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North Korea’s bizarre Sony saga uncovers Hollywood’s hidden truth

A worker removes a billboard for "The Interview" in Hollywood. (Getty)

North Korea’s bizarre Sony saga uncovers Hollywood’s hidden truth

Ann Hornaday

Despite Hollywood's protests that movies are “just” movies, “The Interview” shows that they are all political.

There’s really no bright side to discern from this week’s bizarre, unprecedented spectacle involving Sony Pictures and “The Interview,” a Seth Rogen-James Franco satire about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

After weeks of suffering through the most destructive corporate hack in history, and on the heels of theaters refusing to show the comedy because of terrorist threats made by the hackers (now believed to be sponsored by the North Korean government), Sony finally pulled “The Interview” on Wednesday, refusing even to make it available on demand.

It was a particularly distressing choice given that the decision arrived the same day President Obama announced a new, liberalized policy with Cuba — a softening of relations presumably designed to bring American democratic values to the communist country. This is what freedom of expression looks like, extruded through the priorities of late corporate capitalism and aggressively asymmetrical global politics.

The truth that the Sony/“Interview” debacle has laid bare is that all films are political, from the most banal escapist romp to the self-valorizing action adventures we aggressively send to the overseas markets — especially in Asia — that account for around 70 percent of the movie industry’s profits.

That point was inadvertently proved with perhaps the most provocative kernel of information that emerged during the disorienting past few days. In the middle of the swirl, the Daily Beast revealed communications between Sony Entertainment chief executive Michael Lynton and the State Department, which told him that “The Interview” had the potential of actually moving the needle in North Korea. Lynton had already run the project by a specialist at the Rand Corp. (where he sits on the board of trustees).

In a June e-mail, Rand defense analyst Bruce Bennett wrote to Lynton: “I have been clear that the assassination of Kim Jong Un is the most likely path to a collapse of the North Korean government. Thus while toning down the ending may reduce the North Korean response, I believe that a story that talks about the removal of the Kim family regime and the creation of a new government by the North Korean people (well, at least the elites) will start some real thinking in South Korea and, I believe, in the North once the DVD leaks into the North (which it almost certainly will).”

Lynton subsequently wrote back: “Bruce — Spoke to someone very senior in State (confidentially). He agreed with everything you have been saying. Everything. I will fill you in when we speak.”

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The Revolution Fidel Castro Began Evolves Under His Brother

The Revolution Fidel Castro Began Evolves Under His Brother

The college students of a surprised Cuba sang karaoke on Thursday afternoon beside a dark green tank memorializing the Cuban revolution. They played dominoes in the shade of the University of Havana law school, where Fidel Castro found his footing as a leader with a pistol at his side.

When asked about the historic shift by the United States to ease its trade embargo and pursue normalized relations with Cuba, they spoke first of what it meant for the Cuban people, then of what it said about President Obama, and finally, a few mentioned the boldness of President Raúl Castro.

They said nothing of Fidel.

At a moment described by many as an equivalent to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the absence of Fidel Castro — he has said nothing about it, and has not appeared in public for months — spoke volumes. For many Cubans, it confirmed that Fidel, perhaps by his own design, is slipping further into the past, into history, at a time when his approach to the United States seems to be fading as well.

“It’s a break with the past, and a transition,” said Jorge Luis Rivero González, 26, a master’s student in information technology. “What we have now is hope for a new path. We don’t know what’s coming, but it better be good.”

Fidel is still an imposing figure in the Cuban consciousness, a leader so venerable and fiercely protected that many avoid talking about him at all. Few here or in Washington, where the name Fidel is often shorthand for communist revolution itself, suggested that détente with the United States could have happened without his approval.

Some of the former leader’s most loyal followers here have even described Mr. Obama’s recognition of Cuba with a Castro still in power as a final triumph for Fidel — a formal nod of respect that the old guerrillero has demanded since 1959.

There was even some Fidel-like braggadocio in the speech by his brother Raúl, who celebrated the return on Wednesday of Cuba’s three convicted spies from the United States with a rare flair for theatrics. After years of appearing mostly in a suit, Raúl was careful to wear his military uniform, linking the prisoners’ release to “Comrade Fidel” and his promise years ago to bring the men home.

Some experts argued that it was yet another sign that on big, geopolitical questions, the Castro brothers largely remain in sync.

“Raúl and Fidel have no daylight between them on things like this,” said Julia Sweig, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies Cuba. “They have been in complete lock step on Cuban foreign policy.”


And yet the new Cuba that Raúl is fashioning from the old is a far cry from Fidel’s youthful revolution. Today’s Cuba seems less concerned with ideals than dollars. It is a hatchery of private enterprise and nascent inequality, where property can be bought and sold, along with cars and filet mignon. It is a proud country, tired of struggling, where the poor can see the rich rising along the way to Raúl’s stated goals: economic growth and stability.

“Raúl is a pragmatist; he is not a mindless idealist,” said Brian Latell, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst who has written books on the Castros. “Fidel has always been the heavy anchor on change and reform.”

Perhaps the difference is that now, with Cuba’s economy still on the edge of collapse, that weight seems to be lifting as Fidel fades further from view.

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Democrats need bigger economic message, pollster warns

Democrats need bigger economic message, pollster warns

By Linda Feldmann

When President Obama took office, Americans by a 2-to-1 margin said government should be doing more. Six years later, 54 percent said government was trying to do too much.

Americans remain strongly negative about the economy and about prospects for the next generation, according to a George Washington University Battleground Poll released Thursday.  

Some 77 percent of registered voters are either very worried or somewhat worried about current economic conditions, the poll found. In addition, 56 percent describe the economy as either “poor and staying the same” or “getting worse.”

Such negative views were devastating to Democrats in last month’s midterms, in which Republicans swept Senate, House, gubernatorial, and state legislative seats across the country. Democrats were also hurt by failing to articulate a “bold economic agenda for the country” – an element that’s essential to holding onto the White House in 2016, says Celinda Lake, Democratic pollster on the Battleground Poll.

“We must have a bigger economic message and a bigger economic frame,” Ms. Lake told reporters at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. “Minimum wage, equal pay, paid sick days – all very popular proposals, but just not up to the robustness of the concern that people have about the economy.”

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Guantánamo not part of U.S.-Cuban bargain

Peering through the fence from the U.S.-controlled portion into the Cuban side of the Northeast Gate on March 20, 2014 at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Guantánamo not part of U.S.-Cuban bargain

By Carol Rosenberg

The Obama administration has no intention of withdrawing from the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, despite the sudden shift in U.S.-Cuban relations.

“There is no impact to Guantánamo from the changes announced today,” the National Security Council spokeswoman, Bernadette Meehan, said Wednesday evening.

Thursday, at the U.S. outpost in southeast Cuba, base spokeswoman Kelly Wirfel said a monthly meeting between Cuban and U.S. military officers along the fenceline dividing the base from the rest of the island was still on schedule for Friday.

The base commander, U.S. Navy Capt. John “J.R.” Nettleton, represents the United States; a U.S. diplomat attends the conversation too.

A U.S. Marines Humvee patrols the fence line that divides the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. on March 14, 2002.

“As far as the base goes we are still maintaining current operations and policies,” she said, noting there have been “no immediate changes” for staff at the 45-square-mile base of about 6,000 residents that straddles Guantánamo Bay and sits behind a Cuban minefield.

From the earliest days of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro sought to get the United States out of the base — a prime piece of real estate long before the George W. Bush administration decided to put its iconic war-on-terror prison there.

Successive U.S. administrations have said its military has permanent tenancy under a 1934 treaty made public by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The United States cuts an annual check for $4,085 in rent, even though the Cuban government does not cash it.

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Victim: I Watched British MPs Sexually Abuse, Murder Young Boys

Victim: I Watched British MPs Sexually Abuse, Murder Young Boys

An anonymous man claims that he and other boys were sexually abused by members of Parliament and police during the Thatcher years—and that he watched them kill for sport.

Scotland Yard detectives believe that an organized pedophile ring at the heart of the British establishment was responsible for the murder of three young boys and the violent sexual abuse of dozens more.

A survivor, known as Nick, described regular “abuse parties” that were held at a luxury apartment block near Westminster during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher. He said he watched a Conservative Member of Parliament strangle one boy to death, and witnessed another young boy brutally murdered in front of a Cabinet minister.

Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald, who is leading an investigation of the alleged “VIP” abuse network said today: “I believe what Nick is saying to be credible and true.”

Nick says children between the ages of seven and 16 were taken to the events, including regular Christmas parties, which were often held at Dolphin Square, an exclusive building on the River Thames that was popular with MPs who needed second homes in London close to the Houses of Parliament. He has described the partygoers as a cross-section of some of the most powerful men in Britain including Sir Peter Hayman, a long-time MI6 chief.

Perhaps the most shocking of Nick’s allegations concerns a Conservative MP accused of murdering a boy, who looked about 12 years old, during a sadistic sex game in 1980. He claimed that he and the brown-haired boy were collected in a chauffeur-driven car and taken to a town house in Central London for one of these “abuse parties”, where members of the military, law enforcement and political establishment would give glasses of whiskey to the children before violating them.

Speaking to the investigative journalism website Exaro, Nick gave a graphic account of the way the MP sexually assaulted and then strangled the child to death. “I watched while that happened. I am not sure how I got out of that,” he said.

Nick said he had witnessed a second boy being beaten so savagely by two men at one of the parties that he succumbed to his injuries and died, while a serving member of the Thatcher government watched on. He alleges that a third boy, aged 10 or 11, was deliberately hit by a car and killed by a member of the pedophile network in 1979.

C.I.A. Mole, Now Out of Prison, Helped U.S. Identify Cuban Spies

C.I.A. Mole, Now Out of Prison, Helped U.S. Identify Cuban Spies

He was, in many ways, a perfect spy — a man so important to Cuba’s intelligence apparatus that the information he gave to the Central Intelligence Agency paid dividends long after Cuban authorities arrested him and threw him in prison for nearly two decades.

Rolando Sarraff Trujillo has now been released from prison and flown out of Cuba as part of a swap for three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States that President Obama announced Wednesday in a televised speech. Mr. Obama did not give Mr. Sarraff’s name, but several current American officials identified him and a former official discussed some of the information he gave to the C.I.A. while burrowed deep inside Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence.

Mr. Sarraff’s story is a chapter in a spy vs. spy drama between the United States and Cuba that played on long after the end of the Cold War, decades after Cuba ceased to be a serious threat to the United States. The story — at this point — remains just a sketchy outline, with Mr. Sarraff hidden from public view and his work for the C.I.A. still classified.

Chris Simmons, who was the chief of a Cuban counterintelligence unit for the Defense Intelligence Agency from 1996 to 2004, said that Mr. Sarraff had worked in the cryptology section of Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence and was an expert on the codes used by Cuban spies in the United States to communicate with Havana. Mr. Sarraff’s family said that he studied journalism at the University of Havana and had the rank of first lieutenant at the intelligence directorate.

It is not clear when Mr. Sarraff, now 51, began working for the C.I.A. But, according to Mr. Simmons, once he did, he passed encryption information to the C.I.A that led to the arrest of a number of Cuban agents operating in the United States.

In his speech Wednesday, President Obama referred to Mr. Sarraff as “one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba,” someone who “provided America with the information that allowed us to arrest the network of Cuban agents that included the men transferred to Cuba today, as well as other spies in the United States.”

Hours later, the director of National Intelligence, the head of the United States intelligence community, issued a statement saying the information from Mr. Sarraff — the statement did not name him — had helped the government arrest and convict several Cuban spies inside the United States. The convictions included a senior analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency named Ana Belén Montes; a former Department of State official, Walter Kendall Myers, and his wife, Gwendolyn Myers; and members of the Red Avispa network, or Wasp Network, in Florida.

Jerry Komisar, who ran C.I.A. clandestine operations in Cuba during the 1990s, said that “there were a number of people in the Cuban government who were valuable to the U.S., just as there were a number of people in the U.S. government who were helpful to the Cubans.”

Mr. Simmons said that Cuba’s spy service regularly communicated with its agents in America using encrypted messages sent over shortwave radio. After Mr. Sarraff helped the United States crack the codes, he said, the F.B.I. was able to arrest Cuban spies years after Mr. Sarraffwas discovered and put in prison in Cuba.

“When Roly was providing information, he was giving us insights about where there were weaknesses in the Cuban encryption system,” said Mr. Simmons.

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The Right's Plan to Beat the Republican Establishment

The Right's Plan to Beat the Republican Establishment

..... by Acting Like the Republican Establishment.

By Andrea Drusch

The tea party is growing up, and while its stances aren’t softening, its tactics are changing rapidly.

It's Politics 101: Whenever a Democrat or Republican announces a run for office, the other party pounces with a "rapid response" attack on their rival's record. And so when Republican Johnny Isakson of Georgia announced last month that he would seek a third Senate term in 2016, someone was inevitably going to rain on his parade.

But this time, the attacks didn't come from Democrats. They came from the right. The new for-profit media company Conservative Review blasted an email to its subscribers telling them Isakson's "Liberty Score" (a newly minted measure) was an "F", and followed that with a list of "5 reasons conservatives will never be on board with Sen. Isakson."

Conservative Review's rapid response is part of bigger shift within the movement: A half-decade after the anti-Obama (and anti-Obamacare) revolution, the resurgent right flank of the Republican Party is growing up, displaying a new willingness, even an eagerness, to adopt the same tactics the establishment has used against them.

For one, they're attacking incumbents early and often, even before they have a preferred candidate of their own. It's what the establishment did to the right flank during the 2014 elections. The rightward-most Republicans began the cycle with what they believed to be a prize recruit in Kentucky Senate candidate Matt Bevin—only to watch him sink quickly under early, aggressive opposition attacks from incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his deep-pocketed allies. Their Kansas candidate, Milton Wolf, met a similar fate, as Sen. Pat Roberts's allies focused millions of dollars on ads highlighting unsavory Facebook posts the radiologist had written in regards to dead bodies. This cycle, conservatives hope to reverse that timeline, making the incumbents the early opposition targets instead.

"Everyone has something you can put in a thirty-second ad, the question is who controls the narrative first," said Conservative Review Senior Editor Daniel Horowitz, a former political director for the Madison Project. "If you make the first step bringing out the [challenger] … it's almost tantamount to waving a slingshot without any armor and having the incumbent blow the guy up with a bazooka…. You need to start coming in with airstrikes against the other guy first."

Paul breaks with GOP on Cuba

Paul breaks with GOP on Cuba

Paul breaks with GOP on Cuba

By Peter Sullivan

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is breaking with other Republican presidential hopefuls and backing President Obama's decision to launch talks normalizing relations with Cuba.

Paul criticized the trade and travel embargo on Cuba as ineffective, separating himself from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who have criticized Obama and backed the embargo. 

All four men are considered likely contenders for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

"In the end, I think opening up Cuba is probably a good idea," Paul told Tom Roten of WVHU radio in West Virginia, The Associated Press reports.

"The 50-year embargo just hasn't worked," Paul said. "If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn't seem to be working, and probably it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship."

Paul made the comments to the Huntington, W.Va., station, just over the border from Kentucky, on Thursday morning, after declining to comment on the issue on Wednesday. 

The Kentucky Republican has a history of libertarianism, and his comments are not a surprise. Former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), the senator's father, introduced a bill to lift the embargo.

As 2016 Nears, Hillary Clinton Keeps in Mind Mistakes of 2008 Campaign

As 2016 Nears, Hillary Clinton Keeps in Mind Mistakes of 2008 Campaign

During the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, Hillary Rodham Clinton emphasized her strength and experience over her softer, more relatable side. Today, she gushes about having “that grandmother glow.”

As she lost the nomination to President Obama, Mrs. Clinton was accused of being wooden and overly shielded by staff members. Last month, she mingled casually at an Upper West Side apartment, greeting donors and shunning a podium and rope line.

And in 2008, Mrs. Clinton’s best asset, her husband, Bill Clinton, became an albatross. Today, the former president has a tough-minded chief of staff from Mrs. Clinton’s world who tries to keep close control over his events — and his occasional off-script remarks.

Little by little, Mrs. Clinton is taking steps that suggest she has learned from the mistakes, both tactical and personal, of her failed candidacy. After more than six years of pundits dissecting what went wrong in 2008, her circle of advisers is beginning to draft a blueprint for a different kind of campaign. And although Mrs. Clinton has since bolstered her public image while serving as secretary of state, her next campaign will in part be assessed by her ability to avoid the errors of the last one.

“Was it the best managed campaign? Of course not, they lost,” the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said of 2008. “But what lessons will they apply to the future if she decides to run?”

Some things have clearly changed: Those close to Mrs. Clinton now embrace a view that her gender can be more of an asset than a liability. But familiar hazards remain, especially the air of inevitability that seems to surround the Clinton camp, along with the lack of a broader rationale for her candidacy.

“Inevitability is not a message,” said Terry Shumaker, a prominent New Hampshire Democrat and former United States ambassador. “It’s not something you can run on,” he added.

These topics are being quietly discussed at private dinners with donors, at strategy talks hosted by an outside “super PAC” and in casual conversation as Mrs. Clinton greets friends at holiday parties and a Clinton Foundation fund-raiser in New York.

“If she runs, it will be different,” said Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman, Nick Merrill.

Last month, at a gathering hosted by Ready for Hillary, a super PAC intended to build grass-roots support for a Clinton candidacy, strategists explained to donors over lunch and in presentations that Mrs. Clinton would need to run in 2016 the way she did after she began to struggle in the 2008 primary season.

By the time the delegate tallies favored Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton began to show a vulnerable, less scripted and entitled side. She adopted a message focused on lifting the middle class, and she connected with women and white working-class voters over kitchen table issues. She won primaries in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“I always found it remarkable that working-class women could connect to her life despite the fact that this is somebody who operated in the highest circles in America,” said Geoff Garin, a pollster who succeeded Mark Penn as the campaign’s chief strategist in 2008.

'America has lost its first cyberwar'

Hold on now: Political loudmouth Newt Gingrch (above) is very upset Sony will not be releasing The Interview

'America has lost its first cyberwar'

Newt Gingrich joins Hollywood stars in attacking Sony decision to not distribute The Interview over terrorist threats

By Chris Spargo for MailOnline

Many Hollywood stars, and Newt Gingrich, are discussing how upset they are with Sony's decision to not distribute their new film The Interview following threats from hackers who have been releasing internal information and emails over the past two weeks. 

Sony Pictures Entertainment pulled the planned Christmas Day release of the picture after the hackers threatened 9/11-like terror attacks on cinemas showing the comedy.

And now, many are making it public how upset they are with Sony.

Let it out: Gingrich took to his twitter to voice his concern about what this decision meant

Many in Hollywood are also not happy with the decision to cancel the film, and also took to Twitter to express their frustration and anger.

'Wow. Everyone caved. The hackers won. An utter and complete victory for them. Wow,' wrote Rob Lowe.

He later added; 'Saw @SethRogen at JFK. Both of us have never seen or heard of anything like this. Hollywood has done Neville Chamberlain proud today.

Gingrich actually responded to Lowe, saying, 'it wasn't the hackers who won, it was the terrorists and almost certainly the North Korean dictatorship, this was an act of war.'

'We have to talk' - How Obama and Castro came together.

President Barack Obama talks on the phone during National Security Council (NSC) call time in the Oval Office, Dec. 16, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

'We have to talk' - How Obama and Castro came together.

By Michael Crowley

On a February afternoon in Havana, Congressman Jim McGovern was strolling the halls of the Revolution Palace with Cuban president Raul Castro. The Massachusetts Democrat had long worked to normalize relations between Washington and Havana, and urged the Cuban leader to seize the moment and strike a diplomatic deal with President Barack Obama.

Castro had other matters on his mind. He asked endless questions about a Boston-based project to archive thousands of documents left in Ernest Hemingway’s former Havana home. And he was indignant at the imprisonment of three Cuban spies convicted in 2001. This was typical: no American official leaves Cuba, says one former Obama official, without hearing “a litany of historical grievances.”

Even so, McGovern sensed a distinctly hopeful tone underneath. “We have to talk about the present and the future,” Castro told him. “Because if we talk about the past we will never resolve it.”

“I thought, ‘Maybe this is a guy we can do business with,’ ” McGovern says.

That hope became reality on Wednesday, when President Obama announced that he would normalize relations between America and Cuba, more than 50 years after they became a casualty of Fidel Castro’s communist revolution and Cold War geopolitics. Coming with little warning and at a time when Washington’s attention has been fixed on the Middle East and Russia, the announcement was as sudden as it was stunning.

But it was a work long in progress, the product of 18 months of furtive diplomacy in which President Obama designated an unlikely emissary — his foreign policy speechwriter — to secret meetings with Cuban officials in Canada and Rome.

It was also the fulfillment of Obama’s promise in 2008 that he would, under the right conditions, engage in direct diplomacy with the Cuban leadership. He might have acted sooner but for a handful of prisoners — including USAID contractor Alan Gross, who was abducted less than a year into Obama’s presidency — and at least one bungled attempt at freelance diplomacy.

“The changes are really consistent with the road that we’ve been on since the beginning,” says Dan Restrepo, Obama’s top aide for Latin American affairs until mid-2012. “You can connect a pretty direct line from here from a debate in South Carolina [in 2007] where the president first talked about engaging in direct diplomacy with our adversaries, including Castro.”

Obama’s rivals ridiculed him as naïve after that debate, in which he said he would talk directly with the leaders of Iran, North Korea and Cuba. Obama would later hedge that position. But he never backed down from his view that America’s diplomacy with its enemies had to be revamped.

Sessions Yields to Enzi for Budget Gavel

Sessions Yields to Enzi for Budget Gavel

Sessions Yields to Enzi for Budget Gavel

By Niels Lesniewski

Sen. Michael B. Enzi will be the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee in the next Congress.

The Wyoming Republican will get the job over current ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who announced Wednesday he’d be deferring the position. Enzi has seniority on the panel, meaning his decision to assert his position would have made his selection likely in the event it was put to a vote of the Republican members of the committee.

“Mike is an accountant and a small businessman who understands the need to balance budgets and tell the truth about the numbers. He is a man of integrity and principle, respected by all of his Senate colleagues. I am eager to assist him next year, and I hope to tackle the important issue of welfare reform,” Sessions said in a statement.

Enzi’s office described the agreement between the two senators as giving Sessions a key voice in cutting wasteful government spending, as well as working on entitlement programs.

“Jeff is an outstanding leader and an outstanding speaker. If this were football, Jeff would be an all-star linebacker, corner, and safety all at the same time. He is our first line of defense on many issues. The team needs him and Jeff will be right there with his expertise taking the lead on welfare reform and, where we will miss Senator Coburn, Jeff will be there eliminating duplication and waste,” Enzi said. “He will also be eliminating reports of little value and forms that don’t produce significant results. He will handle those and other critical parts.”

In a statement Wednesday, Sessions said he looked forward to “being active as a senior member” on the Armed Services, Budget, Environment and Public Works, and Judiciary committees.

The ranking member of the Democratic caucus on the panel will be Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.

Miami mayor would fight putting Cuban consulate in the city

Miami mayor would fight putting Cuban consulate in the city

Miami would be a natural choice should Havana want a consulate outside of Washington, D.C., but some elected officials expressed their opposition to such a move.

“I would think having a consulate in Miami would be a mistake because it would create a safety issue,” said Regalado, a Republican. “Because some people eventually will try to do something to the consulate.”

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Did Obama Just Lose Florida?

Did Obama Just Lose Florida?


A mere half-century after the embargo of Cuba came into effect, the United States is moving to normalize relations with Havana — angering a lot of Cuban-Americans in the process.

“The liberalization policies aimed at easing trade and remittances to Cuba is another propaganda coup for the Castro brothers, who will now fill their coffers with more money at the expense of the Cuban people,” said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. “Even more than just putting U.S. national security at risk, President Obama is letting down the Cuban people, who still yearn to be free,” said Senator Marco Rubio. 

Given the power of the Cuban-American voting bloc in Florida, did President Obama just torch Democrats’ hopes for winning the crucial swing state come 2016?

There are a number of questions embedded in that big one. Would Cuban-Americans credit or blame another Democrat for Obama’s actions? Will Democrats lose votes that they otherwise might have won owing to the shift in policy, or just harden votes that they would have lost? Is the Cuban-American voting bloc big enough to tip an election in the state?

The last question might be the easiest to answer: Perhaps, but for the fact that Cuban-Americans are becoming much less of a predictable “bloc” to begin with. According to a recent study by Pew, the proportion of Cuban registered voters who lean Republican has fallen from 64 percent to 47 in the past decade. The proportion who lean Democratic has jumped from 22 percent to 44 percent. What was once a bloc is now a divided constituency.

That shift is partly demographic, Pew found: Younger, American-born Cubans tend to be more Democratic, and there are increasingly more of them.

Is there a chance that President Obama’s policy might swing some Cuban-Americans back towards the Republican Party? Certainly, and we won’t know for sure until we get new polling data, likely in a number of weeks.

But it is worth noting that those younger Cuban-Americans tend to be much more supportive of diplomatic normalization than their older counterparts. A recent Florida International University poll found that 90 percent of young Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County — 90 percent! — favor having diplomatic relations with Havana. A similar proportion support lifting the travel ban, and just more than 60 percent of young Cuban-Americans support ending the embargo.

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With Cuba power play, Obama puts Republicans on notice

With Cuba power play, Obama puts Republicans on notice

By Brian Hughes 

With Cuba power play, Obama puts Republicans on notice

President Obama’s unilateral move to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba put to rest the notion that he was entering a new conciliatory phase with Republicans, particularly on foreign affairs.

With the 2014 congressional session formally ending, Obama sent perhaps his clearest signal yet on how he plans to operate during his final two years in office, flexing his executive authority by undoing policies on the books for a half-century.

It’s an approach that Obama is taking with increasing regularity on foreign matters, as he pursues a nuclear deal with Iran in the face of criticisms that his White House is making concessions to oppressive leaders purely to bolster his legacy.

Amid all the talk in Washington about a lame-duck Obama moving to the center, fueled by his stance during the government-funding fight, the Cuba announcement reminded Republicans that the president isn’t much bothered by their objections.


“There’s the Obama we all know,” quipped a House GOP leadership aide, as the president announced the landmark Cuba deal from the White House. “It’s back to the ‘We’re going to do this because I’m right’ school of governing. Nobody should be shocked by this anymore.

With Cuba spotlight, Rubio looks to emerge from Jeb's shadow

With Cuba spotlight, Rubio looks to emerge from Jeb's shadow

Cameron Joseph

Rubio was out first and strongest of any 2016 hopeful ripping Obama's moves.

The Obama administration's moves to normalize relations with Cuba have given Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) a chance to seize the spotlight just as he’s looking to emerge from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's (R) shadow.

Rubio was out first and strongest of any 2016 presidential hopeful by ripping the Obama administration’s moves, touching on his own life experience as the son of Cuban exiles and promising to use his impending perch as chairman of a subcommittee with Cuba jurisdiction to “unravel” Obama’s actions.

As a result, just a day after Bush announced he would “actively explore” a presidential bid, it was Rubio, not Bush, who was all over the cable news bashing the deal.

Rubio’s furious response and recent vocal criticism of President Obama’s global actions has helped the GOP senator emerge as a leading voice of a muscular, interventionist stripe of Republican foreign policy. 

Now, his Senate position gives him a platform to focus on something where Bush has less experience: building out a profile as a next-generation GOP hawk. And with Cuba emerging as a hot-button issue for months to come, Rubio is poised to be a leading player.

“He's developed quite an expertise on foreign policy and this Cuba policy is anathema to rank and file Republicans. This might give him another piece of the puzzle that would dictate a run,” said GOP strategist Charlie Black, a veteran of a number of presidential campaigns. “It's a good opportunity for him… There's certainly room for a strong foreign policy, national security candidate.” 

An incensed Rubio jumped on the Obama administration’s decision to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba, hitting Fox News even before the administration had a chance to announce the details of its new policy, and did several other interviews throughout the day. He followed up with a press conference in the Senate, angrily accusing Obama of being  “the single-worst negotiator we’ve had in the White House in my lifetime.”

WashPost Editorial Board: Obama gives the Castro regime an undeserved bailout

Obama gives the Castro regime in Cuba an undeserved bailout

IN RECENT months, the outlook for the Castro regime in Cuba was growing steadily darker. The modest reforms it adopted in recent years to improve abysmal economic conditions had stalled, due to the regime’s refusal to allow Cubans greater freedoms. Worse, the accelerating economic collapse of Venezuela meant that the huge subsidies that have kept the Castros afloat for the past decade were in peril. A growing number of Cubans were demanding basic human rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly.

On Wednesday, the Castros suddenly obtained a comprehensive bailout — from the Obama administration. President Obama granted the regime everything on its wish list that was within his power to grant; a full lifting of the trade embargo requires congressional action. Full diplomatic relations will be established, Cuba’s place on the list of terrorism sponsors reviewed and restrictions lifted on U.S. investment and most travel to Cuba. That liberalization will provide Havana with a fresh source of desperately needed hard currency and eliminate U.S. leverage for political reforms.

As part of the bargain, Havana released Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor who was unjustly imprisoned five years ago for trying to help Cuban Jews. Also freed was an unidentified U.S. intelligence agent in Cuba — as were three Cuban spies who had been convicted of operations in Florida that led to Cuba’s 1996 shootdown of a plane carrying anti-Castro activists. While Mr. Obama sought to portray Mr. Gross’s release as unrelated to the spy swap, there can be no question that Cuba’s hard-line intelligence apparatus obtained exactly what it sought when it made Mr. Gross a de facto hostage.

No wonder Yoani Sánchez, Cuba’s leading dissident blogger, concluded Wednesday that “Castroism has won” and predicted that for weeks Cubans will have to endure proclamations by the government that it is the “winner of its ultimate battle.”

Mr. Obama argued that his sweeping change of policy was overdue because the strategy of isolating the Communist regime “has had little effect.” In fact, Cuba has been marginalized in the Americas for decades, and the regime has been deprived of financial resources it could have used to spread its malignant influence in the region, as Venezuela has done. That the embargo has not succeeded in destroying communism does not explain why all sanctions should be lifted without any meaningful political concessions by Cuba.

U.S. officials said the regime agreed to release 53 political prisoners and allow more access to the Internet. But Raúl Castro promised four years ago to release all political prisoners, so the White House has purchased the same horse already sold to the Vatican and Spain.

The administration says its move will transform relations with Latin America, but that is naive. Countries that previously demanded an end to U.S. sanctions on Cuba will not now look to Havana for reforms; instead, they will press the Obama administration not to sanction Venezuela. Mr. Obama says normalizing relations will allow the United States to be more effective in promoting political change in Cuba. That is contrary to U.S. experience with Communist regimes such as Vietnam, where normalization has led to no improvements on human rights in two decades. Moreover, nothing in Mr. Obama’s record of lukewarm and inconstant support for democratic change across the globe can give Ms. Sánchez and her fellow freedom fighters confidence in this promise.

The Vietnam outcome is what the Castros are counting on: a flood of U.S. tourists and business investment that will allow the regime to maintain its totalitarian system indefinitely. Mr. Obama may claim that he has dismantled a 50-year-old failed policy; what he has really done is give a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life.

Will Hyman Roth Return to Havana With Normalized Relations?

Will Hyman Roth Return to Havana With Normalized Relations?

John L. Smith

Don’t bet on it. The casino culture that drove Cuba’s popularity is now accepted across America, and as for prostitution, it’s hard to get kinkier than cable TV.

Prior to the Jan. 1, 1959 Socialist revolution of Fidel Castro, the post-World War II mob led in part by the inspiration for Roth, organized-crime financial maven Meyer Lansky, Americans largely used Havana as an island paradise of hedonism: Sex, drugs, and wide-open gambling courtesy of the friends of Murder, Inc., some savvy and daring U.S. corporations, and the consummately corrupt regime of President Fulgencio Batista.

“Neither the American nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that’s rooted in events that took place before most of us were born,” President Barack Obama said during Wednesday’s announcement.

Before Cuba was shunned and sanctioned, it was a handy place for the randy. In an America starved for gambling and sexual intrigue, at a time when only the parched and pariah Nevada offered legalized casinos and the politically sanctioned scent of vice, Havana was shakin’ its booty to a Salsa beat.

Lansky was one of many sharp racket bosses who saw the potential of Havana as “the Offshore Las Vegas,” just 90 miles from the coast of uptight Florida and on an increasing number of commercial airline routes. (Pan American Airways thought enough of the destination to finance one of the hotel-casinos just off the Malecon.)

Havana wasn’t just a center of gambling and vice, it also was the headquarters of a growing drug trade protected in part by corrupt officials and Batista’s fixers.

Sex, drugs, vice? Las Vegas could have taken lessons from Havana.

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The Democrats' risky Cuba bet

Blind U.S. athlete Peter Crowley poses for a portrait with the Cuban and U.S. flags at the Marina Hemingway in Havana, Cuba, Friday, April 25, 2014. Crowley began his attempt to cross the Straight of Florida, between the Cuba and US, by kayak on Friday. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

The Democrats' risky Cuba bet

Will Florida’s changing demographics offset a backlash among older Cuban-Americans?

Barack Obama, who won the swing state of Florida in the 2012 election by 50.01 percent to 49.13 percent, knows just how many presidential candidacies have gotten bogged down in the sands and marshes of the Sunshine State.

He also knows that one of the many quirks in Florida’s diverse electorate is the fiercely anti-Castro sentiments of many Cuban emigres.

Obama forged ahead Wednesday to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba because it was, in his estimation, “the right thing to do.” But whatever the president’s motivation, the surprise move represents a bold political gamble on behalf of his party that demographic and generational change in the ultimate swing state will offset the inevitable backlash from Florida’s aging exile community.

In a place where elections often come down to a few thousand votes out of millions cast, and that can decide who occupies the White House in a close race, Democrats had better hope he’s right.

Democratic strategists and several academic pollsters predicted Wednesday that anger within Florida’s Cuban-American community will be real, but concentrated and short-lived. They noted a generational divide, with younger Cuban-Americans much more supportive of ending the trade embargo. What’s more, Cuban-Americans in the state do not represent a must-win bloc of votes: though they helped fuel GOP victories in the state for decades, the influence of Cuban-American voters has dwindled somewhat with the rise of other Hispanic constituencies, particularly Puerto Rican Americans around Orlando.

What's Next for the Cop-Killers Hiding in Havana

What's Next for the Cop-Killers Hiding in Havana

Relations are thawing with Cuba—so what happens to the dozens of American fugitives living there: a rogue’s gallery of hijackers, bomb makers, and Most Wanted murderers?

With the prisoner exchange and the normalizing of relations with Cuba arises the question of the dozens of American fugitives enjoying asylum there—including a cop killer on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list with a $1 million reward offered for her capture.

Assata Shakur, also known as Joanne Chesimard, escaped from prison in 1979 after being convicted of murdering state trooper Werner Foerster. She had been in a car with two fellow members of the Black Liberation Army when Foerster and another trooper pulled it over on the New Jersey turnpike.

Shakur was on the run for five years after her prison break before managing to reach Cuba, where she was granted asylum in 1984.

In 1997, the New Jersey State police wrote to Pope John Paul II asking him to raise the question of Shakur with Fidel Castro on an upcoming visit to Cuba.

Whether the Pope did or not, Shakur continued to live undisturbed in Cuba despite a 1998 resolution by the U.S. Congress asking that she be returned. She was joined by her daughter, who was conceived while Shakur was in a New Jersey prison and initially raised by Shakur’s own mother in New York.

Cuba also granted asylum to three black militants who hijacked an airplane from Albuquerque while being sought for the 1972 murder of New Mexico State Trooper Robert Rosenbloom during a traffic stop.

One of the three, Ralph Goodwin, is said to have drowned while swimming at a beach outside Havana. The other two, Charlie Hill and Michael Finney, continue to live in Cuba. Hill told a Washington Post reporter in 1999 that he had no regrets about killing Rosenbloom, who had a wife and two young daughters.

“I have never felt guilty about that cop,” Hill was quoted saying. “I never think about that dude.”

For her part, Shakur denied actually firing the bullets that killed trooper Foerster, who was murdered with his own gun. The FBI continued to consider her so dangerous that it offered the $1 million reward in 2005 and put her on the Most Wanted Terrorists list last year.

Among the roughly 80 other American fugitives in Cuba is Ishmael Ali LaBeef, who hijacked an airplane after he and four buddies murdered eight innocents during a robbery at a Virgin Islands golf course in 1972.

There is also Victor Gerena, who is wanted in connection with a $7 million armored car robbery in Connecticut in 1983.

And then there is William Morales of the Puerto Rican independence group the FALN. He lost most of both hands while assembling a device in an FALN bomb factory in 1979, but managed to escape from a hospital ward where he was being fitted for prosthetic hands after being convicted of weapons charges and sentenced to 99 years. 

Morales made his way to Mexico, where an effort to capture him led to a shootout, which ended with a local cop being killed. He served five years in a Mexican prison but then was allowed to board a plane for Havana despite American efforts to extradite him.

The most wanted of the fugitives is still Shakur, who remains in Cuba 17 years after the New Jersey state police’s entreaty to Pope John Paul II.  

The present pontiff, Pope Francis, was reportedly a major force in the surprise change in relations between the United States and Cuba, urging the Castro regime to release the imprisoned American contractor Alan Gross. 

Gross and an unnamed American intelligence agent were freed on Wednesday in exchange for three Cuban spies. One of the spies, Gerardo Hernández, was doing time for a murder conspiracy that led to the downing of an anti-Cuban activist pilot whose private plane was lured toward Cuban airspace. 

In announcing the end of the embargo, President Obama was clearly happy to announce that Americans visiting there will even be able to use their credit and debit cards.

The question is whether we will be doing so in a country that continues to shelter cop killers and a terror bomber and a mass murderer.

How will Cuba now justify its strict economic controls?

Castro brothers resistance to change could test renewed U.S.-Cuba diplomacy


President Obama's move to normalize relations with Cuba will test a theory that has been popular for years in Democratic circles, and a few Republican ones too.

The Castro government doesn't fear the embargo and interminable hostilities with the United States; it has thrived on them, so the thinking goes. What worries the island's control-minded leaders far more is change.

The response of Cuban officials to this argument has always been: try us. But a new relationship with the country Fidel Castro used to call "the colossus of the North," and its wealth, influence and power, could put significant pressure on the communist government whose post-Castro future remains murky.

Raul Castro, 83, has said he will step down in 2018. His ailing older brother is 88 and virtually absent from public life. Miguel Diaz-Canal, the 54-year-old vice president who would be in line to replace him, remains very much in the shadow of the Castros and their circle of aging army generals.

"In the medium and long term, this is a challenge for the Cuban system, because it undermines the climate of hostility that has long been used to justify one-party state," said Arturo Lopez Levy, a former Cuban government analyst who now teaches at NYU.

The Cuban government has long defended its strict political and economic controls with the argument that the U.S. would use any opening as an opportunity to stir unrest. But if tensions with the United States ease, Cubans will increasingly look inward at the shortcomings of their anachronistic system and Soviet-style planned economy.

"I want to see who they blame now for the economic collapse and lack of freedoms that we have in Cuba," dissident activist Yoani Sanchez wrote on Twitter following the White House announcement.

The narrow market opening permitted by Raul Castro over the past few years has already shattered many of the ideological underpinning of his older brother's brand of socialism. Where private enterprise is allowed — food service, repairs shops, hair salons — Cubans flourish. In dingy state-run factories, they see stagnation and ruin.

They want more — especially the young Cubans who bristle at the paternalistic state and yearn to flee. With U.S. ties improving, they will expect more.

As part of the rapprochement, U.S. officials say Cuba has agreed to expand Web access on the island, which has one of the lowest internet use rates in the world. That will bring additional challenges, as Cuban officials have long feared the type of Web-enabled activism of the Arab Spring, and its potent cocktail of social media, smart phones and frustrated young people.

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Putin Blames Outside Forces for Russia’s Economic Woes

Putin Blames Outside Forces for Russia’s Economic Woes

During his annual news conference, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia discussed the recent crisis in his nation’s currency.

MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Thursday delivered an acidic message of defiance and anger at the West at an annual news conference in Moscow, showing no sign of softening his position on Ukraine despite the financial turmoil that has gripped the country.

Mr. Putin blamed “external factors,” including Western sanctions and falling oil prices, for the collapse of the Russian currency, the ruble. But he played down the severity of the economic crisis, saying that it would last a maximum of two years before a return of growth.

“I believe that we are right,” Mr. Putin said of the conflict in Ukraine, likening the West’s expansion of NATO toward Russia as a new Berlin Wall. “And I believe that our Western partners are not right.”

At the conference, which was attended by about 1,200 journalists, Mr. Putin said that initial moves to stabilize the ruble may have been too slow, but he promised quick action to avoid further economic damage. He also promised to maintain social welfare programs at their current level.

“I believe that the central bank and the government are taking adequate measures,” Mr. Putin said.

Mr. Putin recognized the efforts of President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine in ending the conflict in the southeast of that country, but he suggested that others in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, may be trying to prolong the conflict.

“Undoubtedly, the president of Ukraine certainly wants a settlement, and I have no doubt that he is striving for this,” Mr. Putin said. “But he’s not alone there,” he added, referring to more hawkish officials.

“We hear a lot of militant statements; I believe President Poroshenko is seeking a settlement, but there is a need for practical action,” Mr. Putin added. “There is a need to observe the Minsk agreements” calling for a cease-fire and withdrawal of forces.

Russia has toned down its rhetoric on the Ukraine crisis in the past month, and some of its most incendiary language, like “junta” and “Novorossia,” a blanket term used for the separatist territories, are no longe used on state-run television news. Mr. Putin also notably omitted those terms, which he had used in other public appearances, on Thursday.

Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov said in an interview on the France 24 news channel on Tuesday that Russia was “not suggesting federalization, “for the separatist territories and “not suggesting autonomy.”

Mr. Putin has managed to maintain high popularity ratings during 15 years of leading Russia, in large part by assuring security and prosperity, but the recent nose dive of the national currency is threatening that achievement. The ruble, which has lost more than 46 percent of its value against the dollar this year, was broadly stable on Thursday, trading at 61.14 to the dollar in the European afternoon.

Cuban exiles see a different truth behind Obama’s policy change

Lazaro Lozano, center, protests against President Obama's decision to normalize relations between Cuba and the United States while at Versailles Restaurant on Calle Ocho in Miami on Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014.

Cuban exiles see a different truth behind Obama’s policy change

Jeb Bush's Presidential Hopes: Bad News for Hillary

Jeb Bush's Presidential Hopes: Bad News for Hillary

David Frum

The former Florida governor may or may not be a strong candidate, but his presence brings out the Democratic frontrunner's biggest weaknesses.

Jeb Bush may or may not prove a strong national candidate. He may or may not be able to reconcile party base and party elite. But what he has already done is focus the presidential race on a series of questions maximally threatening to the leading Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Question one: the dynasty question. Jeb Bush is a man of considerable accomplishment, a two-term governor of a major state. On the other hand, Republicans don’t exactly lack for accomplished governors. It’s his name and extraordinary inherited fundraising advantage that qualify him as a first-tier candidate. Doesn’t that advantage symbolize something worrying about American politics and American society? And doesn’t every such question about Jeb Bush apply even more strongly to Hillary Clinton? She’s a person of accomplishment too, of course. But who believes she’d be the massive favorite for the Democratic nomination if her name were still Hillary Rodham?

Many Americans feel that their society has become less mobile and less fair over the past 20 or 30 years. Nothing would symbolize a narrowing of opportunity more perfectly than a Bush-Clinton race. The discomfort Americans feel with that image won’t affect Jeb Bush alone. And if Republicans end up rejecting him in favor of a more self-made candidate—a Scott Walker, say—won’t that put ideas in many Democrats’ heads that they too can choose their leaders rather than inherit them?

Harvard’s Conservative Cabal Takes Congress

Harvard’s Conservative Cabal Takes Congress

From Tom Cotton to Ted Cruz, many of the biggest new names in the GOP are graduates of Harvard -- the school the right loves to hate.

Mocking the arrogance of “liberals from Harvard” is a foolproof applause line for any Republican looking to rev up a conservative audience.  But when the 114th Congress gavels into session in January, GOP speechwriters are going to need some new material. 

That’s because many of fastest rising stars in the Republican Party, including Senators-elect Tom Cotton (Ark.), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Dan Sullivan (Ak.) and Rep.-elect Elise Stefanik, all graduated from Harvard. Along with Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Pat Toomey (Penn.), David Vitter (La.) and Mike Crapo (Wyo.), the Republican Harvard contingent will outnumber Harvard Democrats in the U.S. Senate for the first time in recent memory.

Tom Cotton credits Harvard as the place where he “discovered political philosophy as a way of life.” Elise Stefanik, who will be the youngest woman ever to serve in Congress, was an editor and writer at the Harvard Crimson and served as the vice chair of Harvard’s Institute of Politics. Like Cotton and Stefanik, Sasse was a government major before going on to Oxford and Yale and becoming a college president himself. 

Despite its reputation as “Kremlin on the Charles,” and the “People’s Republic of Cambridge,” current and former students at Harvard describe the campus as both overtly liberal in its politics and an ideal place for conservative thought to develop and thrive.  

“I thought it was great place to be Republican,” said Mark Isaacson, a former president of the Harvard Republican Club who is now a speechwriter for the RNC.  “A ‘Harvard Democrat’ is kind of redundant, but a Harvard Republican is always being challenged, so you’ve got to self-evaluate a lot. You’ve got to think about your views and why you hold them.”

Aaron Hendricks, the current president of the Harvard Republicans, said he has seen the left-of-center political scene at Harvard make some students even more conservative than when they arrived.

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