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Cuba has a very sad history.

It traded a regular dictatorship for a communist dictatorship six decades ago, and the results have been predictably awful.

Oppression, persecution, rationing, spying, deprivation, and suffering are facts of life in that socialist hellhole.

For a while, it was subsidized by the Soviet Union, but that communist system eventually collapsed. More recently, it’s been subsidized by Venezuela, but now that socialist system also is collapsing.

And this means extra hardship for the people of Cuba.

Jose Nino explains one of the grim consequences of Cuba’s central planning.

Cuba is now implementing a rationing program to combat its very own shortages of basic goods. A CBC report indicates this program would cover basic items such as chicken, eggs, rice, beans, and soap. …When Fidel Castro took control of Cuba in 1959, the Cuban state maintained an iron grip on the economy. For decades, the country has been a communist garrison state with very little respect for property rights… Because of the economic dislocations caused by state control of many industries, the government has had to provide citizens with Libretas de Abastecimiento (supply booklets) to ration out basic goods like rice, sugar, and matches. …Cuba’s recent political behavior indicates that the country’s leadership still does not get basic economics. …After more than 50 years of embracing socialist governance, Cuba will have to learn that it needs to stick to the basic economic principles if it wants to break free from its long-standing cycle of poverty.

Bizarrely, there are still some proponents of the Cuban dictatorship.

Writing for CapX, Kristian Niemietz ponders this lingering semi-support for Cuba on the left.

…socialist experiments usually go through three stages, in terms of their reception by Western intellectuals. The first is a honeymoon period, during which they are widely held up as a glorious example of “real” socialism in action. The second is a period of angry defensiveness, during which some of the system’s failures are acknowledged, but blamed on external constraints. The third stage is the stage of retroactive disowning: intellectuals now claim that the country in question was never socialist, and that it is a cheap strawman to even mention it. The Western reception of the Soviet Union, Maoist China, Vietnam and, more recently, Venezuela followed this pattern to a tee. Cuba, in contrast, is a bit of an outlier, in that the country seems to be permanently stuck somewhere between stages two and three. It may no longer attract widespread enthusiasm, but Cuban socialism has never completely gone the way of Soviet, Maoist, Vietnamese or North Korean socialism.

Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell have a book about statism and socialism that’s very informative. But also very entertaining.

Here are some excerpts from their chapter about a visit to Cuba.

In government-directed economies, a disproportionate amount of money is spent on what political leaders desire—typically, great Olympic sports teams, and a few showcase hotels and restaurants to impress foreigners. In Cuba’s case, this included the opulent Hotel Nacional… But we were on a mission to see what life was like inside Cuba’s socialist system. We couldn’t experience that by drinking Cuba libres at a fancy resort… Before the revolution, Cuba had a thriving urban middle class, along with widespread rural poverty. Twentieth-century socialists claimed socialism would deliver greater equality and out-produce capitalism by ending wasteful competition, business cycles, and predatory monopolies. Socialism hasn’t delivered the goods it promised in Cuba or anywhere else. Today, Cuba is a poor country made poorer by socialism. Socialism also gives tremendous power to government officials and bureaucrats who are the system’s planners—and with that power comes corruption, abuse, and tyranny. It is no accident that the worst democides of the twentieth century occurred in socialist countries like the Soviet Union, Communist China, and Nazi (National Socialist) Germany.

The book is basically a travelogue, mixed with economic insights that oscillate between amusing and horrifying.

The hotels are no good.

The Hotel Tritón’s decaying edifice was a crumbling tribute to Cuba’s central-planning problems. Cuba had the resources to make large capital investments in state-run enterprises when it received aid from the Soviet Union. But many of these hotels can’t generate enough revenue to sustain the initial investment. Cuban government planners then had to pick which hotels to subsidize to prevent decay. The Hotel Tritón didn’t make the cut. It was rotting, inside and out. And nobody cared because nobody owned it. …In a capitalist economy, entrepreneurs create businesses to make profits, which they earn by pleasing their customers. But in a socialist system, a bureaucrat decides which businesses can open, where they can operate, and what they can sell, and he really doesn’t care what the customer thinks. Adopting a socialist system is like turning your whole economy into a giant Department of Motor Vehicles.

The shopping is no good.

In Central Havana, the lack of commerce unrelated to tobacco, alcohol, or sex was striking. Habaneros lived in these neighborhoods. So where did they shop? …We found one store that was a large open room with high ceilings and cement support columns. …behind a counter, there were shelves with bottles of rum, cases of the local cola, a few canned goods, cartons of eggs, and large sacks of rice next to a scale. A line of Cubans shopped their way down the counter. The place was an odd mix, somewhere between the worst imaginable version of a grade school cafeteria and a grocery in which 95 percent of the stock is depleted.

The dining is no good.

… we decided on our last evening on the island to try a state-owned “Italian” restaurant on the main boulevard between the shitty Hotel Caribbean and the Capitol. We were disappointed to see that Italian meant nothing more than a few basic pizzas and a couple types of pasta, along with the same chicken, pork, seafood, and beef dishes we found everywhere else. We ordered two beers and “mozzarella from the oven” as an appetizer. To say that it was the equivalent of Taco Bell queso with tomato chunks in it would be insulting to Taco Bell. In fact, it was a steaming pot of greasy white goo. … most Cubans can’t afford to eat at the places we ate, and Cuba’s socialist economic system can’t even deliver variety to rich tourists. We were tired of the food after a week. But we could leave; Cubans are stuck with lousy food (outside the private restaurants), limited ingredients, and little variety for as long as they’re stuck with socialism.

And Che is no good.

Unfortunately for Cubans, Che wasn’t nearly as good at planning production as capitalists have been at plastering his image on merchandise. During Che’s stints as head of the National Bank of Cuba, minister of finance, and minister of industry, Cuba not only failed to industrialize (as promised), but its sugar production collapsed and severe rationing was introduced.

But Cubans are very good, at least when they’re out from under the tyranny of socialism.

We were in Little Havana, in Miami. The economic contrast between Little Havana and the real thing began before we even stepped out of our Uber. The half-hour car ride cost us only $13.72 instead of the absurd taxi costs in Cuba. …Unlike stores in Cuba, this store had hundreds of different items for sale. …we headed off to a Cuban restaurant for dinner. The six-page menu contained more options than we had seen from all of the restaurants in Cuba combined. …Cuban cuisine is excellent—just not when it’s served in Cuba. It’s not the Cubans’ fault. It’s the fact that socialism sucks. Cubans under a socialist system remain poor and eat bland food. Ninety miles away, Cubans who live in Miami become relatively rich and make wonderful food. Same people, two different economic systems, two drastically different economic— and gastronomic—outcomes.

By the way, I recommend the book.

There are also chapters about Sweden, Venezuela, North Korea, China, Georgia, and Russia/Ukraine.

My contribution today is this chart showing per-capita economic output in various Latin nations, derived from the Maddison database. At the time of the revolution, Cuba (orange line) was one of the richest nations. Now it has fallen far behind.

It’s always useful to look at decades of data because short-run blips aren’t a factor. Instead, you really learn a lot about which nations are enjoying good growth and which ones are stagnating.

What we’ve learned today is that the people of Cuba are poor because of awful economic policy. Other nations (most of which started in worse shape) have become much richer.

Perfect policy would be great, but even decent policy creates enough “breathing room” for more prosperity. Unfortunately, even that’s not allowed in Cuba.

P.S. For some unintentional Cuban-related humor, see here and here.

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There’s a long and sordid history of people in Western nations acting as dupes and apologists for communism.

This is especially the case with the wretchedly impoverished totalitarian outpost 90 miles south of Florida.

Based on what he wrote for the opinion pages of the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof belongs on that list of “useful idiots.”

Cuba…in health care…does an impressive job that the United States could learn from. …an American infant is, by official statistics, almost 50 percent more likely to die than a Cuban infant. By my calculations, that means that 7,500 American kids die each year because we don’t have as good an infant mortality rate as Cuba reports. …a major strength of the Cuban system is that it assures universal access. Cuba has the Medicare for All that many Americans dream about. …It’s also notable that Cuba achieves excellent health outcomes even though the American trade and financial embargo… Cuba overflows with doctors — it has three times as many per capita as the United States… Outsiders mostly say they admire the Cuban health system. The World Health Organization has praised it, and Ban Ki-moon, the former United Nations secretary general, described it as “a model for many countries.”

Kristof admits in his piece that there are critics who don’t believe the regime’s data, but it’s clear he doesn’t take their concerns seriously.

And he definitely doesn’t share their data. So lets take a close look at the facts that didn’t appear in Kristof’s column.

My first recommendation is to watch Johan Norberg’s video on the real truth about Cuba’s infant mortality.

But there’s so much more.

Jay Nordlinger authored the most comprehensive takedown of Cuba’s decrepit system back in 2007. Here are some of the highlights.

The Left has always had a deep psychological need to believe in the myth of Cuban health care. On that island, as everywhere else, Communism has turned out to be a disaster: economic, physical, and moral. Not only have persecution, torture, and murder been routine, there is nothing material to show for it. The Leninist rationalization was, “You have to break some eggs to make an omelet.” Orwell memorably replied, “Where’s the omelet?” There is never an omelet. …there is excellent health care on Cuba — just not for ordinary Cubans. …there is not just one system, or even two: There are three. The first is for foreigners who come to Cuba specifically for medical care. This is known as “medical tourism.” The tourists pay in hard currency… The second health-care system is for Cuban elites — the Party, the military, official artists and writers, and so on. In the Soviet Union, these people were called the “nomenklatura.” And their system, like the one for medical tourists, is top-notch. Then there is the real Cuban system, the one that ordinary people must use — and it is wretched. Testimony and documentation on the subject are vast. Hospitals and clinics are crumbling. Conditions are so unsanitary, patients may be better off at home, whatever home is. If they do have to go to the hospital, they must bring their own bedsheets, soap, towels, food, light bulbs — even toilet paper. And basic medications are scarce. …The equipment that doctors have to work with is either antiquated or nonexistent. Doctors have been known to reuse latex gloves — there is no choice. …So deplorable is the state of health care in Cuba that old-fashioned diseases are back with a vengeance. These include tuberculosis, leprosy, and typhoid fever. And dengue, another fever, is a particular menace.

Wow, I guess shortages extend well beyond toilet paper.

Next we have some very sobering data from a 2004 article in Canada’s National Post.

…a small bottle of tetracycline costs US$5 and a tube of cortisone cream will set you back as much as US$25. But neither are available at the local pharmacy, which is neat and spotless, but stocks almost nothing. Even the most common pharmaceutical items, such as Aspirin and rubbing alcohol, are conspicuously absent. …Antibiotics, one of the most valuable commodities on the cash-strapped Communist island, are in extremely short supply and available only on the black market. Aspirin can be purchased only at government-run dollar stores, which carry common medications at a huge markup in U.S. dollars. This puts them out of reach of most Cubans, who are paid little and in pesos. Their average wage is 300 pesos per month, about $12. …tourist hospitals in Cuba are well-stocked with the latest equipment and imported medicines, said a Cuban pediatrician, who did not want to be identified. …”Tourists have everything they need,… But for Cubans, it’s different. Unless you work with tourists or have a relative in Miami sending you money, you will not be able to get what you need if you are sick in Cuba. As a doctor, I find it disgusting.”

And here’s some scholarly research from Katherine Hirschfeld at the University of Oklahoma (h/t: Scott Johnson).

…the Cuban government continues to respond to international criticism of its human rights record by citing…praise for its achievements in health and medicine…the unequivocally positive descriptions of the Cuban health care system in the social science literature are somewhat misleading. In the late 1990s, I conducted over nine months of qualitative ethnographic and archival research in Cuba. During that time I shadowed physicians in family health clinics, conducted formal and informal interviews with a number of health professionals, lived in local communities, and sought to participate in everyday life as much as possible. Throughout the course of this research, I found a number of discrepancies between the way the Cuban health care system has been described in the scholarly literature, and the way it appears to be described and experienced by Cubans themselves. …After just a few months of research, …it became increasingly obvious that many Cubans did not appear to have a very positive view of the health care system themselves. A number of people complained to me informally that their doctors were unhelpful, that the best clinics and hospitals only served political elites and that scarce medical supplies were often stolen from hospitals and sold on the black market. Further criticisms were leveled at the politicization of medical care… Public criticism of the government is a crime in Cuba, and penalties are severe. Formally eliciting critical narratives about health care would be viewed as a criminal act both for me as a researcher, and for people who spoke openly with me. …One of the most readily apparent problems with the health care system in Cuba is the severe shortage of medicines, equipment, and other supplies. …Many Cubans (including a number of health professionals) also had serious complaints about the intrusion of politics into medical treatment and health care decision-making.

Three academics at Texas Tech University also found very troubling data when they investigated the nation’s health system (h/t: David Henderson).

With 11.1% of GDP dedicated to health care and 0.8% of the population working as physicians, a substantial amount of resources is directed towards reducing infant mortality and increasing longevity. An economy with centralized economic planning by government like that of Cuba can force more resources into an industry than its population might desire in order to achieve improved outcomes in that industry at the expense of other goods and services the population might more highly desire. …Physicians are given health outcome targets to meet or face penalties. This provides incentives to manipulate data. Take Cuba’s much praised infant mortality rate for example. In most countries, the ratio of the numbers of neonatal deaths and late fetal deaths stay within a certain range of each other as they have many common causes and determinants. …Cuba, with a ratio of 6, was a clear outlier. This skewed ratio is evidence that physicians likely reclassified early neonatal deaths as late fetal deaths, thus deflating the infant mortality statistics and propping up life expectancy. Cuban doctors were re-categorizing neonatal deaths as late fetal deaths in order for doctors to meet government targets for infant mortality. …Physicians often perform abortions without clear consent of the mother, raising serious issues of medical ethics, when ultrasound reveals fetal abnormalities because ‘otherwise it might raise the infant mortality rate’. …The role of Cuban economic and political oppression in coercing ‘good’ health outcomes merits further study.

The bottom line is that Cuba is a hellhole and statistics from a repressive regime can’t be trusted.

Though the real message of today’s column is that we should be revolted by people who are willing to be dupes for totalitarianism.

And I can understand why people willing to debase themselves in that way are so sensitive to criticism.

P.S. The New York Times has a pathetic history of covering up for the crimes of communism, most notably Walter Duranty, who was given a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 even though he despicably lied in his reports to promote Stalin’s horrid regime. He even covered up Stalin’s holocaust of the Ukrainian people. Even though Duranty’s evil actions are now public knowledge, the Pulitzer Prize Board has not revoked the award. The New York Times, to its credit, at least has acknowledged that Duranty lied to promote Stalin’s brutal dictatorship. One wonders if the newspaper eventually will apologize for Kristof.

P.P.S. I’m also not impressed that a former Secretary General of the U.N. endorsed Cuba’s health care system. After all, it was an official from the U.N. who praised the lack of obesity among the starving people of North Korea.

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It’s time for the final installment of my series commemorating the evil impact of 100 years of communism.

Today we’re going to wrap up the series with a look at Che Guevera and contemplate how a mass-murdering racist and homophobe became a cultural icon.

Jay Nordlinger looks at the legacy of Guevera in a column for National Review.

Danilo Maldonado Machado, a.k.a. El Sexto, the Cuban street artist and human-rights activist, who is in and out of prison. I interviewed him at the Oslo Freedom Forum. …At the end of our interview, I asked him a standard question: “What do you wish people could know?” And you know what he said? You know what were the first words out of his mouth? “Che Guevara was a murderer.  He wasn’t a hero.” …“Maldonado says he can excuse Cubans who wear Che shirts: They have been propagandized all their lives. He has a much harder time excusing men and women from free societies.”

Writing for the Washington Examiner, Tom Rogan has a good summary of Guevera’s monstrous life.

Che Guevara was definitely evil, almost certainly a moron, and possibly also a psychopath. …Acting as Castro’s Treasury Secretary, Guevara ignored the failures and associated moral hardships his collectivist policies imposed. …Guevara may have been a psychopath. …for ideological zealots like Guevara, purifying the Earth of non-believers is an act of the highest moral order. In Guevara’s blood lust, we see his mental union with the propaganda offerings of ISIS… Guevara was also intellectually defective to the point of being a moron. …Guevara’s fervent obstinance planted the roots of far-left delusion that prevail today. It doesn’t matter that every population that tries out capitalism…does better than under communism. …He might have murdered hundreds of political prisoners…the true metaphor of Guevara’s cigar smoking face is not one of moral courage, insurgent glory, and resolute intellect, but of a useful idiot for totalitarian propaganda.

Even the establishment understands that there’s something wrong about Che idolatry, as illustrated by this Economist column.

In death Che, with his flowing hair and beret, has become one of the world’s favourite revolutionary icons. His fans span the globe. …The ascetic, asthmatic Argentine doctor first fought alongside Fidel Castro in the mountains of Cuba’s Sierra Maestra. After the Cuban revolution had imposed communism on the island, Guevara left to try to “liberate” first Congo and then Bolivia. Those who idolise Che do so because they see him as an idealist who laid down his life for a cause. An aura of Christian sacrifice surrounds him. …In Guevara’s view, equality was to be achieved by levelling down. As minister of industries in Cuba, he wanted to expropriate every farm and shop. …the cost of miserable wages, the denial of opportunity and the brutal suppression of dissent. In Venezuela’s pastiche of the Cuban revolution, installed by the late Hugo Chávez, another Che fan, the masses have been impoverished while insiders have become fabulously and corruptly rich. …Not only does democracy offer the best hope of progress for the masses, it also protects the left against its own mistakes. It is long past time to bury Che and find a better icon.

Let’s go back in time and look at excerpts from a 2004 Slate column.

The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time. Che was a totalitarian. …Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won. Che presided over the Cuban Revolution’s first firing squads. He founded Cuba’s “labor camp” system—the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che’s imagination. … “Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become …”— and so on. …The present-day cult of Che—the T-shirts, the bars, the posters—has succeeded in obscuring this dreadful reality. …Che was an enemy of freedom, and yet he has been erected into a symbol of freedom. He helped establish an unjust social system in Cuba and has been erected into a symbol of social justice. He stood for the ancient rigidities of Latin-American thought, in a Marxist-Leninist version… I wonder if people who stand up to cheer a hagiography of Che Guevara…will ever give a damn about the oppressed people of Cuba—will ever lift a finger on behalf of the Cuban liberals and dissidents.

And here’s a grim body count from the Cuba Archive.

Ernesto Guevara, better known as “Che,” is the ultimate poster boy of “revolutionary chic,” a quintessential icon of mass culture. …the flesh and blood “Che” exhibited a deep contempt for the sanctity of human life. He knew from his communist self-education that terror would be a necessary component of revolutionary order. …from day one of the new revolutionary government, January 1, 1959, he and the Castro brothers set out to take control in Cuba by sheer terror through mass killings. …From January 1 to 3, 1959, Che executed, or left orders to execute, 25 people in Santa Clara. On January 3, Fidel Castro appointed him commander of La Cabaña prison in Havana and supreme judge of the revolutionary tribunals. In the few months Che was in charge of La Cabaña (from January 4 to November 26, 1959), 73 people are believed to have been executed without basic legal guarantees; the vast majority was killed immediately after kangaroo summary trials that often lasted minutes and presented no evidence of the alleged crimes of the accused. …Che spoke frankly to the international community about the revolutionary government’s killings in Cuba. At the United Nations in New York on December 11, 1964, he made his famous statement: “”Fusilamientos” (executions by firing squad), yes, we have executed, we execute, and will continue executing while necessary.”

Here’s some more background on Guevara from Politifact, including his murder of fellow Cubans and his racist attitude.

Ernesto “Ché” Guevara was a Latin American guerrilla leader and Marxist revolutionary, and a major figure in the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro in the late 1950s. Although hailed in some circles as a legendary icon of rebellion, the Argentine-born doctor is also reviled by many Cubans for ruthlessly ordering the execution of more than 150 prisoners in Cuba without a fair trial. …But was he a racist? …The most compelling evidence was from The Motorcycle Diaries, a book based on diaries he kept while traveling through Latin America in the early 1950s. ” …their different ways of approaching life separate them completely: The black is indolent and a dreamer; spending his meager wage on frivolity or drink; the European has a tradition of work and saving, which has pursued him as far as this corner of America and drives him to advance himself, even independently of his own individual aspirations.”

This story, by the way, attempts to exonerate Guevara even though it acknowledges his racist pedigree.

Guevara’s words in The Motorcycle Diaries were highly critical of the blacks he came across in that Caracas neighborhood, and he placed them beneath Europeans. The experts we consulted said the remarks are real and would not have been unusual coming from a 24-year-old from Argentina at the time. …We rate this claim Mostly False.

So he was racist, but it’s “Mostly False” to say he was racist because he was a product of his times.

Does anyone think Politifact would say that slaveowners in the 1840s weren’t really racist because they were products of their times? Likewise, who thinks defenders of the Jim Crow laws in the 1960s would get a free pass since they were products of their times?

For some bizarre reason, leftists (and lots of vacuous college kids and brainless celebrities) want to excuse – or even justify – Guevara’s unsavory life.

Indeed, notwithstanding a record of cruelty and hate, Che Guevara has a big contingent of fanboys.

Such as the government of Ireland.

An Post have issued a one euro stamp featuring the face of Che Guevara, a leading figure in the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s. The stamp, which features a famous image of Guevara by Dublin artist Jim Fitzpatrick, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the revolutionary’s death on October 9, 1967. …Designed by Red&Grey, the stamp is based on Mr Fitzpatrick’s artwork, which appears on t-shirts, posters, badges and clothing worldwide and is now rated among the world’s top 10 most iconic images.

I’m assuming Ireland’s vacuous president somehow played a role in the decision to honor Guevera.

In any event, I can’t wait to see the new stamps for Hitler, Mao, and Stalin that the Irish postal service doubtlessly is preparing.

The United Nations also is part of the Che death cult.

With an impeccable instinct for venerating murderous thugs, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has now added to its Memory of the World Register the writings of Cuba’s Ernesto “Che” Guevara. That means that the documents generated by Che during his bloody career will now be treated as historical treasures, protected and cared for with the help of UNESCO. What’s next? The teachings of Stalin and Pol Pot? …Che’s works were nominated for UNESCO’s special attentions by Cuba and Bolivia, and to be added to the UNESCO Register the nomination had to be endorsed by UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova. You might suppose that as a former Bulgarian government functionary, from the days when Bulgaria orbited the Soviet Union, Bokova would be aware of the horrors behind Che’s radical “cool.” But Bokova appears to suffer from a longstanding infatuation with Cuba’s repressive regime. …one might wish for a UN cultural organization endowed with at least some hint of a moral compass.

Let’s look at a couple of videos.

We’ll start with Johan Norberg’s succinct summary of Guevara.

Reason has a video about the Che fetish, with a special focus on Hollywood’s moral bankruptcy.

Let’s close on an uplifting note.

Some people are waking up on the issue, as noted in a report from the Economist.

Che Guevara was born in Rosario, then Argentina’s second-largest city… A red banner marks the posh apartment block where he was born. A four-metre-high (13-foot) bronze statue stands in Che Guevara Square. The city council finances CELChe, a centre devoted to the study of his life, and celebrates “Che week” around his birthday in June. …Not everyone in Rosario thinks the bereted revolutionary…deserves such reverence. Fundación Bases, a liberal think-tank based in the city, has launched a petition to persuade the city council to remove the monuments. The martyr was himself a killer, says Franco Martín López, the institute’s director. Guevara was second-in-command to Fidel Castro, whose Cuban revolution killed more than 10,000 people. …Under the motto “a murderer doesn’t deserve state tributes”, Mr López’s foundation has produced videos to educate Argentines, and rosarinos in particular. One shows a clip of Guevara promising to “continue the firing squads for as long as necessary” in a speech to the UN General Assembly in 1964. In another, a narrator reads out the accusatory suicide note of Reinaldo Arenas, a gay novelist who died in 1990 after suffering decades of persecution by Cuba’s government. …Norberto Galiotti, the cigar-smoking secretary of Rosario’s Communist Party, …suspects liberals are envious of Che’s posthumous charisma. “You don’t see many kids walking around with Margaret Thatcher T-shirts,” he observes.

I rarely agree with communists, but it is sad that kids are more likely to idolize Guevara than a great leader like Margaret Thatcher.

By the way, my disdain for Che and the Cuban dictatorship does not mean I support a trade embargo by the United States.

Such a policy may have been appropriate when the Soviet Union still existed and was using Cuba as a proxy regime. But that’s no longer the case.

Yes, the current regime in Cuba is still deplorable. It impoverishes and oppresses its own people. But that description applies to a lot of nations that have normal economic relations with the United States. If we allow trade and travel with China, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia, the same should be true for Cuba.

The bottom line is that we can have economic relations with unsavory nations. Even with nations that produce evil people like Che Guevara.

P.S. Returning to the topic of Che Guevara fanboys, don’t forget the cynical actions of Mercedes-Benz. But at least the company apologized.

P.P.S. If you want to understand the economic impact of communism, consider the astounding fact that Cuba and Hong Kong had similar living standards in the late 1950s.

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The United Nations has proposed a set of “sustainable development goals.” Most of them seem unobjectionable. After all, presumably everyone wants things such as less poverty, a cleaner environment, better education, and more growth, right?

That being said, I’m instinctively skeptical about the goal of “climate action” because of the U.N.’s past support for statist policies in that area.

And I also wonder why the bureaucrats picked “reduced inequalities” when “upward mobility for the poor” is a much better goal.

While I am tempted to nit-pick about some of the other goals as well, I’m actually more worried about how the U.N. thinks the goals should be achieved.

I participated in a U.N. conference in early April and almost every bureaucrat and government representative asserted that higher tax burdens were necessary to achieve the goals. It truly was a triumph of ideology over evidence.

And some of the cheerleaders for this initiative have a very extreme view on these issues. Consider a new report, issued by Germany’s Bertelsmann Stiftung and the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network, that ranks nations based on how successful they are at achieving the sustainable development goals. Jeffrey Sachs was the lead author, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised to discover that there are some very odd results.

Bernie Sanders will be naively happy since the Nordic nations dominate the top of the rankings. The United States is #42, by contrast, sandwiched between Argentina and Armenia. Moreover, the United States is behind countries such as Hungary, Belarus, Portugal, Moldova, Greece, and Ukraine, which seems strange because Americans enjoy significantly higher levels of consumption – even when compared to other rich jurisdictions.

But the most absurd feature – at least for anyone with the slightest familiarity with international economic data – is that Cuba (circled in green) is ranked considerably above the United States (circled in red).

This is a jaw-droppingly stupid assertion. Cuba is a staggeringly impoverished nation thanks to an oppressive communist dictatorship.

So how can Sachs and his colleagues produce a report putting that country well above a rich nation like the United States?

Let’s look at some of the data. Here’s the summary of Cuba from the report. Pay particular attention to the circle on the right. If the blue bars extend to the outer edge, that means the country supposedly is doing a very good job achieving a goal, whereas a small blue bar indicates poor performance.

And here is the same information for the United States.

It appears that Cuba does much better for poverty (#1), responsible consumption (#12), climate action (#13), life on land (#15), and partnership (#17), while the United States while the United State does much better for industry, innovation, and infrastructure (#9).

But here’s an easier and more precise way of comparing the two nations. All you need to know is that green is the best, yellow is second best, followed by burnt orange, and red is the worst.

Cuba wins in nine categories and the United States is ranked higher in three categories.

Now here’s why most of these rankings are total nonsense. If you go to page 51 of the report, you’ll see the actual variables that are used to produce the scores for the 17 U.N. goals.

And what do you find? Well, here are some things that caught my eye.

  • For the first goal of “no poverty,” the report includes a measure of income distribution rather than poverty. This is same dodgy approach that’s been used by the Obama Administration and the OECD, and because almost everyone is Cuba is equally poor, that means it scores much higher than the United States, where everyone is richer, but with varying degrees of wealth. I’m not joking.
  • For the second goal of “zero hunger,” I can’t figure out how they concocted a higher score for Cuba. After all, there’s pervasive food rationing in that hellhole of an island. My best guess is that the United States gets downgraded because the category includes an obesity variable. Having a lot of overweight people may not be a good feature of America, but is it rude for me to point out that a large number of heavy people is the opposite of hunger?
  • Jumping ahead to the fifth goal of “gender equality,” I assume the United States gets a bad score because of the variable for the gender wage gap, even though women in America earn far higher incomes than their unfortunate and impoverished counterparts in Cuba.
  • Regarding the eighth goal of “decent work and economic growth,” it’s not clear how Sachs and his colleagues gave Cuba the best possible score. But I know the final result is preposterous given that the Cuban people are suffering from crippling material deprivation.
  • For the twelfth (“responsible consumption and production”) and thirteenth (“climate action”) goals, it appears that the United States gets a lower score because rich nations consume more energy than poor nations. If this is why Cuba beats the USA (just as they “scored higher” in the so-called Happy Planet Index), then I’m glad America loses that contest.
  • Last but not least, I can’t resist commenting on Cuba getting the best score and the U.S. getting worst score for “partnerships,” which is the seventeenth goal. If you read the fine print, it turns out that nations get better grades if their tax burdens are higher. And countries like the United States get downgraded because they are tax havens and/or they respect financial privacy.

The main takeaway is that Sachs and his colleagues produced a shoddy report based on statist ideology and – in many cases – on dodgy methodology.

Anyone who ranks Cuba above the United States when trying to measure quality of life should be treated like a laughingstock.

The report also ranks the ultra-rich and very successful nation of Singapore at #61, below poor countries such as Uzbekistan and Mexico. Are these people smoking crack? That’s even more absurd than the OECD’s report on Asian taxes, which basically pretended Singapore didn’t exist.

Heck the report also has dysfunctional Venezuela ahead of Panama, even though tens of thousands of Venezuelans have fled to Panama to escape their poorly governed nation. But I guess real-world evidence doesn’t matter to people trying to promote statism.

P.S. I got to tangle with Jeffrey Sachs at a United Nations conference on the state of the world economy back in 2012. Nothing has changed.

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Do politicians celebrate the life of Osama bin Laden? Or fondly remember the supposed contributions of Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Workers Party? Or wax poetic about the memory of Pol Pot?

Maybe in some backwater of the third world, but no politician from a civilized nation would be remotely tempted to say anything nice about these evil people.

So why, then, are some of these clowns falling all over themselves to lionize one of the world’s worst people, the former communist dictator of Cuba? Why would any sentient adult say anything nice about Fidel Castro, a vicious and brutal tyrant who imposed such hardship on his people?

Yet there are people with this perverse degree of moral blindness.

Including the head of the European Commission.

And the Prime Minister of Canada, who actually referred to the former dictator as Cuba’s “longest serving President.” I guess the boy wonder of Ottawa doesn’t understand that you can rule for a long time when you don’t allow free elections. Now you can understand why I am so quick to believe that he’ll say really stupid things.

Almost nobody in the world would recognize the President of Ireland. But since he didn’t like the fact that Ireland’s economy boomed, it’s understandable that he is despondent about the death of a man who did so much to keep Cuba mired in poverty.

And, of course, Jimmy Carter couldn’t resist showing why he was a one-term blunder.

The nutjob leader of the British Labour Party predictably fawned over Castro with a series of laughably inaccurate assertions.

I’m relieved, by the way, that Barack Obama resisted the temptation to say anything overly vacuous about Castro (even if he did say something stupid about Cuba’s totalitarian regime earlier this year). His statement is mostly mush. And even though I have my doubts about Trump, his statement hit the nail on the head.

But let’s set aside Castro’s brutal treatment of dissidents and denial of basic human rights. Let’s ignore the fact that tens of thousands of people have risked their lives to escape his island prison. And let’s instead look at the economic misery of Cuban communism.

In a column back in 2014, I noted that living standards in Cuba and Hong Kong were identical in the 1950s.

But the two nations then conducted an experiment. Hong Kong chose laissez-faire capitalism while Cuba chose communism.

The result, as you can see in the graph, is that Hong Kong has enjoyed decades of strong growth while Cuba has stagnated.

I’m not alone in noticing the onerous economic cost of Cuban oppression.

This academic article has a devastating summary.

We examine Cuban GDP over time and across space. We find that Cuba was once a prosperous middle-income economy. On the eve of the revolution, incomes were 50 to 60 percent of European levels. They were among the highest in Latin America at about 30 percent of the United States. In relative terms, Cuba was richer earlier on. Income per capita during the 1920s was in striking distance of Western Europe and the Southern United States. After the revolution, Cuba slipped down the world income distribution. Current levels of income per capita appear below their pre-revolutionary peaks.

Now let me make a new contribution to the discussion.

I went again to the Angus Maddison database and decided to compare historical numbers for per-capita GDP, looking at Cuba, Chile, and the world average.

As you can see, Cuba has been a disaster for ordinary people. Living standards used to be near the world average. Now the average Cuban is at half the world average.

Meanwhile, Chileans also had a period of stagnation during their era of statism. But once free-market reforms were adopted, the notion started a lengthy boom and per-capita GDP is now almost twice world average.

That’s the real-world consequence of statism. Deprivation and hardship.

To get an idea what it’s like in a communist prison nation, slaves in the 1800s actually got more food than what Castro allowed when the government took control of food production and distribution.

The good news, so to speak, is that the rationing has moved from starvation levels to hunger-and-misery levels.

The Guardian has a summary of the current system.

Every Cuban family registers with a local supply store, where they can use a libreta or ration book. This typically provides about 10kg (22lb) of rice, 6kg of white sugar, 2kg of brown sugar, 250 millilitres (1 cup) of cooking oil, five eggs and a packet of coffee per person per month, along with 2kg of meat (usually chicken) every 10 days, a bun every day and a bag of salt every three months. Milk is provided for pregnant women and children under seven years of age. The basic libreta products are guaranteed, but they are not enough – so people often have to travel to several places on several different days to make up the shortfall.

Not as bad as 1962, but still a miserable life.

Here are portions of a very appropriate obituary in the Washington Post by a Yale professor.

One of the most brutal dictators in modern history has just died. Oddly enough, some will mourn his passing, and many an obituary will praise him. Millions of Cubans who have been waiting impatiently for this moment for more than half a century will simply ponder his crimes and recall the pain and suffering he caused. …deceit was one of Fidel Castro’s greatest talents, and gullibility is one of the world’s greatest frailties. …Many intellectuals, journalists and educated people in the First World fell for this myth, too — though they would have been among the first to be jailed or killed by Castro in his own realm — and their assumptions acquired an intensity similar to that of religious convictions. Pointing out to such believers that Castro imprisoned, tortured and murdered thousands more of his own people than any other Latin American dictator was usually futile. His well-documented cruelty made little difference.

He highlights 13 reasons to despise Castro. Here are the one that stood out to me.

●He was responsible for so many thousands of executions and disappearances in Cuba that a precise number is hard to reckon.

●He brooked no dissent and built concentration camps and prisons at an unprecedented rate, filling them to capacity, incarcerating a higher percentage of his own people than most other modern dictators, including Stalin.

●He condoned and encouraged torture and extrajudicial killings.

●He forced nearly 20 percent of his people into exile, and prompted thousands to meet their deaths at sea, unseen and uncounted, while fleeing from him in crude vessels.

●He outlawed private enterprise and labor unions, wiped out Cuba’s large middle class and turned Cubans into slaves of the state.

●He persecuted gay people and tried to eradicate religion.

●He censored all means of expression and communication.

And the Caracas Chronicles also summed it up nicely.

Has any other Latin American done as much damage in a single lifetime as Fidel Castro? It’s…not even close. From his roots as a student gangster and two-bit murderer in Havana in the 40s, through a succession of catastrophes on four continents, Fidel Castro punched far, far above his weight. The guy who pleaded with Khrushev to start a nuclear holocaust, who sent tens of thousands of Cuban farm kids to dole out lead in a crazy, murderous war in Angola, thousands to attack Israel in the Yom Kipur War, thousands more to stand with the genocidal communist Mengistu regime in Ethiopia, who tried and failed to destabilize Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela, el Salvador, Congo, Sao Tome and Principe, Guatemala, who tried and succeeded in destabilizing Nicaragua, Chile, Granada and — alas — Venezuela is finally, finally dead at 90.

Keep all this in mind the next time you hear some leftist says something nice about Castro. Or the racist murder Che Guevera.

P.S. For what it’s worth, Castro did have a late-in-life epiphany about the failure of communism.

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Communism should be remembered first and foremost for the death, brutality, and repression that occurred whenever that evil system was imposed upon a nation.

Dictators like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, the North Korean Kim dynasty either killed more than Hitler, or butchered higher proportions of their populations.

But let’s not forget that communism also has an awful economic legacy. The economic breakdown of the Soviet Empire. The horrid deprivation in North Korea. The giant gap that existed between West Germany and East Germany. The mass poverty in China before partial liberalization.

Today, let’s focus on how communism has severely crippled the Cuban economy.

In a column for Reason a few years ago, Steven Chapman accurately summarized the problems in that long-suffering nation.

There may yet be admirers of Cuban communism in certain precincts of Berkeley or Cambridge, but it’s hard to find them in Havana. …the average Cuban makes only about $20 a month—which is a bit spartan even if you add in free housing, food, and medical care. For that matter, the free stuff is not so easy to come by: Food shortages are frequent, the stock of adequate housing has shrunk, and hospital patients often have to bring their own sheets, food, and even medical supplies. …Roger Noriega, a researcher at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, notes that before communism arrived, Cuba “was one of the most prosperous and egalitarian societies of the Americas.” His colleague Nicholas Eberstadt has documented that pre-Castro Cuba had a high rate of literacy and a life expectancy surpassing that in Spain, Greece, and Portugal. Instead of accelerating development, Castro has hindered it. In 1980, living standards in Chile were double those in Cuba. Thanks to bold free-market reforms implemented in Chile but not Cuba, the average Chilean’s income now appears to be four times higher than the average Cuban’s. …In its latest annual report, Human Rights Watch says, “Cuba remains the one country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent.”

The comparison between Chile and Cuba is especially apt since the pro-market reforms in the South American nation came after a coup against a Marxist government that severely weakened the Chilean economy.

Chapman points out that the standard leftist excuse for Cuban misery – the U.S. trade embargo – isn’t very legitimate.

The regime prefers to blame any problems on the Yankee imperialists, who have enforced an economic embargo for decades. In fact, its effect on the Cuban economy is modest, since Cuba trades freely with the rest of the world.

Since the U.S. accounts for nearly one-fourth of world economic output, I’m open to the hypothesis that the negative impact on Cuba is more than “modest.”

But it still would be just a partial explanation. Just remember that communist societies have always been economic basket cases even if they have unfettered ability to trade with all other nations.

Writing for the Huffington Post (hardly a pro-capitalism outfit), Terry Savage also explains that Cuba is an economic disaster.

…the economic consequences of a 50-year, totalitarian, socialistic experiment in government are obvious today. Cuba is a beautiful country filled with many friendly people, who have lived in poverty and deprivation for decades. Socialism in its purest form simply didn’t work there. I was immediately reminded of that old saying: “Capitalism is the unequal distribution of wealth – but socialism is the equal distribution of poverty.” Once-magnificent buildings are literally crumbling, plaster falling and walls and stairways falling apart, as there are no ownership incentives to maintain them – or profit potential to incent their preservation. …Every Cuban gets a ration book and an assigned “bodega” in which to purchase the low-cost, subsidized food. The one I visited looked like an empty warehouse, with little on the shelves. If the rice, beans, eggs, and cooking oil are not in stock, the shopper must return the following week. Allowed five eggs per month, the basics barely cover a starvation existence. …the economic results of their 50-year rule have been abysmal. Cuba became a protectorate of the old Soviet Union (remember the Cuban missile crisis) -and that worked until the early 1990s, when the USSR fell apart. No longer receiving aid from its protector, Cuba entered a long period now remembered as “the special times” – when Cubans were literally starving, when there was electricity only two hours per day, and people turned any patch of dirt into a garden to survive. Cubans bear the scars of that terrible time, and for many the current situation is still not that much better.

So Cuba was a basket case that was subsidized by the Soviet Union. When the Evil Empire collapsed and the subsidies ended, the basket case became a hellhole.

The good news, if we’re grading on a curve, is that Cuba has now improved to again being a basket case.

But that improvement still leaves Cuba with a lot of room for improvement. It may not be at the level of North Korea, but it’s worse than Venezuela, and that’s saying something.

My friend Michel Kelly-Gagnon of the Montreal Economic Institute echoes the horrid news about Cuba’s economy.

As anyone who has spent any amount of time in Cuba outside the tourist compounds can tell you, socialism, particularly the unsubsidized version that we have seen since the fall of the Soviet empire, has been a disaster. …The hospitals which supposedly offer free care only do so quickly and effectively to the politically connected, friends and family of staff members, and to those who pay the largest bribes… That “free” university education that many Cubans get in technical fields is rarely worth much more than what students pay for it. There are few books in the country’s schools, and those that can be found are years, if not decades old. The country’s libraries are empty… The guaranteed jobs that all Cubans have are fine, until you realize that the average salary is in the range of $20 a month. Worse, the food and other staple allotments that Cubans have long felt entitled to, have shrunk over the years. Tourists often marvel at how thin and healthy Cubans look. Sadly many of them are outright hungry.

Though Michel includes a bit of optimism in his column, pointing out that there’s been a modest bit of economic liberalization (a point that I’ve also made, even to the point of joking about whether we should trade Obama for Castro).

Communist Cuba, beset with an oppressive bureaucracy, an anachronistic cradle-to-grave welfare state, a hopelessly subpar economy, and widespread poverty, is gradually shifting to private sector solutions. Starting when Raul Castro “temporarily” took over power from his brother Fidel six years ago and culminating with the Communist party’s approval of a major package of reforms…, Cuba has taken a series of increasingly bold steps to implement free market reforms. These range from providing entrepreneurs with increased flexibility to run small businesses, and use of state agricultural lands by individual farmers, to the elimination of a variety of burdensome rules and regulations. Ironically, there is a lot that Canadians…can learn from that shift.

And there’s a lot the United States can learn, particularly our President, who is so deluded that he said there are (presumably positive) things America can learn from Cuba.

One common talking point from Cuban sympathizers is that the country has done a good job of reducing infant mortality. But, as Johan Norberg explains, that claim largely evaporates upon closer examination.

The bottom line is that communism is a system that is grossly inconsistent with both human freedom and economic liberty.

And because it squashes economic liberty (thanks to central planning, price controls, and the various other features of total statism), that ensures mass poverty.

Amazingly, there are still some leftists who want us to believe that communism would work if “good people” were in charge. I guess they don’t understand that good people, by definition, don’t want to control the lives of others.

P.S. No analysis of Cuba would be complete without noting the bizarre fetish of some leftists to wear t-shirts celebrating the homicidal racist Che Guevara. What’s next, baseball caps featuring Kim Jong-un. Computer screen savers featuring Hermann Göring? Pol Pot bobble head dolls?

There are some sick weirdos in this world to defend any form of coercive statism.

P.S. Here’s my only communist-themed joke (other than the video of Reagan’s jokes about communism).

P.P.S. At the advice of a reader, let me add one more point. Probably the most amazing indictment of communism is that living standards in Cuba when Castro took power were about even with living standards in Hong Kong. Today, the gap between the two is enormous.

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Over the years, Barack Obama has made some statements that indicate a very statist worldview.

Now he may have added to that list. Check out this excerpt from a report in the Daily Caller.

President Barack Obama downplayed the differences between capitalism and communism, claiming that they are just “intellectual arguments.” …Obama said…”I think for your generation, you should be practical and just choose from what works.”

It’s hard to object to the notion that people should choose “what works,” so perhaps there’s not a specific quote that I can add to my collection. However, the President’s implication that there’s some kind of equivalence between capitalism and communism, which both systems having desirable features, is morally offensive. Sort of like saying that we should “choose from what works” in Hitler’s national socialism.

Communism is a disgusting system that butchered more than 100,000,000 people.

It is a system that leads to starvation and suffering.

Communism produces Nazi-level horrors of brutality.

So what exactly “works” in that system, Mr. President? If you watch Obama’s speech, you’ll notice there’s not a lot of substance. There is a bit of praise for Cuba’s decrepit government-run healthcare system (you can click here, here, and here if you want to learn why the system is horrifying and terrible for ordinary citizens). And he also seems to think it’s some sort of achievement that Cuba has schools.

So let’s take a closer look at what Cuba actually has to offer. Natalie Morales is a Cuban-American actor, writer, and filmmaker. Here’s some of what she wrote about her country and her relatives still trapped on the island.

…we send money, medicine or syringes for the diabetic aunt (since the hospital doesn’t have any unused disposable ones), baby clothes, adult clothes, shoes, or food… a doctor, a lawyer, or another similar profession that is considered to be high-earning everywhere else in the world will make about twenty to thirty dollars per month in Cuba. Yet shampoo at the store still costs three dollars. This is because everything is supposed to be rationed out to you, but the reality is that they’re always out of most things, and your designated ration is always meager. …if you’re a farmer and you’ve raised a cow, and you’re starving, and your family is also starving, and you decide to kill that cow and eat it? You’ll be put in jail for life. Because it’s not “your” cow, it’s everyone’s cow. That’s good ol’ Communism in practice.

Ms. Morales is especially irritated by Americans who fret that capitalism will “ruin” Cuba.

…picture me at any dinner party or Hollywood event or drugstore or press interview or pretty much any situation where someone who considers themselves “cultured” finds out I’m Cuban. I prepare myself for the seemingly unavoidable…“I have to go there before it’s ruined!”…I will say some version of this: “What exactly do you think will ruin Cuba? Running water? Available food? Freedom of speech? Uncontrolled media and Internet? Access to proper healthcare? You want to go to Cuba before the buildings get repaired? Before people can actually live off their wages? Or before the oppressive Communist regime is someday overthrown?”

Here’s more about Cuba’s communist paradise, including her observations of the healthcare system that Obama admires.

The very, very young girls prostituting themselves are not doing it because they can’t get enough of old Canadian men, but because it pays more than being a doctor does. Hospitals for regular Cuban citizens are not what Michael Moore showed you in Sicko. …That was a Communist hospital for members of the Party and for tourists… There are no janitors in the hospitals because it pays more money to steal janitorial supplies and sell them on the street than it does to actually have a job there. Therefore, the halls and rooms are covered in blood, urine, and feces, and you need to bring your own sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, and mattresses when you are admitted. Doctors have to reuse needles on patients. My mom’s aunt had a stroke and the doctor’s course of treatment was to “put her feet up and let the blood rush back to her head.”

She closes with a PG-13 request for idiotic westerners.

…for God’s sake, please don’t wear a fucking Che t-shirt.

Very well said.

By the way, none of this means we shouldn’t normalize relations with Cuba. There’s no longer a Soviet Union, so Cuba doesn’t represent a strategic threat. So, yes, relax restrictions on trade and travel, just like we have for China, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Russia, Venezuela, and other nations that have unsavory political systems.

But the opening of relations doesn’t mean we should pretend that other systems are somehow good or equivalent to capitalism and classical liberalism.

Let’s close by sharing some news from another garden spot of communism.

If North Korea’s reputation as a place of hunger, hardship and repression was not bad enough, scientists have now discovered that it is too grim even for vultures. …Eurasian black vultures are no longer bothering to stop over in North Korea as they fly from their breeding grounds in Mongolia to their winter homes in South Korea. They concluded that food is so short under the communist regime that even the world’s best-known carrion birds cannot feed themselves. …Lee Han Su, of the institute, said: “This seems to happen because in North Korea the vultures can barely find animal corpses, which are major food resources for them.” Under the draconian regime of Kim Jong Un the country is unable to feed itself. International aid agencies report chronic malnutrition in some regions. …wild animals face the risk of being eaten by people. Defectors describe how victims of the famine were driven to eat dogs, cats, rats, grasshoppers, dragonflies, sparrows and crows. Vultures, for the time being at least, are off the menu.

I’m not sure what American leftists will say we can learn from North Korea. Even PETA presumably won’t be happy that starving North Koreans are eating sparrows and grasshoppers.

The bottom line is that there is zero moral equivalence between communism and capitalism. The former is based on servility to the state and the latter is based on liberty.

But if you’re amoral and simply want to know what works, compare the performance of North Korea and South Korea. Or look at the difference between Cuba and Hong Kong.

Very compelling evidence.

But this isn’t an issue that should be decided on the basis of utilitarian comparisons. What should matter most is that communism is evil.

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