Cuba Keeps Giving as Playground for U.S. Mischief: Opening Line

Source: NBC via Getty Images

Cuba's Fidel Castro. Close

Cuba's Fidel Castro.

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Source: NBC via Getty Images

Cuba's Fidel Castro.

For such a little country, Cuba does manage to maintain its role as the pebble in America’s shoe with ease, as we’ve discussed. With the old regime getting pretty old and restrictions being gradually eased by both sides, it’s easy to start thinking that more than 50 years of this is about to come to an end and that we can finally laugh off some of the wilder theories that involve Cuba -- Fidel got to JFK before JFK could get to Fidel, Tupac Shakur lives there, Latin American youth under the pretext of being aid workers were sent there to foment political unrest, Danny Almonte was 12...

Wait, what was that other one?

Yes, once again, the U.S. Agency for International Development -- creators of the so-called Cuban Twitter -- have been caught fomenting civil instability on the island. This time USAID is paying twentysomethings who got little or no training around $5 an hour to seed disaffection among Cuban youth under the guise of educating them about HIV prevention, according to the Associated Press, which broke the “Cuban Twitter” story.

As the AP reports, the ruse “could undermine USAID’s credibility in critical health work around the world.” This evokes the fake vaccination program the CIA contrived in Pakistan in its hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the notion that the U.S. would surrender its reputation like this deserves greater scrutiny.

As for dealing with one of the world’s most sophisticated counter-intelligence services, as AP put it, the USAID workers got this advice:

“‘Although there is never total certainty, trust that the authorities will not try to harm you physically, only frighten you,’ the workers’ instructions read. ‘Remember that the Cuban government prefers to avoid negative media reports abroad, so a beaten foreigner is not convenient for them.’”

The negative publicity doesn’t seem to be helping another USAID contractor, Alan Gross, who has been in prison for four years and who recently bid goodbye to his wife and daughters and is preparing for death, which sounds like it’s on the way.

***

Today’s U.S. economic indicators include ISM’s nonmanufacturing composite index and U.S. factory orders at 10 a.m. EDT.

U.S. earnings include ADM, Emerson Electric, Louisiana-Pacific, CVS Caremark, Cablevision, Och-Ziff, Disney, Groupon, Office Depot, Coach, Ares Capital, Liberty Media and Zillow.

Overnight, HSBC and Markit said China’s services PMI fell to 50.

A short time ago, Markit said the U.K. services PMI rose to 59.1, while euro-area services PMI rose to 54.2.

***

- Israeli has completed its withdrawal from Gaza amid another 72-hour cease-fire. - Argentina’s effort to get the court-appointed mediator thrown out went nowhere. - Russian troops are massing again at Ukraine’s border. - Kurds are battling the Islamic State for control of Iraq’s biggest dam. Meanwhile, the Sunni militants’ gains south of Baghdad and in Lebanon are drawing equal concern. - Now Armenia and Azerbaijan are at it. - U.S.-Africa Leadership Summit Day 2: $100 billion isn’t a bad start. - Turn on Bloomberg TV at 7:45 a.m. EDT, when Mike Bloomberg (disclaimer here) and U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker discuss the Africa summit. Other BTV guests today include Steve Schwartzman, Jesse Jackson, Bob Iger and IEX Group’s Brad Katsuyama. - Telefonica has offered $9 billion for Vivendi’s Brazilian Internet unit. - Gannett agreed to buy the rest of Cars.com for $1.8 billion. - The water’s back in Toledo, Ohio. - Subprime auto lending is under review by the U.S. Justice Department. - The Kansas Republican primary for U.S. Senate pits incumbent Pat Roberts against the Tea Party’s Milton Wolf. - The Wyly brothers ought to pay $750 million for hiding equity holdings, the SEC said yesterday, cutting the proposed penalty almost in half. - LinkedIn was “eager" to be able to ‘‘work closely’’ with the U.S. Labor Department to pay its employees what they were legally owed because ‘‘talent is LinkedIn’s number one priority.’’ - Women’s issues get less support from the U.S. Supreme Court than gay rights, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says. - A televised debate over Scottish independence matches proponent Alex Salmond with opponent and former U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling at 8 p.m. in Glasgow, Scotland/3 p.m. EDT. - Bernie Ecclestone is bidding $100 million for an end to his corruption trial, and German prosecutors might be sellers. - Where we will not stay, or book a wedding, or have dinner, or a drink or two, or even to stop for directions in the Catskills area: The Union Street Guest House - Researchers at MIT, Microsoft and Adobe have created a way to recreate the audio captured in otherwise imperceptible sonic waves from objects in a visual image. In other words, soon (if not already) the NSA won’t need to bug the room you’re in as long as they can shoot video of the plant next to you.

***

Goldman Sachs (GS) is cutting the cord on smaller hedge fund clients.

Goldman and some of world’s largest banks are closing the accounts of some hedge-fund clients with underperforming returns to shore up capital ratios as it meets the standards of new banking rules, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing people it didn’t name.

Joined by Bank of America and Deutsche Bank (DBK), Goldman is returning cash, charging more to finance trade and instituting monthly fees for those clients it hasn’t stopped serving altogether.

The bank cut $56 billion, or 6 percent, of client assets during the second quarter, increasing its leverage ratio to 4.5 percent from 4.3 percent, ahead of a 2018 deadline by regulators for a ratio of 5 percent, the Journal reported.

The changes are creating openings for smaller securities firms such as Cantor Fitzgerald, which are willing to work with smaller funds.

***

Brian Sullivan is back from his break and just in time for a little action, starting with Bertha in the Atlantic.

‘‘Bertha is going to miss the U.S. and just brush by Newfoundland. There is also a good chance it will fall apart in the next couple of days and may not even make it north as a tropical system. The bottom line is: Bertha needs to be watched but not fretted over,” he writes.

“How do they know it will miss? Well, tropical systems are like helium filled balloons in a room full of fans. They cannot move under their own power and need something to push or pull them. Bertha is currently being pulled north by forces beyond its control. The East Coast of the U.S. is also protected by a low pressure trough, as you can see here: a wall made of red and blue weather symbols and anchored by two big Ls, -- three if you count the one in Alabama. Behind the wall is a high pressure system, which means heat for the East Coast but no hurricane. 90 in D.C. (today)! 87 in NYC.”

[INTERIOR: DOCTOR’S EXAMINATION ROOM. “ALEX” LIES ON THE TABLE IN OBVIOUS DISCOMFORT. SOME MURMURING CAN BE HEARD JUST OUTSIDE THE DOOR, WHICH OPENS, REVEALING “DOCTOR."]

DOCTOR: Hi, I’m Dr. Inutile. What seems to be the problem today?

ALEX: I have Ebola.

DOCTOR: Ah, yes. So you’re the Ebola patient we’ve been hearing about. That would explain why we’re all dressed like this.

ALEX: [groans]

DOCTOR: We are seeing more of it nowadays. Now, did you contract this deadly virus at home or at work?

ALEX: Work.

DOCTOR: And how did that occur?

ALEX: I was in Liberia, treating other Ebola victims and I grabbed the wrong coffee cup.

DOCTOR: So, you’re a doctor?

ALEX: [wincing] Yes.

DOCTOR: Very pleased to meet you, Doctor...?

ALEX: Malheur.

DOCTOR: [nods] Doctor.

ALEX: [nods] Doctor.

DOCTOR: Now, I see there is a treatment for this that’s recently emerged from a specialty lab in San Diego. It’s a cocktail of antibodies derived from tobacco and tested only on monkeys thus far. It’s never been tried on humans before. Would you still like to give it a go?

ALEX: [moans]

DOCTOR: Right then. Will you wait one minute? [Exits.]

[BLOOD STARTS OOZING OUT OF ALEX’S EYE SOCKETS.]

[DOCTOR ENTERS]: Doctor Malheur, I do apol -- Ooh, yow. Anyway, doctor, I have checked and I’m afraid the treatment was rejected by your insurance company.

ALEX: [groans]

***

Shortly after moving to New York City in 1994, we struck up two friendships forged out of what you might call a booze triangle with an Australian named Stewart and our mutual bartender, an Irishman appropriately named Patrick.

Man, we had a lot of laughs. Life in the big city was a joy (at first), and with a good new job and two new pals, the promise of a fresh slate in a big playground left us with a semi-permanent grin. Which is so unlike us.

One evening that summer, after the commuter regulars had melted away, we pulled up our usual stool at the Shandon Star, late of 56th & 8th, and found Pat pale and unnerved. No twinkle, no catchy welcome.

Stewart, in the pink (very pink) at this same spot the night before, was dead.

All of a sudden, just like that.

The explanation was odd. Slipped in the shower, hit his head, died shortly after, according to the police account and Stewart’s shifty, suspicious roommate. Try as we did to get more details and to track down someone in Stewart’s family through the Australian consulate, we found ourselves with Pat and Stew’s coworkers a few days later taking in the view of the Manhattan skyline from Calvary Cemetery in Queens, where Stewart’s journey would end, unbeknownst to anyone outside of New York.

The memory is fuzzy, but we recall being told it was a potters field section of the cemetery. The pine box looked more like it was made of T-111 plywood siding, and there was no officiant. Stewart’s boss, who paid for the funeral and the plot, said a few words. We all looked around, took it in, and made the trip back to Manhattan, which, from then on, was no longer Brigadoon.

Where will you be found after your day comes? It won’t be Manhattan, unless you’re Ed Koch. You’ll be lucky to be in Queens, if you can afford it.

We’re going the Eskimo route. If there are any ice floes left by then.

***

The debate over the death penalty is unlikely to end mostly because of the finality the sentence imposes. There are no do-overs if a prosecutor gets it wrong, and human fallibility is as likely in a prosecutor as it was in the person he or she is now trying to put to death.

Then there are the prosecutors who might willingly pervert justice for the sake of victory in a highly publicized, emotionally charged trial, which makes the ultimate penalty that much more troubling.

This may have been the case in Corsicana, Texas.

That’s where Todd Willingham’s three little girls perished in a 1991 fire that the Navarro County prosecutor said, and ostensibly proved, was set by Willingham, who was put to death for the crime in 2004.

Now, a decade after the execution and a finding by a forensic expert that there was no evidence of arson -- a determination backed by the state Forensic Science Commission -- the jailhouse witness who provided the testimony used to convict Willingham has said it was a lie constructed to give him leniency the prosecution had strenuously, repeatedly said it never offered.

The Washington Post, working with the Marshall Project’s investigation with the Innocence Project, reveals the new information, which casts a shadow on Texas Governor Rick Perry. The potential candidate for president refused to delay the execution even in the face of the evidence debunking arson and ‘‘repeatedly undercut the authority of the state Forensic Science Commission,” the newspaper reports, although it doesn’t say how.

To contact the reporter on this story: C. Thompson in Wilmington at cthompson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Marty Schenker at mschenker@bloomberg.net

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