More Thoughts On Normalizing Relations With Cuba

 

President Obama’s announcement on Wednesday that he would seek to normalize relations with Cuba reminded me of an aphorism: even a broken clock is right twice a day.

And so it is that Barack Obama — a man who is objectively terrible at his job — is right about Cuba. He is right because he is reversing (or trying to, anyway) a policy that has been an utter failure for half a century. Obama’s plan is (1) to normalize relations, (2) lift the travel and financial restrictions, (3) build an embassy, (4) seek to lift the embargo.

The response was predictable to anyone who has paid attention to politics long enough: opposition to change, support for preserving the status quo. Senator Marco Rubio held a press conference and angrily denounced the plan. He used the occasion to play the Cuban heritage card. When asked, Speaker Boehner played the terrorism card.

The one card that they couldn’t play — because it’s not in their deck — is the this-policy-works card. That’s because it doesn’t exist. Because this policy has been an utter failure.

Let’s consider the record of our Cuba policy, which has been stuck in time since the Kennedy Administration:

  • If the goal was to bring freedom to Cuba, it has failed.
  • If the goal was to isolate Cuba, it has failed.
  • If the goal was to bring the Castro regime to its knees, it has failed.

Senator Rubio angrily complained that Obama gave away the store; that he received no guarantees from Castro of freedom for the Cuban people. And he therefore complained that Obama is a terrible negotiator. Did Senator Rubio really expect a sudden mea culpa from Raul Castro for half a century of communism? Did he expect that, in turn for an embassy, Castro would dismantle his regime? Senator Rubio brought a lot of anger to his press conference. What he did not bring was any alternative to the current policy which, again, has been a complete failure.

What will restoring relations and eventually trade with Cuba accomplish? First, it’ll help elevate the standard of living. Cuba is a third-world country 90 miles off of Florida. People live in poverty. An influx of American cash will help lift them out of despair.

Second, if Americans travel there to visit relatives or to trade they’ll be bringing with them the truth: that communism doesn’t work and that freedom brings prosperity. The reason North Korea, for example, still survives, is because it remains tightly cloistered. No information gets in without government approval. Once Americans start traveling to Cuba… well, Castro isn’t going to be able to put that cork back into the bottle. It’ll be a new era.

What will follow will be a slow liberalization. This has been done in China. We liberalized trade with China, their economy exploded, and that brought pressure to liberalize. No, it hasn’t happened yet. It’s not an immediate thing. But it will. There have only ever been two communist dynasties: North Korea and Cuba. Cuba’s is nearing its end. Raul Castro is 83. He’s going to kick off at some point. When he goes, a new generation of Cuban leaders will take over.

Maybe I’m being too optimistic. But even if this liberalization doesn’t happen, at a minimum it’ll help lift the people of Cuba out of poverty. It will reconnect families. The wounds of communism will begin the long process of healing. At a minimum, normalizing relations with Cuba will be an improvement.

We should let the current policy meet the death it so richly deserves.

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  1. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Yeah, I have to admit I have trouble understanding the moral “reasoning” behind vacationing in Cuba (going for humanitarian purposes is different). It seems like slumming in a communist hell-hole lacks a certain moral seriousness. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. :-/

    • #91
  2. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    By sheer happenstance, I picked up the July 7, 2014 issue of National Review today.  I saw this relevant note in the “The Week” section (*)

    In Cuba, it is illegal to express support for the U.S. sanctions on the Castro dictatorship. Such an expression is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Nonetheless, more than 800 Cuban democrats have signed a petition urging the United States not to lift the sanctions. The leader of this effort is Jorge Luis García Pérez, known by his nickname “Antúnez.” He has been in and out of prison for many years, and has endured extreme brutality. After the petition was circulated, he was arrested and strangled until he lost consciousness. He was also injected with unknown substances. (This is a common practice against Cuban dissidents.) Before they released him, state-security agents warned Antúnez that he was at greater risk than ever. A few days later, he was again arrested, and so was his wife and partner, Yris Pérez Aguilera. These are two of the bravest people in one of the bravest communities in the world: the Cuban democrats. May they live to see their work succeed.

    I did some quick google searching on the petition, and I found several other links mentioning it, for example.

    The Cuban democrats put their very lives on the line to support continuing the American embargo.  They understand what Fred refuses to understand – Lifting the economic embargo will not help the people of Cuba.  It merely strengthen the Castro regime.  Obama clearly knew of this petition, so obviously he does not want to see the brave work of these dissidents succeed; I would like to think Fred did, but it’s getting harder and harder to hold that view.

    (*) Link for digital subscribers only.  I think this section is short enough to fall under the Fair Use doctrine of copyright law, but if the Mods disagree, I can replace with a summary.

    • #92
  3. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Ford : Yeah, the ‘people’ are going to do just fine under such caring leadership.

    Clearly you have a comprehension problem, here.  No one is arguing that the Castros are good for Cuba, or that they are in any way anything but bad people, and bad for Cuba.

    The argument is simply that this embargo has been a complete failure at achieving its stated goals.

    The Castros have total control over the average Cuban.  Ending the embargo is not going to make that control “more total”.  As should be obvious.

    And I, personally, have no interest in actually going to Cuba to support the Castros.  Which is what travelers going to Cuba are doing.

    And if you think advocating for a failed, ineffective policy somehow gives you points for caring about Cubans, you’re kidding yourself.

    • #93
  4. user_5186 Inactive
    user_5186
    @LarryKoler

    Tuck: The argument is simply that this embargo has been a complete failure at achieving its stated goals. The Castros have total control over the average Cuban.  Ending the embargo is not going to make that control “more total”.  As should be obvious.

    What are the stated goals? I think we will differ in listing those.

    You are wrong about ending the embargo — it will give the Castros and other commies in Cuba enhanced control, more control and this change in our policy is a life saver for the regime. Why is that so hard to figure out? Obama is doing it now to save them. It’s that simple. This will give them more hard currency.

    • #94
  5. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Larry Koler: What are the stated goals? I think we will differ in listing those.

    Quoted above, per Pres. Kennedy.  Follow the link for the whole statement.

    “You are wrong about ending the embargo — it will give the Castros and other commies in Cuba enhanced control, more control and this change in our policy is a life saver for the regime. Why is that so hard to figure out? Obama is doing it now to save them. It’s that simple. This will give them more hard currency.”

    Why is it so hard to figure out that the embargo has failed?  This ain’t rocket science…

    The only country that follows the embargo is the US.  Whatever incremental amount of currency they might get clearly isn’t meaningful, or the embargo would have led to removing them from power decades ago.

    And just as a logical point: you can’t have more than “total” control.  Which they already have.

    • #95
  6. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    Tuck: The only country that follows the embargo is the US.

    Which means that lifting embargo will have none of the positive impacts that Fred has argued they will. All the elements Fred believes will happen have been present in Cuba for decades, with no positive impact, so lifting the embargo will have no positive impact.

    Fred is also wrong why we initiated the embargo.

    Fred Cole: If the goal was to bring freedom to Cuba, it has failed.If the goal was to isolate Cuba, it has failed. If the goal was to bring the Castro regime to its knees, it has failed.

    The goal was none of these things.  Cuba nationalized the property of American citizens and businesses and has yet to pay the compensation it was required under international law.  Link

    What’s often forgotten, though, is that the embargo was actually triggered by something concrete: an enormous pile of American assets that Castro seized in the process of nationalizing the Cuban economy.

    Castro owes us billions, so now, instead, we are giving him billions to strengthen his regime at precisely the moment he needs it the most.  Only in the twisted minds of leftist-communist-supporters and anarcho-capitalists does this make sense.

    • #96
  7. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Asquared: Fred is also wrong why we initiated the embargo….

    Castro owes us billions, so now, instead, we are giving him billions to strengthen his regime at precisely the moment he needs it the most.

    No, Fred’s right and you’re wrong.  I posted this the other day, I guess you missed it:

    Whereas the Congress of the United States, in section 620(a) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (75 Stat. 445), as amended, has authorized the President to establish and maintain an embargo upon all trade between the United States and Cuba; and

    “Whereas the United States, in accordance with its international obligations, is prepared to take all necessary actions to promote national and hemispheric security by isolating the present Government of Cuba and thereby reducing the threat posed by its alignment with the communist powers…”

    No mentioned of stolen property, you’ll note.

    What billions are we giving the Castros?  I missed that part of Obama’s plan.

    I did find this interesting fact about Guantanamo bay:

    “The U.S. has been leasing the 45 square miles that the base sits on since 1903. The base shares a 17-mile border with Cuba.

    The U.S. pays the Cuban government approximately $4,085 a year for the lease. The last time time Cuba accepted the payment was in 1959.

    “The lease can only be terminated by mutual agreement.”

    I guess the Castros aren’t motivated by the money…

    • #97
  8. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    Tuck: No, Fred’s right and you’re wrong.  I posted this the other day, I guess you missed it:

    I guess you missed the article I posted.

    Cuba’s revolutionary leader swiftly signed several laws nationalizing what was previously private property. Though the laws required the government to compensate the owners, the payment was to be made in Cuban bonds—an idea that was not taken seriously by the United States. In 1960, the administration of President Eisenhower punished Castro’s expropriation of American assets by sharply cutting the amount of sugar the United States was buying from Cuba. “We kind of went ballistic at the thought that anyone would take our property,” said Jonathan Hansen, a faculty associate at Harvard University’s Center for Latin American Studies. Tempers ran hot in both directions: in a speech, Castro vowed to separate Americans in Cuba from all of their possessions, “down to the nails in their shoes.” The standoff culminated in a near-total embargo on American exports to Cuba and a reduction of sugar imports to zero.

    • #98
  9. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    Asquared: I guess you missed the article I posted.

    and this part

    Today, the nearly 6,000 property claims filed in the wake of the Cuban revolution almost never come up as a significant sticking point in discussions of a prospective Cuban-American thaw. But they remain active—and more to the point, the federal law that lays out the conditions of a possible reconciliation with Cuba, the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, says they have to be resolved. According to that statute, said Michael Kelly, a professor of international law at Creighton University in Nebraska, settling the certified property claims “is one of the first dominos that has to fall in a whole series of dominos for the embargo to be lifted.”

    • #99
  10. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Asquared: and this part

    Both of which undercut your argument.  The property issue is a side show.  The fact that we didn’t get around to putting it into law until 1996 makes that point clear.

    The major sanctions went into effect in the Kennedy administration, not Eisenhower…

    “The United States levied the most stringent and long-lived of its sanctions against Cuba. In 1962, following the embarrassing defeat at the Bay of Pigs, President John F. Kennedy expanded a set of piecemeal sanctions that had been imposed on Cuba after its 1959 revolution by using congressional authorization to embargo all trade with Cuba. The United States then brought pressure on the Organization of American States and the NATO allies to follow suit, especially by threatening to deny aid to, and penalize companies of, nations continuing to trade with Cuba. The OAS did embargo trade except for food and medical supplies, but there was considerable leakage.”

    If you’re going to argue that these sanctions are going to be an effective way to change the Castros’ behavior, you must first explain why they’ve failed to do so since 1962, and what has changed.

    I’ll note that people figured that the fall of the Soviet Union was also expected to bring down the Castro regime, as that was their major financial support.  That was two decades ago.  How’d that work out?

    • #100
  11. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    Tuck: If you’re going to argue that these sanctions are going to be an effective way to change the Castros’ behavior, you must first explain why they’ve failed to do so since 1962, and what has changed.

    Why is the burden of proof on me.  If you want to argue for change, shouldn’t you prove that lifting the embargo will help Cuban citizens?

    • #101
  12. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Asquared: Why is the burden of proof on me. If you want to argue for change, shouldn’t you prove that lifting the embargo will help Cuban citizens?

    I’m not arguing for change.  I’m agreeing with Fred’s point that the embargo has been useless, and that Obama’s lifting of restrictions (which does not include the entire embargo) won’t have a meaningful impact on Cuba.

    I don’t think lifting the US embargo would have much of a beneficial impact on Cuban civilians, since their problem is their regime, not a lack of spare parts for their cars.

    But pretty clearly continuing the embargo or not won’t have any impact on the Castros.  We know that much from history.

    From Clinton’s 1996 signing statement of the Helm/Burton act:

    “The Act also reaffirms our common goal of promoting a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba by tightening the existing embargo while reaching out to the Cuban people. Our current efforts are beginning to yield results: they are depriving the Cuban regime of the hard currency it needs to maintain its grip on power; more importantly, they are empowering the agents of peaceful change on the island. ”

    Yeah, that didn’t happen…

    • #102
  13. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    But, Tuck, Fred’s point is that opening to commerce with Cuba will bring about benefits for the Cuban people. You don’t seem to be arguing Fred’s point either.

    • #103
  14. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Western Chauvinist: But, Tuck, Fred’s point is that opening to commerce with Cuba will bring about benefits for the Cuban people. You don’t seem to be arguing Fred’s point either.

    Fred makes a number of points in the OP.  One is that the existing policy is a complete failure.  Another is that liberalizing trade will improve the life of the average Cuban.

    They’re not inextricably linked.

    I agree with the former, and disagree with the latter.

    (As a clarification, liberalizing trade would clearly help the average Cuban, but it’s not in our power to do that.  The big difference between Cuba and most other Communist nations is that most of the others have chosen to allow liberalized trade to some extent or another.  I highly commend this approach to the Castros, but hold little hope that they’ll implement it.)

    • #104
  15. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Liberalization opens the door to more liberalization.  And once they start down that path…

    • #105
  16. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    Tuck: I’m not arguing for change.  I’m agreeing with Fred’s point that the embargo has been useless, and that Obama’s lifting of restrictions (which does not include the entire embargo) won’t have a meaningful impact on Cuba.

    Why are you arguing the embargo has been useless if you aren’t arguing for change?  It’s a very simple question, do you endorse lifting the embargo and why?

    Fred HAS been arguing that lifting the embargo will help the people of Cuba. That is why he believes it should be lifted.  If it won’t help the people of Cuba, then I see no reason to lift it.

    I can say it has been ineffective in many ways but believe that lifting it would be worse.  We can’t go back and change 50 years of history.  The question is, where do we go from here?  I think lifting the embargo will do no good and some harm, so to me it seems to a very easy decision.

    • #106
  17. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Asquared:

    Tuck: I’m not arguing for change. I’m agreeing with Fred’s point that the embargo has been useless, and that Obama’s lifting of restrictions (which does not include the entire embargo) won’t have a meaningful impact on Cuba.

    Why are you arguing the embargo has been useless if you aren’t arguing for change? It’s a very simple question, do you endorse lifting the embargo and why?

    Fred HAS been arguing that lifting the embargo will help the people of Cuba. That is why he believes it should be lifted. If it won’t help the people of Cuba, then I see no reason to lift it.

    I can say it has been ineffective in many ways but believe that lifting it would be worse. We can’t go back and change 50 years of history. The question is, where do we go from here? I think lifting the embargo will do no good and some harm, so to me it seems to a very easy decision.

    Agreed. And the only alternative plan I can think of which would actually help the Cuban people is to eliminate the Castro regime and start building the institutions of a free people. Call it “annexation” or “colonization,” either way I don’t see what else would be effective. Under communism, the most ruthless thugs always rise to the top. The whole thing has to be turned over under a benevolent (US), freedom-loving power.

    Now, would I trust Barack Banana Republic Obama to lead the effort? No.

    Therefore, I vote to maintain the previous “failed” policy.

    • #107
  18. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    Fred Cole:Liberalization opens the door to more liberalization. And once they start down that path…

    How?  What is uniquely different about American’s flying directly to Cuba from the JFK versus flying through Toronto that is going to start Cuba down a path to liberalization?

    Canadian and European business have been allowed to operated in Cuba for 50 years. How will American businesses succeed where they have failed?

    Cuba has liberalized nothing, so they haven’t move one inch down the path you are alleging.  That is the problem.  You keep imaging some thin edge of a wedge on Cuba’s side, when the reality is, it isn’t there.

    • #108
  19. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Asquared: How?  What is uniquely different about American’s flying directly to Cuba from the JFK versus flying through Toronto that is going to start Cuba down a path to liberalization? Canadian and European business have been allowed to operated in Cuba for 50 years. How will American businesses succeed where they have failed?

    Two things:

    Geography and history.

    Cuba is 90 miles off the coast of Florida.  To go from Schenectady to New York City is 160 miles.  That’s how close Cuba is.

    By comparison, Toronto, which is pretty far south as Canadian cities go, is 1400 miles from Cuba.  Europe is obviously further.  That means its simply cheaper to travel from the US to Cuba.  Now, I suspect you’ll argue me blue in the face on this point, but to me, that says we’ll be closer in terms of doing business, to Cuba than the Canadians.

    And, if you at history, that’s exactly what happened.  The US and Cuba have had a close history for centuries.

    Hand in hand with geography and history, I’ll add a third: close cultural ties.  There’s a substantial Cuban population in the United States.  There are families there and here.  Cousins, in some cases brothers and sisters.  There are 1.7 million Cuban Americans.  There are about 200,000 Cuban-Canadians.

    So, that’s what’s uniquely different about the United States.

    • #109
  20. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Western Chauvinist: Therefore, I vote to maintain the previous “failed” policy.

    What I don’t understand is why you support the governments of North Korea, Vietnam, Venzuela, Burma, Iran, and China.   All of which are just as bad, if not worse, than Cuba, and all of which have less restrictions that Cuba does.

    Without going case-by-case, it’s only illegal to travel to Cuba for Americans.  And I’ll wager your cell-phone was made by some state-owned Chinese factory.  Have you forgotten about the Cultural Revolution?  The Castros are pikers compared to Mao and Co.

    What are you, a commie? ;)

    • #110
  21. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    “The value of U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba soared 61 percent in 2008 to $710 million, a record amount since American producers began exporting to Cuba under a 2001 amendment to the U.S. trade embargo against the communist-run island, a U.S. trade council said on Wednesday.

    “The booming sales, up from $437.5 million in 2007, made Cuba the United States’ 29th largest agricultural export market….

    “…The United States was Cuba’s 5th largest trading partner in 2007, the last year for which Cuban data are available.”

    U.S. food sales to Cuba soar 61 percent in 2008

    That embargo…

    • #111
  22. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    Fred Cole: Geography and history. Cuba is 90 miles off the coast of Florida.  To go from Schenectady to New York City is 160 miles.  That’s how close Cuba is.

    Meh.  Grand Cayman, a fairly well-known bastion of Capitalism, is just as close, if not closer.   So are the the Bahamas.

    If you don’t like flying through Toronto, you can just as easily fly through Mexico (or Grand Cayman).

    The problem is, you just wish and hope caving will help while failing to acknowledge the possibility of harm.  That line of reasoning seems to a consistent theme of your arguments on other issues.

    And since I will never get you to acknowledge that any cost benefit analysis that focuses on hoped-for benefits while ignoring obvious costs is not a serious one, I will bow out of this thread too.

    Merry Christmas.

    • #112
  23. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Asquared: The problem is, you just wish and hope caving will help while failing to acknowledge the possibility of harm.  That line of reasoning seems to a consistent theme of your arguments on other issues.

    Explain to me the potential harm.  Lay it out for me.

    • #113
  24. user_5186 Inactive
    user_5186
    @LarryKoler

    Fred Cole:Liberalization opens the door to more liberalization. And once they start down that path…

    This is just happy talk. Let’s wait and see — you will be proved wrong.

    • #114
  25. user_5186 Inactive
    user_5186
    @LarryKoler

    The Castros have been forced into a corner by our policies and they are stubborn and most of their years they were supported by the Soviets and many other countries so it didn’t matter. This is personal for them and they will want to make us look stupid if they can. Obama is fine with that because he shares their disdain for American policies, history and values.

    The propaganda victory that this supplies to the Castros is immeasurable. This kind of victory can be converted to dollars. Just watch.

    They know they have to be careful in liberalizing because they are closer to the Soviet Union in their capabilities than to China in theirs. If they liberalize they will risk much and one of these risks might be the embarrassment suffered by Gorbachev or the ignominious death suffered by Ceausescu.

    Obama gets incredible street cred for this on the left. This is a twofer for him.

    • #115
  26. Umbra Fractus Inactive
    Umbra Fractus
    @UmbraFractus

    Fred Cole:

    Asquared: The problem is, you just wish and hope caving will help while failing to acknowledge the possibility of harm. That line of reasoning seems to a consistent theme of your arguments on other issues.

    Explain to me the potential harm. Lay it out for me.

    The Castro regime takes approximately 92 cents of every dollar spent in Cuba. Barack Obama just made it exponentially easier for Americans to send money to the Castros, who until recently were dependent on Venezuelan support. Barack Obama just bailed out a Stalinist regime whose primary lifeline is crumbling. The idea that sending money to the Castros is somehow going to lead to a Cuban glasnost is simply a fantasy.

    • #116
  27. user_5186 Inactive
    user_5186
    @LarryKoler

    Umbra Fractus:

    Fred Cole:

    Asquared: The problem is, you just wish and hope caving will help while failing to acknowledge the possibility of harm. That line of reasoning seems to a consistent theme of your arguments on other issues.

    Explain to me the potential harm. Lay it out for me.

    The Castro regime takes approximately 92 cents of every dollar spent in Cuba. Barack Obama just made it exponentially easier for Americans to send money to the Castros, who until recently were dependent on Venezuelan support. Barack Obama just bailed out a Stalinist regime whose primary lifeline is crumbling. The idea that sending money to the Castros is somehow going to lead to a Cuban glasnost is simply a fantasy.

    It is as predictable as the sun rising tomorrow, isn’t it?

    Why do otherwise reasonable people think this time it will be different? It’s as of the last 100 years of history can’t teach people how things really work.

    • #117
  28. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Larry Koler: Why do otherwise reasonable people think this time it will be different? It’s as of the last 100 years of history can’t teach people how things really work.

    Sort of like thinking a partial embargo that’s failed to achieve its goal for 52 years might suddenly start working?

    Trade with other Communist countries has certainly encouraged liberation.  That’s been the crux of our policy with regards to most other Communist countries.

    “…Americans do seem united, however, on one thing: They want to be allowed to go to Cuba.

    “Seventy-four percent support ending travel restrictions, according to the Washington Post, and 77 percent told CBS that Americans should be able to travel to Cuba….”

    Americans support opening to Cuba, new polls show

    Silly Americans.  It’s like they think they live in a free country!

    • #118
  29. user_5186 Inactive
    user_5186
    @LarryKoler

    Tuck, let’s watch it play out.

    The difference is how Reagan saw things vs the apologists of the Soviet Union saw things. Reagan said “We win, they lose.”

    Our goal should be to make them lose and be seen to lose and for them and every other country to know that they lost. That’s why the phrase Cold War still had the word “war” in it. We need to start winning wars.

    Then we can start the whole magnanimity thing. You keep harping on the effectiveness of the whole thing. I could give a f**k about that.

    • #119
  30. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Larry Koler: You keep harping on the effectiveness of the whole thing.

    Of course.  Because that was the difference between Reagan’s approach and the other approaches: Reagan wanted to be effective, not just to be seen to be doing something.

    I’d be a big fan of active counter-measures of the sort we did against the Soviets: we could start by arming rebels in Venezuela to cut off Cuba’s oil supply.

    But even at the height of the Cold War I was free to travel to the Soviet Union.  I did so: it was very educational.  Met far more anti-communists there than I did at my US University.  Got an internship at NR out of it too…

    • #120
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