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The Seasons of Change – What Happened to The Arab Spring?

In the several months since the onset of the “Arab Spring,” we have watched as presidents and prime-ministers lauded this so-called revolution as a fait accompli of democratic metamorphosis. Leaders like President Obama waited and watched just long enough to place an additional hand to the back of despots who were being pushed into the abyss of “change” and then springing onto the bandwagon of the new regimes as if these regimes were the 2nd Continental Congress of 1776 ratifying the Articles of Confederation. Jumping into the fray with “rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air,” Mr. Obama even trumpeted a non-war against the Libyan dictator to prove his support for “change” to the world and align himself staunchly with the Arab “springers.”

But, what have we seen in the weeks since all the soliloquy and gleeful rhetoric began? What direction has this metamorphosis taken? In Egypt, we have witnessed the expulsion of an autocrat only to be replaced by a military junta just as despotic and which has aligned itself with the radical Muslim Brotherhood for political expediency. These passionate “lovers of democracy” have brokered an agreement between the PLO and the Hamas, and shown support for the Hamas, a terrorist organization with absolutely no democratic foundation and clearly no vision for one. They have allowed Christian Copts to be murdered by the dozens, opened the Egyptian border with Gaza and allowed a massive Al Qaeda presence to arise in the Sinai. They have acquiesced to Iran, allowing its war ships to traverse the Suez Canal for the first time in decades, have threatened to end the 32-year-old Egypt-Israeli peace agreement and have scheduled a farcical shut-down of natural gas sales to Israel. And that is just Egypt! Time does not allow us to develop the remaining Kafkaesque scenarios in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and the like…but, so far the “Arab Spring” is transitioning into summer with no signs of democracy on the horizon.

Witness to Eight Executions in Cuba

Editor: I write this short introduction for I know both Ernesto Fernández Travieso, the Jesuit priest who presents what his brother Tomás Fernández Travieso witnessed as a political prisoner in Cuba when he was 18 years old. I knew their mother who protected me while worrying about her two sons. This is a tale of how Cuba arrested, tried and executed those who opposed the regime. They paid the ultimate sacrifice. We honor them by remembering.

– Guillermo I. Martínez

My brother Tommy recounts his trial in Havana on the day of the invasion of Bay of Pigs April 17, 1961 when the communist government, as retaliation, began to condemn political prisoners to the firing squad. This first group of eight was caught working in the resistance movement weeks or months before. Tapia Ruano (23), Campaneria (21), and Tomas (18) were students. My brother was the only witness in what happened that night.  

Ernesto Fernández Travieso, S.J

“50″ YEARS AGO

By Tomás Fernández-Travieso.

The sun was setting when we emerged from the trial. Luis Fernández-Caubí was the only lawyer that dared to defend our case. The trial took only 20 minutes; it was interrupted several times by the noise of the army tanks leaving La Cabaña fortress (site of the trials) racing towards Playa Girón (the Bay of Pigs): it was April 17, 1961.

Only those sentenced to die before the firing squads were kept in the chapel. The only one that we knew was already there was Carlos Rodríguez Cabo. The prosecutors were demanding a 30 year sentence for his partner in the struggle against Castro, Efrén Rodríguez López. Efrén would stay behind in the ward where we were jailed as they took us to be tried and when he came to say goodbye to us, very upset, he said: “Look, I hate to ask you this but I am sure you won’t be coming back here (meaning he was sure we were all destined for the firing squad). Say hello to Carlitos for me when you see him”. He could not utter another word as he embraced us crying.

Solving Our Nation’s STEM Crisis

In my previous blog posts I discussed our nation’s education crisis especially in the areas of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).  This is a multi-dimensional problem with no easy answers.  Below are some areas that we will need to focus on to fix the problem.

  • Increase Awareness/Education, we are in a Crisis- The first step to solving a crisis is to realize we are in a crisis. Our nation does not have a good understanding of the depth and breadth of our education crisis (especially in STEM fields) and the long term impacts this will have.
  • Fix National Education System- Over the years we have increased the amount of money we invest into our education system and in some cases invest nearly $10,000-$14,000 per student per year.  However, the outcomes and results have actually gotten worse compared to the rest of the world.  We need to strongly consider transforming the way we educate through leveraging technology and giving the parents in our communities the choice to spend this $10,000-$14,000 a year on the best school they can get their kids into.  The dropout rates in our urban communities are unacceptable and change needs to happen if we want to prosper in this century.
  • Measurement and Accountability- Who is accountable for increasing STEM graduation rates?  Is it the home/parents, local School Board, State Department of Education, or National Department of Education?  Who is accountable for the measuring and continuous improvement?  If we are going to be serious about improving STEM education, measurement and accountability will be vital.

Obama Panders to Latino Voters with Immigration Speech in El Paso

Two weeks ago President Obama gave yet another “major” speech on immigration, this time near the southern border in El Paso, Texas.  Once again he got on his high horse and presented himself as the benefactor of immigrants, reassuring everyone that he is committed to immigration reform, but blaming Congress –mainly Republicans- for the lack of action.

This act is frankly now becoming quite offensive to Latinos.  Does he think we are stupid? We know that he hasn’t lifted a finger to advance the immigration issue in Congress since he took office.  Nor has he engaged Republicans to build consensus for a bipartisan solution to the problem.  The only thing he has done is talk just to try to get our vote.

During the ’08 presidential campaign he promised us that he would tackle immigration on the first year of his Administration.  He, in fact, could have taken advantage of the big Democratic majorities he had in both House and Senate to pass a bill just like he did with Obamacare and the $1 trillion dollar so-called “stimulus” package.   But, at the end, despite all his promises, he didn’t act.  It was simply not a priority to him.

And now that the presidential campaign is about to begin, Obama is going back to the same strategy.  The White House has already announced that the President will continue to hold meetings about immigration –of course, with everyone except the Republican leadership in Congress- and will travel the country to give more speeches about immigration reform.  In other words, more talk and no action.

His speech in El Paso is a preview of his political strategy: antagonize Republicans, mock them by saying things like they want to build a moat with crocodiles across our southern border, and then lament that they are not cooperating with him on immigration.  He will tell us that Republicans are our enemies and that they don’t care about immigration.

This time around, however, these theatrics are destined to fail.  Latinos are tired of empty promises and have lost trust in the President.  Democrats would be making a huge mistake if they were to take the Latino vote for granted in 2012.

Alfonso Aguilar is the Executive Director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, a Washington, D.C. based advocacy group, which promotes conservative values and ideals within the Latino community and works to integrate Latinos into fuller and more active participation and leadership in the conservative movement.

Libertad Política vs. Libertad Económica

¿Es la democracia lo que necesitan los países subdesarrollados para salir de la pobreza? Gary Becker,  Premio Nobel de Economía (1992), realizó un análisis reciente en el que explica cómo en países subdesarrollados la democracia debería servir para promover la libertad económica. Lamentablemente, pocos son los países pobres que gozan de esta libertad, aunque vivan en democracia.

Becker empieza aclarando que al referirse al término democracia, no lo hace como el sistema de gobierno ideal sino como una comparación frente a formas de gobierno que no gozan de libertades y carecen de instituciones.[1]

Según Becker, por ejemplo, existe una baja correlación entre las tasas de crecimiento del PIB  y las democracias. Es decir, no necesariamente los países democráticos son países que crecen económicamente. En el caso de India, con una democracia desde su independencia, no fue hasta que salió del socialismo (cuarenta años más tarde) para abrir camino a un gobierno promotor de políticas de libre mercado, que empezó su rápido crecimiento. Por otro lado, algunos absolutistas han logrado crecimientos extraordinarios, pero no son la regla sino la excepción, dado que por cada Pinochet que produzca un rápido crecimiento económico hay siempre un Stalin con funestas políticas planificadoras que llevan el país a la quiebra.[2]

Con respecto a la creación de la riqueza Becker menciona países como Taiwán y Corea del Sur en los cuales hubo un rápido crecimiento bajo las dictaduras y que al convertirse en democracias se volvieron países aún más ricos. Para exponer la correlación entre riqueza y democracia cita al sociólogo Seymour M. Lipset quien explica que no es que los países democráticos sean más propensos a crear riqueza sino al revés. Según Lipset, los países ricos son aquéllos que buscan democracias pues quienes viven en países desarrollados, una vez que gozan de libertad económica, van a demandar como es lógico, libertad política también.[3] Es decir, para Lipset, la riqueza crea las condiciones para la democracia.

Raising Taxes on the Wealthy Won’t Close the Deficit

Our country is going broke. Even most spend-happy politicians can’t ignore the economic reality that is calling out for financial restraint. That’s the good news. The bad news is that their prescription is to raise taxes under the pretext of “fairness.”

One might be tempted to agree with the premise that raising taxes, particularly on the wealthy, is good policy. But it’s worth considering what raising taxes would do to our struggling economy. And would raising taxes actually close our national deficit? The evidence suggests otherwise.

First off, what is the deficit, and why is it important? Our national deficit is the difference between how much the government spends in a year and tax revenue it collects. The higher the deficit, the more government is spending in excess of its means. One doesn’t need to be an economist to understand that a deficit is detrimental to a country’s finances, as it piles up more and more debt, year after year, continually spending more than it takes in.

To avoid getting into this predicament, countries have a budget in order to help them better plan for a defined period of time. Many of us follow the same logic at home when we sit down at our kitchen table every month to pay off our various bills while putting away some money for a rainy day.

Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t been very responsible with our money, lately opting to blow it all without worrying how to pay for it all. In addition to spending carelessly, our Congress has opted to borrow money to pay for our spending binges, rather than exercising fiscal restraint — which contributes to our ballooning national debt.

As a result, our current gross debt is now more than $14 trillion.

Ecuador: Uncertainty and Division

Last Saturday a controversial plebiscite took place in Ecuador. It consisted of two parts: five questions regarding press regulation, employees’ enrollment in the state pension system, unjustified enrichment, bullfighting, and gambling. The other five questions attempted to reform the three-year-old Ecuadorean Constitution in aspects such as justice authority and preventive detention.

The $30 million plebiscite itself didn’t take place without convolution. After an early count, the exit poll elaborated by Santiago Perez, the pollster hired by the government, stated the “triumph” of the majority supporting the regime. Indeed, the official newspaper’s headlines indicated the victory of the referendum by 62%.[1] Even Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez, President Correa’s close ally, congratulated him for his “great victory”.[2]

While the officialism celebrated, the National Election Council undertook the official vote count. Soon the President was informed that the error in the exit poll had been of around 19,5% and the victory might not has been as absolute as he was told by his contracted pollster.[3] The victory margin appeared much lower than expected, and thus the celebration ended up in worries and uncertainties.

Forty-eight hours after de polls closed, the Council had only counted 41% of the total votes but the margins between “yes” and “no” are indeed very small, with some questions barely receiving support from half the voters. Although the small margins, the government declares victory and announces that it has its plan to apply the plebiscite results immediately.[4]

Two days later the balance of the Ecuadorean referendum was $30 million less in treasury, a divided nation, increasing doubt on where the country will stand, and multiplying uncertainty for the future. After this referendum, President Correa may have more power than before, but this election probably shows that the unconditional support he used to have is decreasing as his power increases.

Paola Ycaza has B.A. in Political Science and graduated with a B.A. in Economics (thesis pending). Currently she is working on her thesis on the Ecuadorian Pension System.

The Native Advantage

We hear so much in the news, in the political arena, and in our communities on the topic of immigration.  But there is a different type of immigration issue—of the technological variety—that offers the ability to position younger generations of U.S. Hispanics uniquely and powerfully.

Specifically, while we can make few assumptions in the rapidly evolving landscape of social media, we can affirm the tremendous possibilities open to the group known as the “natives”—those who have grown up with social media, in contrast to the “immigrants”—those who have migrated at least some of their activities to social media from more traditional channels.

Because they arrive with fewer hesitations and view profiles, status updates and blogs as natural parts of the communication exchange, these generations of natives have the distinct advantage when it comes to creating political, economic, social and cultural change—but only if they understand the power of social media beyond its strictly social uses.

A 2010 Pew Research Center report shows that 73 percent of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 use social networking, up from 55 percent in 2006. This statistic is expected to continue to expand as more and more young people grow up with social networks.