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White House Details New Cuba Policy As Diplomatic Relations Re-Open

Source: TPM/The White House

The White House detailed its new policies on Cuba in an official fact sheet as the countries plan to re-establish diplomatic relations.

Fact Sheet: Charting a New Course on Cuba

Today, the United States is taking historic steps to chart a new course in our relations with Cuba and to further engage and empower the Cuban people. We are separated by 90 miles of water, but brought together through the relationships between the two million Cubans and Americans of Cuban descent that live in the United States, and the 11 million Cubans who share similar hopes for a more positive future for Cuba.

It is clear that decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. At times, longstanding U.S. policy towards Cuba has isolated the United States from regional and international partners, constrained our ability to influence outcomes throughout the Western Hemisphere, and impaired the use of the full range of tools available to the United States to promote positive change in Cuba. Though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, it has had little effect – today, as in 1961, Cuba is governed by the Castros and the Communist party.

We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state. With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities. In that spirit, we should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens we seek to help.

Today, we are renewing our leadership in the Americas. We are choosing to cut loose the anchor of the past, because it is entirely necessary to reach a better future – for our national interests, for the American people, and for the Cuban people.

Key Components of the Updated Policy Approach:

Since taking office in 2009, President Obama has taken steps aimed at supporting the ability of the Cuban people to gain greater control over their own lives and determine their country’s future. Today, the President announced additional measures to end our outdated approach, and to promote more effectively change in Cuba that is consistent with U.S. support for the Cuban people and in line with U.S. national security interests.

Major elements of the President’s new approach include:

Establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba

The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately initiate discussions with Cuba on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, which were severed in January 1961. · In the coming months, we will re-establish an embassy in Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between our two governments as part of the normalization process. As an initial step, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs will lead the U.S. Delegation to the next round of U.S.-Cuba Migration Talks in January 2015, in Havana. · U.S. engagement will be critical when appropriate and will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba and other measures aimed at fostering improved conditions for the Cuban people.

· The United States will work with Cuba on matters of mutual concern and that advance U.S. national interests, such as migration, counternarcotics, environmental protection, and trafficking in persons, among other issues.

Adjusting regulations to more effectively empower the Cuban people

· The changes announced today will soon be implemented via amendments to regulations of the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce. Our new policy changes will further enhance our goal of empowering the Cuban population.

· Our travel and remittance policies are helping Cubans by providing alternative sources of information and opportunities for self-employment and private property ownership, and by strengthening independent civil society.

· These measures will further increase people-to-people contact; further support civil society in Cuba; and further enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people. Persons must comply with all provisions of the revised regulations; violations of the terms and conditions are enforceable under U.S. law.

Facilitating an expansion of travel under general licenses for the 12 existing categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law

· General licenses will be made available for all authorized travelers in the following existing categories: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.

· Travelers in the 12 categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law will be able to make arrangements through any service provider that complies with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations governing travel services to Cuba, and general licenses will authorize provision of such services.

· The policy changes make it easier for Americans to provide business training for private Cuban businesses and small farmers and provide other support for the growth of Cuba’s nascent private sector. Additional options for promoting the growth of entrepreneurship and the private sector in Cuba will be explored.

Facilitating remittances to Cuba by U.S. persons · Remittance levels will be raised from $500 to $2,000 per quarter for general donative remittances to Cuban nationals (except to certain officials of the government or the Communist party); and donative remittances for humanitarian projects, support for the Cuban people, and support for the development of private businesses in Cuba will no longer require a specific license.

· Remittance forwarders will no longer require a specific license.

Authorizing expanded commercial sales/exports from the United States of certain goods and services

· The expansion will seek to empower the nascent Cuban private sector. Items that will be authorized for export include certain building materials for private residential construction, goods for use by private sector Cuban entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers. This change will make it easier for Cuban citizens to have access to certain lower-priced goods to improve their living standards and gain greater economic independence from the state.

Authorizing American citizens to import additional goods from Cuba

· Licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined.

Facilitating authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba

· U.S. institutions will be permitted to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions.

· The regulatory definition of the statutory term “cash in advance” will be revised to specify that it means “cash before transfer of title”; this will provide more efficient financing of authorized trade with Cuba.

· U.S. credit and debit cards will be permitted for use by travelers to Cuba.

· These measures will improve the speed, efficiency, and oversight of authorized payments between the United States and Cuba.

Initiating new efforts to increase Cubans’ access to communications and their ability to communicate freely

· Cuba has an internet penetration of about five percent—one of the lowest rates in the world. The cost of telecommunications in Cuba is exorbitantly high, while the services offered are extremely limited.

· The commercial export of certain items that will contribute to the ability of the Cuban people to communicate with people in the United States and the rest of the world will be authorized. This will include the commercial sale of certain consumer communications devices, related software, applications, hardware, and services, and items for the establishment and update of communications-related systems.

· Telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and internet services, which will improve telecommunications between the United States and Cuba.

Updating the application of Cuba sanctions in third countries · U.S.-owned or -controlled entities in third countries will be generally licensed to provide services to, and engage in financial transactions with, Cuban individuals in third countries. In addition, general licenses will unblock the accounts at U.S. banks of Cuban nationals who have relocated outside of Cuba; permit U.S. persons to participate in third-country professional meetings and conferences related to Cuba; and, allow foreign vessels to enter the United States after engaging in certain humanitarian trade with Cuba, among other measures.

Pursuing discussions with the Cuban and Mexican governments to discuss our unresolved maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico · Previous agreements between the United States and Cuba delimit the maritime space between the two countries within 200 nautical miles from shore. The United States, Cuba, and Mexico have extended continental shelf in an area within the Gulf of Mexico where the three countries have not yet delimited any boundaries.

· The United States is prepared to invite the governments of Cuba and Mexico to discuss shared maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Initiating a review of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism

· The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately launch such a review, and provide a report to the President within six months regarding Cuba’s support for international terrorism. Cuba was placed on the list in 1982.

Addressing Cuba’s participation in the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama · President Obama will participate in the Summit of the Americas in Panama. Human rights and democracy will be key Summit themes. Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate along with civil society from other countries participating in the Summit, consistent with the region’s commitments under the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The United States welcomes a constructive dialogue among Summit governments on the Summit’s principles.

Unwavering Commitment to Democracy, Human Rights, and Civil Society A critical focus of our increased engagement will include continued strong support by the United States for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba. The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and a person’s right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate, and by supporting the ability of people to freely determine their future. Our efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state.

The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored. The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba, and we will encourage reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials.

The United States encourages all nations and organizations engaged in diplomatic dialogue with the Cuban government to take every opportunity both publicly and privately to support increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba.

Ultimately, it will be the Cuban people who drive economic and political reforms. That is why President Obama took steps to increase the flow of resources and information to ordinary Cuban citizens in 2009, 2011, and today. The Cuban people deserve the support of the United States and of an entire region that has committed to promote and defend democracy through the Inter-American Democratic Charter.



Read more: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/white-house-cuba-fact-sheets

Marco Rubio On Cuba Deal: Obama's The 'Worst Negotiator' Since Jimmy Carter


Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Wednesday slammed a deal that released captive USAID contractor Alan Gross in exchange for three Cubans jailed in the United States for spying, branding President Barack Obama as potentially the "worst negotiator" in the history of the nation.

"At a minimum, I would say this. Barack Obama is the worst negotiator that we've had as President since at least Jimmy Carter, and maybe in the history of this country," he said on Fox News' "America's Newsroom."

Rubio, whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from Cuba, said he was glad Gross would be reunited with his family. But he added that the prisoner exchange would set a "very dangerous precedent."

"It puts a price on every American abroad," he said. "Governments now know that if they take an American hostage, they can get very significant successions from the U.S."



The Obamas Open Up About The Racism They've Faced

By BRENDAN JAMES Published DECEMBER 17, 2014, 9:49 AM EST

Amid a heated national discussion on race and discrimination, the first family opened up to People Magazine about their own experiences with racism in an article published online Wednesday.

"There's no black male my age, who's a professional, who hasn't come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn't hand them their car keys," the President told the magazine, saying it once happened to him.

"He was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee," the first lady added.

The portion of the interview appearing online is a teaser of the 30-minute conversation the Obamas had with People, which is set to hit newsstands on Friday.




But Paul Ryan gets highest ratings from party faithful

West Long Branch, NJ – When asked to name their top choice for 2016, Republicans and
Republican-leaning voters volunteer a large field of contenders, with none breaking away from the pack. Although Paul Ryan is not on voters’ radar for the “horse race” question, he far outpaces the field when it comes to candidate favorability. The Monmouth University Poll also finds that most GOP voters are at least somewhat willing to give a little on the issues in order to support a candidate with the best shot at winning the White House.

When asked to name who they would like to see as the party’s nominee for president,
Republicans and Republican leaning voters volunteer more than a dozen names, with none exceeding 10% support. Contenders include Mitt Romney (8%), Ben Carson (7%), Chris Christie (7%), Jeb Bush (6%), Ted Cruz (5%), Rand Paul (5%), Mike Huckabee (3%), Scott Walker (3%), Bobby Jindal (2%), Rick Perry (2%), Marco Rubio (2%), and Rick Santorum (1%).

The poll question asked survey participants to name a preference without providing a list of
suggested candidates. A majority are able to volunteer a choice more than a year before the first official nominating contest. Another 37% say they are undecided at this stage and 8% report that they do not plan to support any Republican candidate in 2016.

Favored contenders for the GOP nomination among self-identified Tea Party supporters include
Ben Carson (13%), Ted Cruz (10%), and Mitt Romney (9%). Among Republicans who are not aligned with the Tea Party, 9% prefer Chris Christie, 7% name Jeb Bush, and 7% pick Mitt Romney as their choice for 2016.



But party voters also prefer a contested primary

West Long Branch, NJ – The Monmouth University Poll finds that former Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton is the top choice for 2016 among Democrats and Democratic leaning voters.

However, most Democratic voters would prefer to see a contested primary campaign, including many of those who back Clinton.

When asked to name who they would like to see as the next Democrat nominee for president,
nearly half (48%) of Democrats and Democratic leaning voters volunteer Hillary Clinton. No other candidate registers in double digits. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is named by 6%, independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is named by 2%, and Vice President Joe Biden is named by 2%.

The poll question asked survey participants to name a preference without providing a list of
suggested candidates. Fully 6-in-10 are able to volunteer a choice more than a year before the first official nominating contest. Another 32% say they are undecided at this stage and 7% report that they do not plan to support any Democrat for 2016.

“When nearly half of Democratic voters volunteer the name Hillary Clinton as their choice for
2016, it’s hard to deny that she is the clear front runner,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, New Jersey. “At the same, time Democrats do not want to the nomination process to be a coronation.”


Six in 10 See CIA Actions as Justified As Many Question Committee Report

Source: Washington Post

Six in 10 Americans say the CIA’s treatment of suspected terrorists was justified, more than half think it produced important, unique intelligence – and 52 percent say it was wrong for the Senate Intelligence Committee to issue a report suggesting otherwise.

Those results in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll underscore the public’s sense of risk from the threat of terrorism, and specifically the extent to which majorities support controversial measures to combat it. Indeed just two in 10 flatly rule out torture in future cases.


A plurality, 49 percent, believes the CIA did in fact torture suspected terrorists; 38 percent think its actions did not amount to torture, with the rest unsure. Regardless, the public by a broad 59-31 percent also says the agency’s interrogation actions were justified.

One reason is that 53 percent think these interrogations produced important information that could not have been obtained any other way. Just 31 percent reject this claim, a focus of the recent debate.


Read more: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2014/12/six-in-10-see-cia-actions-as-justified-as-most-question-committee-report/

Senate passes sweeping $1.1 trillion spending bill

Source: Washington Post

The Senate gave final passage on Saturday night to a sweeping $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund most of the federal government through the next fiscal year.

On a vote of 56 to 40, senators passed the spending bill and sent it to President Obama, who plans to sign it. The bill’s passage eliminates the threat of a government shutdown and capped days of acrimonious debate on Capitol Hill over the omnibus agreement.

A small group of conservatives, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), had sought to slow debate on the bill by raising concerns with Obama’s immigration policy, forcing a marathon weekend session. The move infuriated their colleagues, particularly Republicans who complained that forcing senators to stay in session produced nothing positive for the GOP and only helped Democrats in their bid to approve a final batch of Obama’s nominees for government posts.


Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/spending-bill-forces-rare-weekend-session-for-the-senate-with-shutdown-hours-away/2014/12/13/81832bf6-82e8-11e4-81fd-8c4814dfa9d7_story.html?

Senators avert government shutdown, pass temporary spending measure

Source: Washington Post

By Ed O'Keefe December 13 at 4:03 PM

The Senate convened for a rare Saturday session after a bloc of conservative senators upended plans to quickly pass a $1.1 trillion spending bill.

But a backstop measure to extend current government funding until Wednesday was approved Saturday afternoon, averting a potential government shutdown that would have started at midnight.

The spending measure is expected to be approved with bipartisan support, but disagreement over how to proceed mean that the first procedural vote on the bill won’t be until after midnight tonight. Final passage of the bill is scheduled for early Monday morning.

In the meantime, “we wait,” Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said as he convened the chamber at midday.

The impasse infuriated members of both parties and was especially aggravating for senators set to leave office, either by retirement or because they lost reelection.


Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/spending-bill-forces-rare-weekend-session-for-the-senate-with-shutdown-hours-away/2014/12/13/81832bf6-82e8-11e4-81fd-8c4814dfa9d7_story.html?

Other Senators Fume Over Cruz's Push For Vote On Obama Immigration Action

By DANIEL STRAUSS Published DECEMBER 13, 2014, 2:05 PM EST

Other members of the Senate fumed Saturday over objections by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) that held up a $1.1 trillion omnibus bill meant to keep the government open. The objection was fueled by the two conservatives' desire to fight President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration.

The objections by Cruz and Lee mean that the Senate must slog through procedural votes Saturday on nominees and also vote to end a filibuster on the omnibus bill at 1 a.m. on Sunday.

It was too much for Democrats and even Republicans to bite their tongues over.



Scalia: Nothing In The Constitution Prohibits Torture


WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is joining the debate over the Senate's torture report by saying it is difficult to rule out the use of extreme measures to extract information if millions of lives were threatened.

Scalia tells a Swiss radio network that American and European liberals who say such tactics may never be used are being self-righteous. The 78-year-old justice says he doesn't "think it's so clear at all," especially if interrogators were trying to find a ticking nuclear bomb.

Scalia says nothing in the Constitution appears to prohibit harsh treatment of suspected terrorists.

The interview took place at the court on Wednesday, the day after the release of the Senate report detailing the CIA's harsh interrogation of suspected terrorists. Radio Television Suisse aired the interview on Friday.


Read more: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/scalia-torture-constitution

Tea Partiers Protest At White House: 'Hang The Lying Kenyan Traitor'

Tea partiers shouted obscene, racist chants on Wednesday while gathered outside of the White House to protest President Obama's executive actions on immigration.

Right Wing Watch reported that among the shouts, captured on video by one of the activists, protestors could be heard calling for the hanging of Obama.

"Hang the lying Kenyan traitor!" one protester could be heard saying in the video.

"Plenty of trees in the front yard," another said. "Wouldn't be the first one hung on one of them trees."

"We've got rope," said another.

"Don't snap his neck, you pull him up watch him choke to death," someone else said.


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