Mondays are always problematic – no one likes Mondays – but Mondays in Cuba can be brutal:
Laying bare a half-century of tensions, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro prodded each other Monday over human rights and the longstanding U.S. economic embargo during an unprecedented joint news conference that stunned Cubans unaccustomed to their leaders being aggressively questioned.
The exchanges underscored deep divisions that still exist between the two countries despite rapidly improved relations in the 15 months since Obama and Castro surprised the world with an announcement to end their Cold War-era diplomatic freeze.
Obama, standing in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution on the second day of his historic visit to Cuba, repeatedly pushed Castro to take steps to address his country’s human rights record.
“We continue, as President Castro indicated, to have some very serious differences, including on democracy and human rights,” said Obama, who planned to meet with Cuban dissidents Tuesday. Still, Obama heralded a “new day” in the U.S.-Cuba relationship and said “part of normalizing relations means we discuss these differences directly.”
Castro was blistering in his criticism of the American embargo, which he called “the most important obstacle” to his country’s economic development. He also pressed Obama to return the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, which is on the island of Cuba, to his government.
“There are profound differences between our countries that will not go away,” Castro said plainly.
Well, so much for that idea of opening up with Cuba – this isn’t going to be easy, if it’s even possible. The pope worked hard to get each government to at least start talking to each other, in a year of secret back-channel back and forth negotiations, but talking to each other isn’t the same as agreeing on anything at all, and Raul Castro hasn’t yet got the hang of how things work in the larger world:
Castro appeared agitated at times during the questioning, professing to not understand whether inquiries were directed to him. But when an American reporter asked about political prisoners in Cuba, he pushed back aggressively, saying if the journalist could offer names of anyone improperly imprisoned, “They will be released before tonight ends.”
“What political prisoners? Give me a name or names,” Castro said.
Well, that’s not so easy:
Cuba has been criticized for briefly detaining demonstrators thousands of times a year but has drastically reduced its practice of handing down long prison sentences for crimes human rights groups consider to be political. Cuba released dozens of prisoners as part of its deal to normalize relations with the U.S., and in a recent report, Amnesty International did not name any current prisoners of conscience in Cuba. Lists compiled by Cuban and Cuban-American groups list between 47 and 80 political prisoners, although Cuban officials describe many as common criminals.
Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said the U.S. regularly raises specific cases and some are resolved, but added Cuba typically insists they’re being held for other crimes. Rhodes said, “I’ve shared many lists with the Cuban government.”
Raul thinks those lists are bogus – those folks are just petty criminals – and also a bogus attempt to make his government look bad when it’s simply keeping everyone safe. We may be in for years of impossible arguments about what a “political prisoner” actually is. That will go nowhere. Who’s to say? But Castro did say he’d free some folks that they really shouldn’t have locked up, if he were given their names, which only confuses things:
Obama’s and Castro’s comments were broadcast live on state television, which is tightly controlled by the government and the Communist Party.
At an outdoor cafe in Havana, about a dozen Cubans and tourists watched in awed silence. One woman held her hand to her mouth in shock.
“It’s very significant to hear this from our president, for him to recognize that not all human rights are respected in Cuba,” said Raul Rios, a 47-year-old driver, who also expressed agreement with Castro’s defense that Cuba is good in some areas, no country is perfect and all should try to do better.
Ricardo Herrera, a 45-year-old street food vendor said, “It’s like a movie but based on real life.”
After responding to a handful of questions, Castro ended the news conference abruptly, declaring, “I think this is enough.”
No one was happy with any of this. Earlier, Ted Cruz wrote a piece in Politico – In Cuba, Obama Will Legitimize the Corrupt and Ignore the Oppressed – but Obama was clearly there to talk with them about such things, along with all the trade and travel stuff. Is it better not to talk with them at all? Do we maintain the embargo for another fifty years, and close the embassy that Obama just reopened, and tell all the American corporations now eager to do business there to forget about doing that, ever?
Cruz has a lonely position here. A whole lot of Republican business executives are unhappy with him, and except for a few Cuban exiles in Miami, those in their eighties, no one quite knows what Ted’s problem is. What would his presidency look like? America would pout?
What would any new presidency look like? People are beginning to worry about that, and Monday brought new data:
Alarmed by the harsh attacks and negative tone of their presidential contest, broad majorities of Republican primary voters view their party as divided and a source of embarrassment and think that the campaign is more negative than in the past, according to a New York Times/CBS News national poll released on Monday.
The dismay has not set back their leading candidate, however. While about four in 10 Republican voters disapprove of how Donald J. Trump has handled the violence at some of his rallies, Mr. Trump has also picked up the most support recently as several rivals have left the race. Forty-six percent of primary voters said they would like to see Mr. Trump as the party’s nominee, more than at any point since he declared his candidacy in June. Twenty-six percent favored Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and 20 percent backed Gov. John Kasich of Ohio.
There you have it. Most Republicans think their party is an embarrassment, fewer than half of them want to have anything to do with Donald Trump, but there’s really no one else – Cruz and Kasich have few fans. No one is happy, and then there’s this:
Compared with Republicans, far more Democratic primary voters see their side as unified and say the campaign has made them feel mostly proud of their party.
Yet Democrats are more sharply divided over their candidates. Hillary Clinton has only a slight edge over Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and growing numbers of Democratic primary voters are more excited about Mr. Sanders as their possible nominee. In the past month, the level of enthusiasm for Mrs. Clinton among Democratic voters has fallen eight percentage points to 40 percent, while it has grown for Mr. Sanders by 12 percentage points to 56 percent. Still, more than seven in 10 Democratic voters expect Mrs. Clinton to win the nomination.
More than half the party prefers Sanders, and seventy percent of the party expects that he can’t possibly win the party’s nomination – which is okay, because they’re proud of their party – but there is a lot of unhappiness in the air outside the two parties:
Half of all voters said they would be scared if Mr. Trump were elected president, and another 19 percent said they would be concerned. Mrs. Clinton does not fare much better: Thirty-five percent of all voters said they would be scared if Mrs. Clinton won in November, and 21 percent said they would be concerned.
Charles Shank, 65, a Kasich supporter, said in a follow-up interview that he was disconcerted by Mr. Trump’s personality and “childish games” and feared that he would not be an effective commander in chief or negotiator with Congress.
“He scares me because he’s a loudmouthed bully,” Mr. Shank said. “He doesn’t come across as presidential. He says ‘I will,’ and I got news for him, he isn’t being elected king. He doesn’t have the ultimate power.”
Now add this:
Among Democrats, doubts persist about Mrs. Clinton, with 40 percent of her own party’s primary voters saying she is not honest and trustworthy. She is viewed unfavorably by 52 percent of all voters, among the highest percentage since the question was first asked during the 1992 presidential race.
“I think she’ll say whatever she needs to, to get elected, and what she says may not be what she’s planning to do,” said Patricia Lawrence, 55, a Philadelphia Democrat who is supporting Mr. Sanders. “I was concerned already when she was first lady, though I don’t know what it is. I just don’t know, and when we find out, it may be too late.”
America faces unhappy choices, and then there’s this:
Both parties have work to do with political independents. Seventy percent of them have a negative view of the Republican Party, and 55 percent are critical of the Democratic Party. Mr. Trump, a political outsider, and Mr. Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who is not a registered Democrat, have performed particularly well among these voters in the primaries so far.
It may be time to give up on the two-party system, but then everyone would be unhappy with the ensuing chaos as we tried to figure out a new way to organize our politics – if we could. It may be time to get used to our unhappiness. That’s what Mondays are for, and everyone has those:
A BuzzFeed News report published Monday alleged that Corey Lewandowski, the campaign manager for Donald Trump who was accused of forcibly grabbing a female reporter’s arm earlier this month, has acted inappropriately around other female reporters on the campaign trail.
Citing more than half a dozen anonymous sources, BuzzFeed reported that Lewandowski has complained about female reporters covering Trump while “voicing a wish to have sex with them.” He also has allegedly called female reporters late in the evening to come on to them, the sources said.
“Some in the press corps joke that if Lewandowski is calling after a certain hour, women are better off not answering,” the report read.
Lewandowski told BuzzFeed via email that its story was “factually inaccurate.” Pressed to clarify which parts of the story were incorrect, he responded, “Be sure before you accuse me of something it’s accurate. And, in these instances you are wrong.”
That’s what Bill Clinton once said, but Donald Trump may have to do something with this guy:
Politico first reported last week that Lewandowski used sexually suggestive and vulgar language with female reporters who covered the Trump campaign, citing anonymous journalists. The report laid out Lewandowski’s alleged history of bullying behavior, including the accusation that he called a female coworker at a previous job a “cunt” in front of colleagues following a disagreement.
The former Breitbart reporter who accused Lewandowski of grabbing her arm, Michelle Fields, has since filed a criminal complaint against him. Lewandowski and the Trump campaign deny he had any involvement in the incident.
Good luck with that. Lewandowski and the Trump campaign were having a bad Monday, but Trump was doing his best to have a good Monday:
Donald J. Trump came to Pennsylvania Avenue on Monday and offered a freewheeling, circuslike glimpse of what the nation’s capital might look like if he is successful in his quest to occupy that big, white house on the 1600 block of the street.
Mr. Trump’s whirlwind day in Washington – part of his effort to demonstrate that he is running a serious presidential campaign – took him from an imposing law firm to a news conference at a hotel he is building here to a much-anticipated policy speech before a pro-Israel group, all with the Manhattan businessman’s characteristic mix of panache, policy and showmanship.
He had mixed results with that:
His first stop was at The Washington Post, for an editorial board meeting where he unveiled five members of his foreign policy team: Keith Kellogg, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Walid Phares and Joseph E. Schmitz. Though Mr. Trump has been promising for months to release the names of his foreign policy advisers, those he presented on Monday have come under fire in the past. But the team will be led by Jeff Sessions, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
That may not help:
Mr. Schmitz, an inspector general in the Defense Department during the George W. Bush administration, said after the announcement that he had yet to speak with Mr. Trump, but that he had provided three policy memos to his campaign. He added that while he did not agree with every word Mr. Trump said about foreign policy, he thought a moratorium on Muslim immigrants was a good idea. He also said he believed Mr. Trump’s attempt to remain “neutral” when dealing with the Israelis and Palestinians was being misconstrued and was simply meant as a negotiating strategy.
Mr. Schmitz resigned his Defense Department post in 2005 amid accusations that he had helped block inquiries into administration officials.
Oops. And there’s this:
Mr. Page, a managing partner at Global Energy Capital, and Mr. Phares, a professor at Daniel Morgan Academy whose specialty is defense and national security, both confirmed that they were advising Mr. Trump, but said they had yet to speak to him. Mr. Phares, who incited controversy when he was announced as an adviser to Mitt Romney in his 2012 presidential bid, has been criticized by Muslim groups and is outspoken against what he calls the threat of Sharia law.
These are odd folks, but at least he has yet to speak with them, but this is odd:
The meeting at The Washington Post was not entirely a success: The paper’s opinion deputy digital director, Karen Attiah, took to Twitter to say that Mr. Trump had “hit on” her there. She later explained, in a column, that he had responded to her questions on policy by saying, “I hope I answered your question,” and adding, “Beautiful.”
Oops again – but maybe he was just being friendly, like Lewandowski, his campaign manager – but at least his next meeting was confidential:
Mr. Trump’s next stop was a private lunchtime meeting of about two dozen lawmakers and lobbyists at a law firm in the shadow of the Capitol, a group that included Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Mr. Sessions; Jim DeMint, the former South Carolina senator who is now president of the conservative Heritage Foundation; Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, and his wife, Calista; and a handful of House Republicans who support Mr. Trump.
Representative Chris Collins of New York, a Trump supporter who attended the meeting, said the group had discussed Mr. Trump’s national defense policy, and how to unite the Republican Party around his candidacy.
But no one would say what was said, which is probably for the best, and then it was the third event:
Mr. Trump seemed most comfortable at an afternoon news conference at the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue, the site of what will be a Trump hotel. Standing below a large peaked skylight and behind a lectern that did not mention Mr. Trump’s campaign but instead touted “Trump Hotels,” he devoted the first five minutes to extolling his “magnificent building,” complete with its exterior of “all granite,” as thick as four or five feet in some places.
In fact, Mr. Trump seemed surprised that the first question from a reporter was not about his new property, but about his meeting with lawmakers.
Oh well – their loss – and then it was the big event, his evening speech in front of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, and Slate’s Isaac Chotiner assesses that:
“I didn’t come here to pander to you about Israel,” Donald Trump said during a surprisingly stilted speech to AIPAC Monday night. “I came here to speak to you about where I stand on the future of American relations with our strategic ally, our unbreakable friendship, and our cultural brother, the only democracy in the Middle East, the state of Israel.” Trump’s speech thus functioned as both a conscious branding of himself as someone uniquely suited to rise above politics as usual, and a blueprint of actual policies, such as they are, that in no way depart from politics as usual.
No one should be surprised:
This isn’t the first time that, on the subject of Israel and the Palestinians, Trump has combined both a critique of political pandering and actual political pandering. For months, Trump has been saying that he would remain neutral in brokering a dialogue between Israelis and the Palestinians, drawing criticism from his Republican rivals, and even, in muted form, from Hillary Clinton in her own speech to AIPAC on Monday. But when you scratch the surface of what Trump has said about Israel – on the campaign trail and during the AIPAC speech – there is nothing new or fresh about it. Trump has blamed Palestinians for the state of conflict in Israel and the West Bank, and stigmatized Islam repeatedly. He has offered nothing in the way of creative policies or new strategies.
It all fits with the typical Trumpian pattern. He has blasted certain tax breaks for the wealthy, earning himself positive headlines, and then gone on to propose the most regressive tax cut of any of the Republican candidates. He has stated that people shouldn’t die in the streets from a lack of health care, and then gone on to propose abolishing Obamacare and replacing it with, er, nobody knows.
And the Monday speech was more of the same:
Most of Trump’s speech on Monday was filled with typical AIPAC boilerplate: bashing Iran, castigating the Iran deal, scolding the United Nations. (Trump got some applause for several of these lines although the crowd appeared to laugh at him when he bragged about how much time he had spent studying the Iran deal.) He even called for moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, something that several candidates have proposed, but no American president – Democrat or Republican – has ever dared to actually do. (The embassy is currently in Tel Aviv.) When it came to peace negotiations between the two sides, Trump put the onus on the Palestinians, even seeming to go beyond where the hawkish crowd was willing to go when he called for “confronting” Palestinian behavior.
Yes, this was an ass-kissing yawn, as it had to be:
Trump has become successful, in part, by breaking with GOP orthodoxy on subjects like trade. But his other supposedly bold stands have just been rhetorical feints at reasonableness. Trump may be uniquely scary in his hatred of the press, the divisiveness of his rhetoric, and the extent of his bigotry. But on Israel, as on so many other subjects, he sounds awfully similar to Ted Cruz and John Kasich – and Hillary Clinton.
Who? Michelle Goldberg covers her AIPAC speech:
Any presidential candidate speaking to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, during an election year is going to bow to the hawkish elements of the Israel lobby. Hillary Clinton’s keynote speech at AIPAC’s annual meeting Monday, however, was more debased than it needed to be, promising that under her administration, Israel will be spared even the mild rebukes it has suffered under President Obama. A symphony of pandering, it attempted to outflank Donald Trump on the right and will end up outraging a large chunk of the left.
Yeah, no one will be happy:
As Joe Biden acknowledged in his AIPAC speech on Sunday, Israel’s “steady and systematic process of expanding settlements, legalizing outposts, seizing land” is making a two-state solution impossible. The settlements are pushing Israel toward a one-state reality, in which Jews rule over the Arabs with whom they are geographically intermingled. Clinton’s speech, however, barely nodded toward this reality, and when it did, it was with a promise to protect Israel from the consequences of flouting international law.
Here is the entirety of Clinton’s remarks about settlements: “Everyone has to do their part by avoiding damaging actions, including with respect to settlements. Now, America has an important role to play in supporting peace efforts. And as president, I would continue the pursuit of direct negotiations. And let me be clear – I would vigorously oppose any attempt by outside parties to impose a solution, including by the U.N. Security Council.”
She spent significantly more time railing against the “alarming” Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, which is gaining traction on college campuses nationwide. Pledging to “take our alliance to the next level,” Clinton said that one of the first things she’d do in office is to invite the Israeli prime minister to the White House. That was a barely veiled rebuke to Obama, who never treated Benjamin Netanyahu with the deference the prime minister felt entitled to.
Goldberg is not happy:
It’s understandable that Clinton would want to widen the gulf between AIPAC and Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee. “We need steady hands, not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday, and who knows what on Wednesday, because everything is negotiable,” she said to applause, out-hawking the man who is running on a platform of Middle Eastern war crimes. In doing so, she offered a bridge to #NeverTrump neoconservatives like Max Boot and Robert Kagan, who has already written that, should Trump be the nominee, “the only choice will be to vote for Hillary Clinton. The party cannot be saved, but the country still can be.”
Anti-Trump neoconservatives, however, are a minuscule group of people. And in seeking their approval, Clinton has further alienated left-wing voters, particularly young ones. Polls show that Americans under 30 are far more critical of Israel than are older voters. Liberal Democrats sympathize more with the Palestinians than they do with Israel. There is already deep suspicion of Clinton’s foreign-policy instincts among Bernie Sanders’ supporters; Clinton doesn’t need to give them new reasons to distrust her.
This year of all years, Clinton could have afforded to show a bit of courage before AIPAC. Jews will vote Democratic no matter what. Sixty-nine percent of them voted for Obama in 2012, despite the well-known tension between him and Netanyahu. Unlike Obama, Clinton is going to be running against a demagogue with German roots who plays footsie with white supremacists and reportedly kept a volume of Hitler’s speeches beside his bed. She’ll have all the Jewish support she needs without sucking up to the Likud. ….
Either Clinton’s AIPAC speech was driven by belief, or it was driven by cynicism. It’s hard to say which is worse.
Ouch. And Bernie Sanders stayed in Utah and gave his own foreign policy speech:
During his remarks, which he described as the speech he would have given had he chosen to attend the powerful political lobby’s event today, the senator called the U.S. and Israel long-term friends but said that because of that special relationship they were “obligated to speak the truth” to each other.
“That is what real friendship demands, especially in difficult times. Our disagreements will come and go, and we must weather them constructively,” he said.
Sanders reminded the crowd of reporters and activists that he spent time living in Israel and working on a kibbutz, and argued that because of that he was “probably the only candidate” with “personal ties” to the country. He specifically called it “absurd” that a portion of Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu’s government suggested increased settlements in the West Bank and added that it was “unacceptable” that they had withheld tax revenue from Palestinians. He talked about water and economic rights for Palestinians and said ending the economic blockade of Gaza would also be necessary for sustainable peace.
“I will work tirelessly to advance the cause of peace as a partner and as a friend to Israel. But to be successful, we have also have got to be a friend not only to Israel, but to the Palestinian people,” he continued.
Well, that certainly cuts through the bullshit. He’s Jewish. So what? He has a brain. He knows bullshit when he sees it. He stayed away from that AIPAC nonsense in Washington.
But then no one was happy on this particular Monday. Raul Castro had it right earlier in the day – “I think this is enough.”