one recent Sunday morning, all bore the marks of heavy beatings to the head and body. One of the pickers had a nasty, untreated knife wound on his arm. Police would learn later that another man had his hands chained behind his back every night to prevent him escaping, leaving his wrists swollen.

The migrants were not only forced to work in sub-human conditions but mistreated and forced into debt. They were locked up at night and had to pay for sub-standard food. If they took a shower with a garden hose or bucket, it cost them $5.

Their story of slavery and abuse in the fruit fields of sub-tropical Florida threatens to lift the lid on some appalling human rights abuses in America today.

Between December and May, Florida produces virtually the entire US crop of field-grown fresh tomatoes. Fruit picked here in the winter months ends up on the shelves of supermarkets and is also served in the country's top restaurants and in tens of thousands of fast-food outlets.

But conditions in the state's fruit-picking industry range from straightforward exploitation to forced labour. Tens of thousands of men, women and children – excluded from the protection of America's employment laws and banned from unionising – work their fingers to the bone for rates of pay which have hardly budged in 30 years.

Until now, even appeals from the former president Jimmy Carter to help raise the wages of fruit-pickers have gone unheeded. However, with Florida looming as a key battleground during the the next presidential election, there is hope that their cause will be raised by the Democratic candidates Barack Obama and John Edwards.

Fruit-pickers, who typically earn about $200 (£100) a week, are part of an unregulated system designed to keep food prices low and the plates of America's overweight families piled high. The migrants, largely Hispanic and with many of them from Mexico, are the last wretched link in a long chain of exploitation and abuse. They are paid 45 cents (22p) for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes collected. A worker has to pick nearly two-and-a-half tons of tomatoes – a near impossibility – in order to reach minimum wage. So bad are their working and living conditions that the US Department of Labour, which is not known for its sympathy to the underdog, has called it "a labour force in considerable distress".

A week after the escapees managed to emerge from the van in which they had been locked up for the night, police discovered that a forced labour operation was supplying fruit-pickers to local growers. Court papers describe how migrant workers were forced into debt and beaten into going to work on farms in Florida, as well as in North and South Carolina. Detectives found another 11 men who were being kept against their will in the grounds of a Florida house shaded by palm trees. The bungalow stood abandoned this week, a Cadillac in the driveway alongside a black and chrome pick-up truck with a cowboy hat on the dashboard. The entire operation was being run by the Navarettes, a family well known in the area.

Also near by was the removals van from which Mariano Lucas, one of the first to escape, punched his way through a ventilation hatch to freedom in the early hours of 18 November. With him were Jose Velasquez, who had bruises on his face and ribs and a cut forearm, and Jose Hari. The men told police they had to relieve themselves inside the van. Other migrant workers were kept in other vehicles and sheds scattered around the garden.

Enslaved by the Navarettes for more than a year, the men had been working in blisteringly hot conditions, sometimes for seven days a week. Despite their hard work, they were mired in debt because of the punitive charges imposed by their employer, who is being held on minor charges while a grand jury investigates his alleged involvement in human trafficking.

The men had to pay to live in the back of vans and for food. Their entire pay cheques went to the Navarettes and they were still in debt. They slept in decrepit sheds and vehicles in a yard littered with rubbish. When one man did not want to go to work because he was sick, he was allegedly pushed and kicked by the Navarettes. "They physically loaded him in the van and made him go to work that day. Cesar, Geovanni and Martin Navarette beat him up and as a result he was bleeding in his mouth," a grand jury was told.

The complaint reveals that the men were forced to pay rent of $20 (£10) a week to sleep in a locked furniture van where they had no option but to urinate and defecate in a corner. They had to pay $50 a week for meals – mostly rice and beans with meat perhaps twice a week if they were lucky. The fruit-pickers' caravans, which they share with up to 15 other men, rent for $2,400 a month – more per square foot than a New York apartment – and are less than 10 minutes' walk from the hiring fair where the men show up before sunrise. At least half those who come looking for work are not taken on.

Florida has a long history of exploiting migrant workers. Farm labourers have no protection under US law and can be fired at will. Conditions have barely changed since 1960 when the journalist Edward R Murrow shocked Americans with Harvest Of Shame, a television broadcast about the bleak and underpaid lives of the workers who put food on their tables. "We used to own our slaves but now we just rent them," Murrow said, in a phrase that still resonates in Immokalee today.

For several years, a campaign has been under way to improve the workers' conditions. After years of talks, a scheme to pay the tomato pickers a penny extra per pound has been signed off by McDonald's, the world's biggest restaurant chain, and by Yum!, which owns 35,000 restaurants including KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. But Burger King, which also buys its tomatoes in Immokalee, has so far refused to participate, threatening the entire scheme.

"We see no legal way of paying these workers," said Steve Grover, the vice-president of Burger King. He complained that a local human rights group, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers "has gone after us because we are a known brand". But he added: "At the end of the day, we don't employ the farmworkers so how can we pay them?"

Burger King will not pay the extra penny a pound that the tomato-pickers are demanding he said. "If we agreed to the penny per pound, Burger King would pay about $250,000 annually, or $100 per worker. How does that solve exploitation and poverty?" he asked.

Burger King is not the only buyer digging in its heels. Whole Foods Market, which recently expanded into Britain with a store in London's upmarket suburb of Kensington, has been discovered stocking tomatoes from one of the most notorious Florida sweatshop producers. Whole Foods ignored an appeal by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to pay an extra penny a pound for its tomatoes.

In a statement Whole Foods said it was "committed to supporting and promoting economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable agriculture" and supports "the right of all workers to be treated fairly and humanely."

The Democratic candidates for the presidency do not often talk about exploited migrant workers, but there are hints that Barack Obama will visit the Immokalee fruit pickers sometime before Florida's primary election on 5 February.

Jimmy Carter recently joined the campaign to improve the lot of fruit-pickers, appealing to Burger King and the growers "to restore the dignity of Florida's tomato industry". His appeal fell on deaf ears but 100 church groups, including the Catholic bishop of Miami, joined him.

The Nation: Farm Workers and Students Take On Burger King

Write to the Burger King CEO (Adobe Reader needed)

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JG: Burger King is the only fast food business that has failed to join an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which would grant the tomato pickers an additional penny per pound of tomatoes. Capitalist greed is alive and living very well in the Burger King Red Road headquarters in Miami, Florida. I for one will no longer patronize Burger King.

Heads of State of PetroCaribe to hold summit in Cuba

Cuba's daily newspaper Granma has reported that the heads of state of PetroCaribe will hold on Friday, December 21, a summit in Cienfuegos, Cuba, to coincide with the rededication of the petroleum refinery named after Cuban Revolution hero Camilo Cienfuegos.

General of the Army and first Vice President of the Councils of State and Ministers, Raul Castro, will head the Cuban delegation. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is expected to participate and to also meet with Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Twelve heads of state of Caribbean countries will attend, and Guatemala and Honduras will participate for the first time.

Petrocaribe S. A. is a Caribbean oil alliance with Venezuela to purchase oil on conditions of preferential payment. The alliance was launched in June of 2005. The payment system allows for a few nations to buy oil on market value but only a certain amount is needed up front; the remainder can be paid through a 25 year financing agreement on 1% interest. The deal allows for the Caribbean nations to purchase up to 185,000 barrels of oil per day on these terms. In addition it allows for nations to pay part of the cost with other products provided to Venezuela, such as bananas, rice, and sugar.

"PetroCaribe will only deal with a state controlled entity, meaning that the PetroCaribe agreement is based on eliminating all intermediaries." Only state-run entities, not private businesses, can deal with PetroCaribe. The Venezuelan state oil company rejects business dealings with any private oil company in these countries, believing these private companies to be corrupt and criminal in their operations.

Yankee's Cuba ‘obsession’ hampering fight on terrorism

New York Times

Report Finds U.S. Agencies Distracted by Focus on Cuba

By MARC LACEY

Published: December 19, 2007

Catching Americans who travel illegally to Cuba or who purchase cigars, rum or other products from the island may be distracting some American government agencies from higher-priority missions like fighting terrorism and combating narcotics trafficking, a government audit to be released Wednesday says.

The report, from the Government Accountability Office, says that Customs and Border Protection, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, conducts secondary inspections on 20 percent of charter passengers arriving from Cuba at Miami International Airport, more than six times the inspection rate for other international arrivals, even from countries considered shipment points for narcotics.

That high rate of inspections and the numerous seizures of relatively benign contraband “have strained C.B.P.’s capacity to carry out its primary mission of keeping terrorists, criminals and inadmissible aliens from entering the country at Miami International Airport,” says the audit, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.

The audit also called on the Treasury Department to scrutinize the priorities of its Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces more than 20 economic and trade sanctions programs, including those aimed at freezing terrorists’ assets and restricting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, but has long focused on Cuba.

Between 2000 and 2006, 61 percent of the agency’s investigation and penalty caseload involved Cuba embargo cases. Over that period, the office opened 10,823 investigations into possible violations involving Cuba and just 6,791 investigations on all other cases, the audit found.

Critics of the American embargo on Cuba seized on the report as evidence that Washington’s policy, which began in the Kennedy administration and has grown more stringent ever since, was outdated.

“This is not good policy,” said Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York, who requested the report a year ago with Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California. “It’s vindictive. It’s stupid. It’s costly. And now we find out it’s a threat to our national security.”

The State Department, in a statement responding to the audit, said enforcing the Trading With the Enemy Act, which prohibits Americans from spending money in Cuba without authorization from Washington, remained an important tool to isolate the Cuban government. Loosening the embargo, which the leading Democratic presidential candidates have called for in the campaign, would “provide increased revenue to the successor dictatorship run by Raúl Castro, and prolong its tight control over all aspects of Cuban life,” the department said.

The Bush administration’s tightening of the Cuba sanctions in 2004 appears to have discouraged many Americans from visiting the island. Manuel Marrero, Cuba’s tourism minister, acknowledged as much in a recent interview in Havana, blaming the “blockade,” as Cubans call the embargo, for scaring Americans away.

“Sooner or later, there will be justice for the people of the United States, and they will be allowed to visit and share with our people,” Mr. Marrero said.

Even with the number of American visitors down 37,000 in 2006, from 84,500 in 2003, according to the Cuban government, the United States government devotes significant resources to pursuing those who still go.

Most passengers arriving in Miami from Cuba are American citizens or residents who fly on charter flights and have American government permission to visit relatives on the island. But they are forbidden to bring Cuban products back to the United States. Still, searches regularly turn up cigars, bottles of rum and pharmaceutical items in the travelers’ luggage.

Most of the charter flights from Cuba arrive in Miami around midday, with five flights landing between 11:30 and 11:40 a.m. and additional flights in the afternoon.

As those passengers collect their luggage, most of the three secondary inspection facilities and most of the customs personnel are focused on them. As a result, the audit found, inspection of other arrivals is sometimes delayed.

Most of the Americans who visit Cuba each year do not go directly from Miami but use third countries like Canada, Mexico, Jamaica or the Bahamas. Catching them is difficult but not impossible. In some cases, American immigration officials simply observe them getting off flights from Havana at foreign airports where the United States has a presence, officials say.

Those who are caught violating the embargo are referred to the Treasury Department. Officials there say that Cuba cases, most of which involve unlicensed travel and the importation of Cuban cigars, consume a relatively small portion of staff time and do not affect enforcement of other sanctions programs.

The Treasury Department relies on warning letters and informal settlements for lower fines than on formal administrative hearings. On top of that, officials said they have recently begun focusing more of their resources on other programs and less on Cuba enforcement.

The statistics bear that out. Between 2000 and 2005, there were 8,170 violations of the Cuba embargo, which accounted for more than 70 percent of the agency’s total penalty cases.

In 2006, however, the number of cases pursued dropped significantly. That year, only 290 people were fined for violating the embargo, accounting for 29 percent of the agency’s penalty cases.

Although the Treasury Department can assess civil fines of up to $55,000 for those who violate the embargo, most penalties are considerably lower. Between 2000 and 2006, the average violation brought a $992 fine.

In 2007, 13 people have been fined, most for under $1,000, for ordering Cuban cigars over the Internet, an increasingly common violation. One of the largest fines went to Travelocity, the Internet travel agency, which had to pay $182,750 for booking nearly 1,500 flights to Cuba from 1998 to 2004.

James C. McKinley Jr. contributed reporting.

Cuba: Women apply for Masonic Rites

IPS

By Patricia Grogg

HAVANA, Dec 18 (IPS) - A group of women are looking forward to founding the first women’s Masonic Lodge in Cuba next year, and so put an end to their traditional exclusion from Freemasonry, an esoteric society which is based on the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity.

They are being helped in this endeavour by the Women’s Grand Lodge of Chile, which will send a delegation to Cuba in mid-2008 to initiate several dozen women in Havana and Pinar del Río, 157 kilometres west of the Cuban capital, the head of the Working Committee on Women’s Masonic Lodges in Cuba, Digna Gisela Medina, told IPS.

According to Medina, women have been interested in Freemasonry for centuries, but it is only recently that women’s Lodges have come into being.

"As women achieved their goals and their active participation in society grew, women’s Lodges started to be formed in many countries of the world," she said.

This has already happened in France, Belgium, Spain, the United Kingdom, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay, and other countries. "It seems to be an irreversible process, and we think that sooner rather than later, women Masons will be internationally accepted by the Regular Grand Lodges," she added.

Masonry is self-described as a progressive, philanthropic institution made up of free-thinking persons of good character who seek self-improvement. People of different religious creeds and atheists coexist within it, as do Masons of different political and philosophical persuasions.

But one of the ancient fundamental precepts of the United Grand Lodge of England, which sponsors Regular Lodges all over the world, is to exclude women from the brotherhood. Initiation of women Masons, therefore, would appear to be irregular and problematic.

However, José Manuel Collera, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Cuba from 2000 to 2003, says that "like many other Masons," he thinks this rule is now outmoded and should be revoked. "Personally, I have always defended the inclusion of women in Freemasonry," he told IPS.

In his view, excluding women has caused the order to lose its appeal in the modern world. "Women are the most important element in society; they constitute half of humanity, and they are mothers of the other half. There is no doctrinal, philosophical, esoteric or initiatory reason to prevent a woman from becoming a Mason," he argued.

Collera acknowledged, however, that Cuban women have had to overcome several hurdles in their quest, especially among some of the most conservative male Masons. "But these are only conflicting currents of thought, not an official position of Freemasonry as a whole," he said.

In any event, sponsorship by the Women’s Grand Lodge of Chile removes any risk of the male Grand Lodge of Cuba losing its regularity and the recognition of the other Grand Lodges it is in amity with, by transgressing the ancient boundaries and accepting women among its numbers.

Women’s Masonry uses the Scottish rite, also practised by the male Cuban Lodges, so the symbols, rituals and initiations will be the same for men and women, said Medina, 46, who is a specialist in maxillofacial surgery at the Calixto García teaching hospital in Havana.

Among the groups of Masonic aspirants, aged 18 to 60, there are professional women and homemakers, Catholics and state employees. "The important qualities are that they should be virtuous, discreet, hardworking, and of course keen to join the Masons," said Medina, whose father and husband are Freemasons.

Political activism or belonging to other social organisations are no bar to becoming a Mason, Collera and Medina said.

The Working Committee led by Medina was formed two years ago in Havana, and is made up of about 30 women. In Pinar del Río there are 32 women aspirants, and interest has spread to Caibarién, a town on the north coast of the province of Villa Clara, 268 kilometres from Havana, where a new group of women is getting under way.

There are plans for another Working Committee to be set up in Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second-largest city, which is 847 kilometres southeast of Havana. "We are not interested so much in quantity as in quality," Medina said.

Statistics from 2004 indicate that there are 29,000 Masons in Cuba, organised in over 300 Lodges. The governing body of the order is the Grand Lodge of Cuba, and both the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, as well as the York Rite, are practised.

According to experts, throughout the history of Cuban Masonry women have always been associated with its activities, lending external support, but until now the felt need of women to enter the inner sanctum of its mysteries has gone unrecognised.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Thank you Senator Dodd for your courage!

Senator Chris Dodd won a temporary victory today after his threats of a filibuster forced Democratic leadership to push back consideration of a measure that would grant immunity to telecom companies that were complicit in warrantless surveillance....While he never technically conducted a filibuster, according to aides, Dodd left the floor only once, to address a press gathering. He did, on occasion cede time to his Democratic colleagues. But even then, they say, he remained engaged in the debate.
"Everyone who spoke on the floor said they were grateful for Dodd taking a stand," said a staffer to the Senator who asked not to be named. "They said if it weren't for him they wouldn't be having this much-needed debate."

Castro says he won't cling to office

December 18, 2007

HAVANA (AFP) — Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro said in a letter read on television Monday that he would not cling to office or obstruct the rise of a new generation of leaders, raising speculation about his political future.

"My basic duty is not to cling to office, nor even more so to obstruct the rise of people much younger, but to pass on experiences and ideas whose modest value arises from the exceptional era in which I lived," said Castro, who stepped aside from Cuba's presidency "temporarily" more than 16 months ago after undergoing surgery.

Castro, 81, appeared to hint in his letter that he would leave the country's top leadership to his brother Raul Castro, 76, who has served as interim leader since July 31, 2006.

Castro has not been seen in public other than on television since his surgery, but weekly opinion pieces of his on global affairs have been published in Cuba's newspapers since March.

Questions about his political future arose after he was nominated as a candidate to the National Assembly earlier this month, making him officially eligible to resume the presidency if he should be elected to the assembly in January.

Cuban officials have said Fidel Castro keeps up with official business while he is recovering in an undisclosed location, but there has been no official indication of whether or when he would resume the presidency.

Nor has there been any clear information about the state of his health during his lengthy convalescence.

In his letter, Fidel Castro said he fully concurred with Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who just turned 100, in that "you have to stick to your principles till the end."

He said he was "deeply convinced" that the problems now facing Cuba require more solutions "than those contained in a chessboard."

"Not even a single detail can be overlooked, and it is never an easy task when human intelligence in a revolutionary society is called to prevail over its instincts."

The letter, which was shown to bear his signature on television, rekindled speculation on Fidel's political future, with some Cubans believing it signaled his political demise, while for others it suggested he would continue in power until the bitter end.

Fidel Castro also commented on Saturday's accord in Bali on a 2009 deadline for negotiations on a new treaty to tackle global warming, to which the United States -- the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases -- agreed but voiced "serious concerns."

"It is obvious the United States maneuvered to avoid isolation, although it did not signal any change in the empire's somber intentions. The great show started, and Canada and Japan joined it immediately," Castro said.

From the ranks of the nominees for Cuba's national and provincial assemblies, 614 lawmakers will be elected in January and they will choose the Council of State. The council's president serves as head of Cuba's one-party government.

If Fidel had not been nominated to the assembly, that could have opened the way for Raul -- who was also re-nominated -- to formally take over Cuba's presidency next year.

Cuba-watchers say it is possible Fidel Castro might be elected an assembly deputy, but then choose not to run for re-election to the Council of State.

Voting for the presidency is set to be held no later than March 5, 2008.

Letter of President Castro in Spanish

Letter to the Editor: End the economic embargo of Cuba

St. Petersburg Times

Letters to the Editor

Published November 26, 2007

I am a third-generation Floridian born in the late 1940s. I have been a close observer of this country's Cuba policies for most of my life. In the 1960s and 1970s, I was a strong supporter of these policies, but over the next 10 to 20 years I began to see the harm these policies were doing to the Cuban people while the Cuban government grew even more entrenched. These policies hurt the Cuban people, not the government.

Over the past few years I've come to recognize how hypocritical these policies are as this country has begun embracing countries such as China and Vietnam. And please don't tell me how awful Cuba treats its political prisoners. You can't honestly tell me that they are treated any better in China or Vietnam.

I have been a lifelong Republican, but now I'm finding it extremely difficult to support a party that so blatantly ignores the will of the people. To continue these hard-line economic policies toward Cuba has become a major embarrassment for the Republican Party and the United States. Our citizens are tired of it.

I have many Cuban-American friends who feel the same way as I do. Most polls today show that the majority of Floridians, as well as most Americans, believe this country's policies toward Cuba are all wrong. I've made it a personal goal to become more actively involved and to encourage the citizens of Florida to work to unseat any political candidate who continues to support these cruel and destructive economic policies toward Cuba.

I urge U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez to truly make a difference. Please consider becoming an advocate for change and embrace the policy changes necessary to halt the economic embargo of Cuba.

J. Larry McElveen, Safety Harbor

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The [un]PATRIOT[ic] Act at work

...other speakers at the convention included Brandon Mayfield, an Oregon lawyer, who received an apology and restitution from the federal government after being held in jail for weeks spoke about racial and religious profiling after Sept. 11.

Brandon Mayfield, spoke about his quest for justice, not only for himself, but for all of us through his lawsuit against the government, demanding that the PATRIOT Act be declared unconstitutional.

The Mayfield case has been an embarrassment for the federal government. Last year, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog faulted the FBI for sloppy work in mistakenly linking Mayfield to the Madrid bombings. That report said federal prosecutors and FBI agents had made inaccurate and ambiguous statements to a federal judge to get arrest and criminal search warrants against Mayfield.

The U.S. government abused at least three powers during its investigation and arrest of Mayfield: (1) the expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in the PATRIOT Act, (2) National Security Letters and (3) the material witness statute.
Mayfield v. United States case has profound implications for civil liberties, executive power, the Patriot Act. Consequently, on Sept. 26, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in Portland, Oregon ruled that using the act to authorize secret searches and wiretapping to gather criminal evidence - instead of intelligence gathering - violates the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. “For over 200 years, this nation has adhered to the rule of law - with unparalleled success. A shift to a nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill-advised,” Aiken wrote.

Welcoming Judge Aikin’s decision, Elden Rosenthal said: “Judge Aiken, in striking down the challenged provisions of the Patriot Act, has upheld both the tradition of judicial independence, and our nation’s most cherished principle of the right to be secure in one’s own home. We are relieved that the Bill of Rights can be honored and preserved even in times of perceived crisis.”

Source: OpEdNews.com

Cuba Regrets 'Past Homophobia'

December 14, 2007

Gerardo Arreola (nuestrosricos.blogspot.com)

Excerpts:

Cuba considers the official homophobia of the past decades “an error” but this period still needs discussing: ”what happened has to be analysed,” says sexologist Mariela Castro Espín. The director of the National Centre of Sex Education (Cenesex) announced at the start of last year a legal initiative to recognise the rights of the transsexuals to identity and to clinical attention, a proposal that has been reformulated through discussion. The project, which still awaits legislative passage, has incorporated among other points the rights of free sexual orientation… and of adoption for same sex pairs, comparable to heterosexual unions. Mariela (is) daughter of the stand-in President, Raúl Castro, and Vilma Espín, the late defender of gender rights.

She points out that “in the history of a human being, errors are made and one has to go on learning and taking lessons from those mistakes. But institutions also commit errors and have to be capable of recognising why it was a mistake and what it is going to do so that the mistakes are not repeated, what laws have to be established, which values have to be instituted”.

“The errors which Cuba committed were very similar to those that were and still are committed in many countries. Cuba was a reflection of the world. The same happened here that happened in other places, only that much more got out because it was expected that a Socialist revolution could not commit those errors because it was a revolution for the emancipation of man. The ideology at that time was permeated with homophobia and prejudices. The Communist parties were very homophobic. It is recently that they have more inclusive attitudes.”

Link:
Published in La Jornada, Mexico, on December 10, 2007.

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JG: Persecutions, pogroms, witch hunts and other types of discriminations are things that we should stay away from. People may have different attitudes and opinions toward alternative lifestyles, but staying civil and inclusiveness is the important thing. In the USA, the homophobia of the GOP, is something that most sane people do not want to associate themselves with.

Let's end this useless grudge we have against Cuba

Salt Lake Tribune

Barb Guy

Article Last Updated: 12/15/2007 02:32:05 PM MST

Recently about 40 Utahns and another 10 or so friends from around the country received U.S. visas to legally tour Cuba for a week.

My favorite experience there, one that brings a smile whenever it comes back to me, is this:

We visit a school for blind children. We're there to see the facility, meet students and educators and deliver school supplies. We are greeted by a large display reading, "El Bloqueo es Genocidio" (The blockade is genocide), referring to the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba.

Genocide is quite a word. Many of us wonder how we will be received.

We are warmly welcomed by the principal and invited to tour the classrooms. We visit children who are learning vocational skills. Their teacher says because of the American embargo they have a terrible time getting art paper. A proud young girl presents us with hand-colored bookmarks. I bend down to accept mine, thank her in Spanish, and am surprised to receive a kiss. We visit another classroom where the students are using prehistoric Braille machines.

We convene in a multipurpose room where the children have prepared a program for us. Alone, in pairs and as a whole group, the kids sing songs. Children who still have some sight help their fellow students to the microphone. Older boys play conga and bongo drums and one of the teachers tears it up on the piano.

During the popular song about a farm girl from Guantanamo - a song that always makes me nervous because of the United States' uninvited presence and un-American behavior at Guantanamo - instead of trouble, magic happens. The visitors start to sing along and the children begin to dance.

Utahns leave their seats, take the hands of blind Cuban children and pair off until nearly everyone is on their feet, singing and dancing without respect to race, age, language or ability. The children are beaming, the adults are beaming, teachers and visitors have tears in their eyes.

The song and the dancing, fueled by powerful drumming and an incessant, ringing Cuban piano, goes on for 10 or 15 minutes. It's frenetic, it's chaos, it's pure joy. When it's over, everyone is spent, sweaty, laughing, hugging and smiling. Several sets of dance partners kiss one another on the cheek.

A few minutes later, I try out a new phrase on the piano player, - iSergio, que pasaste! (You've outdone yourself!) He effusively hugs and kisses me.

Heading home, my flight is canceled and I have an unscheduled 12-hour wait in Havana's Jose Marti International Airport. I try not to spend it worrying I will become part of some international incident. Instead I think about Jose Marti, Cuban hero, airport namesake and writer of the poem that became the song, "Guantanamera."

Then I smile, remembering the school, the dancing, all the kisses. Everywhere we've been, the Cuban people have been gracious, friendly and warm.

What would Americans do if people who we had been taught were perpetrators of a genocide against us showed up to tour our schools? Would we give them kisses and gifts? Would we joyously dance with them?

Is the United States guilty of genocide against Cuba? Certainly not as I understand the word. But I do think we're guilty of holding a grudge well past any usefulness.

I don't see any reason to continue the economic embargo. Cuba is a poor country that could use many of the things we have in abundance here. I picture the happy little school that needs modern supplies and, as Jose Marti says in "Guantanamera," "I want to share my good fortune with the poor people of the earth."

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* BARB GUY is a regular contributor to these pages.

Minister: More than $2 billion will upgrade Cuba's transportation system over 5 years

International Herald Tribune

The Associated Press

Published: December 15, 2007

HAVANA: Cuba will spend more than $2 billion over five years to upgrade its dilapidated public transportation system, state media reported Saturday.

The Communist Party newspaper Granma quoted Transportation Minister Jorge Luis Sierra saying the improvements include adding 1,500 buses to the public fleet.

Vice Minister Joel Beltran Archer said that more than $1 billion already had been invested in the nation's public transport in three years as the country struggles to recover from a severe financial crisis in the early 1990s after the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba lost its preferential trade.

Other plans include extensive repairs to the pothole-pocked main highways across the Caribbean island and the addition of more than 1,000 taxis to urban streets in the coming year.

Cubans frequently criticize the island's transportation system, saying there are not enough decent buses and other vehicles to travel to work and school quickly and efficiently. Interim leader Raul Castro, filling in during his older brother Fidel's illness, has made improving public transport a key priority.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Blackwater: Shadow Army

Debasement of our currency

What Ron Paul is saying about the debasement of our currency is 100% correct. In 1970 we bough our first house for $16,000. After Nixon removed the gold backing of the dollar, to fight another very unpopular war in Vietnam, the long nightmare that has become the United States of America began. Today, you can’t even buy a used car with that amount and you need close to a quarter of a million dollars to buy a house.

Today, we have a president who would rather spend $800 billion dollars in the Iraq quagmire, ignoring very important problems here at home: 47 million Americans with no health insurance, rampant dishonesty and corruption in Washington D.C., the promotion and implementation of torture methods, renditions and secret jails, huge deficits at home and in our trade balances, the outsourcing of American jobs to cheap labor countries, and last but not least, a crashing dollar.

The day of reckoning is slowly approaching!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

U.S. Cuba policy: ending 50 years of failure

Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson, USA (Ret)*

Prepared Testimony to the Committee on Finance

United States Senate

11 December 2007

Thank you, Chairman Baucus, Ranking Minority Member Grassley and members of the committee, for the opportunity to testify today on U.S. policy with respect to Cuba.

For almost half a century, U.S. policy with respect to Cuba has failed—miserably.

The latest indicator of this failed policy is that while our President talks of transforming the regime in Cuba, he is apparently unaware that Cuba has already undergone regime change and the Cuban people have accepted it and await, with no small degree of excitement, what their new national leader, Raul Castro, using the existing ministries, bureaucracy, and legislature, will do—particularly with respect to reshaping the island’s economy.

* Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, USA (ret.), is co-chair of the U.S.-Cuba 21st Century Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation. He is also the Pamela C. Harriman Visiting Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary. Col. Wilkerson served as Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2001-2005.

Complete PDF File (Adobe reader needed)

Small California town recalls five officials who wanted to bring Blackwater into their community

Blackwater Potrero Recall an Unbelievable Success

by: Julia Rosen

Wed Dec 12, 2007 at 00:30:49 AM PST

(full disclosure: I work for Courage)

With ten ballots to be counted tomorrow this is a preliminary count, but it is simply huge! Talk about people-powered politics... The recall was an overwhelming success.

All five members of the Planning Group who voted to approve Blackwater's plans were recalled by unbelievable margins. The election will be certified within two days and the Save Potrero slate will take office, hopefully in time for their Thursday meeting.

Keep in mind that Bush won by 25.8% in 2004. Everybody was recalled by over 60% of the vote. Gordon Hammers, who has been the most vocal Blackwater supporter and served as chair of the group, was recalled by nearly 70% of the vote.

All of the numbers are on the flip. Go check 'em out. Just an incredible victory. They did a phenomenal job on GOTV, getting 160 or so out of the 190 who signed the original petition against Blackwater to turn in their ballots. The people of Potrero had an unbelievable victory tonight, but will need all of our help as the fight moves on to the next level: the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

Can you tell from the superlatives that I am just a wee bit excited? These folks are my heroes.

Source: Calitics

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JG: First defeat for Bush's mercenary army in Iraq!

Israeli warmonger: we are preparing to strike Iran

The United States and Israel are the two greatest dangers to world peace today.

Will Israel strike Iran based on secret orders received from the United States? It is a very strong possibility.

Here are the declarations of Israel’s Armed Forces Chief of Staff according to Haaretz:

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi called for international pressure on Iran, but said that the IDF recognized the need to prepare in the event that global efforts fail.

"The international community must act with determination to stop the nuclearization of Iran, but should this action not succeed, we in the Israel Defence Forces must prepare for any scenario," Ashkenazi said.

"In the coming years the need to strike at significant long-range targets [in Iran] will become far more important, therefore the capability to act both defensively and offensively against various threats will be upgraded greatly with a strong emphasis on long-range capability," he said without elaborating.

500 U.S. artists write to Bush regarding his Cuba policies

Five hundred prominent artists, writers, and academics from the United States have sent a letter to President George W. Bush asking that the Cuba blockade be terminated and asking him to stop impeding cultural exchanges between the two nations.

“We write to you as representatives of the cultural sphere in the United States. We write to you as citizens of the United States. We want to express our consternation for the persistent hostility of your administration towards Cuba. We write to publicly declare our opposition to policies which maintain us apart from our Cuban colleagues, and hinder the cultural exchanges between the two nations. We believe it is time to promote cooperation and a constructive relationship with Cuba,” says the missive.

Among the signers are popular actors such as Sean Penn (2004 Oscar for Mystic River), Peter Coyote (ET and Erin Brocovich), Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover, and famed novelists Alice Walker (The Color Purple), William Kennedy (1983 Pulitzer for Iron Stem), Gore Vidal (Juliano and Williwaw) and Cristina Garcia (finalist for the 1992 National Award for Dreaming in Cuban).

In the creative sector signers of the letter were guitarist Carlos Santana, composer and singer Tom Waits, producer ant guitarist Ry Cooder, co-leader of the first Buena Vista Social Club; rockers Tre Cool (from the band Greenday), Mickey Hart (ex member of the Grateful Dead) and Tom Morello (ex from Rage Against the Machine and currently with Audioslave); folk icons Holly Near and Bonnie Raitt, with nine Grammys in her career, and salsero Andy Montañez.

Many adhesions come from the Latin intellectual community, among them Cuban-Americans academics Nelson Pérez Valdés, Enrique Sacerio Gari and Lisandro Pérez.

Source: Granma

Made-in-China products shine in Cuba

Chine View - Xinhua

2007-12-13 12:58:44

HAVANA, Dec. 12 (Xinhua) -- Bilateral trade between Cuba and China continued to witness a noticeable increase, and more made-in-China products have become a part of Cuban people's daily life.

Bilateral trade totaled some 1.87 billion U.S. dollars in the January-October period this year, up 30.9 percent compared with the same period of last year, according to the statistics published by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. China's exports to Cuba in the period reached 921.02 million dollars while Cuba's exports to China were 948.82 million dollars.

This makes China Cuba's second largest trade partner after Venezuela and places Cuba as China's largest Latin American trade partner.

Cuba is the first Latin American country which established diplomatic ties with China. The two countries are enjoying one of the best times of their 47-year long diplomatic relationship, which is witnessed by their booming economic and trade exchanges and cooperation.

Made-in-China products have a strong and shining presence in this Caribbean country with goods in such sectors as communications, agriculture and transportation, while Chinese-madehome appliances and services are emerging as new stars due to their quality.

Currently, most of the 11.2 million Cuban homes have made-in-China home appliances, either televisions, refrigerators or cooking pots, light bulbs or water pumps.

As the Cuban government has implemented the Energy Revolution program to enhance energy efficiency, the Cubans are encouraged to replace the old consumption products with more energy-saving ones.

And thus the Chinese consumption equipment is becoming more and more popular among the Cubans as they are modern and efficient with attractive prices compared with products from other countries.

Many Cuban officials have said on different occasions that the Chinese goods are technically advanced at good prices which have benefited the Cuban economy and the Cuban people.

In 2006, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, on a television appearance, highlighted the advantages of Chinese products.

The potential for economic and trade cooperation between the two countries, which have enjoyed a long-term friendship, is very bright, said their leaders, who are planning to do more to bring their cooperation level to a new high.

Negotiations on enhancing the trade between the two countries are held annually by their commissions for economic and trade relations.

The 20th round of the talks is scheduled for later this month in China's Beijing to analyze the results of the past trade accords and to discuss new short- and medium-term plans to boost trade.

China and Cuba have regarded these meetings as a good way for improving their mutual understanding and exploring new collaboration fields in an effort to strengthen their all-round friendly ties.

Yang Shidi, the Economic and Trade advisor of the Chinese embassy in Cuba, said that the bilateral trade ties are moving in a favorable trend and getting stronger every day, which sets a good example of cooperation and friendship between China and the rest of the world.

Editor: Feng Tao

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JG: Its is great seeing this booming trade between China and Cuba. Their economic and political relations are based on cooperation and friendship and not on the imposition of hegemonic designs.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Are central banks hitting the panic button?

The debacle of capitalist speculation in the financial markets continues.

MSNBC reports the following:

Central banks step in to attack credit crisis

The world's central banks unleashed a co-ordinated assault on the credit squeeze in global financial markets on Wednesday, setting off a wild day of trading as investors tried to make sense of a barrage of measures to increase market liquidity.

The Federal Reserve, European Central Bank, Bank of England, Bank of Canada and the Swiss National Bank all announced steps to make cash more readily available to banks. The Bank of Japan declared its support.

The co-ordinated effort is designed to combat what analysts have described as the worst credit crisis on record that follows the collapse of America's sub-prime mortgage market.

Here is what one financial analyst (Jeremy Warner) wrote in the Financial Times of London:

This is big stuff. Coordinated action is a once every five-to-ten-year event and it only happens if policymakers are truly panicked.

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JG: I am not a financial expert, but the fact that banks are running out of cash is a very bad omen.

Diaz-Balart amasses million dollar campaign fund

El Duende, a Spanish Radio commentator in Miami has reported that the ultra right U.S. congressman from Miami already has a one million dollars political campaign account.

U.S. Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart knows of the results of a poll taken in his electoral district which shows that he would have a very tough time in defeating former Hialeah Mayor and Democratic Party candidate Raul Martinez, who is very popular in South Florida. According to friends of Martinez, he plans to mount a major fund raising drive, penny by penny.

El Duende imagines a possible Raul campaign slogan: “A brown penny for Raul, a man of the people, who walks, but works better than a Lincoln.”

GOP theocrats decide who their leader is going to be

From the New York Times:

Mike Hukabee considers liberalism to be a cancer on Christianity. He is an admirer of the late Jerry Falwell (whose son, Jerry Jr., recently endorsed his candidacy) and subscribes wholeheartedly to the principles of the Moral Majority. He also affirms the Baptist Faith and Message statement: ‘‘The Holy Bible . . . has truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy.’’

Will he bring a native brand of the Taliban to the United States?

Cuba, free and sovereign, will continue to resist the designs of US imperialism

Granma International

Havana. December 11, 2007

Cuba to sign international human rights agreements

BY PEDRO MARGOLLES —Granma International staff writer—

CUBA is shortly to sign two important agreements in relation to human rights, announced Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque during a press conference commemorating International Human Rights Day on December 10.

The minister specified that these are the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Both instruments, of widely recognized importance in this area, are fully protected by the national judicial code and particularly by the work and trajectory of the Cuban revolution, he pointed out.

Pérez Roque said that this political decision will be effected in a few months and is an expression of Cuba’s commitment to maintaining close cooperation with the United Nations based on respect for the Cuba’s rights and sovereignty.

He noted that while manipulation of the issue against Cuba was ongoing and the United States had turned the UN Commission into an inquisition of those countries opposed to its imperial domination, and used the issue of human rights to justify its blockade of Cuba, the minimum conditions necessary for Cuba to consider new agreements in this area did not exist.

Pérez Roque explained that the conditions have now changed with the establishing of the Human Rights Council, to which Cuba was elected as a founding member with the support of two-thirds of the international community’s member countries and because, as is well known, the spurious mandates that the U.S. imposed against Cuba in this body have been discontinued.

After 20 years of struggle in defense of Cuba’s dignity, given the new situation in which the issue is not being manipulated and imperialist efforts have been frustrated, the conditions have been created to take new steps to express the political will of the country. Cuba will not act, and has never acted, under pressure, Pérez Roque emphasized.

Once the 3rd UN commission decided to discontinue its spurious anti-Cuban posture, the country has moved forward with several international cooperation agreements, he said.

He offered as an example the recent visit to the island by the UN Secretary for the right to food, and now comes the Cuban government’s decision to sign the aforementioned agreements in the early part of 2008.

The decision is an example of what the country can do without political conditions being applied, without being subjected to unjust measures, he said.

He announced that in March of 2009, Cuba will report to the Council as part of the universal regular mechanism of periodic review established by the new body.

He explained that with the equal treatment of all countries, Cuba is scheduled to be present at that time and a serious report will be prepared in the spirit of cooperation. It will describe the country’s accomplishments and current situation.

He clarified that this will to cooperate will be maintained as long as the principle is held up of no singling out, no selectivity or discriminatory use of the human rights issue to damage countries that do not submit the U.S. imperialism’s dictates.

As long as the new situation is maintained, Cuba is willing to move forward along this path, but if the issue should unfortunately become politicized again, if it should become strained, Cuba will take up the struggle once more.

END TO THE BLOCKADE AND TO TORTURE IN GUANTANAMO

The Cuban foreign minister reiterated the demand that the U.S. government end its brutal blockade against the Cuban people since it constitutes a clear violation of human rights, as has been overwhelmingly affirmed by the UN General Assembly in successive resolutions.


He called for the closing of the torture center operated by the United States on the Guantánamo Naval Base and for the return to Cuba of this illegally occupied territory.

He highlighted the unjust situation of the five Cubans held as prisoners in U.S. penitentiaries and demanded their liberation, as well as visitation rights for two spouses of the prisoners who have not seen their husbands since 1998.

The minister demanded that the government of the United States charge the terrorist Luis Posada Carriles as such and proceed with a trial or extradite him to Venezuela as this country has requested.

During his comments Pérez Roque reiterated the pleasure with which his country received the news of the Guatemalan National Prize for Human Rights being awarded to the Cuban medical brigade working in that country. The volunteers have provided 22 million consultations and assisted 55,000 births.

He recalled that currently 37,000 Cubans, including 18,000 doctors, are working in 79 countries in the area of public health.

He added that the total of patients who have had their sight restored through Operation Miracle Mission in 32 countries is fast approaching one million.

As part of Cuba’s contribution to helping students with few resources, there are now in Cuba 30,000 scholarship students from 121 countries and more are being trained in Cuba, while 45,000 from the Third World have already graduated.

Finally, Pérez Roque recalled Cuba’s support to world literacy efforts with the ‘Yes, I can do it’ method, through which 2,700,000 people in 22 countries have learned to read and write.

For these reasons and for other human rights enjoyed, Cubans can celebrate this day with their heads held high, he concluded.

Translated by Granma International

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Huckabee does a flip-flop on Cuba

The GOP candidate now supports a trade embargo against the island nation, a stance sure to satisfy hard-line Cuban exiles.

By Peter Wallsten, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

December 11, 2007

MIAMI -- As governor of Arkansas five years ago, Mike Huckabee joined a bipartisan chorus of politicians who concluded that the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba was bad for businesses. Now that he's a top-tier candidate for president, Huckabee has decided he favors the embargo -- so much so that he vowed Monday to outdo even President Bush in strangling the regime of Cuban President Fidel Castro and punishing those who do business there.

Huckabee all but acknowledged the political expediency of his shifting views as he stood Monday in a Cuban restaurant in Miami and explained why he wrote a letter to Bush in 2002 describing how the Cuba trade embargo was hurting Arkansas rice growers.

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JG: Another Johny-come-lately unprincipled Repug politician, who would rather stuff his pockets with the ultra right fascists money from Miami.

Cuba to sign UN human rights treaty

Radio Netherlands

Havana (11 December) - Cuba says that it will allow United Nations human rights observers into the country from 2009. Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque has announced that in March Cuba will sign the UN treaty on political and civil rights.

Up to now Havana has refused sign the treaty from 1976. Cuba wants full cooperation with the United Nations 'on the basis of respect for our national sovereignty' according to Minister Perez.

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JG: Cuba must continue to keep an eye on the ultra-right fascists from Miami, who will try to use any opening to create trouble.

Mexican AG: Cuba-Americans criminal elements control smuggling from Cuba

Associated Press

By MARK STEVENSON

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Cuban-Americans are financing the smuggling Cuban immigrants through Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, an illegal trade that is fomented by the U.S. policy of granting Cubans automatic asylum, Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said Monday.

A violent ring of immigrant smugglers operates in Mexico, where Cubans land on the coasts in rickety boats before crossing overland to the U.S. border, Medina Mora told reporters.

"This has been legally proved, that people of Cuban origin but who are citizens of the United States are involved, financing these people-smuggling operations, obviously with the complicity of Mexicans," the attorney general said.

"This has to do with U.S. policy toward Cubans," he said. "Those who make it to (U.S.) territory by their own means can get automatic refugee status, so that policy serves as an incentive" to smuggle Cubans here.

Under the so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy, the U.S. turns back Cubans intercepted on the seas but grants asylum to most who make it to shore. To avoid capture by U.S. authorities before making it to land, many Cubans decide to go through Mexico.

Mexico is struggling to deal with a series of gangland-style slayings apparently related to the trafficking of migrants from Cuba, which lies only about 130 miles east of the Yucatan Peninsula, just slightly farther by boat from Cuba than Florida.

In a new trend, nearly 90 percent of all undocumented Cubans who make it to the United States now travel overland rather than reaching U.S. shores by boat, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Mexico also is having problems with its burgeoning population of detained Cuban migrants, most of whom want to go to the U.S. Most Cubans are released after being held 90 days at a Mexican immigration center. Only about one-third of all those arrested in 2006 were repatriated to Cuba, Mexican migration officials say.

Last week, three Cuban immigrants were treated for dehydration at a Mexican hospital after going on a hunger strike to demand release from a detention center. They were returned to the center and are awaiting decisions in their cases.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cuba to expel ten Spanish women

12/11/2007

News agency DPA has reported that the Cuban government will expel ten Spanish women who interfered in the island's internal affairs.

Here is the report:

Barcelona - Ten Spanish women were Monday being held by Cuban police at their hotel in Havana after attending a protest staged by dissidents, a youth organization said in Barcelona, Spain.

Police took away the passports of the women, who were members of the youth wing of the Catalan regionalist party CDC in Spain.

It was expected that the women, who included a Barcelona city councilor, would shortly be expelled from Cuba. The women had traveled to the island to back dissidents in what they described as attempts to achieve democracy and human rights.

The women joined a march of some 50 Cuban women belonging to a group called Dames in White, which campaigns for the release of 75 dissidents jailed in 2003.

The Cuban embassy in Madrid meanwhile issued a statement on the occasion of the World Human Rights Day, saying that there had not been a single case of 'torture, extra-judicial execution or forced disappearance' in the history of the Cuban revolution.

Everyone in Cuba has access to basic services such as health and education, the embassy added.

GOP idiots vow to continue failed Cuba policies

In a debate held yesterday in the heart of Gusanoland, Miami, Florida, and as expected, the reactionary candidates of the Republican Party, vowed to continue the failed and world-wide condemned U.S.-Cuba policy.

Here are some quotes:

Senator and B-actor Fred Thompson drew applause when he supported the decades-long US embargo against Cuba.

Thompson said that if he is elected president he would end the Castro regime: "I'm going to make sure that he didn't survive 10 US presidents."

"The course for America is to continue our isolation of Cuba," said former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney to the cheers of the Hispanic audience in Florida, whose Cuban-American community was pivotal in President George W. Bush's win [via massive electoral fraud] in 2000 and promises a tight state battle for Republican and Democratic candidates in 2008.

JG: If you are a well informed individual you know what the numbers 184-4 mean. It is a world wide repudiation of the embargo and other elements of the failed U.S. Cuba policy.

VOTE DEMOCRATIC IN 2008!

CARICOM pledges friendship with Cuba

Trinidad and Tobago Express

Sunday, December 9th 2007

FIRM lasting "friendship" has been pledged to Cuba by the 15-member Caribbean Community in a statement yesterday marking "Caricom-CUBA DAY".

Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur, in making the statement as current chairman of Caricom, saluted a "number of significant milestones" in the 35-year relationship with the government and people of the Republic of Cuba.

Speaking from Guyana where he chaired the 12th Special Meeting of Community Heads of Government , Prime Minister Arthur said Caricom wished to "reiterate the call for lifting of the unjust economic, commercial and financial embargo" imposed by the US against that Caribbean nation.

This stand by Caricom, said Arthur, was consistent with the Community's recognition of "the right of every nation to determine its own development priorities and strategies..."

As Cuba and Caricom celebrate "another year of friendship", he said, "we look forward to continued co- operation" and also to Cuba "reclaiming its rightful place in the councils of the hemisphere (an implicit reference to the Organisation of American States)...."

On behalf of the governments and people of Caricom, Arthur also extended "collective wishes for the well-being and continued recovery of His Excellency President Fidel Castro Ruz". -Rickey Singh

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Just as bad as the GOP: Nancy Polosi briefed on waterboarding, did not object

Hill Briefed on Waterboarding in 2002

In Meetings, Spy Panels' Chiefs Did Not Protest, Officials Say

By Joby Warrick and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, December 9, 2007; Page A01

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

More...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

One tape brought down one President; will two destroyed tapes bring down a second one?

The furor over the two tapes that were destroyed by the CIA keeps growing and growing. I am not an attorney, but if this is not a clear cut case of obstruction of justice, I don’t know what is.

The Bush and Cheney zealots will violate any law, including our Constitution. Wake up America! Our Democracy is threatened by the current occupant of the White House.

IMPEACH!

Today’s New York Times report.

Cuban Medical Brigade in Guatemala receives Human Rights Award

December 8, 2007

The Cuban Medical Brigade which works in Guatemala received the National Award of Human Rights "Padre Manolo Maquieira," during an act presided by Oscar Berger, President of Guatemala, and Eduerdo Stein, Vice-President. Also present were Álvaro Colom and Rafael Espada, President and Vice-Precident elect of the republic.

Source: Granma

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JG: I bet you will not hear the U.S. capitalist corporate-controlled press talk or report about the award.

Cuba offers more land to private farmers

Guardian Unlimited

Friday December 7 2007

By Marc Frank

LA VALLITA, Cuba, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Cuban farmers are being offered more land to boost agricultural production in a sign the communist government under acting president Raul Castro wants to encourage more private enterprise.

State officials are meeting with private farmers and cooperatives across Cuba, and participants say any farmers not working the maximum 167 acres allowed can now apply for more land as long as they are productive.

"We asked for another 135 hectares (3,375 acres) and are waiting for a response, but I'm sure we will get them," said Evelio Cisneros, the head of a cattle cooperative in La Vallita, in Cuba's most important agricultural province of Camaguey.

Cuba has around 250,000 family farms and 1,100 private cooperatives, an island of private ownership in an economy where the state controls 90 percent of production and individual initiative is limited to some food services, room rentals and a set number of trades, from clowns to mechanics.

Since ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro handed power over to his brother Raul Castro 16 months ago, expectations inside and outside Cuba have grown that the acting president will loosen up state regulation and expand the tiny private sector.

Grappling with the inefficient economy, Raul Castro has set up a commission to study property issues, and the land grants initiative is the first concrete step he has taken to increase the size of the private sector.

With prices for imported food soaring and local output falling, the younger Castro has put agricultural reform at the top of his agenda.

"We face the imperative of making our land produce more, and the land is there to be tilled," he said in a speech in July in Camaguey, adding that the state must offer producers adequate incentives.

REVOLUTION

When Fidel Castro seized power in a guerrilla uprising in 1959, three quarters of the land in Cuba was owned by large landowners, many of them foreigners. They were stripped of their property -- the first to be expropriated was the Castro family ranch -- while tens of thousands of small farmers and agricultural laborers were allowed to keep plots of land. But the state took for itself 64 percent of the nationalized land, setting up state farms.

In Camaguey, Cuba's main cattle ranching province, private farmers own only 20 percent of the land and the state holds the rest, often in unproductive farms where land is falling into disuse.

The weekly economic publication Opciones recently reported that sickle bush and other weeds have become "a plague", covering one third of Cuba's 3.6 million hectares (90 million acres) of arable land.

A group of Raul Castro's aides is drawing up a plan for what to do with the large tracts of vacant state land, with a deadline set for the end of this year, Communist Party sources say.

Local farmers say they are the key to any reform.

"When I was young I joined the revolution because my father and I worked like slaves for an American dairy company right here," said family farmer Alfredo Fernandez.
"Our lives are much better now, but the truth is the area used to produce 1,000 liters of milk a day and now maybe 200 liters."

(Editing by Anthony Boadle and Kieran Murray)

Cuba allows change in pay system

Los Angeles Times

December 8, 2007

HAVANA -- Cuba said Friday that it would allow foreign companies to pay Cuban employees with hard currency, a move that legalizes widespread under-the- table payments but also requires workers to declare and pay tax on that income.

Representatives of 698 foreign companies registered with Cuba's Chamber of Commerce were told by Finance Ministry officials this week that as of Jan. 1, they must record all hard currency payments to employees.

Foreign businesses in communist Cuba employ workers through government agencies, which are paid in hard currency.

In turn, the government agencies pay the employees in Cuban pesos, which are worth much less.

To supplement the low wages, companies often pay their Cuban employees an additional amount under the table in hard currency, and authorities have turned a blind eye, until now.

Cuba apologizes for police raid on Catholic church

Fri Dec 7, 2007 1:41pm EST

HAVANA, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Cuban officials have apologized to the Roman Catholic Church for a police raid on a parish church in eastern Cuba this week to arrest dissidents, the Archbishop of Santiago said on Friday.

"The authorities said they were sorry," Monsignor Dionisio Garcia told Reuters by telephone. "We discussed how to avoid it happening again."

Plainclothes police stormed the grounds of Santa Teresita church on Tuesday in the eastern city of Santiago and beat dissidents in the parish hall used for Masses.

Pepper spray was used on the dissidents and seven were handcuffed and taken away, according to the parish priest, Jose Conrado Rodriguez. The dissidents were freed the next day, a human rights group said.

The two dozen government opponents had marched 20 blocks to protest the arrest of a fellow dissident and entered the church to attend Mass.

The raid came at a time of warmer ties between the communist government and the Church. Cuba was an atheist state until 1992, when freedom of religious worship was officially recognized ahead of a visit by Pope John Paul II in 1998.

Relations have strengthened further recently as the Church withheld criticism of Cuba's social problems.

Monsignor Garcia said the Rev. Rodriguez, an outspoken critic of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, was not held responsible by the authorities for the incident. (Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Xavier Briand)

Friday, December 07, 2007

CIA is worse than the KGB and Hitler's SS

One more time, dark details of the activities of the CIA have been published by The New York Times. They destroyed video tapes of "enemy combatants" being interrogated. I have no doubts that these tapes would have shown the systematic torture methods used by the agency.

These people, including George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, have no scruples. They all should be impeached, removed from office and thrown in jail. They are criminals. The reputation of the U.S. throughout the world is in tatters because of the repugnant acts of these zealots.

Every day brings new details of the unlawful activities of Bush, Cheney and his gang of thugs. IMPEACH!

NYT excerpts:

Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said General Hayden’s claim that the tapes were destroyed to protect C.I.A. officers “is not credible.”

“Millions of documents in C.I.A. archives, if leaked, would identify C.I.A. officers,” Mr. Malinowski said. “The only difference here is that these tapes portray potentially criminal activity. They must have understood that if people saw these tapes, they would consider them to show acts of torture, which is a felony offense.”

It has been widely reported that Abu Zubaydah was subjected to several tough physical tactics. But the current and former intelligence officials who described the decision to destroy the videotapes said that C.I.A. officers had judged that the release of photos or videos depicting his interrogation would provoke a strong reaction.

Mensaje de Elián González al Comandante


Elián González and his family on his 14th birthday

Abuelo Fidel:

Recibir los libros que me regalaste me provocó gran emoción y lo que sientes por mí me compromete a seguir tu ejemplo. Tú, que eres el verdadero héroe de cada una de las batallas que se han librado en nuestro país y que eres el símbolo de cada cubano digno.

Cuando visito con mis compañeros del proyecto Por los Caminos de la Historia lugares donde ocurrieron hechos importantes para el triunfo de esta Revolución, siempre pienso en ti y en los hombres que emprendieron esas luchas, y los respeto y admiro.

En este día, donde se conmemora un aniversario más de esta batalla que empezó nuestro pueblo bajo tu guía por mi liberación y por el bienestar de todos los niños y jóvenes cubanos, no puedo dejar de darte nuestro agradecimiento.

Para mí y para mis compañeros es importante tener un maestro que, cuando lo necesito, se convierte en mi amigo; una escuela donde podemos hacer todas las cosas que queremos, donde aprendemos y nos divertimos. En ella aprendo a bailar, canto en un coro, compito en diferentes deportes, acampo y me preparo para impartir clases en algunas de las asignaturas de las que soy monitor. He hecho amigos, me he ganado el respeto de mis compañeros y me siento feliz.

Para las personas en mi municipio, la Batalla de Ideas ha convertido a Cárdenas en una ciudad mejor; cada 6 de diciembre se reparan centros, se crean nuevos lugares para el beneficio de todos, se ha ampliado el servicio de salud, hay nuevos centros de enseñanza y lugares culturales.

Amigo, como una vez me llamaste y estoy orgulloso de eso, con nosotros puedes contar para siempre.

Gracias por el resto de los regalos para mí y para mis hermanos.

Saludos de toda la familia.

Un abrazo fuerte,

Elián González Brotons

6 de diciembre del 2007

Romney Speech Reflects Inaccurate Understanding Of Church-State Relations, Says Americans United

Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Those Who Don't Follow Any Particular Religion Are Good Americans Too, Says AU's Lynn

Today’s speech by Mitt Romney on the role of religion in American politics reflects an inaccurate understanding of the constitutional relationship between church and state, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“I was disappointed in Romney’s statement,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “The founders of our Constitution meant for religion and government to be completely separate. Romney is wrong when he says we are in danger of taking separation too far or at risk of establishing a religion of secularism.

“I was particularly outraged that Romney thinks that the Constitution is somehow based on faith and that judges should rule accordingly, “ Lynn said. “That’s a gross misunderstanding of the framework of our constitutional system.

“I think it is telling that Romney quoted John Adams instead of Thomas Jefferson or James Madison,” Lynn continued. “Jefferson and Madison are the towering figures who gave us religious liberty and church-state separation.

“I was also disappointed that Romney doesn’t seem to recognize that many Americans are non-believers,” Lynn continued. “Polls repeatedly show that millions of people have chosen to follow no spiritual path at all. They’re good Americans too, and Romney ought to have recognized that fact.

“I am an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, and I believe in my faith,” Lynn added. “But I believe just as strongly that non-believers are good Americans too. I wish Romney had said that.”

Americans United is a nonpartisan organization that takes no position on candidates for any elective office. Lynn said he is responding solely to constitutional inaccuracies in Romney’s remarks, not taking a stand on his candidacy.

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JG: I happen to agree with Reverend Lynn. Although I went through a long period of Agnosticism, I am a believer too. We all know what the Inquisition gave to the world, and we have seen what the Taliban brought to Afghanistan. We MUST keep a wall of separation between State and organized religion.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Capitalist Censorship: The comment that the Huffington Post would not publish

Today, the Huffington Post published an article titled:

Moodys': Housing Prices To Drop 30 Percent Before Slump Ends

and the URL for it was:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2007/12/06/
moodys-housing-prices-t_n_75581.html

After reading the different comments and laughing a lot about the funny people that have no idea about how capitalism works (commandment 1: Greed, commandment 2: Greed, commandment 3: Greed, commandment 4: Greed)
AD INFINITUM!


I proceeded to add my comment. It was published for about 15 seconds and then deleted by HuffPo. Not only did they remove my comment, they removed the whole article. You see, HuffPo is a capitalist blog and I am a committed Socialist, who defends Cuba’s right to follow a different path, and defend its independence and national sovereignty by any means necessary. There is nothing that a Capitalist hates more than a Socialist who lives in the United States. The gusanos and fascists in Miami have told me many times: If you like Socialism so much, why don’t you go live in Cuba? My answer: para joderlos a todos ustedes y reirme de lo tontos e imbéciles que ustedes son. Pobres gusanitos, siguen esperando que Bush mande a los marines a "liberar" a Cuba, por que ellos no tienen los cojones necesarios para hacerlo ellos mismos. Prefieren ir del Big Five al Big Mac de la Calle Ocho, escuchando al triple feo de Radio Mambi.

Here is the comment that HuffPo censored and removed:

The so called mortgage crisis in reality has to be called the dollar crisis. The dollar is crashing. It is no better than the old Monopoly game dollar. You practically need a barrel of that funny money to buy a house today. Capitalists love to speculate. We know how the stock market speculation of the roaring twenties ended. The crash of the dollar will make the Depression look like a boy scouts picnic. Spend, spend, and spend: we can pay for it with plastic. Spend, spend, and spend: we can pay for it with funny dollars.

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Note: What is funny money? Some call it fiat money. It is not backed by anything that has tangible value. It started in the United States back in 1970, when Tricky Dicky removed the gold backing of the U.S. currency.