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It’s not a new issue, but it’s the first time that I have stopped to give it more consideration. The Catholic Church, with its confession practice, is a vile, disgusting, criminal mafia. And that includes every single Catholic person who supports the practice and the Church.

I was thinking about this today, given the news from Australia:

The Catholic Church in Australia has formally rejected a landmark inquiry’s recommendation that priests should be forced to report sexual abuse disclosed during confession.

The five-year inquiry found tens of thousands of children had suffered abuse in Australian institutions. The Catholic Church had the most cases.

What kind of a world do we live in? A “recommendation”? The fact that these disgusting people would rather all the children in the world be abused than to denounce a single perpetrator is just unbelievable. That is the mind of the most vile kind of human being.

There is no excuse, no justification, nothing that could ever warrant the torture of any child, that could ever give priority to hiding the truth of the abuse and torture of children to protect the guilty. Nothing.

Could priests be prosecuted?

The state of South Australia has already unveiled new laws – to take effect in October – that will legally compel clergy to report abuse.

However, Church leaders have vowed not to adhere to it. State officials say this may lead to prosecutions, resulting in fines of up to A$10,000 (£5,570; $7,250).

Church leaders have vowed not to adhere to it because they are monsters. And look at the ridiculous amount of the fine. First of all, if they don’t report, they need to go to jail – and stay there. Second, the fine needs to be upped so that it stings, including taking property and assets from this garbage of this Church. At least the new laws will compel clergy to report the abuse. We need this kind of legislation worldwide.

Nothing less is acceptable.

 

[Of course, there are spoilers below!]

OK, so let me start by saying that I had heard of this movie awhile back, watched the trailer, and was not in the least interested in watching it. I don’t remember exactly why, but I have a vague memory of thinking it was probably stupidly dark and mediocre. It’s nothing of the kind.

The writing and the directing/acting are excellent. So are the visuals (camera, lighting). The editing is also very well done, although I would have cut about 15 minutes, shortening several scenes, since the movie began to drag. Since I was watching via streaming, I performed this “cutting” myself by slightly jumping with a click of a mouse several times.

I followed my preferred way of watching movies which is, I watch, then I read the reviews. I want to watch with a “clean” mind, no outer influences or predispositions. This can often mean that I will miss some important, even very important information, even misunderstanding fundamental aspects, but so be it. Prior, I watched a trailer and read some short plot/topic descriptions, then sat down to watch the movie. I was missing some important information, but it actually made the watching more enjoyable.

First, although I had been told the story of Job (from the Bible) before, I completely forgot about it, and no longer had any idea what it referred to. So, although I had read some references that said the movie was a retelling of the Job story, I was oblivious to what that would be. Second, I also just read a very brief description about Hobbes’ Leviathan saying that it discussed the power of the state over an individual, but no more, so I couldn’t really appreciate any deeper inquiry in that regard. Vulture has a very nice short take: Leviathan’s title evokes Thomas Hobbes’s classically grim work of political philosophy — that’s the one where he argues for the value of monarchy and that life is “nasty, brutish, and short”.

The point of the Job tale in the Bible is exactly to instill in Christians total passivity to anything and everything that happens to them or anyone else. They are told that everything is God’s will, so if something bad happens, that also must be God’s will. Consequently, if it’s God will, and God can’t be wrong, and God is utmost good, it only follows that there must a good reason for all the evil that happens. What exactly that good reason is is never explained or discussed, because the point is just to instill passivity and subservience to evil – along with complete submission to religious authority (especially of the corrupt kind) and to stop complaining and just shuffle along. Which explains why every Christian society has been to date profoundly corrupt, evil, and violent – it’s the passivity and collaboration with evil. (The same applies to any similar religion or ideology which preaches this same passivity, by the way). This does not mean in any way that everything that Christianity preaches is bad, it’s a mixture of great extremes in terms of good and evil.

So, in Leviathan, we have Kolya (Alexey Serebriakov), a simple mechanic who lives in some dismal town in the Russian North in his little property. The place is actually quite beautiful in its own way, as all seaside places are, but it’s magnificently made dismal and despairing in the way it is filmed.

Then a corrupt local politician, Vadim (Roman Madyanov), the mayor, sets his sights on Kolya’s beach-front property, and decides to appropriate it via a compulsory purchase order and by paying him peanuts for it. Kolya, naturally very hot-headed, is outraged. First, he doesn’t want to sell his property, and certainly not for peanuts, and he doesn’t want to move, and he wants to fight the mayor. So he asks for the help of an old army buddy, Dima (the handsome Vladimir Vdovichenkov), who is now a self-assured, fearless Moscow lawyer. From what I understood of the character, Dima must have been used to fighting cases in court, not in the real word of raw power. So he naively thinks that he can bluff his way in this case, by threatening to expose Vadim via some dirt obtained from some Moscow colleague, after normal legal actions are stalled due to the corrupt locals. It was never clear to me how close Dima was to this Moscow guy or how he got the dirt. After reading some reviews, it appears such plot aspect is just that, unclear. In any case, the entire small town is a corrupt structure, and it’s not the law, but raw power that rules. The head of the rot is the mayor, but he obviously doesn’t work alone, he has full support of several other civil servants, a militia of thugs, etc. And, very importantly, that includes the local Orthodox bishop. Dima, thinking himself very smart, threatens the mayor with the dirt obtained. And this is where he gets in way over his head.

Meanwhile, in terms of family, Kolya’s adolescent son is lost and rebelling, especially against Kolya’s live-in and second wife, Lilya, correctly described by the Guardian as the ‘seductive, mysterious Elena Lyadova’. So Kolya’s life is a particular mess, but Elena seemed to love Kolya and vice-versa. Their bond being the only thing that seemed to be standing firm in the entire story. What happens next, for reasons that I couldn’t fathom, is that, after Dima enters their lives, Elena goes off to have sex with Dima.

Then, in what is supposed to be a subsequent festive birthday party, Dima gets violent with Elena. Did she threaten to tell Kolya about them? I was at a complete loss. The audience is not shown the altercation. Regardless, Kolya finds out about his wife’s betrayal with his best friend.

Meanwhile, the mayor who was not to be taken down, and certainly not without a fight, has figured out his counter attack and acts, quickly and decisively. He has the lawyer beaten, threatens to kill him, and tells him to run back to Moscow. Dima, understanding that things work differently when corruption dictates the rules, is on the first train to Moscow. Then Elena, after a rather forceful intercourse with Kolya, goes off to gaze at the sea and apparently commits suicide because she is next found dead. The police blame Kolya for her death, saying she was murdered by a blunt hit on the head. He is taken in custody, charged, convicted and his son is about to be sent to an orphanage, but is saved from this horrible fate by a couple that were Kolya’s friends. Therefore Kolya loses his loved wife, his son, his old friend, he gets blamed with his wife’s murder, and is sent to a maximum security prison for 15 years (or so). His life is completely ruined. All returns to the “norm” in the little seaside city. In the final major scene, the mayor attends church with his elegant wife and small son, and all the rest of his people, and the priest pontificates about how God is truth, and how It is bringing truth back to Russia, etc.

The Atlantic has a very good description of several plot aspects and the main issue of the story about how can an individual fight a structure of corrupt power, in this case, the state. But whether the structure is the state or not, it’s irrelevant.

How to fight a corrupt and powerful enemy is the central question of the movie. When a person suffers great injustice and wants to fight back, that is the question to be asked: can they fight back or will this means “committing suicide” – that is, suffering violent retaliation from the powerful people who committed the injustice in the first place?

In the middle of the story, Dima, being Kolya’s friend, presses Kolya to just forget the house, the maddening injustice, leave the property to the mayor, and take his family to Moscow and start anew there. Certainly he would be able to scrap off a living and move on from there, his friend tells him. But Kolya is burning with the injustice that he is the target of, and he is dying to fight back. What he doesn’t realize, and neither does his naive lawyer buddy, is that to fight you need arms (of whatever kind), but you need enough of them. And to expect the mayor to buckle with the mere threat of exposure was not enough arms. The powerful always will use whatever they have to maintain their power and impunity for their injustices. Dima underestimated the mayor. So did Kolya.

Kolya ends up paying a horribly heavy price for their mistake. Had he let himself be completely robbed by the mayor, and moved on to Moscow, he would have started anew in good health, with his wife by his side (question mark, though, given her previous senseless adultery), and his son. A move that I imagined would have then presented as the greatest danger the son starting to hang out with bad people in Moscow. And maybe him losing Elena to Dima or whoever. But overall, much better than the horrors he would face by losing his wife and spending 15 years in a maximum security Russian prison.

Which is what I call the ‘Polish woman question’ (just for the sake of a short label). I think I blogged about this Polish woman case, but I just did a short search and could not find it. Some years ago, I came across an article which mentioned the story of a Polish Jewish woman who was sent at the end of WWII to a concentration or extermination camp. I don’t remember which. Because she spent about a year there, not more, before being liberated, and obviously because of other details that I no longer remember, she survived her ordeal. She then returned to her native village in Poland to reclaim her house that the local Polish villagers had robbed her of when they sent her to what they probably thought would be her death. The reaction of the Polish villagers to her trying to get her house back was to kill her.

That’s the story in Leviathan. “What then shall we do?” In trying to fight for justice against horrible perpetrators who have power, one must always consider how vicious the perpetrators are and how they will retaliate. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about this. And sometimes the only thing you can do, unless you want to get yourself immediately killed, is to walk away, leave everything to the criminals and see if you can start anew elsewhere. At least you have your head connected to your neck, and are not being tortured.

At the same time, not everyone that fights for justice, even when running extreme risks, loses or ends up dead. The price you may be required to pay for justice must always be weighed and considered.

Lastly, basically all Western critics of this film jumped at the chance to scream about the “corruption in Russia” problem depicted by the movie, by which they mean “Putin’s Russia”, which could be further specified as “corruption in the only country where there is corruption, which is Putin’s Russia, because, you know, everything bad in the world has to do with Russia and it’s Putin’s fault”.

The director himself said that living in Russia is like living in a minefield. The Guardian:

Oscar contender Leviathan is a frank portrayal of a corrupt Russia. In a rare interview, its director talks about his country’s ‘eternal curse’ and why voting there would be a ‘completely pointless step’

Svyagintsev: “It’s like being in a minefield, this is the feeling you live with here. It’s very hard to build any kind of prospects – in life, in your profession, in your career – if you are not plugged in to the values of the system. It’s a stupid construction of society, and unfortunately the eternal curse of our territory. The ideas of the rule of law, of equal rights are hardly discussed here. There is discussion in society, but it’s pointless. I have a feeling of the absolute futility of pretending to the right to have a say in any situation. I’ve turned 50 and I’ve never voted in my life. Because I’m absolutely certain that in our system it’s a completely pointless step.”

At the same time, Svyagintsev pointed out that this movie is based on a real event that happened in the… United States.

What is so annoying about the West is that it’s always pointing fingers at other countries to draw attention away from how corrupt it is, often at the same or worse levels.

In what country in the West don’t powerful people completely wipe out defenseless individuals time and time again? Not only within their borders, but when Western countries go commit mass murder and torture abroad, or supply the arms and technology for others to do so?

“The ideas of the rule of law, of equal rights are hardly discussed here. ”

And in the West, people blabber about rights all day while violating them in plain view all the same. How nice if we didn’t have to live in such an insane finger-pointing farce.

p.s. I couldn’t find answers to some questions I had about the plot, namely, what happened during the birthday party brawl and who killed Elena, and given that I was skipping short segments of the film, I went back to watch parts of the movie again to see if I had missed any information and then updated my initial reflections above.

I confirmed something very interesting about the way this story is written. Some things are purposefully not shown nor explained. This is very interesting. We don’t see what Dima did to Elena at the birthday party, nor the reaction of Kolya and the men. Nor do we see Elena killing herself, although in the latter case, it’s pretty obvious that’s what happened.

Overall, very, very good movie. I hope good movie making doesn’t die in Russia now that the Soviet Union is gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was just reading this call to action from some American Jewish liberals, in how they could take over power in Israel. It is truly fascinating.

Stop Trying To Bring Liberal Judaism To Israel. We Already Have Too Much Religion

Read more: https://forward.com/opinion/407701/stop-trying-to-bring-conservative-and-reform-judaism-to-israel-we-already/

Excerpt:

What American Jews Get Wrong About Israeli Liberalism

Liberal American Jews will only be effective in securing a home in Israel for their brand of Jewish practice if their goal is to secure the Zionist project of a national secular Jewish existence.

Unlike in America, in Israel, liberal values can only be promoted in the context of secularism. As a broad rule (there are individual exceptions of course), the more secular Israelis will uphold liberal values, and vice versa.

Therefore, as secularism becomes politically stronger in Israel, so will liberal values.

A more secular Israel is a more liberal Israel. A more religious Israel is a more illiberal one. It is as simple as that. This is the choice.

Having badly defined the goal towards a “kinder, gentler” Jewish religion in the public sphere in Israel, American Jews have also chosen the least effective strategy possible. They have sought recognition for their brand of Judaism whether in matters of conversion, marriage, or prayer at the Kotel, from the very same authorities that have been given monopoly power over these matters by the State, principally, the Chief Rabbinate.

The Rabbinate will never, ever cede its power. No monopoly in the history of monopolies has ever given up or shared power voluntarily. Just ask AT&T. American Jews have been behaving like the frustrated customers of a corrupt monopoly.

You do not ask a monopoly to treat you nicely. You break up a monopoly, with force.

(continued on the site)

=========================================

I left the comment below:

This essay or call to action or whatever the proper name for it and the struggle for power it points to is absolutely fascinating for a far away observer. Liberal American Jews want to take over Israel! And they want to destroy religious Jews like they are basically destroying Christians and anyone with a traditional ideology in the US. They want to expel them from power and from public life, the government, social media, dictate the laws, etc. All in the name of “tolerance”, of course, which apparently in the Israeli context gets translated as “pluralism”.

I happen to agree with this Israeli Rabbi, Mr. Shapira, who “sparked an outcry [recently] when he said that the country has become an “LGBT-stan” inundated with gay culture and urged his followers to “wage war” for traditional family values.”

This is exactly what happened in the West, and now we have a sexually violent sewer as a society, where liberals are in power.

I also read that Omer Bar-Lev (Zionist Union), recently declared that Mr. Shapira, and anyone else who has a similar (decent) view of human sexuality, must not continue working in education. If it depends on Bar-Lev, no such person can ever set foot in a school or university. Such institutions must be cleansed of people like the rabbi. When sexuality pigs rule, people like Mr. Shapira must go out of civil society and back to the ghetto. And so must anyone who upholds the healthy view that healthy human sexuality is heterosexual.

You ask what would a secular Israel be like? My guess is that it would be like what liberals did in the US and in the West -what else?- Judaism equal to a porn magazine, that is, the total destruction of the Jewish religion.

I will be following the power struggle in Israel with great interest.

alessandrareflections wordpress com

July 23, 2018. I come across a few articles on the destruction that LGBTs and homosexual agenda pushers are doing in Israel.

“A prominent national religious Israeli rabbi sparked an outcry on Tuesday when he said that the country has become an “LGBT-stan” inundated with gay culture and urged his followers to “wage war” for traditional family values.” The Times of Israel, March 7, 2018.

I decide to write a letter to the Rabbi about his situation as a blog post, meaning I’m not going to actually send him the letter.

(Note: I’ve abbreviated “Homosexuality supporters” as HS below, meaning the people who think homosexuality is normal).

Dear Rabbi,

It’s been nice, let’s admit it, you were given about what?, 2018 minus 1945, that’s 73 years, and if we discount the time of chaos right after WWII, we have about 60 years where you had a place to exist and live without being persecuted, maligned, and silenced.

But that, as you are well aware, has changed. Have German Nazis taken hold of power in your country? Not at all. A different group, nazi all the same, has come to power. And guess what, once again, you are the pariah. You are the evil person, you must be accused, and silenced. Most importantly, it’s time for you to go back to the ghetto. I hope you have enjoyed the little bit of sun light and fresh air during these six decades, because it’s over.

Remember in the 1930s when Nazi Germans started passing laws to exclude Jews from civil society? From working in the government, in universities?

What is it that Omer Bar-Lev (Zionist Union), a member of the Knesset, the Israel Parliament, recently declared about you? You, Mr. Shapira, and anyone else who has a decent view of human sexuality, must not continue working in education. If it depends on Bar-Lev, you can never set foot in a school or university. Such institutions must be cleansed of people like you. When sexuality pigs rule, Mr. Shapira, you must go out of civil society and back to the ghetto. And so must anyone who upholds the healthy view that healthy human sexuality is heterosexual.

Homosexual culture is indeed an illness that is spreading and taking control. It is not just Israel which has become an ‘“LGBT-stan” inundated with gay culture,”‘ as you correctly stated. This is what happened to the entire West.

“Anyone who says something about a healthy and faith-based family is considered to have phobias, to be someone who is an extremist. Why? Because he expressed an opinion that has been the basis of all humanity and the entire Torah!,” you so rightly pointed out.

If only that were all. Look at the other attacks hurled at you by your own countrymen. Bar-Lev called your party “a dangerous place” and a “cult of hatred”, your words are “a doctrine of disgust and ignorance of the darkest people.”

Do I hear echoes of how German Nazis described Jews? Wasn’t this one of the key Nazi propaganda profiles of Jews: having dark, evil souls, at the same time that they were a very dangerous group?

As I recall one of the professors pointing out in a course I took about the Holocaust, before the Nazis, Jews were considered despicable, but not dangerous; a disgusting minority, but a minority nevertheless. They were not a gigantic threat that would imminently destroy Christian/European civilization.

Nazi propaganda changed all that. Not only were Jews despicable, but now they were out to dominate and take everything away from the good, saintly gentiles, especially god-fearing Christian ones, the upholders of decency and civilization – at least this is how things stood in the lunatic eyes of bourgeois Europeans, whether upcoming Nazis or the bulk of gentile society. Thus Jews were a despised minority that had some achievements in gentile society, and depending on the place, they were quite integrated, or relegated to the margins, or to their own circles, but overall largely considered no imminent global threat. With Nazi propaganda that image quickly changed to a horribly dangerous and extremely powerful group – dangerous and powerful being the key words here.

Mr. Shapira, what the Nazis couldn’t achieve -the destruction of Jews-, the LGBT pigs and the people who think homosexuality is normal, will. Of course, we’re not talking about physical destruction, but about something much worse. Because, as you have very well figured out, without a healthy view of sexuality, there are no healthy personal relationships to begin with, long before we get to any family and children issue. No healthy families is simply a consequence of no healthy intimate/sexual/couple relationships, of a putrid sexuality, and that’s what the homosexuality/pornography people have to offer to the world. People who think like pigs regarding sexuality destroy any society, and this, regardless if they ever have children.

What is the greatest tragedy is the loss of the knowledge of what constitutes a healthy and wholesome sexuality. Which LGBT pigs and the people who think homosexuality is normal don’t have.

Homosexual culture is a disease and a cancer that strikes at the very heart of a society, and it does so at every level. Equally important, normalizing homosexuality always means having a profoundly violent sexual sewer as a society. But one where the victims are usually among the most disenfranchised and/or disempowered people in society. Therefore, most remain largely invisible and without a voice. As a result, LGBT pigs and their supporters continue perpetrating huge harm and violence in the sexual/personal sphere, with mostly total impunity.

There is no society where homosexuality has been normalized that is not hugely sexually violent. And where LGBTs constantly sexually insult, harm, harass, and assault others. And where the victims remain largely silent and invisible. And where the perpetrators never suffer any consequences because they are supported by liberal society in their violence.

In the article about your talk, you are quoted as stressing that neither you nor your followers were homophobic. Oh, but you are.

Make no mistake about it. You shall either submit to what is most perverted and vile in terms of sexuality or you shall be branded the enemy, you shall be maligned, and homophobic doesn’t even begin to cut it. It’s homophobic, dark-souled, unfit for the public sphere, for education, for the medical sphere, for the army, for being a citizen, in short, evil, and most of all, dangerous! You and anyone who has a decent view of sexuality is just as dangerous today as Jews were in 1933.

Yes, Mr. Shapira, protest all you want that you are not homophobic, try to reason, explain, and see where that gets you. Could you have sat down 80 years ago and reasoned with a Nazi and explained that you are not a dangerous slime trying to take over the world and that you really don’t lust about drinking the blood of Christian children?

Of course, Jewish LGBT and HS pigs are not going to kill you, it will be enough to put you in a ghetto and make you stay there, in silence. In a world ruled by sexuality pigs, that’s your place.

But that’s not all. Your space in society will be further and further encroached upon, just like it happened 80 years ago, during the 1930’s, where the space occupied by Jews became smaller and smaller, until it was nothing but a horrible ghetto designed to group the “worst human beings”.

And now it’s happening all over again, thanks to your own people. Or are they “your own people”? Simply because they have a passport that looks like yours?

Which is why I say, what the Nazis couldn’t achieve, the LGBT and homosexuality/pornography agenda pigs will.

It may be that you are about to experience that an enemy from within is much more vile and destructive than an external one.

Take a porn magazine from these LGBT or HS pigs, open it up, and look at what the people are doing. Is this what it means to be Jewish? Thinking and behaving in the most perverted way, in a way that is in its essence the profound denigration of sex and inescapably, of human beings?

What LGBT pigs express in their porn is not in any way harmless. It also serves as the foundation for sexual harassment and violence, because once a person thinks about sex without respect, in a perverted way, what’s to stop them from insulting, harassing, groping, or assaulting anyone just because it brings them their perverted pleasure? It’s normal to them. Why wouldn’t they give other people dirty, sexually malicious, or perverted looks? That’s what they have in their head, a sexuality sewer, what’s to hold them back from getting their perverted kicks? It’s what they live for, being a sexuality pig. Moreover, HS people have been telling the LGBT pigs it’s all normal.

And what happens when they sexually insult, harass, grope, or assault others because of their homosexual/bisexual perversion? Usually nothing. Any LGBT or straight pig has discovered this a long time ago.

So Mr. Shapira, I regret to inform that you are the enemy once again. Just a few decades after the Holocaust and it’s replay – but now, the people ready to send you to the ghetto call themselves Jews. (And liberal, tolerant, and progressive to boot).

 

 

Noam Chomsky nails it in a short video – which might be part of a larger interview, I don’t know. (only 8 minutes long – watch the whole thing, no fluff)

Trump acts as a distraction, a continuous loud and 24/7 craziness circus act that is purposefully fueled by the elite-owned media, while elite politicians (and the financial/industrial/military complex) destroy anything that benefits the people in the US and ravage nations abroad, in the background of the media circus.

And the American populace falls hook, line, and sinker for it.

Meanwhile in our little corner of the world, the fight goes on…

 

What I find striking is the many ways that Americans are conditioned like Nazi Germans. On the one hand, in their discourse, they insist on following the law (and by “law”, they mean American laws!). So much so that when there is a law that would prevent American secret agencies from breaking laws regarding American citizens, that is, the national sphere of laws, these agencies must find a way to break the law secretely or to bypass the law through justifications, or to take advantage of legal loopholes, for example, all these secret courts and decisions for mass surveillance. In other words, they allege to the populace that they are “following the law” while behaving in a criminal way. But they must pretend to follow the “rule of law”.

On the other hand, Americans clearly state that they will break all laws in every other country if they want, for purposes of “national security”, “spying”, etc. In other words, the attitude is that they can disregard the rule of law completely once the sphere moves from internal to external. Yes, they justify acting in a criminal way internationally by pretending it’s to “catch bad guys”, but still they believe they are entitled to be criminals as they please. Internally they must pretend to be “following the law”, externally, no pretense is necessary.

It’s very Nazi.

See this article from National Review for a clear example:

 

Fred Fleitz March 7, 2017 3:06 PM @fredfleitz
According to press reports, WikiLeaks today released thousands of highly classified CIA documents on methods the CIA allegedly is using to conduct cyber warfare. If these documents are legitimate, this illegal release will ruin cyber programs worth billions of dollars that the CIA was using to do battle with America’s enemies, especially terrorist groups.
The CIA officer who took the law into his or her hands to release this material justified this release by claiming this data “urgently need to be debated in public, including whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency.” The source also said he or she “wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.”
What nonsense. If the traitor truly believed this program violated U.S. law or endangered the privacy rights of America, there are numerous legal avenues he or she could have used, including the CIA inspector general and the House and Senate intelligence committees. CIA officers take an oath to protect classified national-security information. Such a massive illegal disclosure in violation of the CIA secrecy oath is not an act of courage or whistleblowing, it was “a Snowden” — an act of cowardice by a disgruntled individual who never should have been hired by the CIA.
This disturbing development raises three urgent questions about mismanagement of the CIA during the Obama administration. Why did CIA have a cyber-warfare office at all? I noted in a December 2016 NRO article that there are cyber-warfare offices in four separate intelligence agencies. I suspect this is because different intelligence agencies all wanted to cash in on funding opportunities on a high-profile topic. Such overlap is getting worse and make U.S. intelligence more bureaucratic and less efficient. The new leaker may very well have been hired as a result of CIA Director Brennan’s decision to lower standards for CIA hiring because he wanted to create a more diverse CIA workforce and Brennan rushed to staff his new cyber office. I wrote about this in Investor’s Business Daily in 2015. It also reportedly has been difficult for the U.S. government to find personnel to staff cyber offices who can meet the agency’s usual security requirements. This probably is why Edward Snowden was hired despite his lack of a college degree and how he was able to increase his access to classified material and move between intelligence agencies despite his poor performance. …
A couple of points to note:
If these documents are legitimate, this illegal release will ruin cyber programs…
See the emphasis on the release being illegal, and not the fact that all these activities that the dump discloses are illegal around the world.
Then:
If the traitor truly believed this program violated U.S. law or endangered the privacy rights of America, there are numerous legal avenues he or she could have used, including the CIA inspector general and the House and Senate intelligence committees.
The pretense that corrupt secret agencies and politicians who deliberately state they can commit any crime they want in any country is the person to go-to in case there is a legal problem is downright funny. But still, there is the insistence on the lie that the US functions based on legitimate government officials.
programs worth billions of dollars that the CIA was using to do battle with America’s enemies, especially terrorist groups.
In other words, people that the CIA/Deep State wants to persecute without any regard to the rule of law anywhere, and who, by the history of the US, are usually the people fighting for basic human rights, health care and education, and democracy, in countries ruled by US-sponsored dictators.
I noted in a December 2016 NRO article that there are cyber-warfare offices in four separate intelligence agencies. I suspect this is because different intelligence agencies all wanted to cash in on funding opportunities on a high-profile topic. Such overlap is getting worse and make U.S. intelligence more bureaucratic and less efficient.
But this is what happens when you have a country of greedy and corrupt individuals in a monstrous capitalist system. Everyone wants to take part of the graft. Corruption grows because it meets no resistance, only like-minded individuals.
And why four different cyber-warfare offices? Well, unlike the author, the first and foremost one, I would say, is the greed – imagine just how much public money you can be given on a silver platter, without ever having to behave ethically or show results of any kind?  And then there is the mafia aspect. These people have all understood they are above the law since the American public is content to look the other way. The public is happy with a sham of an oversight. So multiple offices means they each work for a “mafia” head, having to answer to that political/elite faction only. It’s like ancient Rome.
Finally:
Heads should roll over this leak.
But, notice, not over the entire criminal activity of the CIA and other military and secret agencies.
American capitalism – corrupt to the core.

 

 

Well. It was amazing. It was mind-blowing. Nobody thought it could happen. Yet he pulled it off.

What a lesson, what a beautiful example of “nothing is impossible”.

I went to bed early on Tuesday – why torture oneself with the slow incoming counting of a Clinton win? – and fully prepared for the awful news of Hillary’s win the next morning, already detaching myself from the whole election affair. Life goes on and all that. Millions of errands and things to do the next morning, the election will be over, back to the normal drudgery of everyday life, let’s think about other things already.

Of course, when I got up the next morning, I went to check the news for the awful acknowledgement of Hillary’s win and just to see how bad it had been.

And then I was speechless. Stunned. Overjoyed.

And even though the witch keeps flying around, circling on her broom, still meddling obviously in the high circles of power that she has attained, she lost.

She lost like no one could, crashing from the highest pedestal that she had built for herself, with her mountains of lies and all that corrupt money the Clinton crime syndicate has amassed.

And every little tiny tinsy bit of news about her loss, her disappointment, the knife in her stomach, her resounding vertical crash was just savored. How it came from nowhere and just whipped her repugnant smug face. A lifetime of grotesque crimes, all that highest level corruption, a billion thrown to oil that horrible Hillary electing machine, and Trump just grabbed the win right out of her slimy hard clutching hands. Without much effort, it can also be added.

Trump was very smart – we all have to hand it to him. Talking to millions of dumb Americans, selfish and low-info as they are, takes talent. I never thought he had it, but he does.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. Trump means more of the same horrible criminal US of A – wars, torture, horrendous foreign policy, arms sales to barbarians abroad to commit relentless repression and mass murder, just to mention a few of the gravest international issues. He is not ethical and his number one priority is himself. I think he is poised to become richer than the Bushes and the Clintons. Only time will tell.

But he won. And that means Hillary lost. Her only chance and he smashed it.

And that is a lesson.

I’m still savoring that she lost her only chance and I’ll be savoring it for some time. What she most wanted and No. You can’t have it. Hard to know how many people the Clintons have gotten rid of, how many careers they have destroyed, how many people in Haiti are suffering because the Clintons robbed them of their resources (including Hillary’s brother and that Haitian gold mine plunder of his), how many masses of human beings have been murdered or starved because of the arms sales and foreign policies and deals orchestrated by Bill and Hillary, but she lost. In this world without justice, this is about the only thing we can get.

We’ll take it and savor it.

Good article on TAC:

The Wholesale Failure of American Foreign Policy

How long will the people permit it?

 

 

The contemporary mission of the US armed forces is to make military contractors rich. As an addendum the foreign policy elite use the military to scare the world into political alignment with the US. How did this happen? The American people flat out don’t care and therefore the media just goes along with the corrupt government on this endless gravy train. At no time has it been more true that “war is a racket” as Gen. Smedley Butler noted long ago. In my view, the National Security State is our largest unit of organized crime.

[Amen.]

This comment is actually priceless in the bolded parts:

TG says:

Ah, but Hillary Clinton is ‘qualified’ to be president, and Donald Trump is ‘unqualified.’ Why? Because Clinton has been deemed ‘qualified’ by the New York Times, and she has been engaged with echo-chamber think tanks for decades that keep telling her how great she is, and she has been mucking about in government for over two decades, and anyhow she’s a woman. So even though Trump says a lot of sensible things, and has a track record of (mostly) succeeding with large complex projects in a very competitive business environment (and even when he fails he knows how to cut his losses), and he appears to care more about the national interest than selling out for personal gain, obviously we can’t vote for him, because racism.

[ 🙂 Well, since Trump is running on a Republican ticket, he’ll just end up being another neo-con just like Hillary. The fools wanting to vote for him are just as clueless as the Hillary fans.]

Karl R Kaiser says:

It’s only a failure if you believe the government’s STATED strategic purposes.

But if the purpose of our foreign policy is to enrich the military industry, bankers, oil barons, and opium importers, to empower Israel, and to frighten Americans into accepting a paramilitary surveillance state, then voila, American foreign policy is an unqualified success.

Douglas K. says:

I echo other comments here. Current policy is a failure only if you’re concerned about American lives, civil liberties, security, prestige, international reputation, military preparedness … stuff like that. You know, the metrics of success that normal people use.

But if the actual goal is to maintain permanent low-level foreign and domestic threats to justify continued massive military expenditures and the perpetual expansion of the security state, then it’s all working perfectly. The “war on terror” is like the “war on drugs” in that the point is to fight it forever, not to win. After all, the money is in the fighting. “Victory” — perpetually undefined and therefore unachievable — would end the gravy train.

Anarcissie says:

The US leadership/elite/ruling class decided that it had to rule the world, to make the world safe for itself and its interests, back during World War 2, and created a system to do that. It is now generally referred to as ’empire’. All arrangements eventually come to an end, and we are now coming to the end of this particular arrangement. It might be objectively possible for our leaders to try to work up a new arrangement, but my guess is that in their sentimental attachment to power and glory, they will just keep doing the same things until some catastrophe brings the sad game to an end. The present election seems to bear out this pessimistic view.

There was an excellent article on Tom Dispatch on this very question.

Excerpt below:

What Does It Mean When War Hawks Say, “Never Trump”?
The Enemies of My Enemy May Be War Criminals
By Rebecca Gordon

…we just heard from 50 representatives of the national security apparatus, men — and a few women — who served under Republican presidents from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. All of them are very worried about Donald Trump.

They think we should be alerted to the fact that the Republican standard-bearer “lacks the character, values, and experience to be president.”

That’s true of course, but it’s also pretty rich, coming from this bunch. The letter’s signers include, among others, the man who was Condoleezza Rice’s legal advisor when she ran the National Security Council (John Bellinger III); one of George W. Bush’s CIA directors who also ran the National Security Agency (Michael Hayden); a Bush administration ambassador to the United Nations and Iraq (John Negroponte); an architect of the neoconservative policy in the Middle East adopted by the Bush administration that led to the invasion of Iraq, who has since served as president of the World Bank (Robert Zoellick). In short, given the history of the “global war on terror,” this is your basic list of potential American war criminals.

Their letter continues, “He weakens U.S. moral authority as the leader of the free world.”

There’s a sentence that could use some unpacking.

What Is The “Free World”?

Let’s start with the last bit: “the leader of the free world.” That’s what journalists used to call the U.S. president, and occasionally the country as a whole, during the Cold War. Between the end of World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the “free world” included all the English-speaking countries outside Africa, along with western Europe, North America, some South American dictatorships, and nations like the Philippines that had a neocolonial relationship with the United States.

The U.S.S.R. led what, by this logic, was the un-free world, including the Warsaw Pact countries in eastern Europe, the “captive” Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, the People’s Republic of China (for part of the period), North Korea, and of course Cuba. Americans who grew up in these years knew that the people living behind the “Iron Curtain” were not free. We’d seen the bus ads and public service announcements on television requesting donations for Radio Free Europe, sometimes illustrated with footage of a pale adolescent man, his head crowned with chains.

I have absolutely no doubt that he and his eastern European countrymen were far from free. I do wonder, however, how free his counterparts in the American-backed Brazilian, Argentinian, Chilean, and Philippine dictatorships felt.

The two great adversaries, together with the countries in their spheres of influence, were often called the First and Second Worlds. Their rulers treated the rest of the planet — the Third World — as a chessboard across which they moved their proxy armies and onto which they sometimes targeted their missiles. Some countries in the Third World refused to be pawns in the superpower game, and created a non-aligned movement, which sought to thread a way between the Scylla and Charybdis of the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Among its founders were some of the great Third World nationalists: Sukarno of Indonesia, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, and Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, along with Yugoslavia’s President Josip Broz Tito.

Other countries weren’t so lucky. When the United States took over from France the (unsuccessful) project of defeating Vietnam’s anti-colonial struggle, people in the U.S. were assured that the war that followed with its massive bombing, napalming, and Agent-Oranging of a peasant society represented the advance of freedom against the forces of communist enslavement. Central America also served as a Cold War battlefield, with Washington fighting proxy wars during the 1980s in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, where poor campesinos had insisted on being treated as human beings and were often brutally murdered for their trouble. In addition, the U.S. funded, trained, and armed a military dictatorship in Honduras, where John Negroponte — one of the anti-Trump letter signers — was the U.S. ambassador from 1981 to 1985.

The Soviet Union is, of course, long gone, but the “free world,” it seems, remains, and so American officials still sometimes refer to us as its leader — an expression that only makes sense, of course, in the context of dual (and dueling) worlds. On a post-Soviet planet, however, it’s hard to know just what national or geographic configuration constitutes today’s “un-free world.” Is it (as Donald Trump might have it) everyone living under Arab or Muslim rule? Or could it be that amorphous phenomenon we call “terrorism” or “Islamic terrorism” that can sometimes reach into the “free world” and slaughter innocents as in San Bernardino, California, Orlando, Florida, or Nice, France? Or could it be the old Soviet Union reincarnated in Vladimir Putin’s Russia or even a rising capitalist China still controlled by a Communist Party?

Faced with the loss of a primary antagonist and the confusion on our planet, George W. Bush was forced to downsize the perennial enemy of freedom from Reagan’s old “evil empire” (the Soviet Union) to three “rogue states,” Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, which in an address to Congress he so memorably labeled the “axis of evil.” The first of these lies in near ruins; the second we’ve recently signed a nuclear treaty with; and the third seems incapable of even feeding its own population. Fortunately for the free world, the Bush administration also had some second-string enemies to draw on. In 2002, John Bolton, then an undersecretary of state (and later ambassador to the U.N.), added another group “beyond the axis of evil” — Libya, Syria, and Cuba. Of the three, only Cuba is still a functioning nation.

And by the way, the 50 Republican national security stars who denounced Donald Trump in Cold War terms turn out to be in remarkably good company — that of Donald Trump himself (who recently gave a speech invoking American Cold War practices as the basis for his future foreign policy).

“He Weakens U.S. Moral Authority…”

After its twenty-first century wars, its “black sites,” and Guantánamo, among other developments of the age, it’s hard to imagine a much weaker “moral authority” than what’s presently left to the United States. First, we gave the world eight years of George W. Bush’s illegal invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as CIA torture sites, “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and a program of quite illegal global kidnappings of terror suspects (some of whom proved innocent of anything).  Under President Obama, it seems we’ve traded enhanced interrogation techniques for an “enhanced” use of assassination by drone (again outside any “law” of war, other than the legal documents that the Justice Department has produced to justify such acts).

When Barack Obama took office in January 2009 his first executive order outlawed the CIA’s torture program and closed those black sites. It then looked as if the country’s moral fiber might be stiffening. But when it came to holding the torturers accountable, Obama insisted that the country should “look forward as opposed to looking backwards” and the Justice Department declined to prosecute any of them. It’s hard for a country to maintain its moral authority in the world when it refuses to exert that authority at home.

Two of the letter signers who are so concerned about Trump’s effect on U.S. moral authority themselves played special roles in “weakening” U.S. moral authority through their involvement with the CIA torture program: John Bellinger III and Michael Hayden.

June 26th is the U.N.’s International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. To mark that day in 2003, President Bush issued a statement declaring, “Torture anywhere is an affront to human dignity everywhere. The United States is committed to the world-wide elimination of torture, and we are leading this fight by example.”

The Washington Post story on the president’s speech also carried a quote from Deputy White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan to the effect that all prisoners being held by the U.S. government were being treated “humanely.” John Rizzo, who was then the CIA’s deputy general counsel, called John Bellinger, Condoleezza Rice’s legal counsel at the National Security Council, to express his concern about what both the president and McClellan had said.

The problem was that — as Rizzo and his boss, CIA director George Tenet, well knew — many detainees then held by the CIA were not being treated humanely. They were being tortured or mistreated in various ways. The CIA wanted to be sure that they still had White House backing and approval for their “enhanced interrogation” program, because they didn’t want to be left holding the bag if the truth came out. They also wanted the White House to stop talking about the humane treatment of prisoners.

According to an internal CIA memo, George Tenet convened a July 29, 2003, meeting in Condoleezza Rice’s office to get the necessary reassurance that the CIA would be covered if the truth about torture came out. There, Bellinger reportedly apologized on behalf of the administration, explaining that the White House press secretary had “gone off script,” mistakenly reverting to “old talking points.” He also “undertook to [e]nsure that the White House press office ceases to make statements on the subject other than [to say] that the U.S. is complying with its obligations under U.S. law.”

At that same meeting, Tenet’s chief counsel, Scott Muller, passed out packets of printed PowerPoint slides detailing those enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, so that Bellinger and the others present, including Rice, would understand exactly what he was covering up.

So much for the “moral authority” of John Bellinger III.

As for Michael Hayden (who has held several offices in the national security apparatus), one of his signature acts as CIA Director was to approve in 2005 the destruction of videotapes of the agency’s waterboarding sessions. In a letter to CIA employees, he wrote that the tapes were destroyed “only after it was determined they were no longer of intelligence value and not relevant to any internal, legislative, or judicial inquiries.”

Of course destroying those tapes also meant that they’d never be available for any future legislative or judicial inquiry. The letter continued,

“Beyond their lack of intelligence value… the tapes posed a serious security risk. Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the program, exposing them and their families to retaliation from al-Qaeda and its sympathizers.”

One has to wonder whether Hayden was more concerned with his CIA colleagues’ “security” from al-Qaeda or from prosecution. In any case, he deprived the public — and any hypothetical future prosecutor — of crucial evidence of wrongdoing.

Hayden also perpetuated the lie that the Agency’s first waterboarding victim, Abu Zubaydah — waterboarded a staggering 83 times — was a crucial al-Qaeda operative and had provided a quarter of all the information that the CIA gathered from human subjects about al-Qaeda.  He was, in fact, never a member of al-Qaeda at all. In the 1980s, he ran a training camp in Afghanistan for the mujahedin, the force the U.S. supported against the Soviet occupation of that country; he was, that is, one of Ronald Reagan’s “freedom fighters.”

Bellinger later chimed in, keeping the Abu Zubaydah lie alive by arguing in 2007 on behalf of his boss Condoleezza Rice that Guantánamo should remain open. That prison, he said, “serves a very important purpose, to hold and detain individuals who are extremely dangerous [like] Abu Zubaydah, people who have been planners of 9/11.”

“He Appears to Lack Basic Knowledge About and Belief in the U.S. Constitution, U.S. Laws, and U.S. Institutions…”

That’s the next line of the open letter, and it’s certainly a fair assessment of Donald Trump. But it’s more than a little ironic that it was signed by Michael Hayden who, in addition to supporting CIA’s torture project, oversaw the National Security Agency’s post-9/11 secret surveillance program. Under that program, the government recorded the phone, text, and Internet communications of an unknown number of people inside and outside of the United States — all without warrants.

Perhaps Hayden believes in the Constitution, but at best it’s a selective belief. There’s that pesky 4th Amendment, for example, which guarantees that

“[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Nor does Hayden appear to believe in U.S. laws and institutions, at least when it comes to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which established the secret courts that are supposed to issue exactly the sort of warrant Hayden’s program never requested.

John Negroponte is another of the signers who has a history of skirting U.S. laws and the congress that passes them. While ambassador to Honduras, he helped develop a murderouscontra” army, which the United States armed and trained to overthrow the government of neighboring Nicaragua. During those years, however, aid to the contras was actually illegal under U.S. law.  It was explicitly prohibited under the so-called Boland Amendments to various appropriations bills, but no matter.  “National security” was at stake.

Speaking of the Constitution, it’s instructive to take a look at Article 6, which states in part that “all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land.” Such treaties include, for example, the 1928 Kellogg-Briand non-aggression pact (whose violation was the first charge brought against the Nazi officials tried at Nuremberg) and Article 51 of the U.N. charter, which permits military action only “if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.”

In 1998, Robert Zoellick, another of those 50 Republicans openly denouncing Trump, signed a different letter, which advocated abrogating those treaties. As an associate of the Project for a New American Century, he was among those who urged then-President Bill Clinton to direct “a full complement of diplomatic, political, and military efforts” to “remove Saddam Hussein from power.” This was to be just the first step in a larger campaign to create a Pax Americana in the Middle East. The letter specifically urged Clinton not to worry about getting a Security Council resolution, arguing that “American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.”

“He Is Unable or Unwilling to Separate Truth From Falsehood…” 

So says the letter, and that, too, offers a fair characterization of Trump, who has often contended that President Obama has never proved he was born in the U.S.A., and has more than once repeated the long-disproved legend that, during the 1899-1913 Morro Rebellion in the Philippines, General John J. Pershing used bullets dipped in pig’s blood to execute Muslim insurgents. (And that’s barely to scratch the surface of Donald Trump’s remarkable unwillingness to separate truth from falsehood.) What, then, about the truthfulness of the letter signers?

Clinton never bit on the PNAC proposal, but a few years later, George W. Bush did. And the officials of his administration began their campaign of lies about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, yellow cake uranium from Niger, and “smoking guns” that might turn out to be “mushroom clouds” (assumedly over American cities), all of which would provide the pretext for that administration’s illegal invasion of Iraq.

The Bush administration didn’t limit itself to lying to the American people. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Negroponte was dispatched to the Security Council to lie, too. Security Council Resolution 1441 was the last of several requiring Iraq to comply with weapons inspections by the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Some members of the Council, especially Russia and France, were hesitant to approve 1441, fearing that the U.S. might interpret it as a license to invade. So, in the discussions before the vote, Negroponte assured the Security Council that “this resolution contains no ‘hidden triggers’ and no ‘automaticity’ with respect to the use of force. If there is a further Iraqi breach, reported to the Council by UNMOVIC, the IAEA or a Member State, the matter will return to the Council for discussions.” The British ambassador used almost identical words to reassure the Council that, before attacking Iraq, the United States and Britain would seek its blessing.

That, of course, is hardly what happened. On February 24, 2003, Washington and London did bring a resolution for war to the Security Council.  When it became apparent that two of its permanent members, France and Russia, would veto that resolution if it came to a vote, Bush (in consultation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair) decided to withdraw it. “We all agreed,” he wrote in his memoir, that “the diplomatic track had reached its end.”

And so the U.S. was on its foreordained path to war and disaster in Iraq, the path that after much winding, much failure, and much destruction would lead to Donald Trump.

So much for keeping promises and separating “truth from falsehood.”

====end of excerpt====

Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches in the philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes (Hot Books). Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

I came across a report from a couple that traveled to Cuba that offered their experience. I have a similar expectation that this is what one could very well see in Cuba – particularly as a tourist.

Castro and his supporters achieved tremendous progress for Cuba, and he outsmarted the US’s evil desire to destroy this progress, and bring it under its heel of corruption and exploitation as it has done to dozens of other countries in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.

Caitlin Causey:

When my husband and I started telling others that we had begun making plans to travel to Cuba this summer, their reactions ranged from curiosity to something like thinly veiled horror: Cuba, of all places? Fidel Castro, communists, the missile crisis in the ‘60s — why Cuba?

For us, the answer was simple: Cuba today is at a pivotal moment in its history, and has not been this accessible to regular Americans in more than 50 years. It is also one of the most interesting, culturally rich, and astoundingly gorgeous natural areas on Earth. When Christopher Columbus landed on Cuba’s northeastern shore in October 1492, he wrote that he “never beheld such a beautiful place.”

This we had to see.

But first, we needed to figure out how to get there. U.S. travel restrictions had been locked in place for decades, embedded in our country’s 1961 trade embargo and loosened only in late 2014. With additional lightening of limitations in March of this year, travelers like us could plan our trip without needing to apply for a visa with the federal government so long as our trip’s purpose fit into one of 12 pre-approved categories. These include humanitarian work, academic research, sport competitions and journalistic activities (hint, hint: this article’s for you, feds!). Purely touristic travel, however, is still technically prohibited under U.S. law.

Once the legal details were ironed out, we booked two flights: one to Mexico, and one from Mexico to Havana. The good news is that this type of roundabout entry into the country will soon be unnecessary, with direct flights from the States to several Cuban cities scheduled to resume this fall. Denver’s own Frontier Airlines has even been awarded a number of daily trips by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Soon, we were stuffing last-minute snacks and sunblock into our backpacks and locking the door to our Glenwood home behind us. As we exited customs in the Havana airport about 24 hours later, a blast of infernal tropical heat pummeled us — and I knew we had arrived.

For the next three weeks we drove across the island from east to west in a small Chinese rental car, beginning in the eastern metropolis of Santiago de Cuba and eventually making our way back to Havana. Santiago was a fascinating introduction to the country, a vivacious city pulsing with music, dance and youthful energy. Here we stayed in the first of several Airbnb’s throughout the trip, booked online before we ever left home. Airbnb has taken off since beginning operations in Cuba last year partly because private homestays, or casas particulares, are one of a few limited forms of private enterprise allowed by the government.

After Santiago we drove northeast through Guantanamo province, stopping near the top of its eponymous bay to see if we could squint hard enough to spot our infamous U.S. base at the other end. The road then took us to lush, secluded Baracoa — arguably the most lovely town we visited in all of Cuba. Accessible only by sea for centuries before a single road was constructed in the 1960s to connect it with the rest of the country, Baracoa maintains its own unique atmosphere, culture and food traditions today. The heaping plate of spiced tetí we ate there — tiny fish the size of rice grains, native to the region — was the most unusual culinary experience of our trip.

From Baracoa we went west along Cuba’s northern shore, with stops in the sleepy colonial towns of Banes and Gibara. Further inland we visited stunning Camagüey and roamed its labyrinthine streets, which were reportedly designed to confuse pillaging bands of pirates a few centuries ago. Afterward we continued to Trinidad, a cobblestoned village surrounded by ghostly old sugarcane plantations, and then skirted the south coast until hitting the Bay of Pigs.

Would anyone believe that the Bay of Pigs, once the gruesome site of the U.S. government’s doomed 1961 attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro, is now a bona fide adventure destination attracting snorkelers and scuba divers from all over the world? Well, it is — and for good reason. Along the bay’s eastern edge is a wild and uncorrupted 22-mile stretch of coral reef and gentle crystalline waters. What an odd place for us to spend the Fourth of July this year.

For our final few days in Cuba, we saved the biggest sight for last: Havana. At once grand and decrepit, Havana was everything we had seen in pictures and more. Vintage cars the color of bubble gum and banana cream, crumbling colonial architecture, horse drawn carts full of papayas, children playing handball in the street, daiquiris, dancing, music pouring from open doors, sunsets over the sea wall: as our Lonely Planet guidebook put it, “No one could have invented Havana. It’s too audacious, too contradictory, and — despite 50 years of withering neglect — too damned beautiful.”

The same, I think, could be said of the entire country. The fascinating thing about Cuba in 2016 is that all of its glorious contradictions are coming to a head. It is obvious that change is happening — but what exactly that change might bring is anyone’s guess.

Cuba surprised me in ways that I did not expect. At every turn, something or someone was waiting to dismantle the old Castro-Communist-Missile Crisis narrative of Cuba that I (and most other Americans) had grown up with. Where I anticipated animosity, I was granted kindness; where I assumed danger, I felt safety; and where I expected ugliness, I found beauty. Cuba is not what it was in the 1960s, or the 1990s, or even what it was five years ago — and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

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