Monthly Archives: February 2016

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Obama’s Cuba Visit Aims To Knock America Down A Peg

obamaraul2

Paul Bonicelli in The Federalist

President Obama thinks the main problem with the world is the United States. That’s why he needs to cut us down to size in Cuba—and everywhere else.

For those still trying to categorize President Obama’s foreign policy, look no further than his upcoming trip to Cuba. The visit is the fruition of his Cuba initiative, a policy whose main goal was always to provide a reason for the president to go to Havana and embrace the Castro brothers. The visit epitomizes his view of the world and his role in fixing the United States’s role in the world.

No benefits from his Cuba policy accrue to U.S. security, our economy, our values, or our reputation in the world. That is what’s at the core of Obama’s foreign policy: since the United States has caused problems in the world by being too rich, powerful, and influential, Obama must tame it by giving in, pulling back, and genuflecting before U.S. enemies. With false humility, he defers to those who hate us, and thus he makes the world a better place. He’s earning that Nobel Peace Prize ex post facto.

But of course someone is benefitting from the policy, and greatly: the Castro regime.

What a Young Cuban Knows that Obama Doesn’t
Imagine you are a Cuban twenty-something living in a communist system that oppresses you politically and deprives you economically. A steady diet of propaganda has told you that everything wrong in Cuba is the United States’ fault. To be sure, enough information gets into Cuba that you know there is more to the story. Moreover, no matter what you have been told through official channels, you and your friends would escape to the United States in a heartbeat if you could.

But now the U.S. president is demonstrating that he agrees with the propaganda. Every time over the last year that he has condemned the U.S. embargo and called for normalization and an end to Cuba’s “isolation,” the regime made sure you heard it on state TV and radio.

Nevertheless, because you know the regime far better than Obama does, you don’t take his word at face value any more than you do the regime’s. You have lived the reality of communist oppression your whole life, as have your parents and grandparents. You know the Ladies in White are assaulted regularly as they process to church in support of their imprisoned loved ones.

You know that the youth of Cuba—people like you—who dare to raise their voices in street demonstrations are subject to extra-judicial kidnappings. You know that young Cubans who express their political views through their art, like the rapper Omar Sayut, are jailed for offending the regime’s sensibilities. And you know that 50 years of trade with Europeans and Canadians and anyone else in the world willing to risk doing business with Cuba have made little difference for any Cuban except privileged party members.

You suspect that with Obama’s initiative you are watching a reenergizing of the regime, a regime that holds you in contempt while the octogenarians and younger party cadres eager to take their places solidify their hold on power. You know more than Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry because you live this life, but also because you don’t embrace an absurd worldview that holds the United States responsible for the crimes and incompetence of a dictatorship you experience every day.

Inconvenient Facts about the Cuba Deal
But intentions matter most to the Obama administration. They offer a lot of rhetoric in defense of their Cuba policy. They say it is designed to overturn a failed policy based on an embargo that has not accomplished its goals. They say it is designed to boost Cuba’s economy for the sake of the average Cuban by ending the island’s isolation. They say they hope political reform will be the ultimate result of the new policy. And they say better relations will result in more cooperation on our common security interests in the hemisphere.

Some inconvenient facts contradict them. First, the U.S. embargo was codified into a law, the Libertad Act, that contains a clear path for normalizing relations and expanding commerce. That path is for the Cuban regime to allow free elections and embrace democratic governance. Second, most of the world trades with Cuba and has for years, so the U.S. embargo is not the cause of Cuban economic deprivation. Rather, communism is.

Third, the Castro dictatorship, even after all of Obama’s kowtowing, maintains its close hold on Cuba’s economy so it can keep the party and the military business barons rich and content. Obama and Kerry might be naïve about what is going on here, but the regime is surely not.

Fourth, as to Obama’s hopes of catalyzing political reform, one need only note that since the president’s initiative was rolled out, arrests of political dissidents have skyrocketed and are now at a five-year high. Raul Castro knows his mark, and is making sure any Cuban (or American official) foolish enough to believe he and Obama have reached a deal to end the communists’ reign will be sorely disappointed.

Fifth, as to Obama’s hope for a regional partnership on common security interests, the Cuban regime and Russia continue to discuss their own partnership to reopen a spying outpost at Lourdes, not to mention the nefarious Cuba-North Korea connection and Cuba’s long history of being on the wrong side of the drug war.

How Obama’s Worldview Explains His Policies
The Cuba initiative and anticipated visit might help us understand why Barack Obama’s foreign policy is truly sui generis. The United States has never before had a president like him who sees the world as he does, who believes it is his job to fix the main problem in the world: the United States’ overweening role in the world.

I’ve observed Obama apologists (and some academics who should know better) over the years try to categorize Obama’s foreign policy as something familiar and therefore less objectionable than what could be summed up as “We are the change we have been waiting for.”

But let us dispense with all that. First, Obama is not a realist. They maximize power to ward off threats, and they give no handouts without getting something for security in. If anyone thinks the president is a realist, he should admit Obama is not a very good one. Neither is Obama a liberal internationalist (what used to be called “idealism”), although he comes close. These defer to international institutions whenever they can, but Obama has played the “cowboy” just as he accused George W. Bush of it.

Witness Libya, a ham-handed intervention if ever there was one. He might want this label if forced to choose one, but he’s sinned against that orthodoxy with both Libya and his drone wars. Nor is Obama a nationalist, but is quite the opposite. Suffice to say there is very little of Old Hickory in him, what with his undefended red lines and the mullahs’ humiliation of our armed forces.

That leaves us with a lesser-known but important tradition in international relations, critical theory. I won’t bother with all the jargon this approach is laden with (its roots are in Marxism so, you know, it would be abstruse when it is not fatuous), but it sums up to this: the exploiting classes of the world have insisted that the arc of history is toward Western Civilization’s goals and methods, but this is wrong and should be thwarted by the oppressed peoples of the world. They have a right to be heard, to be respected, and to chart their own courses without the West being the model. Critical theory encourages a non-Western centric foundation for analysis, then says, “Let’s see what happens when the oppressed are free to be themselves and follow their own ideas.”

Well, good luck with that. These theorists have never been very optimistic that their urgings will be heeded. But just think: what if the leader of the free world agreed with them?

Obama, the West’s Anti-Hero
This view comes as close to explaining (and justifying) Obama’s view of the world as I can imagine. His platitudes about commerce and democracy notwithstanding (note I did not say “free markets,” because I don’t hear him talk much about them, and he’s dramatically reduced our moral and material support for democrats around the world), Obama’s actions in the world trumpet that the United States, as the leader of the Western world, has been the cause of the problems of the non-Western world, and that has to be righted by the emergence of a tamer, quieter, more conciliatory, and accommodating United States.

It so happens that this theory also would have made it convenient for a truly revolutionary president of the United States to thrust himself upon the world stage, give the first in a series of speeches denigrating his own country, and then receive the Nobel Peace Prize (presumably for that speech, since he’d done nothing else on the world stage).

His “bold” initiatives would soon follow: a reset with Russia that ends our missile defense commitment to Eastern Europe; the Iranian deal that rewards them with billions of dollars for terrorism and a path to a nuclear weapon; this Cuba initiative that lets Castro continue to single-handedly determine the future of nine million people; and, if the Wall Street Journal has it right, something has been in the works recently to give the North Koreans the bilateral talks they so desperately want without having to curb their nuclear saber-rattling.

In short, critical theory provides support for Obama’s steadfast belief in his own importance and wisdom. It is all about him. It always has been. Or at least it is more about him than anything else.

The End of American Exceptionalism
I wish to be wrong about the trip. I hope he’ll surprise us all and do something noble while he’s there being presidential and theory-testing. Even as he embraces Fidel and Raul and offers condolences for the loss of their brother, Ramon, who died this week (an agriculturalist and not much of a revolutionary), he should make a show of his and Kerry’s declarations that they care about political reform.

It is too late for him to fix this initiative by demanding reciprocity for the sake of the Cuban people as well as the United States’s reputation, but I would be the first to applaud him if he were to make a scene by trying to visit with dissidents—not regime-approved dissidents, but the Ladies in White, the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy, and others like them—then leave the visit early when he’s refused.

But I’m not holding my breath. It is about him and his legacy with his base of support that sees him as the first president they can be proud of, precisely because he agrees that the United States is not exceptional and not the greatest force for good the world has ever known.

Paul Bonicelli serves as professor of government at Regent University. His career includes a presidential appointment (with Senate confirmation) as assistant administrator at the United States Agency for International Development; as a professional staff member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives; and as an official delegate to the United Nations General Assembly.

Jorge Ramos: Pope Francis and President Obama are the best friends that Cuba’s dictatorship could hope for

obamapope

Fusion

Pope Francis and President Obama are the best friends that Cuba could hope for. Both leaders have resolved to ally with the Castro regime, despite its decades long record of repression, censorship and human rights violations. The mystery is why.

Raul Castro, like his brother Fidel, is on the wrong side of history. But perhaps Obama and the pope are betting that by getting close to this regime, they can work to free the island from tyranny. If that’s their ultimate strategy, however, they aren’t saying.

Obama’s visit to Cuba next month could be his very own “Nixon moment.” In 1972, President Richard M. Nixon, with the crucial assistance of Henry Kissinger, embarked on his historic visit to China, which resulted in opening up the secretive Asian giant to the rest of the world. But just as Nixon’s trip didn’t transform China into a democracy, Obama’s visit to Cuba won’t bring about multiparty elections, the release of political prisoners, or more press freedoms. But it could mark the beginning of a long-term strategy that goes far beyond the reopening of American embassies.

Obama is taking a lot of criticism for his Cuba strategy. Years from now, though, I hope I can interview Obama and have him admit that his goal all along in normalizing relations was to help bring real democracy to Cuba. Sooner rather than later, perhaps, the people of Cuba will force the Castro regime to face justice. Perhaps Cuba’s aging leaders will answer for their crimes before they’re gone. It’s a shame to see a dictator die in a comfortable bed rather than in a prison cell—as was the case with Chile’s Augusto Pinochet and Francisco Franco of Spain. We’ll have to wait and see.

Pope Francis’ overtures to the Castro regime have likewise disappointed people who yearn for change in Cuba. In his tenure as pontiff, Francis has visited the island twice, both times greeting the brothers Castro as legitimate rulers and ignoring their despotic past. As I mentioned last week, it was especially galling to watch the arrest of a Cuban activist who tried to speak to Francis as the pope visited Cuba in September. As plainclothes security agents pushed the young man to the ground and dragged him away, Francis said nothing.

While he was in Cuba, the pope also failed to meet with prominent dissident groups such as the Ladies in White. Nor did he speak with independent journalists like the popular blogger Yoani Sanchez. Rather than interact with those who dare raise their voices against oppression, Francis seemingly prefers to remain silent.

While he vigorously speaks out against immigration abuses and the excesses of capitalism in the U.S., he won’t make the same kind of criticisms in Cuba or Latin America. I find it incomprehensible that, in his visit to Mexico earlier this month, Francis didn’t meet the victims of pedophile priests, or the relatives of the 43 students missing college students from Ayotzinapa, presumably murdered by a drug gang. Instead, he preferred to meet with governors from states where journalists are murdered and where the killings of women are tolerated.

Both the pope and the president can do much to foster a democratic transition in Cuba. But the images of those leaders shaking hands with the island’s dictators du jour are hard to stomach. That’s especially true of the pope, who, as an Argentine, witnessed firsthand how heinous a military dictatorship can be.

I would love to be in Cuba when Obama visits, but the Cuban government has blocked me from entering the country since 1998, when I covered Pope John Paul II’s visit there. They apparently didn’t approve of my interviewing political dissidents and independent journalists. If Cuba is interested in opening up to the world, the Castro regime should immediately lift restrictions against foreign journalists and stop trying to impose its agenda on the global press.

I’ll watch Obama’s visit on television and the Internet, though I’d much rather be there in person to see whether Cuba has changed, whether its leaders are more tolerant and whether the nation is more free. Of course, as any bartender can tell you, ‘Cuba Libre’ is an oxymoron. For now, anyway.

Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is the host of Fusion’s new television news show, “America With Jorge Ramos,” and is a news anchor on the Univision Network. Originally from Mexico and now based in Florida, Ramos is the author of nine best-selling books, most recently, “A Country for All: An Immigrant Manifesto.”

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen goes toe-to-toe with John Kerry on Cuba

John Kerry

McClatchy DC
Questions administration’s commitment to human rights

Criticizes State Department’s 25-percent cut in pro-democracy spending

Secretary Kerry says administration in a better position than ever

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen challenged the Obama administration’s commitment to human rights in Cuba on Thursday, pressing Secretary of State John Kerry on the administration’s plans to cut spending next year on democracy and human rights on the island by 25 percent.

The State Department has requested $15 million, down from $20 million this year, to pay for assistance to victims of political repression and their families and to strengthen independent Cuban civil society.

“Are human rights a priority for this administration?” Ros-Lehtinen asked.

Kerry’s response: “Of course, they are.”

The four-minute confrontation at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the State Department’s budget was the latest confrontation between members of Congress and the administration over Cuba policy. Both Ros-Lehtinen and her fellow Miami Republican, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, have called the warming relations with Cuba shameful, while Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, both Republican presidential contenders, have accused Obama of making too many concessions to the communist government.

Kerry defended the administration, saying the improvement in relations allows the U.S. to have more diplomats in Cuba and creates opportunities to work in areas of mutual interest.

“In fact,” Kerry said, “we believe we have actually created more opportunities for intervention, more opportunities to make progress. One in four people in Cuba are beginning to work for private enterprise.”

Ros-Lehtinen says that assessment is naive. She cited Cuba’s harsh treatment of dissidents since the announcement in December 2014 of the new relationship, with the reported arrests of more than 8,000 people, many of whom expressed points of view that contrast those of the Cuban government.

Citing the 20th anniversary Wednesday of the downing of two Brothers to the Rescue aircraft by a Cuban jet fighter, Ros-Lehtinen also pressed Kerry for a commitment that the administration would seek the extradition of the government officials responsible for the shoot-down, which killed four Miami-based anti-Castro activists.

Kerry did not respond directly, but reiterated that more groups, including non-government agencies, are traveling to Cuba and working directly with the Cuban people more than ever in the past half-century.

“We believe we have a greater chance of changing Cuba than anything that has happened in the last 50 years,” Kerry said. “It didn’t work for 50 years. Nothing changed. Now it is changing.”

Why is Obama visiting Cuba?

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KONRAD YAKABUSKI, The Globe and Mail

Only two months ago, U.S. President Barack Obama laid out the conditions under which he would visit Cuba before he leaves office. “If, in fact, I with confidence can say that we’re seeing some progress in the liberty and expression and possibilities of ordinary Cubans, I’d love to use a visit as a way of highlighting that progress,” he said on the first anniversary of his historic announcement of the renewal of U.S. diplomatic relations with the Communist holdout.

The world has become accustomed to Mr. Obama’s foreign policy flip-flops (see his “red line” in Syria) and desire to do away with the image of the United States as a meddling and moralizing superpower. But even critics of the five-decade U.S. policy of isolating the Castro regime were taken aback by news that Mr. Obama will next month become the first sitting president to visit to Cuba in 88 years.

In no material sense has Cuban President Raul Castro, who took over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2006, expanded the freedoms of ordinary citizens. Recent baby steps toward economic reform fit a pattern that seasoned Cuba watchers recognize all too well. The Castros are experts in diffusing the frustrations of average Cubans with their stultified economic conditions by offering up mini-reforms that, once the dust settles, never amount to much for average folk. Low expectations are now so integral to the Cuban condition that mere crumbs are welcomed.
There has been even less progress on human rights. Arbitrary arrests and detentions climbed steadily throughout 2015 and hit 1,474 people in January, according to the Cuban Observatory on Human Rights. Political repression has not eased. “The figures reflect only certain repressive actions, and therefore do not express all the violations of various human rights that occur in Cuba,” the Madrid-based organization noted. “But they serve to demonstrate the lack of political will to change on the part of the Cuban government, which remains stuck in intolerance and immobility.”

This has not stopped the Obama administration from unilaterally easing restrictions on Americans travelling to Cuba and sending remittances to relatives on the island. It has reopened the U.S. embassy in Havana and announced plans for the resumption of commercial flights to Cuba by U.S. airlines. (Congress, however, has no intention of lifting the U.S. trade embargo.)

Mr. Obama plans to meet with dissidents, but under what conditions remains to be seen. The visit will be covered by Cuba’s state-run media, which will showcase to Cubans their censored version of it. It is not Mr. Obama’s style to deliver a Reaganesque ultimatum on foreign soil. The President hopes to “nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.” Good luck with that.

The Castros have not held on to power for 57 years by taking friendly advice from neighbours on how to transition to democracy. If anything, Mr. Obama risks enhancing their legitimacy and strengthening their grip on the island’s economy. The Cuban military, also headed by Raul Castro, controls most of the economy (including its burgeoning tourist industry) and stands to benefit the most from increased U.S. trade and investment. The regime is desperate for hard currency, especially now that fast-spiralling Venezuela can no longer play Cuba’s benefactor.

Mr. Obama seeks to make his opening toward Cuba “irreversible” for a future president and prepare for a post-Castro Cuba. But it would be naive to believe the 84-year-old Raul, who plans to quit the presidency in 2018, has not planned for his succession. Many Cuban experts believe he has chosen 55-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, a Communist hardliner and first vice-president of the Cuban Council of State, to succeed him as president. But the real post-Raul power may lie with his son and/or son-in-law; both are top military officials who run some of Cuba’s biggest businesses.

Supporters of Mr. Obama’s approach argue that human-rights violations and political repression have not stopped the United States from pursuing economic and diplomatic relations with China. So why apply a tougher standard to Cuba, especially when the United States continues to indefinitely detain and deprive of due process dozens of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay?

The answer is that Cuba is in North America’s backyard and the Castros head the longest-running dictatorship in the Western hemisphere. Their brutality is well documented, in spite of the romanticism with which Canadians often view them.

20 year anniversary of an act of terrorism that remains unpunished

BTTR

On February 24, 1996 General Raúl Castro ordered Cuban MiG jet fighters to shoot down two unarmed civilian planes over international waters.

Three young Americans, Mario de la Peña, Armando Alejandre, Carlos Costa and a permanent resident of the United States, Pablo Morales, died as a result of this act of terrorism by the Cuban dictatorship.

Instead of demanding that justice be made, the current president of the United States has rewarded the perpetrators of this terrorist with everything they have demanded in order to continue enslaving the Cuban people.

In addition, as part of the deal he signed with Raúl Castro, President Obama commuted the life sentence of a Cuban spy, Gerardo Hernandez, who had been convicted by a U.S. federal court for murder conspiracy in this act of terrorism.

And next month, Obama will travel to Cuba to be embraced by the same terrorists who ordered this heinous terrorist act.

Incredible, but true.

 

 

Fugitive police killer complicates Cuba travel

chesimard

USAToday

A New Jersey state police group is urging the Transportation Department not to resume scheduled airline flights to Cuba until a fugitive convicted of killing a trooper with a $1 million reward on her head is returned to U.S. prison from Cuba.

The department is collecting airline proposals and comment about restoring scheduled flights to the island for the first time since 1963. But the president of the State Troopers Fraternal Organization of New Jersey, Christopher Burgos, opposed the move in a letter Feb. 17 until dozens of fugitives are returned to justice in the U.S.

“We strongly oppose any request or approval of United Airlines or any other airline a permit to NJ Port Authority airports to fly back and forth to a country such as Cuba, that has openly slapped all Americans in the face with their policy of keeping U.S. fugitives away and safe from the reach of U.S. justice,” Burgos wrote.

He was referring to Joanne Chesimard, who is also known as Assata Shakur, was convicted in 1977 of killing Trooper Werner Foerster on May 2, 1973, during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike.

At the time of the traffic stop, Chesimard, who was a member of the Black Liberation Army, was wanted for her involvement in several felonies, including bank robbery, according to the FBI. She and accomplices opened fire on the troopers, wounding one and killing Foerster at point-blank range, according to the FBI.

Chesimard was sentenced to life in prison, but she escaped in 1979, according to the FBI.

She was spotted in Cuba in 1984 and is presumed to be still living there, according to the FBI, which has a $1 million reward for her as one of the country’s most wanted terrorists.

The House and Senate each unanimously passed resolutions in 1998 calling on Cuba to return Chesimard to U.S. prison.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wrote President Obama a letter Dec. 18, 2014, urging Obama to insist on Chesimard’s return before restoring diplomatic relations. Christie called Cuba’s safe harbor to a convicted killer of a police officer an affront to every resident of New Jersey.

Other fugitives from the U.S. thought to be living in Cuba include:

— Victor Manuel Gerena, who the FBI put on its most-wanted list with a $1 million reward in connection with the armed robbery of $7 million in 1983 from a Connecticut security firm.

— Cheri Laverne Dalton, also known as Nehanda Abiodum, who is wanted by the FBI with a $100,000 reward on charges for an armored-car robbery in 1981 that resulted in the loss of $1.6 million and the deaths of two police officers and a security guard.

— William “Guillermo” Morales, who is wanted by the FBI with a $100,000 reward for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution on charges he was a bomb-maker for a Puerto Rican independence group.

Since December 2014, the U.S. and Cuba have each opened embassies in each other’s countries. Business links have been growing. Obama plans a visit March 21 and 22.

The White House said the return of fugitives from Cuba is a long-standing concern that will be addressed in the broader context of normalizing relations between the countries. Officials from the two countries held a law-enforcement dialogue Nov. 9 in Washington and more meetings are expected during the first half of this year. The U.S. continues to seek the return of fugitives and repeatedly raised those concerns with the Cuban government, the White House said.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx signed an agreement Feb. 16 with his Cuban counterpart to allow up to 110 daily flights from the U.S. to Cuba. The scheduled flights could begin as early as fall, after the department reviews proposals from rival airlines for 20 slots in Havana and 10 slots in each of nine other cities. Applications are due by March 2.

The sad spectacle of Obama’s upcoming trip to Cuba

white flag

By Ed Rogers in The Washington Post

The White House announcement that President Obama will be making a trip to Cuba next month was muted by the fact that Donald Trump was shouting down Pope Francis. Trump’s lack of judgment and grace was once again on blaring display, which meant the president’s humiliating capitulation to Cuba didn’t get the attention it deserves.

If President Obama had called a meeting after his re-election and asked his advisers what he could do to strengthen the Castro regime during his last four years in office, I don’t think the administration would have done anything different. It is a sad realization, but it’s something of a fitting piece to the end of the Obama presidency that the president is giving a helping hand to one of the last and most brutal communist regimes in the world. And in Cuba, what is good for the regime is bad for the people. There is no argument to be made that Obama’s gifts to the Castro regime have produced any dividends that have benefited the Cuban people – or, for that matter, Americans. Isn’t American foreign policy supposed to protect American interests first and foremost?  How is it that strengthening the Castro regime is good for Americans?

Experts who have followed Cuba and Latin American policy almost universally denounce the president’s unilateral actions in normalizing relations with Cuba. And Cuban dissidents privately say they have given up on America because America has obviously given up on them. If there are any doubts, the coup de grace will be delivered when the President of the United States lands in Havana and lends our country’s credibility and stature to the murderous Cuban regime. Just picture President Obama solemnly reviewing Cuban troops and walking the red carpet in tribute to the Cuban military, the enemy of freedom around the world and the instrument of the Castro regime’s callous murder of thousands as they have tried to flee from oppression.

Again, it’s a sad spectacle and it’s too bad it’s not a more vivid part of the 2016 presidential campaign. The candidate with the most informed view on the Cuban regime and U.S. policies toward Cuba is probably Jeb Bush, yet he has obviously struggled with message delivery. Donald Trump, although he says he would (of course) have “made a better deal,” virtually echoes President Obama’s approach to Cuba. Perhaps you can excuse Trump because he is ignorant, but President Obama and his advisers have affirmatively embraced an enemy of America. He has empowered those who brutalize their own people and given a helping hand to a country that has been an infection in the region for decades. President Obama has single-handedly prolonged the Castro regime’s rule and probably made it more certain that they will be able to orchestrate a transition to their own liking, which means there is no end in sight to the brutality and the instability that they have wrought.