Monday, August 4, 2014

Depraved Diplomacy

Just when you thought the official depravity couldn't get any worse, it gets mind-numbingly worse:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- An Obama administration program secretly dispatched young Latin Americans to Cuba using the cover of health and civic programs to provoke political change, a clandestine operation that put those foreigners in danger even after a U.S. contractor was hauled away to a Cuban jail.
Beginning as early as October 2009, a project overseen by the U.S. Agency for International Development sent Venezuelan, Costa Rican and Peruvian young people to Cuba in hopes of ginning up rebellion.
In one case, the workers formed an HIV-prevention workshop that memos called "the perfect excuse" for the program's political goals - a gambit that could undermine America's efforts to improve health globally.
It's bad enough that the CIA used a hepatitis screening program in Pakistan as a ruse to gather DNA evidence in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, resulting in an actual outbreak of polio in that country when the fraudulence was exposed and citizens refused to avail themselves of legitimate vaccination programs.

 But this operation in Cuba is even worse, because the Obama administration has exploited unqualified students for use as agitators and undercover agents for purposes of regime change. Not to nab a terrorist, but to foment the overthrow of a legitimate leftist government in order to make that part of the world safe for ravenous capitalism.

 And now that the White House's cynical ploy has been exposed, it might even have succeeded in making Cuban youths think twice about getting tested for HIV.

And to add insult to unthinkable injury, the administration paid its democracy mules sub-minimum wage. It even made their relatives unwitting couriers of American cash.

Then again, these adolescent agents are not exceptional Americans. They will not be allowed anywhere near Obama's vaunted "opportunity ladders" even if they work hard and play by the rules. They got little to no job training.They are from some of the same poor drug and gang-infested, CIA-destabilized regions from which tens of thousands of other youths are fleeing for their very lives. They are, therefore, highly expendable and exploitable. Obama used them the same way unscrupulous con artists advertise summer jobs in which naive kids end up getting dumped into cities far from their homes to sell magazines door to door.
In all, nearly a dozen Latin Americans served in the program in Cuba, for pay as low as $5.41 an hour.
The AP found USAID and its contractor, Creative Associates International, continued the program even as U.S. officials privately told their government contractors to consider suspending travel to Cuba after the arrest of contractor Alan Gross, who remains imprisoned after smuggling in sensitive technology.
The Cuban operation is part of a shadowy foreign policy which allows the government to partner with so-called "aid" agencies as cover for its coups and other mischief. It works the same way as the outsourced torture contracts. It allows for arms-length immoral transactions and plausible deniability when things go awry.

The use of callow youths as spies and their placement into dangerous situations is a new low, even for this White House. And it was only a couple of days ago that, with Obama's bland admission that "we tortured some folks" and that he had only outlawed "some" of the torture techniques, I thought I'd seen it all.

I was wrong. Now he can add labor rights abuse (and depending on the spies' ages, even child abuse) and a potential new AIDS epidemic to his list of accomplishments. Why do I keep thinking of Orson Welles as Harry Lime in "The Third Man?" Oh yeah... the polio vaccine scam and the memorable scene of the exploited kids in the hospital beds.

Creative Associates (a name more than creepy enough for a Graham Greene spy thriller) does blandly admit, right on its web-page, that its alleged mission of global HIV eradication has plenty of ulterior, free-market motives (Tell-tale Orwellian weasel words are in my bold):
For over a decade, Creative has served as an implementing partner for HIV and health interventions worldwide. Creative works with local communities as primary platforms for development interventions in health, HIV prevention, literacy, national stabilization, elections, life skills, and capacity building often leveraging schools and their unique reach into those societies. Throughout its efforts, Creative remains committed to the “whole child.” We bring capacity in each area relevant for a child’s development and growth and throughout the life cycle: literacy and cognitive development; health and well-being; economic security; and a safe and secure environment. This holistic approach fundamentally recognizes the community’s role and impact on children’s development.

In his World AIDS Day 2012 address, President Barack Obama declared that “we stand at a tipping point in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and working together, we can realize our historic opportunity to bring that fight to an end.” Creative is committed to contributing to the reality of an AIDS-free generation through its work -- promoting HIV prevention in communities and schools, supporting access to care and treatment services, and improving economic livelihoods through partnerships and linkages.
Creative’s keen sensitivity to local culture gives us intimate insight we apply to develop and integrate customized technical solutions to build country capacity, scale evidence-based technical strategies, promote gender equality, and ensure program sustainability. Creative incorporates monitoring and evaluation metrics into programs from inception to measure accurate outcomes, foster transparency, and increase sustainability. Our sustained commitment to health and HIV interventions has grown from the meaningful opportunity to save mothers and children, foster an AIDS-free generation, and ultimately support people around the world to better their lives.
That last paragraph, by its very banality, is the most cynically telling of all. It jibes so conveniently with the neoliberal "empowerment of women" movement which gives cover to so much of the American meddling abroad. How using the young as spies promotes "gender equality" is anybody's guess. But it's worth noting that Hillary "It Takes a Village" Clinton was secretary of state when this whole regime change fraudulent HIV initiative was dreamed up shortly after Obama took office and promised a better relationship with Cuba.

 Creative Associates itself was founded by a female "venture philanthropist."  M. Charito Kruvant was recently named among Washington's "100 Most Powerful Women." 

Go figure.

Her agency was also behind the fake Cuban Twitter scam revealed by the AP earlier this year. A longer version of the article linked above can be found here. (One young Costa Rican operative tracked down by AP reporters is not talking, having signed a "nondisclosure" agreement with the US Government on the illegal operation.)

As Moon of Alabama observes, "This only shows again why every nation on this world must distrust ANY word that comes out of official Washington. The leaders from African countries who are just now visiting Washington should keep the Cuban example in mind when Obama tries to charm them into U.S. dependency. None of his words can be trusted or be accepted as having any real meaning."

When there's money to be made, particularly at the expense of the desperate and the marginalized, there is no limit to the depravity, newly euphemized as "venture philanthropy" to disguise its innate ugliness.  Money begets power begets more money begets more power. Too much is never quite enough when expansion is the only goal.

And as Hannah Arendt noted in her seminal work on the subject, the unhealthy mixture of superfluous (excess) capital and superfluous human beings is always a recipe for totalitarian disaster.


Denis Neville said...

When USAID was exposed setting up fake hepatitis clinics for the CIA in Pakistan (which led to Pakistanis refusing polio vaccinations), Obama “promised” to never use health clinics as cover for intelligence operations again.

Now this! This is the "new beginning’’ with Cuba that Obama talked about after decades of mistrust? Sending young people from Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Peru to create unrest in order to overthrow the Cuban government? And for all the risks, these travelers were paid as little as $5.41 an hour!

Cuba’s health-care diplomacy stands in stark contrast. Cuba has hundreds of doctors working in the slums of Caracas, Venezuela. There are Cuban doctors in remote parts of Honduras. Thousands of Cuban doctors work in poor and remote areas of Brasil, where Brasilian physicians prefer not to practice. Cuba also has been treating thousands of Ukrainian citizens for years, mostly children, affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident at the Chernobyl Cuban Humanitarian Program Tarara Pediatric Hospital in Havana.

It boggles the mind that after more than half century we still haven't gotten over the fact that Cuba is an independent country. The Cold War lives on with Obama!

Our government is not seeking to end world conflict. Instead it feeds conflict, spreads disorder and mayhem in order to destabilize governments. Obama has ensured that nobody will ever trust us again. He is endangering the lives of all western aid workers and depriving desperate people of the help they need.

ZunZuneo - slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet – the fake Cuban Twitter scam was supposed to inspire Cubans to organize "smart mobs" at a moment’s notice to trigger a Cuban Spring. For Christ’s sake! What a waste of money!

Don’t we have enough problems of our own to focus on without stirring trouble in other parts of the world?

“Change” the Obamabot dimwits can believe in.


annenigma said...

Jesus H. Christ, when do we catch a break and get some good news for a change? This world is going to hell in a handbasket at warp speed. Thanks for hanging in there Karen. I don't know how you do it.

@Denis - the old Denis was good but the New and Improved Denis is great! Very glad you made it back here.

Jay - Ottawa said...

It’s been quoted many times before here on Sardonicky, even very recently. Maybe that’s why Lily Tomlin’s quip kept running through my mind all the way through Karen’s post about USAID’s latest caper.

“No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.”

Here’s a few more from Tomlin that may be equally on topic and, if not good news, at least a touch of comic relief:

“Reality is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it.”

On the other hand,

“Reality is a crutch for people who can't handle drugs.”

And finally,

“Ninety eight percent of the adults in this country are decent, hardworking, honest Americans. It's the other lousy two percent that get all the publicity. But then, we elected them.”

Zee said...


A slightly different take on Cuban health care--admittedly, a 2012 article--but from Al Jazeera, no less:

"By the time I moved to Cuba in 1997, there were serious shortages of medicine - from simple aspirin to more badly needed drugs.

Ironically, many medicines that cannot be found at a pharmacy are easily bought on the black market. Some doctors, nurses and cleaning staff smuggle the medicine out of the hospitals in a bid to make extra cash.

Although medical attention remains free, many patients did and still do bring their doctors food, money or other gifts to get to the front of the queue or to guarantee an appointment for an X-ray, blood test or operation.

If you do not have a contact or money to pay under the table, the waiting time for all but emergency procedures can be ridiculously long.

Many Cubans complain that top-level government and Communist Party officials have access to VIP health treatment, while ordinary people must queue from dawn for a routine test, with no guarantee that the allotted numbers will not run out before it is their turn.

And while the preventative healthcare system works well for children, women over the age of 40 are being shortchanged because yearly mammograms are not offered to the population at large.

I saw many hospitals where there was often no running water, the toilets did not flush, and the risk of infections - by the hospital's own admission - was extremely high.

In all fairness, in the past five years, the government has made great efforts to improve hospitals and health centres, but again, lack of resources is making the process painfully slow.

The system is free, but it is neither fast nor efficient for two important reasons. One is obviously the lack of financial resources, and the other - which is related to the first - is the "export" of doctors, nurses and dentists in exchange for hard currency.

Thousands of Cuban doctors go to Venezuela to provide primary healthcare there. Their tour of duty lasts a minimum of two years and they are paid approximately $50 a month, plus expenses. In exchange, Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president, sends Cuba petrol, part of which can be sold for hard currency.

When a friend of mine was unable to be operated on as scheduled, because there was no anesthesiologist available, "they are all in Venezuela" was a complaint I regularly heard.

(My bold emphasis.)

Another way the country is attempting to obtain hard currency is to offer health services to foreigners - something that has been dubbed "health tourism". But some question whether visitors really get what they pay for."

Interesting. Cubans get Venezuelan oil in exhange for lesser health care on their part.

Isaiah Earhart said...

Great comment Denis!

I can't find this story in a major newspaper- anywhere. If someone else can locate this story, please tell me where it is published.

The details of this story are heartbreaking.

Sewing the seeds of misery and mayhem has long been the foreign policy of the US. The misery is inflicted upon those people who dream of a society in which people care for each other, reap the fruits of their own labor and have reasonable democratic control over their local resources so they may pursue dreams such as having a local water supply not ruined by Kennecott.

People who insist on keeping these ideas alive have been brutalized by Colonialism- Modern American Style. The School of Americas is a fine example of US policy in regards to human rights and democracy in the Western Hemisphere.

USAID (CIA) has been booted out of countries that have a strong enough state to enact coherent policy (Russia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Indonesia, Venezuela, and I think Nicaragua as well). Strong states lead by those who consider the needs of their people, therefore, are simply not tolerable in the view through the lens of US foreign policy: chaos and violence are Obama's prescription, and the CIA is the method of delivery.

Ukrainian failure to expel USAID (CIA) will probably bring them a genocide.

Thank you Karen for a great- and terrible article.

Isaiah Earhart said...


What do people in the US get in exchange for our horrible healthcare and brutally long waits for surgery?

I can't think of anything we have exchanged for our piss poor healthcare except a medical bill that affords us excellent opportunity for triumph at bankruptcy court.

At least the Cubans get currency. No?

Fred Drumlevitch said...

annenigma said...
"Jesus H. Christ, when do we catch a break and get some good news for a change? This world is going to hell in a handbasket at warp speed..."

Actually, @annenigma, as Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr said, "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose". The players may (or may not) change, but the problems don’t, as can be seen from a sampling of article titles from the periodical “Current History”, 1933 issues:

Austria Resists Nazi Imperialism

Denmark's New Trade Deal

Fascism and the Socialist Failure

Hitler's Propaganda Machine

India's Case for Independence

Is America Ripe For Fascism?

Militarism Grips Japan

Nazis Consolidate Their Power

Sweden's Public Works Program

The Drive for a Minimum Wage

The German Socialist Debacle

The Hitler Dictatorship

The Real Estate Boom --- And After

The World Economic Conference

Why the Banks Collapsed

Zee said...


I've had better luck with our healthcare system than some, through various surgeries and treatments. I won't elaborate beyond that. Do I have to apologize for having good outcomes, or would you rather that I would have died waiting in line?

Not that MY conditions were that dire, mind you. But just asking.

Not that my straits were that dire,

Zew said...


Don't know where the Robert David Steel link came from. Something old with an exchange with Denis I think. Tablets are really crummy for communiction. But it's all I've got at the moment.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Golly gee, Zee, I hate waiting in line too. The Cuban standard is just so sub par, as you say, although I read it still beats the US for child mortality, life expectancy and other minor stuff like that. Even with the long lines of Cubans circling Cuba waiting for a doc to show up. Maybe if the US hadn’t been imposing their vicious embargo since 1960, the Cuban standard of living, healthcare and even the life expectancy of their 1950s auto fleet might be somewhat improved.

Even with one arm tied behind their socialist backs (by Uncle Sam), Cubans in many key categories beat the health stats of other countries in the Caribbean and South America. Oh, I almost forgot, and the USA. Cuba has trained so many doctors –– 6.7 per 1,000 –– that even if half of their doctors are abroad earning much needed dollars (needed to buy drugs and technical equipment back home) their doctor/patient ratio (with half the force absent) still beats that of the UK by far. Oh, and the USA, too.

Shouldn’t we be wildly impressed at their Yankee (cough, cough) ingenuity at accomplishing all that despite the Yankees’ continuous undercutting through embargoes, banking obstruction, outright invasion and on-going sabotage?

Damn it, even their literacy rate beats that of the US by a fraction (99.8% vs 99%) according to CIA world tables on the subject.

Of course, that’s in Spanish, not the lingo of the advanced world. If tested in English, the Cuban literacy rate would likely plummet into the cellar –– unless they took a mind to adopting ASL. We should talk more about their incapacity in English, drive-through health care, and the number of skin tucks they don’t do on wrinkled faces.

Recently, I was at a hospital where food was served through a new system called “Room Service.” Yup, a big, glossy, threefoId menu (Did I die on the table and wake up at Applebee’s?) with trays ordered individually by phone (everybody has a free phone at the bedside) any time between 6:30 AM and 6:30 PM. Betcha the Cubans aren’t even trying to do anything that far advanced.

Denis Neville said...

@ Zee - who sites a 2012 article from Al Jazeera, no less!

A totally different take on Cuban health care, from the New England Journal of Medicine, “Medical Care in Cuba - A Different Model,” excerpts:

“The Cuban health care system seems unreal. There are too many doctors. Everybody has a family physician. Everything is free, totally free — and not after prior approval or some copay. The whole system seems turned upside down. It is tightly organized, and the first priority is prevention. Although Cuba has limited economic resources, its health care system has solved some problems that ours has not yet managed to address.”

“Family physicians, along with their nurses and other health workers, are responsible for delivering primary care and preventive services to their panel of patients — about 1000 patients per physician in urban areas. All care delivery is organized at the local level, and the patients and their caregivers generally live in the same community. The medical records in cardboard folders are simple and handwritten, not unlike those we used in the United States 50 years ago. But the system is surprisingly information-rich and focused on population health.”

“Every patient is visited at home once a year, and those with chronic conditions receive visits more frequently. When necessary, patients can be referred to a district polyclinic for specialty evaluation, but they return to the community team for ongoing treatment.”

“This highly structured, prevention-oriented system has produced positive results. Vaccination rates in Cuba are among the highest in the world. The life expectancy of 78 years from birth is virtually identical to that in the United States. The infant mortality rate in Cuba has fallen from more than 80 per 1000 live births in the 1950s to less than 5 per 1000 — lower than the U.S. rate.”

“But one should not romanticize Cuban health care. The system is not designed for consumer choice or individual initiatives. There is no alternative, private-payer health system. Physicians get government benefits such as housing and food subsidies, but they are paid only about $20 per month. Their education is free, and they are respected, but they are unlikely to attain personal wealth. Cuba is a country where 80% of the citizens work for the government, and the government manages the budgets. In a community health clinic, signs tell patients how much their free care is actually costing the system, but no market forces compel efficiency.”

“Resources are limited, as we learned in meeting with Cuban medical and public health professionals as part of a group of editors from the United States.

[limitation and resource constraints that affect progress are blamed on the long-standing U.S. economic embargo]

“As a result of the strict economic embargo, Cuba has developed its own pharmaceutical industry and now not only manufactures most of the medications in its basic pharmacopeia, but also fuels an export industry.

“Many of those physicians work outside the country, volunteering for two or more years of service, for which they receive special compensation. In 2008, there were 37,000 Cuban health care providers working in 70 countries around the world. Most are in needy areas where their work is part of Cuban foreign aid, but some are in more developed areas where their work brings financial benefit to the Cuban government (e.g., oil subsidies from Venezuela).” - Edward W. Campion, M.D., and Stephen Morrissey, Ph.D., N Engl J Med 2013; 368:297-299, January 24, 2013

Denis Neville said...

Zee asks, “Do I have to apologize for having good outcomes, or would you rather that I would have died waiting in line?”

It’s great that you have had better luck with our healthcare system than some. No one wish anyone to die waiting in line for medical care.

Having personally volunteered at free health care clinics, you are very, very fortunate not to have had to stand in those long, long lines, waiting to get care when you are ill.

So pardon me if I feel less than charitable.

Your attitude, once again, comes across as a reprise of the old British expression, “I’ve got mine, Jack.”

annenigma said...


If you meant the story about USAID, the only place I found it was at the Guardian. Nothing in the US media.

James F Traynor said...

Clearly, our economic war on Cuba has materially affected its overall prosperity. And we have continued, clandestinely, to try and effect 'regime change' and have supported occasional terrorist attacks against it. It's not surprising that this has also reduced money available for its health programs. To then ingenuously point at the programs' resulting deficiencies is, at least, naive and, at most, an exercise in sophistry. Coming from you, Zee, I will assume the former.

Jay - Ottawa said...

“La Jornada,” that lefty daily from Mexico City, likes to top a collection of reports and editorials on an important topic with a quip. Here’s the quip for today on the series about USAID’s “democratization” effort in Cuba.

“Each day Obama sinks a little lower. At least with the Bushes we knew what to expect.”

Cada día, Obama se hunde un poco más. Por lo menos, con los Bush sabíamos a qué atenernos.

annenigma said...

I don't suppose any of our adversaries would think to recruit some young kids to come to our southern border with the rest of the current crop of immigrants in a similar ruse.

Related or not, the military just announced it's closing its emergency shelters on military bases for these immigrants saying they were no longer needed, even though the number of immigrants has only just 'begun to slow' - likely due to summer heat.

Related or not, the military is also going to start doing FBI background checks on everyone entering bases.

In the meantime, the Obama regime's secret terrorist tracking system has doubled the number of names in 4 years. Al Qaeda makes up only a small percentage. Most are non-affiliated individuals, probably people who have simply given the finger to the USG. No one I know!

Zee said...


It was not my intention to “lord” my quality of health care over anyone, or to gloat. My experience is what everyone in this country should have.

But I simply found Isaiah Earhart's blanket comment on U.S. healthcare to be completely over the top:

“What do people in the US get in exchange for our horrible health care and brutally long waits for surgery?”

I merely pointed out that—in my experience and the experience of many others—neither of his assertions is as categorically true as he seemed to imply. I see no arrogance or gloating in pointing out truth.* Health care in this country can be very good; it's access and preposterous costs, IMHO, that are the problems.

As I have remarked many times in this forum, I support a Canadian-style, single-payer health care system for this country. I have said that to my congresscritters, too, in e-mails and telephone calls, for all the good that it will do. I'm willing to pay more in taxes so that everyone in this country can have what I have vis-à-vis health care. (Though I admit that I'm in no hurry to pay more in order to get less.)

But until the day comes that this country opts for a single-payer system, I'm going to accept the quality health care that I have with gratitude, and not apologies, guilt or denial. I can't give my insurance to anyone else, and I'm not going to allow progressives to turn the accident of my birth into a new “original sin.” I've got enough to worry about as it is.


*I think that the expression is actually I'm all right, Jack!, not I've got mine, Jack!, though the sentiment is the same.'m%20all%20right%20Jack!

Zee said...


You make the Canadian health care system sound pretty good. As you've mentioned a recent health care issue, I'm assuming that you were a patient in the hospital that you reference below, and that it is in Canada? (I ask that because I seem to recollect that you also do volunteer service in some health care capacity or other, so you may merely have been a volunteer instead of an "inmate.")

“Recently, I was at a hospital where food was served through a new system called “Room Service.” Yup, a big, glossy, threefold menu (Did I die on the table and wake up at Applebee’s?) with trays ordered individually by phone (everybody has a free phone at the bedside) any time between 6:30 AM and 6:30 PM. Betcha the Cubans aren’t even trying to do anything that far advanced.” — Jay— Ottawa

If my assumptions are correct and you were a patient at the aforementioned, comfy Canadian hospital, did you order from the "Applebee's-style" menu and perhaps enjoy what you selected—in contrast to the dreadful “hospital food” that I remember with distaste? Or did you demand a nourishing breakfast/lunch/dinner of overcooked oatmeal, rubbery jello and a juice drink of doubtful origin in solidarity with Cuban hospital patients?

If my assumptions are totally wrong, disregard this comment and question.

But if you were a patient in the subject hospital, did you accept your health care without a sense of guilt or shame?

annenigma said...

Did you know that many EMRs (Electronic Medical Records), are already filled out electronically by default to indicate that every organ system is in tiptop shape (lungs clear, PERRLA, reflexes normal, etc). Unless the doctor unchecks the box, the statistics generated will show you to be healthier than you actually are. See, the system works!

Far too much time, work, and importance is placed on documentation, mostly for insurance reimbursement but also to meet government demands for 'research' or 'monitoring for epidemics' or whatever euphemism they're using to justify snooping for their vast databases.

When you see a doctor, the first thing he does is tab through the items he is required to provide to the insurers/government, not for his care of you. Their needs come first.

The doctors don't even have time to make eye contact anymore. Their eyes are on the computer screen. Is that a sign of quality of care? The doctor has become an insurance documentarian. Even if what they entered was related to your condition, few doctors can locate the information they're looking for when they need it due to windows and tabs and more windows. The doctors obviously didn't design these systems. There have been too many fingers in this health care pie, making a mess.

Don't underestimate the government's involvement and interest in EMRs. They spent billions of our taxpayer money pushing them. They get a lot out of it too, but sorry, that's classified.

Having to meet the demands of the insurance companies/government has a HUGE negative impact on our quality of care, something that doctors under other systems don't even have to bother with. Many of our doctors have retired early or simply left medicine. They're exasperated. The others are gaming the system, padding and fudging the 'care' to get the maximum reimbursement because they don't respect the system - they're prisoners of it now. It's a good thing patients have no clue how poor the quality of care is that they're actually getting due to bureaucratic machinations, otherwise they might revolt.

If you see our health 'care' system as being anything other than a increasing farce with some lucky good outcomes, you might want to get your eyes examined.

Zee said...

@Denis, @Jay—Ottawa and @James Traynor (in reverse order)—


First, let me acknowledge that the U.S. economic embargo imposed on Cuba can't help but have a deleterious effect on Cuba's health care system, and everything else related to the Cuban economy.

Hell, if it weren't illegal for me to travel there directly, Mrs. Zee and I might go there on a scuba-diving trip and help them along with some tourist dollars. (Mrs. Zee's father, after all, was Puerto Rican though born in Cuba. Played hell with my DOE Q clearance! So maybe we should have a look at the place.)

(“Make mine a Cuba libré por favor.”)

(Though I can skip swimming with schooling barracuda and observing shark-feeds. I like the “small stuff” on the reefs. )

So no, James, I'm not naïve and I'm not indulging in sophistry. Cuba would be a very different place if we would lift our economic embargo, something that I would be happy to see.

But as I recollect, you reside in Florida. My guess is that you will be as successful in persuading your local Republican-coveted, Cuban-American voter population to support easing of economic sanctions on Cuba as I will in coercing my New Mexico congresscritters to vote for a Canadian-style, single-payer health care system. So here we are, taking “The world as it is” until we can change it or it changes under us of necessity.


You (and Denis) cite a whole bunch of statistics wherein Cuban health care bests the United States. I might dare to ask “Who 'vets' those statistics?”

My guess—I suggest this without proof at the moment, something that I have only “heard”—is that they come straight from the subject countries without many questions from the world organizations that “post” them.

I don't feel guilty about (temporarily) mistrusting your statistics without supporting evidence because another of our Sardonickistas did the same to me when I offered, some time ago, to provide some interesting statistics on another topic and was told not to bother because the sources—all reputable media outlets—had probably been manipulated in one way or another and therefore were not to be trusted. And so the mistrust goes.

I'll look further into your statistics when I've completed the backbreaking task of moving all my furniture around in preparation for a major floor renovation. I hope that I don't wind up in an American hospital with another major “back failure” in the process. I might face “ horrible healthcare and brutally long waits for surgery...”


You have provided a New England Journal of Medicine article as proof-positive of the essential superiority of the the Cuban health care system over that of the U.S. On the other hand, I submitted an on-the-ground, journmalist account of health care in Cuba from someone who had—as of 2012—lived there since 1997, which runs rather counter to the NEJM article. Whom do we believe?

Well, I'm always inclined to believe the person on the ground. On the other hand, the authors of the NEJM article make an interesting statement:

“Resources are limited, as we learned in meeting with Cuban medical and public health professionals as part of a group of editors from the United States.[sic] (My bold emphasis.)

So, what did the authors of the NEJM article learn about the blessings of the Cuban health care system, and from whom did they learn it? A bunch of Cuban government propagandists during a staged event, or someone with friends on the ground?

Just askin'.

Isaiah Earhart said...


Did I ask you to apologize for getting good healthcare?

Did someone insinuate that you should die waiting in line for surgery?

Or are you erecting a straw man in order to shoot arrows through an argument never actually made?

Even the article you cited admitted that there is VIP treatment in Cuba. Why should it be a surprise to me that there is VIP treatment in the US?

Your argument confuses me.

As to the voracity of my claim, I stand by it.

I called the local hand surgeon's office (Seattle) on July 29 to get my son a hand surgery for a piece of glass embedded in his right hand. (He was riding on his bike to the high school and had a collision with a moving car.) After hearing first hand from the surgeon of how important having surgery was to remove the glass discovered via xray, he instructed us to visit his appointment manager to set a date for surgery. We did so immediately. My son will have his hand operated on this Friday (8/8/2014).

I know anecdotal accounts are total BS when it comes to assessing the truth of any claim. But I figured I would fight fire with fire in discussing this with you, if you catch my drift.

voice-in-wilderness said...

It's a reminder that anyone electable as President will have no sense of morality, no respect for the law, operating on their own interests and whichever groups are funding them.

The exterior packaging will vary, as it has with Clinton, Bush, and Obama, but they are all corrupted.

Jay - Ottawa said...

At long last, sir, have you no sense of proportion?

We’ve been down this road before, Zee. Do you really want to draw me out again? I so much more preferred oblique irony in countering your last best shot at Cuban health care.

“Interesting. Cubans get Venezuelan oil in exchange for lesser health care on their part.” ----Zee

Huh? That’s your bottom line conclusion based on one anecdotal report in Al Jazeera? That Cuba shorts its people on medical care to favor its aging machines with oil from Venezuela? Amazing how far off the mark you can drift when history and statistics are ignored.

Faulting Cuba for not providing medical attention as swiftly as lucky Americans are able to get it is absurd. It is a blithe insult to both Cubans and the intelligence of thinking Americans who know the history of Cuban-American relations since Castro took over from Batista.

“Do I have to apologize for having good outcomes, or would you rather that I would have died waiting in line?” ----Zee

No, I don’t beat my wife, nor do I want anyone to die from neglect.

In discussions of politics and culture, perhaps it is best not to see one’s navel as the center of the universe. My own personal experience is nothing more than the ultimate anecdotal crumb of evidence, and therefore useless in broad policy discussions, or as a basis for advocating for the status quo or change. Unless of course I happen to be a narcissist who believes his experience provides preeminently the instructive, balanced history and all the insight necessary to proceed.

On the other hand, if you’re moved to apologize for something, let it be for habitually pushing forward your own lovely personal experiences and unremitting good fortune as THE yardstick for policy. How sensitive, how insightful, how balanced. By the way, do send us updates at the first opportunity about your furniture shifting at home and your scuba diving adventures off of Cuba, or some happier isle.

There’s a see-saw struggle that goes on within all of us endlessly. The narcissist within is always doing battle with our compassionate fool. We advertise how compassionate and fair-minded we are, but when others tell us to open our eyes, we discover too often we’re in the company of the comfortable, and proud of it. That ever occur to you, Zee?

You habitually serve up your good luck and sparkle thinking as the best argument. In your first Cuba comment, you never mention the US embargo. The links I provided –– lots of statistics there, my scientist friend, as distinct from your bottomless well of personal anecdotes –– tell you the following: Despite the dirty tricks of Uncle Sam, that Cuban turtle you disparage keeps crossing the healthcare finish line before the US rabbit.

Many of us in the advanced world benefit from the criminal fix that allows the wheel of fortune to turn in our favor. Reveling in disparity is not a fault of the 1% alone. Maybe someday, somewhere, somehow we shall each be forced to apologize for reflexively blaming the unlucky as we continued through life to support, and benefit from, the fix.

Isaiah Earhart said...

@Jay - Ottawa

Thank you for that!

I didn't have the guts to just man up and say it.

James F Traynor said...

Jesus H Christ, as annenigma would say (and I often do), you upper-middle class guys give me a major pain in the ass. Read again Zee's retort to me and then read it again. You are all, including Zee, engaging in a pissing contest over this Cuba thing. And Zee is not a narcissist, but he is a pain in the ass at times (well,frequently); libertarians just are.

I'm going to walk my dogs now and then go to bed and continue reading le Carré's A Most Wanted Man. I missed it somehow. Someone is making it into a move. Should be interesting; the book is.

Denis Neville said...

James F Traynor said “you upper-middle class guys give me a major pain in the ass … engaging in a pissing contest …”

What? Oh, you say, your the pot calling the kettle black?

“Or intellectuals deluded by the subtle tactics of we anti-semitics??

“Damn, your right! I am an unconscious anti-Semitic, as conclusively demonstrated by my use of the lower case in anti -semitic. Damn, there I go again!”

“Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! Oh shit! Now how did that happen?”

“It's gotta be my limbic system (the beast). And this is my 4th comment in a row.”

“Israel is buying the F35, a squadron load - 19 planes at $2.75 billion. Tell 'em about the F35, Neville.”

“..."based on the H&K 416" ? It is the goddamn H&K 416 - a German army weapon. And we can't do as well? Horseshit!”

James F Traynor said all the above on July 30, 2014.

Sure, tell those “upper-middle class guys” that they are a “major pain in the ass,” but forget to tell them the part about you being an ass. So you only like the truth when it fits the reality you have created for yourself? Please, by all means, continue to delude yourself. No one will catch on.

El comal le dijo a la olla, que tiznada estás! Oye, oye.

annenigma said...


You've got to try to forgive James. He gives precedence to his inner beast which twice convinced him to vote for Obama, the last time because his beast was pacing and growling over the danger it sensed in Romney. Never mind that Obama was already reveling in his own drone kills.


We can debate whether Zee is a narcissist or not, but it's well known that Zee has volunteered more info about himself than those who have been at this forum far longer. He's admittedly even shared digital photos of himself with Valerie and Karen.

So what kind of person volunteers so many personal details online to complete strangers? More importantly, WHY? The answer lies within.

Zee said...

@Isaiah Earhart and @Jay—

“Lies, damned lies and statistics” versus anecdotes, Part I

I apologize for needlessly provocative remarks aimed at both of you. I don't know what gets into me sometimes. But I stand by the substance of my original comment, specifically, that not all health care in the United States is “horrible,” with “brutally long waits for surgery.”

Isaiah, I don't know if eleven days is a “brutally long wait” for your son's hand surgery or not. As I read your comment—and I might be wrong—you seem to think that is the case, but apparently the surgeon did not agree. Whom am I to believe as to whether your son's wait was “acceptable” or “intolerable?” More information might be helpful, but, in any event, I hope that your son emerges from his surgery with full use of his hand.

Both of you seem to hold “anecdotal evidence” in utter disdain, whereas, what... statistics?...are the fount of all truth:

“I know anecdotal accounts are total BS when it comes to assessing the truth of any claim.” —Isaiah Earhart

“Huh? That’s your bottom line conclusion based on one anecdotal report in Al Jazeera? That Cuba shorts its people on medical care to favor its aging machines with oil from Venezuela? Amazing how far off the mark you can drift when history and statistics are ignored.” —Jay-Ottawa

“ My own personal experience is nothing more than the ultimate anecdotal crumb of evidence, and therefore useless in broad policy discussions, or as a basis for advocating for the status quo or change.” —Jay-Ottawa

As a scientist, I suppose that I should worship statistics as the ultimate source of truth in policy-making. Still, I've done enough statistical analyses on my own data, and re-analyzed the data of other scientists and engineers, to know that Mark Twain had the right of it when he said:

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

While I confess that I, too, have on occasion sprinkled statistics about like holy water to bless my own arguments and positions in this forum, still, I am always asking myself the following questions (among others):

Who collected or provided the data? Do you trust him/her/them? What were the relevant methodologies used in the analysis? Were there other statistics that could be pulled from the same data that were ignored or overlooked by the analyst(s), and, if so, why? (That is, were the statistical parameters cherry-picked to emphasize one argument over another?)

That's why I asked Denis who provided the information about Cuban health care to the authors of the New England Journal of Medicine. It sounded like a staged government event for the benefit of editors of foreign medical journals.

All I can seem to gain access to are secondary sources like this, rather than the actual NEJM article:

So how can I tell what/who the sources of the information are? That matters to me as a scientist, and it should matter to Denis and you, too.

Zee said...

“Lies, damned lies and statistics” versus anecdotes, Part II

So should the hopelessly “sparkly”—to use your word, Jay—language of the NEJM article

“The Cuban health care system seems unreal[!]. There are too many doctors[!]. Everybody has a family physician[!]. Everything is free, totally free[!]...”

Not entirely the language I would expect from a scholarly journal, so again, my BS detector goes on high alert. Perhaps the authors of the article have an agenda too?

They glowingly report on the fact that the Cuban infant mortality rate (4.7/1000 live births) is now better than that of the U.S. (6.17), and that the average Cuban life span now equals that of the U.S..

But they don't report that the Cuban maternal mortality rate per 100,000 of live births is 73, versus 21 for the U.S. More than a factor of three difference! (Not that our rate is all that good compared with the rest of the developed world.) Still, I suspect some cherry-picking here to make a political point.

So yes, I find the “anecdotal” Al Jazeera article to be an interesting counterweight to the cheery NEJM article, and various other accounts of Cuban health care, too. Heck, even Fidel Castro went to Spain for treatment of his serious ailments rather than being treated in Cuba:

Is that just another worthless anecdote that we should all ignore, or could it be legitimately regarded as a data point on the quality of Cuban health care?

Look. I'm not trying to argue that Cuban health care is dreadful, or even bad. Nor have I ignored the fact that the trade embargo has worked a severe hardship on the Cuban people in every facet of their lives. I'd like to see those sanctions lifted too. But if the Al Jezeera article is accurate, Cuban health care has its problems too, some certainly attributable to the trade sanctions, but others, like corruption, preferential treatment, and shorting the Cuban people on health care in exchange for petroleum and political influence, are simply the result of people being people.

As James notes, we could go on and on with this pissing contest as to how great or how poor the Cuban health care system is, with duelling statistics and anecdotes. So I'm just going to let go of it now.

But as I'll relate in another post, I personally find the anecdotal experiences of others to be hugely enlightening when I think that I can trust the source(s). Just as I have to understand and trust the sources for the statistics that we so often throw about here.

Both help me get my eyes up from my navel from time to time to help me see “what's what” in “the real world.”

Isaiah Earhart said...

@Zee and All

I meant to write June 26th, not July 29th. He has been waiting for 42 days. It will be 44 days from the time we made the phone call to the surgeon. The x-rays had already been examined by the time I called.

@Zee about anecdotal evidence-

I am well versed about differing kinds of evidence.

Zee said...


Sheesh, anne, you make it sound as if I've been sending nude selfies to Karen, Valerie, and, yes, Fred Drumlevitch, too!

The truth is much more pedestrian, though perhaps explaining will only persuade all of you out there that I really am a narcissist.

I began correspondences with Valerie and Fred some time ago because they were daring enough to give e-mail addresses and names first, both seemed genuinely interested in discussing issues where conservatives and progressives could agree, and both seemed, well, decent and trustworthy.

So I gathered up my courage and contacted them. We've discussed a number of topics of mutual interest over the past couple of years, and both have sometimes influenced my positions towards the progressive end of the political spectrum. Perhaps, in part, because they were willing to listen to me, too.

I have found Valerie's anecdotes—yes, anecdotes —about her experiences over a long teaching career to be both touching and influential on my way of thinking about education.

As a fellow scientist, I have found Fred's critical thinking skills and sociopolitical insights to be very persuasive, too. For example, he's the one who, in e-mail discussions, opened my eyes to the reality that we don't really have a true democratic republic any more, but a “managed democracy” with only the illusion of true liberty.

I think I've sent Valerie a single image of Mrs. Zee and me during our correspondence. Sometimes it's nice to be able to put a face to a name, no? I don't think that I've sent Fred any images whatsoever. Yes, we probably all have traded a little bit of personal information along the way in our correspondences as our experiences have influenced our perspectives, but I don't think that either Valerie or Fred would say that I've been gushing forth about my personal life as a narcissist might do, or pried unduly into their personal lives for potentially sinister purposes.

I identified myself to Karen simply because I thought that a blogmaster who was willing to tolerate a conservative in her midst should know who I was. It seemed a gesture of trust. Is that ridiculous? I don't recollect exactly what I divulged to her, but, again, I don't think I overflowed with narcissitic, personal disclosures about myself, and haven't been since. Nor, I think, will she ever suggest that I have been prying about her life, personal or otherwise.

I did, however, send her a couple of really scary images. One was of a couple of dolphins that we took while diving. That was during our discussion of the potential damage that “sonic cannons” were doing to sealife, so it seemed relevant and I needed to ask her to send me a copy of Pearl's memoir anyway. It was one of the transcendent moments in my life, so why not send the image? I think the other was of me helping to carry our church's banner in our Gay Pride Day parade.

On this site, how much personal information have I revealed? That I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico? A few generalities about a past career as a scientist? Mention of a few hobbies and interests (which seems to irritate some people)? That my younger brother—who was a much nicer person than I am—died at a young age, which irreversibly colored my outlook on life? Heck, anne, you've revealed that you live in Montana, Denis in Kansas, James in Florida, and Jay in...well...Ottawa.

Denis has remarked on other details of his personal life that have deeply influenced him, as has Karen. So my revelations to “complete strangers” seem pretty much in line with others here and not particularly excessive. And I certainly haven't pried into anyone's personal affairs on this site that I can recollect.

If I do share a little more about my personal life than others on this site, does that make me a narcissist? I think I'm only trying to render myself a little more human to all of you. Perhaps a suspicious act in itself.

annenigma said...


I rest my case.

You're too much fun!

Zee said...


Not sure what your case is, but I've rested mine, too.

If I've amused, well, happy to be of help.

Zee said...

@Isaiah Earhart--

Thank you for the clarification regarding the length of the delay between your son's accident, evaluation by a surgeon, and the pending date of surgery. I am inclined to agree with you that a wait of 44 days for surgery to repair a young man's hand following a significant accident seems unwarranted in this country. Chalk up another piece of anecdotal evidence in my mind that this country is in need of serious health care reform. (Though I would be interested in getting some input from our Canadian Sardonickistas regarding “wait times” on this topic. I'm curious, as always.)

I didn't mean to suggest that you don't understand the difference between anecdotal “evidence” ( i.e., analyses of accumulated, isolated, personal “stories” about events past and present) and “real” information inferred from statistical analyses of scientifically-collected “data.”

(Which word, “data,” has alarmingly different meanings even to those of us who self-annoint ourselves as “scientists,” and who dispute the meaning as to what constitutes “real” data even amongst ourselves:

But that's merely an aside, for another day.)

I simply gathered from your remark, which I quoted above and reproduce below, that you don't put much stock in analysis of isolated personal “anecdotes” as a source for truth:

“I know anecdotal accounts are total BS when it comes to assessing the truth of any claim.”

And yet, I—the self-annointed scientist—take seriously your revised anecdotal account of your son's delay in surgery. It seems unconscionably wrong to me.

Just as I took seriously—and read in great detail—William Neil's account of his long—and apparently thus-far futile—battle to obtain badly needed care within our current, sorry health care system: Field Notes From a Lagging Indicator.

I don't know William Neil from Adam, just as I don't know you, Isaiah, or your son, from...well...Adam, either. Yet here I am, taking both of your “anecdotes” seriously, and using William Neil's well-documented, god-awful-long story, at least, as evidence in discussions with my federal legislators (actually, their pathetically patient, ill-informed, and doubtless poorly-paid, 'phone-answering staffs) that ObamaCare is a disaster that needs to be fixed with a single-payer system.

There's “data” and there's “anecdotal data.” Both have their place in my scientific mind.

Perhaps I should favor cold, hard “statistical analyses” over “anecdotes” when it comes to serious policy-making. But knowing what I do about “statistics” and “data,” I just can't bring myself to do that, either.

Whither now?

Isaiah Earhart said...


My original comment to you was a response to your admonishment of the Cuban practice of sending doctors to Venezuela in exchange for virtual currency.

I asserted that the US has horrible healthcare and brutally long waits for surgery, and all we get in exchange is a backbreaking bill.

You refuted this by talking about your experience with US healthcare.

No offence meant, but do you honestly believe that your (Zee) experience, in what is almost purely a pay for access system, is in anyway representative of the greater US healthcare system?

I probably should not have spoke of anecdotal evidence in what was clearly a holistically wretched manner. There are very good reasons and situations in which anecdotal evidence is far superior to data analysis.

Hearing testimony from a fairly wealthy person about how good US healthcare systems are is probably not the greatest example of the potential awesomeness of anecdotal evidence.

(About the wrong dates- I guessed at the day number. When I went to find the actual day that I called, which was June 26th, I realized that I had also wrote down the wrong month. I found out about the month error while reading your post.)

Zee said...

@Isaiah Earhart--

It was not my intention to imply that the health care that I receive is representative of the state of health care in the United States, though clearly that's the way it was taken by virtually everyone following this thread. I really am not so naïve or insulated as to be unaware of the many and serious deficiencies of our for-profit health care system, which is why I support a Canadian-style, single-payer system for this country.

Still, some of us do receive good care from good doctors in good facilities, though I could not tell you what fraction of Americans receive care comparable to mine.

So, to make a long story short, I thought that your statement was, well, not entirely accurate. I foolishly chose to make an issue of a trivial detail, when, in hindsight, I should have just let it go.

Again, based on your updated information, I think your son's wait for hand surgery—44 days!— following an accident does seem unconscionably long, and I hope that his recovery is complete once the surgery is done.

James F Traynor said...

Jeez! Is anybody listening, reading? Is this the end?

Denis? Up yours, fondly.

Karen, if you are and you just might be, this last has been great fun.

And Zee, as much as I like mathematics, the mother of statistics, you're right about anecdotal evidence. It's like those nasty little outliers, it can tell you a lot.

Again is anyone listening? This is a test. One, two, three, four ...

Zee said...

Still here, James. Can't go anywhere with workmen still demolishing half my home.

Still, I think this thread has run its course.

Have a good evening.

James F Traynor said...