Tag Archives: Politics

Poverty Amidst Splendor or Lessons in Tyranny. Alexander Roepers, Activist Investor

There is very little the privileged class has that everyone else doesn’t have, except money.–Alex Castro (son of Fidel Castro)

Tremeda Hambre! http://youtu.be/ssIv2c-u7R0  This Cuban interrupts an interview with a Cuban Reggae artist, yelling that he is hungry.  He represents life in Cuba for the majority.

Life in Cuba for the masses:http://www.therealcuba.com/Videos.htm. Grim.

Of course, for a dictator to impoverish his country to desperation while holding onto power, there must be a special few to keep him in power.

Splendor amidst poverty with Cuba’s Gilded Elite http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/09/splendor-amid-poverty-gallery-nights-with-cubas-gilded-elite/261956/

To understand how to take and hold power, read Machievelli http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niccol%C3%B2_Machiavelli and my recent favorite:

And for more detail, The dictator’s handbook and blog (Satire!): http://dictatorshandbook.net/

Lessons for investors

Why bother? Well, those lessons will illuminate why and how there are so few gifted CEOs but so many highly paid CEOs with miniscule tie to performance in corporate America (though the situation is better than in Japan). Packed, insider boards and benchmarking with diffuse, ignorant shareholders might be the some of the reasons.

Pay for Performance Puzzle: http://www.businessweek.com/investor/content/sep2009/pi20090923_783858.htm

Please be in touch if any of you become a tyrant in a small, hot country.

Alexander Roepers

http://greenbackd.com/2012/09/05/alexander-roepers-gentleman-activist/

Visit www.greenbackd.com for discounts to this year’s Value Investors Conference.

Kill the Rich, Confiscate All S&P 500 Profits, and Pay the Debt?

 

and

and

The National Debt and Federal Budget Deficit Deconstructed – Tony Robbins

Tony Robbins deconstructs our debt and deficit problem. How long could we fund our government if we took 100% of all income and assets of the rich and the S&P 500 companies? Two Years? Ten Years?  The answer would shock you–five months. But then what would we do the following year after all the wealth has been confiscated and sold? A fascinating 19 minute video with Tony Robbins: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jboTeS9Okak

Obama, Regulations, and Small Business

HOT DOGS

Or in the case of 13-year old entrepreneur Nathan Duszynski in Holland, Michigan, who tried to start a business, and somebody else (government bureaucrats) made that not happen. Here’s what happened, or more accurately, what didn’t happen, according to the Holland Sentinel:

“Nathan Duszynski (pictured above), 13, decided he wanted a hotdog cart, so he could earn some money. But as he was setting up shop Tuesday in the parking lot of Reliable Sports at River Avenue and 11th Street — across the street from Holland City Hall — a city of Holland zoning official shut him down. Now, after spending more than $2,500 to start-up his business, Duszynski is throwing in the towel, his mom said.”

Think of All the Businesses That Did NOT Happen, Thanks to Government Bureaucrats and Regulations

http://mjperry.blogspot.com/
President Obama:

“There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. (Applause.)

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Pictures

Austrian Economist Savagely Devastates Paul Krugman in a Debate

Thanks PB for the heads up.

If you had any waivers about Keynesian (establishment/conventional) economics vs. the Austrian perspective then view the video in the link below.

Professor Pedro Schwartz uses facts, theory and irrefutable cause and effect evidence to destroy Krugman’s advice to get out of crisis.  The introductions are in Spanish but the debate is in English.  I do believe Krugman is ignorant about time in the structure of production, thus he esposes an endless injection of stimulus to increase aggregate demand.

I remember driving through a subdivision in 2010 twnety-five miless outside of Las Vegas wondering who would build four hundred homes for nobody? Tumbleweeds and rattlesnakes…..Had a neutron bomb struck the development? Try stimulating that.

http://dailycapitalist.com/2012/07/09/krugman-destroyed-in-debate/

Krugman Destroyed In Debate By Jeff Harding, on July 9th, 2012

This comes from Luis Martin of TrugmanFactor, a blog located in Spain that translates and publishes Daily Capitalist articles. You can skip the intro in Spanish and get to Krugman’s lecture (0:09:19). But the real stuff starts at 0:35:25 where Professor Pedro Schwartz responds to Krugman’s comments in excellent English. Professor Schwartz is a distinguished and well known Austrian theory economist. And in Luis’s words, “completely destroys Krugman.” In fact Schwartz tweeted later that Krugman refused to shake his hand afterward. Enjoy.

Another Krugman Debate

Robert Murphy, an Austrian Economist, explains the Austrian Business Cycle to Krugman using a Sushi Capital Theory analogy: http://mises.org/daily/4993

—–

PS: a reader apologized for disagreeing with me. Don’t. I like disagreements or hearing another point of view or discovering that I am just plain wrong. As a fallible human, I hope to always be aware of my fallibility. We are all trying to learn.

Why Nations Fail

Understanding why companies succeed or fail is critical to our investing success. Broaden your reading to include international politics and economics. I don’t agree with everything the authors say but I find Why nations Fail (video lecture)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRAkz13cpsk&feature=related fascinating. Click to see the lecture by one of the authors.

A Summary of the Book

http://www.freakonomics.com/2012/04/13/wondering-why-nations-fail-bring-your-questions-for-daron-acemoglu-and-james-robinson/

1. So Close and Yet So Different: Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, have the same people, culture, and geography. Why is one rich and one poor?

2. Theories That Don’t Work: Poor countries are poor not because of their geographies or cultures, or because their leaders do not know which policies will enrich their citizens (or the leaders may know but seek to preserve their own interests).

3. The Making of Prosperity and Poverty: How prosperity and poverty are determined by the incentives created by institutions, and how politics determines what institutions a nation has

4. Small Differences and Critical Junctures: The Weight of History: How institutions change through political conflict and how the past shapes the present

5. “I’ve Seen the Future, and It Works”: Growth Under Extractive Institutions: What Stalin, King Shyaam, the Neolithic Revolution, and the Maya city-states all had in common and how this explains why China’s current economic growth cannot last

6. Drifting Apart: How institutions evolve over time, often slowly drifting apart

7. The Turning Point: How a political revolution in 1688 changed institutions in England and led to the Industrial Revolution

8. Not on Our Turf: Barriers to Development: Why the politically powerful in many nations opposed the Industrial Revolution

9. Reversing Development: How European colonialism impoverished large parts of the world

10. The Diffusion of Prosperity: How some parts of the world took different paths to prosperity from that of Britain

11. The Virtuous Circle: How institutions that encourage prosperity create positive feedback loops that prevent the efforts by elites to undermine them

12. The Vicious Circle: How institutions that create poverty generate negative feedback loops and endure

13. Why Nations Fail Today: Institutions, institutions, institutions

14. Breaking the Mold: How a few countries changed their economic trajectory by changing their institutions

15. Understanding Prosperity and Poverty: How the world could have been different and how understanding this can explain why most attempts to combat poverty have failed

The book: http://www.amazon.com/Why-Nations-Fail-Origins-Prosperity/product-reviews/0307719219/ref=cm_cr_dp_qt_hist_one?ie=UTF8&filterBy=addOneStar&showViewpoints=0

How Do I Get A Job on Wall Street?

Job Search Strategy

Some may find the links below helpful.

How do I get a job on Wall Street? http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2012/06/how-do-i-get-job-on-wall-street.html

Beware of the typical advice, “Conditions are bad now so go get an MBA and then come back in two years when things will be better.”   First, “things” may be worse and how does an MBA equate to investing success?

Go where the money is: http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2012/06/hottest-area-in-finance.html

Yes, Wall Street is grim since it is over-bankered/brokered after decades of easy money and over leverage. But areas like manufacturing and energy will grow. You don’t have to be on Wall Street to use your skills. Be creative.

Advice to a Reader on Transitioning to Value Investing

A Reader posted his struggle here:http://wp.me/p1PgpH-FF

Other readers generously shared their wisdom below (slight editing for brevity and my comments in Italics)

19 Responses to A Reader Seeks Advice

I, too, am trying to teach myself how to properly value a business. I feel lost as well. I have more finance/investing books than I know what to do with and my time studying may be spread too thin and that I would be better off focusing on the few materials that are really worth it.

So far, the few books that I have found helpful (and always come back to) in determining how to value a company and what drives value are:

“Valuation” (McKinsey), “Accounting for Value” (Penman), and “Financial Statement Analysis and Security Valuation” (Penman). I’ve heard a good intro into accounting and financial statement analysis is “Financial Statement Analysis” (Thomas Ittelson), although I have not read this book.

One thing that I have noticed (learned?) as I read more and more (particularly from this blog), is that valuation may be the easy part. It’s not too hard to find a company that has a high ROIC and good earnings. I think the more important question, is whether the high ROIC and earnings are sustainable and what they will look like 10-20 years down the road. Don’t miss the forest for the trees (I think that is how the quote goes). That said, I think books that help frame this question and focus the analysis are: “Competition Demystified” (Greenwald), “The Little Book that Builds Wealth” (Dorsey), and “Hidden Champions” (Simon), help show what makes a business superior to others (the moat) and how wide/long a competitive advantage may be.

I would love feedback from others, as I am also looking for the few books to know “cold” and so that can get more “value” out of my time reading and studying.

Hope this helps.      It certainly does–good suggestions. I second spending time on focusing on what is a good business.  On this blog are valuation case studies from Greenblatt and Greenwald but they are scattered over 300 posts and the lectures are on video in the vault folders. If you want me to group the cases with the videos in a valuation case study folder, I will. For example, (type in word in blog search box: Munsingwear, Duff & Phelps, Hudson General, Moody’s, etc. for valuation case studies)

Buffett said he would only teach two things: How to think about prices and how to value. I believed he said he would teach about valuing a farm first. How many acres, yields, cost of fertilizer, variability of crops, range of prices, cost to borrow and what cash is left over then discount back to the present. He mentioned to Bernstein the Reporter from the Washington Post, that valuation is like reporting on a story–What’s it worth?

  • Rent the movie, Other People’s Money with Danny Devito (an early post on this blog) and see how he values NE Wire and Cable.

Warren | April 26, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Reply | Edit

Your reader sounds like a smart guy, but doesn’t have a firm foundation on basics of finance.  He could always elect to take NYU’s Damodaran’s free course on Corporate Finance and learn about WACC etc. 

I have spoken to other great investors too, and they will tell you that going to Columbia or Harvard will not make you a great analyst/investor – if that was the case that CBS tuition would not be affordable, because all the graduates would eventual be billionaires.   Insert Ben Graham quote here:  “courage becomes the supreme virtue after adequate knowledge and a tested judgment are at hand”.  They don’t teach judgement or courage at business school.

CBS lets in roughly 40 people into their AVI program out of about 150 who apply.  So the odds are against you and I heard there is no rhyme or reason to how individuals get selected.  As an anecdote, there is always only one person of African descendant in the program! BUT, if you are student at CBS and not in the program, professor will allow you access to their classes as an auditor.

Building a network and finding a mentor are very difficult.  Finding a mentor is hard even if you go  to CBS, most people who find a mentor are lucky in my opinion.  I work in the same building as a famous investor who is an alumnus CBS and asked to met with him.  He wrote back and said, I find meeting with people a waste of my time!

I do find business school, great in terms of building a network, but you can go to any of the top MBA programs, join the investment clubs and build from their.  Another piece of advice, CBS is not very strong in terms of the intimacy of their network, you are better off at HBS or Stanford IMO.

4 years ago, I was accepted into CBS’s MBA program, I could not attend because that was the year the financial crisis destroyed the international student loan program.  CBS was the only Ivy League school they did not backstop its International Students that were admitted in those years.  With no American cosigner, I  was unable to get financing despite trying for 3 years and a Value Investing Need Based Scholarship.

Fortunately and unfortunately, I am on the buy-side, but not at the fund I would aspire to work for.  What I am finding out now is that and MBA from a top school is a good option, if you want to want to move into a better firm.

Ironically,  I am still saving up for CBS’s MBA program and plan to attend one day, so I can move to a place with a mentor and build a network.  I am not looking elsewhere, because I recently moved my family to NYC and my daughter loves it here.

Investing is a continual learning process, business school can only accelerate that so much.

Krishnasinha1 | April 26, 2012 at 12:54 pm | I’d be very interested in any useful advice that readers have here, as i am in a similar boat (although i’m only 26). I’m also struggling with learning effective techniques to do valuations and develop a strong understanding of financial statements and accounting. I tossed Damodaran’s book after he started talking about Beta, and unfortunately i didn’t really get much from Greenwald’s book on the topic either (is it just me or does this guy talk the talk but then not really walk the walk? Everytime i see a pro like Einhorn or Michael Price talk about a valuation i’m thoroughly impressed and they never talk about reproduction values etc. that Greenwald always emphasizes).  Editor: Greenblatt does not believe in using reproduction value since it is hard to do accurately. Also, Prof. Greenwald wants to be the smartest person in the room, not the best investor. You have to read what he says with your own independent mind. I think his book, Comp. Demystified is good, but even there, you need to not take everything on blind faith. Do the concepts make sense to YOU.  What a great value investor (hired by Buffett 30 years ago) told me, “Sit down with a Value Line and segment the great, normal and bad businesses, then choose an industry that you might enjoy learning about to read the 10-Ks of the major companies in that industry. Have your accounting texts alongside to answer your questions of the financial statements, read about the industry and how managers think about the business. Get a sense of good businesses and what you would pay. Try always to apply your knowledge to the real world of businesses–theory to application–it is more fun that way.  If you apply yourself every day intensely on the right things, then within ten years, you will gain a sense of mastery (somewhat).  See books on the steps to mastery on any difficult subject–race car driving, chess, martial arts, etc.

On that note, The only advice i can give you as someone who is completely self-taught and basically only started reading about value investing 3 years ago is the following:

READ EVERYTHING: When i first started, i read a lot of the books that talked about the psychology and theory of value investing. I started with “The Little Book of Value Investing” by Chris Browne. That is an excellent primer, and then i built from there, reading Margin of Safety by Klarman (Free in the VALUE Vault–just email aldridge56@aol.com with Margin of Safety in Headline, and interviews with a lot of top hedge fund guys. Even if i didn’t understand everything they were talking about in terms of specific financial jargon, having the main theory hammered into me for a few years really prepares you for the turbulence in the market. Now, when one of my stocks goes down, i always have enough confidence to double down on it if i truly understand the stock. (Side note here, i still haven’t actually read Security Analysis or Intelligent Investor all the way through, everyone hypes those books but they are not for a novice and i always found myself in over my head when trying to read them, start with other more recent books, the same concepts are covered but are often explained more clearly and concisely).

In addition, look for articles where respectable hedge fund managers discuss their thesis on an investment (Einhorn, Ackman, michael price, etc.) Read the Graham and Doddsville Newsletter from Columbia business school (free on their website) where these managers get interviewed and read their “Letters to the Investors” when you get the chance. You’ll notice that they don’t necessarily spend a lot of time talking about specific accounting numbers, they have a lot of understanding of the businesses themselves and the business models. You’ll rarely see them get into an esoteric conversation on how accurate the GAAP Earnings figure is, but you will see them discuss why they think earnings are depressed or why they will rebound and why the market is overreacting. That is far more fundamental to value investing than knowing a lot about accounting in my experience. When you read Buffetts letters (i highly recommend reading his partnership letters), you’ll see that even then, he doesn’t talk about the specifics of the balance sheet, but rather, the few simple reasons about why the stock is cheap. It is MUCH easier for me to grasp those principles than to learn the minutiae of financial statements, and you can even successfully pick stocks by applying simple techniques.

Speaking of simple techniques, there are 2 books that really stand out (besides Greenblatt’s magic formula, which is a good book but i can sense you want more than that). The first book is Why Do Stocks Go Up (and Down)? It was recommended by Michael Burry and i recommend it whole heartedly to you, it’s very very simple and illuminates most of what you need to know in terms of financial statements. The second book is the 5 Keys to Value Investing (found out about it from this site actually!), The reason this book turned me on was because Michael Price is my biggest influence (my goal is to work for him at MFP Investors) and the author of this book worked for him when he was at Mutual Series. He sets out very clear and basic criteria for investing in stocks and shows you exactly how he does it, there is no guesswork involved, and the explanations are very clear and detailed. I highly recommend that book. Again, it doesn’t require that much in terms of financial statement knowledge to grasp the concepts, and you’ll learn all you need to know from the Why Do Stocks Go Up book anyways.

By the way, i highly recommend reading up about successful value investors and picking a few whose style you admire, for me that’s michael price, for you it may be someone else. Read their 13-F’s, read their explanations, and then go to EDGAR online and try to put together the same stories that they tell using your own intuition, it will be slow and painful the first few times but you will learn exponentially.

I think the most important advice that i can give though is to remember that it is a marathon, not a sprint, i struggle with this a lot myself because i always think i should be learning faster and that i’m so far behind other people.  True! True! The fact of the matter is if you keep reading and keep doing your own research you will soon find that your brain starts making a lot of connections and things slowly become clear to you. Like i said, i’ve only been studying investing for 3 years, and i still haven’t learned even a fraction of what i could know, but i get up every day and read SOMETHING investing related, every single day.

So again, i hope that advice helps, and i’d be interested to hear what people recommend to learn about accounting and financial statement analysis.

Regards, Krishna

Editor: Let me mention two books for helping you start your journey:

Logan James | April 26, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Reply | Edit

Perhaps it would be instructive to work on a more comprehensive valuation case study as a group. I would be willing to participate. Anyone else?

We’ve briefly covered valuation a few posts back when we were going through a few Value Line case studies. That could serve as a good starting point.   Editor: Dear Logan, please see comment at top of this post.

I have a question. How much do each of you rely on gathering data/information in spreadsheets on companies? Does it depend on the complexity of the investment? For example, David Einhorn, Ackman, etc. usually have 50+ slide deck presentations for the investments they present to the public. Do you think that much work is necessary? I know some private investors that deeply analyze complex investment situations (i.e. Sears Holdings), These guys go through and essentially look at everything. For a person working on their own, this task seems very cumbersome. Other investors think more about the businesses they are analyzing, so their spreadsheets and models are less complex.

Would appreciate feedback.

Thanks.

Ankit Gupta | April 26, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Reply | Edit

I think the reader who emailed you will be *far more* successful than most value investors, simply because he is cognizant of the existence of things he doesn’t know about. I tell people that the less they know about finance, the better, because calculating numbers is just a very small portion of it, in my opinion.

I don’t know that I can recommend how to get started, but I would consider the length of what you’re doing. For example, let’s say that you’re writing auto loans. If you write a 1 year loan, then you’ll know how you did after just 1 year. If you write a 5 year loan, then it will take a little longer, and it’ll be 5 years before you know how you really performed.

Stocks? Buffett has called these “100 year bonds” in a 1977 Fortune article that he wrote. It takes a much longer time.

I still have a ton of work to do, but I will say that I started out with the shorter-term views by focusing on things like liquidation value. As I’ve progressed, I’m now looking around trying to find companies that I would be comfortable owning in their entirety and never selling them. The finance aspect can be handled, but the tougher part is just finding businesses that I really like and am willing to own for 20-30 years. (Editor: OK, if you hold a business for 25 years, you will receive the return on equity over that time. If you can find companies that can compound their capital at high rates–not easy to do–then hold them!)

Today, I start with understanding business and business strategy before valuations. Using historical data has many benefits, however requires a lot of discretion and judgement when projecting anything out into the future, and so I let that almost be a secondary aspect of what I’m doing.   ASTUTE!

I could be wrong too though – we won’t know for a long time.

PT | April 26, 2012 at 3:58 pm 

I would also like to make a humble contrarian comment, within the frame of the transformation from a trader to a value investor.

I do know most people who are reading this blog are interested in ‘value investing’ so it is natural to only consider this path of investing on this blog. In my opinion however, I think investing is about allocating money to get a certain (ex-ante) return versus risk award. How you define return and risk is of course subject to the personal interpretation of you as a capital allocator.

In a broad sense this capital allocation can take any form. You can work with  ETFs, you can trade commodities, you can invest in bonds, you can have your own start-up in whatever business, you can invest à la Buffet, etc. As long as your investment approach satisfies your needs and you stick to it, you should be fine.

By this I mean…I don’t think you should consider value investing as the only possible investment approach. For me it makes sense since I always want to understand situations and a big part of value investing for me is to understand the business you are investing in. I think this should be the starting point why you pursue a ‘value investing’ approach. So first I believe you should write your goals and beliefs on a piece of paper, and then you could see this type of investing fits you.

Just some random comments of course:)

Excellent comments. There are successful momentum traders/investors, etc. Value investing (search for bargains, paying a discount, etc.) is just one method that has to fit YOUR personality. Also, do not just think of equities; there are debt markets, tax liens, burial plots, art, etc. where value can be found.

I would agree with you – sometimes value investing takes form in many places, like the startup world, commodities, bankruptcies, etc. That said, I think you can take the same thing, even Coca Cola stock, and it can be speculative to one person while a value investment to another. I’m not sure what we invest in matters nearly as much as how well we know the item we’re investing in… and, of course, price :D

(Sometimes… I think the price we pay is actually going to modify the actual business outcome. If we invest in a startup at a very low price and management ends up with a miniscule ownership in the business, they may be demotivated, so price alone isn’t the only thing I personally look at, just as an example)

PT | April 26, 2012 at 4:02 pm 

Something else that helps me (I’m still at the beginning of my investment path so) is to look at history in terms of inflation, bond yields, equity returns, bankruptcies, etc. And by history I don’t mean the history of bond yields as available in Bloomberg as of 1962…go for example to Shiller’s website and look at data from 1900.

PT | April 26, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Reply | Edit

Btw, if you would go in the fund industry…also read the latest GMO and Research Puzzle article.

valueprax | April 26, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Reply | Edit

The best advice we can give others is usually the best advice we can give ourselves, so, in that vein, I offer this:

Spend more time looking at actual companies and their actual financial statements and historical data, and less time reading theory. The theory all backs up and becomes gobbeldy-gook if you’re not continually applying it in a practical manner to REAL companies.   (Well said and great advice–your goal is to apply what you have learned and then learn from what you have applied.)

There are THOUSANDS of companies with financial data out there, waiting to be examined. You will not find a bargain every time you look at one. You WILL learn something each time, however, and that’s invaluable.

Part of Buffett’s humongous advantage is the great VOLUME of companies, deals, trades, etc., he’s considered and actually looked at. When you do so, patterns and one-offs start to jump out at you. You scratch your head less and go “a-ha!” more.

How is business school going to do that work for you? It won’t. If you’re going to be a great value investor, you’ll find a way to do it on your own, as you must. Business school, generally, is for people who want to go work for others, not for themselves.

Summed up, “Put down your value investing books, pick up your Value Line tearsheets. Start digging.”

Man, if I just could learn to take my own advice, Buffett himself might have to look out! :D

I am im the same boat as op, in that i am trying to teach myself and i find it all very confusing.

I also find it that having only a high school edu. Makes learning that much slower. Thats why i respected walter schloss so much.he found and applied a system and it worked very well.

The best advice i can give anyone in a situation like mine is to rewrite the concepts and simplify them so that they make sense to you.

Editor: One of the best investors I have ever known dropped out of high school, worked odd jobs while spending all night in the public library; he skimped and he saved $5,000 dollars and over 9 or 10 years took his account to about 2 million $ (yes, he used options and leverage, but he was very selective, and he didn’t put everything on just one bet. He would admit he was lucky in part, but he stayed humble too. Anyway he lives with his wife like a king on $800 a month in Central America near the mountains and beach. Retired at 32.

Roy | April 26, 2012 at 9:43 pm |

+1 for valueprax. If you have already read The Intelligent Investor, Margin of Safety etc. Spend your time on reading financial statements and not more books.  When you go over a statement and you are not clear about something simply search it on the net.     Editor: That is the exact same advice I gave. And don’t be intimidated by lack of MBA, CFA, ZZA, etc. Just start and humbly move forward step by step each day.

As you can see excellent thoughts, suggestions and wisdom shared!

Media Bias and Cuba

This blog is not about politics per se, but about rational thinking. If you read the news, be aware of bias, especially your own.

All lies and jests, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. –Paul Simon

I wrote an article in 2005 after traveling down to Cuba: http://www.babalublog.com/archives/001341.html

After seeing several Cuban children being beaten by police, I asked a Cuban woman why there is so much repression in her country? She replied, “Nadie está escuchando.”  (Nobody is listening). Perhaps this article may shed more light on why.

Carlos M. N. Eire*   Jan. 17, 2012

http://ctp.iccas.miami.edu/FOCUS_Web/Issue156.htm
Thugs take over your country. Much more quickly than you ever thought possible, one megalomaniac takes control, discards the constitution, abolishes free speech, takes over all of the news media, bans all sorts of books and films, closes down all private schools, expels most of the clergy, and abolishes all private enterprise and personal property. In the wink of an eye, he also seizes all the banks, wipes out all accounts and changes the currency so no one can have more than a week’s pay in their pocket.

In the meantime, as these changes are taking place, all who oppose the new regime are imprisoned, tortured, or executed. Some simply disappear. Spy houses are set up on each city block, to watch your every move, and these very same government agents are placed in charge of herding you to public demonstrations and telling you what to shout out. In addition to assigning you all sorts of “volunteer” tasks that amount to slave labor, these meddlers are also given control of your access to medical care, of your children’s placement in school, and of the ration cards that you need in order to survive.

Eventually, anyone suspected of being gay or too religious is rounded up and sent to concentration camps, where “experts” try to “cure” them of their “illness” through torture.

Should you murmur the slightest complaint or curb your enthusiasm, you will not only risk prison, but also imperil your family’s well-being.

Should you opt for exile, your neighbors suddenly “volunteer” to harass you constantly. You may also be forced to spend three or more years at a labor camp, working without pay, hundreds of miles from your home and family, before you are allowed to emigrate. When you finally do manage to leave, all of your remaining possessions are taken from you, including your family photos, your wedding ring, and the rosary or mezuzah your grandmother once gave you. After being strip-searched, you leave the country without a penny to your name, and only two changes of clothing in a very small bag. Suitcases are forbidden.

Or you may risk your life and flee in a flimsy raft under cover of darkness, knowing that there are many sentries patrolling the coast, with shoot-to-kill orders, and many sharks waiting to chew you up if your vessel sinks.

Then, imagine that once you get out, nearly everyone in your place of exile tells you that the totalitarian nightmare you have fled is a wonderful and praiseworthy experiment in social engineering, or even an egalitarian utopia. Imagine being scolded for disagreeing with such assessments. Imagine being told by many affluent and well-educated people that you are a selfish oaf who doesn’t give a damn about justice and can’t appreciate “visionary” leaders.

Welcome to Cuba, and also to the life of a Cuban exile.

Want to get a little deeper under this skin? Imagine this, if you can.

The megalomaniac and so-called visionary leader who has hijacked your country for five decades falls ill and appears to be near death. One of the finest newspapers in your adopted land goes out of its way to ask for your opinion, presumably because you have managed to become a well-respected scholar. But this journal, The New York Times, doesn’t really want you to speak your mind. No. Instead it wants you to pass judgment on your fellow exiles who are openly rejoicing in Miami. And they suggest the topic in the most offensive way you could ever imagine, with a remark as flippantly ignorant and insensitive as Marie Antoinette’s infamous “let them eat cake.”

“I can’t help but wonder if this rejoicing is appropriate,” says the Times editor about the street revelers in Little Havana, “since many of them were likely allowed to leave Cuba in the early 60′s with Castro’s blessing.” Then, as if this were not vexing enough, she asks you to lay all your cards on the table and state your position on this question explicitly, to see whether or not your opinion is worth considering. And when you comply and offer to sum up the ailing tyrant as the consummate Machiavellian prince, you are curtly dismissed…

“We’re afraid that this approach is not quite right,” said the editor.

Imagine that.

God knows what they were searching for at the New York Times, or what they expected of me. All I know is that the Times made me feel as if I were back in Cuba, dealing with its state-run propaganda rag, Granma. Or like a “negro” in the old South, dealing with segregationists who couldn’t understand why colored folk were so ungrateful about being rescued from Africa.

But that’s not all.

If it were only the New York Times, maybe all of us Cubans would be in better shape, in exile as well as on the island. But, unfortunately, it’s not just the Times that loves to idolize the Castroite Revolution. It’s most of the North American and West European media, and their glitterati. Or so it seems, most of the time.

When Fidel Castro visited New York in 1995 to give a speech at the United Nations, he was the toast of the town’s news oligarchs: Mort Zuckerman, then editor of U.S. News and World Report, hosted a lunch for the tyrant at his plush Manhattan apartment, where he and others such as Barbara Walters, queen of tear-jerking interviews, and Diane Sawyer, first prime-time anchorwoman of ABC News swooned in his presence, as if he were a rock star. (1) Barbara and Diane are in good company. Dan Rather, former anchorman of CBS news, called Fidel Castro “Cuba’s own Elvis.” (2) Imagine Hitler or Mussolini being compared to Elvis.

Imagine all of this happening to Idi Amin, Sadam Hussein, or Augusto Pinochet.

Imagine even worse.

If it were only the news media, then maybe we Cubans would stand a chance of redemption. But the American entertainment industry seems to love the tyrant and his henchmen too. Robert Redford glorifies Fidel’s sidekick Che Guevara on film in “The Motorcycle Diaries,” and since that is apparently insufficient, Steven Soderbergh follows suit with a six-hour epic hagiography that might as well have been entitled “Saint Che.” Director Oliver Stone praises Fidel as “one of the world’s wisest men.” (3) Actor Jack Nicholson calls him “a genius.” (4)

Supermodels Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell gush after meeting Fidel that this was “a dream come true.” (5) Not to be outdone, novelist Norman Mailer pronounces Fidel “the first and greatest hero to appear in the world since the Second World War.” (6) But in the end, no one could trump the French, those supreme arbiters of good taste. After all, long before Hollywood stars made pilgrimages to Havana existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre had already crowned Che, rather than Fidel, as “the most complete human being of the twentieth century.” (7)

No wonder we Cuban exiles are seen as the fiends and villains of our own story, and of American politics. No wonder we’re loathed by intellectuals and commoners alike. No wonder the Washington Post and scores of American newspapers can get away with publishing this cartoon with impunity.

Imagine any other immigrants or any ethnic group in that boat. Imagine the firestorm of protest that would ensue.

Imagine the charges of bigotry and racism leveled against the cartoonist and the newspapers who would print such an offensive cartoon.

One final meditation. Imagine this, if you can.

Imagine a New York Times or Washington Post that would dare to print this essay, or apologize for their abysmal ignorance and bigotry.

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 Notes

(1) Servando González, The secret Fidel Castro: deconstructing the symbol (InteliNet/InteliBooks, 2001), p. 35.

(2) “The Last Revolutionary”: interview of Fidel Castro by Dan Rather, CBS News, 18 July 1996.

(3) Myles Kantor, “Oliver Stone’s Cuban Lovefest,” www.frontpagemag.com, 5 May 2004.

(4) Army Archerd, “Nicholson, Castrow powwow in Cuba,” Variety, 15 July 1998. http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117478496?refCatId=2

(5) BBC News. News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/59225.stm

(6) Arnold Beichman, “Mona Charen Exposes Menace of Senseless Liberals,” Human Events, 17 February 2003.

(7) Frank Rosengarten, Urbane revolutionary: C.L.R. James and the struggle for a new society (University Press of Mississippi, 2008), p. 108.

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*Carlos M. N. Eire is Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University and author of Waiting for Snow in Havana and Learning to Die in Miami. This article is based on a lecture he delivered at the Institute for Cuban & Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami, on November 21, 2011.

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The CTP can be contacted at P.O. Box 248174, Coral Gables, Florida 33124-3010, Tel: 305-284-CUBA (2822), Fax: 305-284-4875, and by email at ctp.iccas@miami.edu. The CTP Website is accessible at http://ctp.iccas.miami.edu.