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New Haven's Super Ewan battles hunger in a Detroit park - Detroit Free Press

Berkley Information from Google News - 1 hour 38 min ago

New Haven's Super Ewan battles hunger in a Detroit park
Detroit Free Press
There's a little boy running around with a big heart and a red cape. His mission: feeding the hungry and clothing the homeless. Ewan Drum, 8, of New Haven is the founder of Super Ewan, a nonprofit to help homeless people. “We give goods and clothes to ...

Categories: Berkley Area News

Egypt Refers 26 Men Arrested At Gay Bath House To Trial

Huffington Post News - 2 hours 44 min ago

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian official says prosecutors have referred 26 men arrested in a raid on a bath house to trial on charges connected to their suspected homosexuality.

The prosecution official said Wednesday the trial will begin Sunday, a quick referral in a case that has captured public attention following the men's televised arrest. Scenes of half-naked men escorted by policemen out of the bath house in Cairo on Dec. 7 were filmed by a private TV channel and later aired amid criticism from activists. Many in the public were also stunned by the widely circulated pictures of the bathers covering their faces from cameras.

Egyptian law doesn't explicitly prohibit same-sex relations. So the defendants are tried for "debauchery."

The official spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Silverdome's roof lost to decay - WDIV Detroit

Berkley Information from Google News - 2 hours 57 min ago

New York Daily News

Silverdome's roof lost to decay
WDIV Detroit
Pontiac Silverdome: Striking photos of the abandoned stadiumNew York Daily News

all 4 news articles »

Categories: Berkley Area News

Eastern Market cobbler renews Christmas donation drive - Detroit Free Press

Berkley Information from Google News - 3 hours 16 min ago

Eastern Market cobbler renews Christmas donation drive
Detroit Free Press
We meet on a damp mid-December afternoon in the small, unheated, concrete-block building in Shed 4 of Detroit's open-air Eastern Market, where cobbler Moe Draper does his work. He unlocks the door and talks eagerly about his plans to expand his ...

Categories: Berkley Area News

Obama to Blame for Hurricanes, Disease -- and Everything Else

Huffington Post News - Sun, 12/21/2014 - 10:31pm

Rudy Giuliani is blaming President Obama for the murder of two NYPD officers. Says Rudy, "We've had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police. I don't care how you want to describe it -- that's what those protests are all about."

Rudy claims specifically that the propaganda against the police started with the president. Yet at no time has the president ever said anything about hating the police. Instead, he urged calm and peace. What he said immediately after police tear-gassed protestors in St. Louis:

We've got to make sure that we are able to distinguish between peaceful protesters who may have some legitimate grievances and maybe long-standing grievances, and those who are using this tragic death as an excuse to engage in criminal behavior.

Here is what Obama said to protestors in Ferguson bent on punishing the police:

That won't be done by throwing bottles. That won't be done by smashing car windows. That won't be done by using this as an excuse to vandalize property. And it certainly won't be done by hurting anybody.

Read Obama's actual words; and then Giuliani's accusation. I challenge anybody to say that what Rudy claims is simply not ridiculous. Where did Obama imply he hated police or that others should? Yet this is a pattern set over the past eight years: the right wing has blamed Obama for everything bad, no matter how far removed from Obama in reality; and given him credit for nothing good, independent of how directly his actions led to that good. No leap of logic or time or reason is too great for them to link Obama with something unpleasant; and no cause and effect no matter how obvious or self-evident is too strong for them to dismiss, reject or ignore. This political strategy is tiresome, childish, insular and counter to the interests of the American people. And frankly my dear, I'm damn tired of it. Let us set the record straight.

The Economy

If you believe that a president's ability to impact the economy is limited, that is fine, but it works for all presidents and for when the economy is doing well and declining. You can't reasonably claim that a president you like is responsible for good economic news, but dismiss such news for a president you don't by falling back differentially on the idea that a president's influence is limited. Similarly, you can't on this same argument of limited influence rationally dismiss bad news under a president you support but blame a president you oppose. Yet the GOP embraces this horribly hypocritical path, as we will see below.

For all of those who think Democrats in general or Obama in particular is a big spender: the deficit at the end of Bush's term was a whopping 9.8 percent of our GDP, while under Obama it is now 2.8 percent. Obama inherited a shrinking economy in freefall, a banking system near collapse, a housing market imploding, the auto industry in disarray, and the world at the precipice of a catastrophic global depression. All sectors of the economy have recovered from that nightmare. Our economy is now growing at a positive rate of 3.9 percent. Examine the positive outlook for 2015 and 2016 from mainstream economists, for example Kiplinger's: "Hiring is on the rise, job openings are at a near-record level, and layoffs are scarce (indicated by a very low rate of initial unemployment claims since May)."

But we hear no praise for Obama for any of this, even though Republicans fought his every move, going so far as to shut down the government in protest of the very policies that brought us back from the brink of disaster. He saved the auto industry in the midst of howls of conservative remonstration. These advances are the direct consequence of Obama's policies in spite of rabid GOP opposition. Yet we only hear that he is to blame for the murder of NYPD officers.

And let us not forget the insane Republican scare-mongering about hyperinflation. Remember that? Here is Paul Ryan:

Unless we change course, we will have a debt crisis. Pressed for cash, the government will take the easy way out: It will crank up the printing presses. The final stage of this intergenerational theft will be the debasement of our currency. Government will cheat us of our just rewards. Our finances will collapse. The economy will stall. The safety net will unravel. And the most vulnerable will suffer.

So the GOP is free to make the weirdest, craziest, most insane accusations and predictions, but bears no responsibility when said utterances prove to be ridiculous. No apology or mea culpa for being an idiot. So with jaw-dropping, surreal, outrageous, unbelievable hypocrisy probably never before matched in scope and breadth, by the first week of March 2009, just over one month into the Obama presidency, Republicans were blaming Obama for the dire economic news. For eight years under Bush any bad news was Clinton's fault; just one month into Obama's presidency, Bush was innocent of all blame. And now Obama gets no credit for any of the good economic news after seven years in office; blame him before he even takes office, but give him no credit after nearly two terms. We do not have a vocabulary that can capture the deep absurdity of this assault on reason. In my lifetime this claim of relative responsibility between Obama and Bush for the failing economy when Obama took office is unmatched in raw cynicism and total detachment from reality.


Here is the report from the Department of Labor:

Total non-farm payroll employment rose by 288,000, and the unemployment rate fell by 0.4 percentage point to 6.3 percent in April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment gains were widespread, led by job growth in professional and business services, retail trade, food services and drinking places, and construction.

When Obama took office, unemployment was at 7.8 percent, and climbing rapidly. The economy was losing 700,000 jobs per month. Unemployment now is 5.8 percent, and the economy is growing. This is real growth: in September, 44 percent of Americans rated the economy as good, the highest mark since 2007. In November, companies hired 321,000 more workers, the largest one-month gain in nearly three years. Gains were widespread across nearly all industries.

But wait: remember the embarrassing episode when prominent Republicans, the right-wing press and the nut-wing echo chamber accused Obama of manipulating unemployment numbers prior to the election when unemployment rates fell below 8 percent? This stuff is cringe-worthy; and where are they now; now that unemployment is in the 6 percent range? Obama was to blame for the high numbers (but oddly was able to manipulate them); but he is given zero credit for the healthy employment figures now. Is this not tiring? How can conservatives face themselves in the mirror?

Stock Market

The DJIA was at 3310 on Bill Clinton's first inaugural day. The market was 6813 when he was next inaugurated. At the end of Clinton's second term, on the day Bush took office, the DJIA was at 10,578; that is the market Bush inherited from Clinton. When Bush left the Oval Office on January 20, 2009, the Dow was at 7,949, a decline of 25 percent over the eight years Bush was president. By March the DJIA had completed its tumble to bottom out with a 12-year low at just over 6500. Republicans blamed Obama for the continuing decline from 7,900 to 6,500 during his first month in office, but not Bush for the loss from 10,600 to 7,900 in eight years as president. A year later, Dow hit 11,000. The stock market doubled in value during Obama's first 14 months in office; it is now well into the 17,000s. Republicans no longer mention talk about the stock market.

Republican statements about Obama in early March 2009 are stunning in their duplicity. Obama is to blame after five weeks but George Bush is free of any responsibility after eight years. Let's take a quick look at right-wing publication headlines at as the new Administration settles in: (March 6): "Obama Bear Market Punishes Investors as Dow Slumps." In this article the claim is further advanced with, "President Barack Obama now has the distinction of presiding over his own bear market."

Wall Street Journal (March 6): "Obama's Radicalism is Killing the Dow." Author Michael Boskin prognosticates that, "It's hard not to see the continued sell-off on Wall Street and the growing fear on Main Street as a product, at least in part, of the realization that our new president's policies are designed to radically re-engineer the market-based U.S. economy, not just mitigate the recession and financial crisis."

Let's look at the headlines about Obama as Dow hits 17,000: nothing; Wall Street Journal: nada; Drudge report: zilch.

Listen to the loud roar of silence. Cup your ears and you will hear nothing about the DJIA more than doubling from its low from early 2009; no screaming headlines that say, "This is the Obama stock market" when it hit 17,000. Obama was blamed for a declining stock market before he even assumed office; but now that he has been president for seven years, Obama gets no credit. All aboard! All aboard the crazy train.

Gas Prices

Remember high gas prices? Well the far-right wants you forget, and forget what they said about their cause. Mitt Romney said that "Obama is to blame for high gas prices." To bolster his point, Romney noted that Obama does not allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR), and his refusal to build the Keystone pipeline from Canada to Texas. Romney said of Obama, "His policies are responsible for not having America using the energy that we have in this country." Romney is not alone; I have documented dozens of Republican leaders on record saying Obama is specifically and personally to blame for high gas prices.

So what happened when the price of gas fell? What now that the price has declined into the low $2 range? Silence. Total, complete, deafening, maddening, huge, gaping, mind-bending silence. Where was Obama's commitment to making prices higher? Where were the impacts of Obama's failed energy policies? Where were the disastrous consequences of delaying the Keystone pipeline? Where were the catastrophic energy shortages due to overzealous EPA regulations? Yet not a single word from the right praising Obama for lower energy prices. He was responsible for them going up, but not coming down. Everything prominent Republicans and wing-nut pundits said about gas prices and Obama's policies proved to be wrong.

And then the Republicans finally broke their silence, with the claim that "Obama deserves no credit for fall in gas prices." This is absolute proof of my thesis; Republicans blatantly admit it. Read this logic and weep for our country: Representative Allen West (R-FL) said:

If you're the chief executive officer of the United States of America, you should take responsibility for anything that's occurring in this country, and you should not want to seek to get praise. This is what the military taught me: Leaders don't take credit, leaders take responsibility.

Um, OK. So, you blame Obama for rising gas prices; but then give him no credit for falling prices because it is unseemly for a leader to accept credit for effective policies -- the very policies you were blaming for failure earlier. My head hurts. My heart aches for this great land.

War on Terror

During George Bush's re-election campaign, a constant refrain was that we should "not change horses mid-stream" during a war or in times of peril. We will for now ignore the fact that the most horrendous terrorist attack on our soil happened under George Bush. We heard that after all, following 9/11, we had no more terrorist attacks, and that was due to George Bush and his team protecting us. We had to re-elect him to keep us safe. Funny how we do not now hear that same argument from the right in support of Obama and the Democrats after nearly two terms of domestic security.

Even a clear victory like killing bin Laden has to be given GOP spin to diminish Obama. At best, conservatives could offer only faint praise to Obama for killing Osama bin Laden while taking some credit for the task. Cheney said killing bin Laden was the result of a "continuum" spanning three administrations.

Obama managed to remove all or nearly all weapons of mass destruction from Syria without the loss of a single American life. The GOP pummeled him for his actions there, but now gives him no credit for the result they said would never happen.

The GOP's twisted logic goes even further down the road of insanity. Not only do they ignore Obama's accomplishments and claim his successes as their own, they ignore completely their own tragic failures. Let us remember what our fearless conservative leaders said about Iraq as we prepared for what turned out to be the longest most expensive war in U.S. history:

Donald Rumsfeld (Nov 2002): "I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days, or five weeks, or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that." Could any one person be more wrong about so much?

Dick Cheney (Mar 2003): My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators." Dick, tell that to every American soldier wounded and killed there. No, go ahead.

Bill Kristol (Mar 2003): George Bush is not fighting this like Vietnam... it's not going to happen... this is going to be a two-month war, not a 10-year war." It was a 10-year war. Of course Kristol has been wrong about everything of importance: he said Sarah Palin would pave the way to the White House; that Obama would not beat Hillary Clinton in a single primary; and incorrectly predicted Obama's choice for the Supreme Court. And people still listen to this guy. If I was that wrong about that many things I'd just stay in bed.

So let us review: the GOP was spectacularly, outrageously wrong about war in Iraq; failed to kill bin Laden, did nothing to stop the nuclear program in Iran, and allowed Syria to continue to mass WMDs. Bush and team undermined our own values by torturing prisoners (and from that got no actionable intelligence), some of whom were later proved to be innocent of any crime at all.

How does this record compare to Obama's? Obama in contrast ended the war in Iraq, drew down troops in Afghanistan, killed bin laden, toppled Moammar Gaddafi in Libya, reversed Bush's policy on torture, increased support for veterans, and tightened sanctions on Iran (while leaving open the door to prevent Iran form going nuclear without military intervention). But after all these significant successes after nearly two terms in office, all we hear from the right about Obama is that he is responsible for the death of two policemen.

Health Care

In spite of the intense, unyielding, never-ending opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, nobody can deny that Obama has tackled the problem of health care costs growing out of control when nobody before him would. And all the early signs point to success: Health care spending grew at 3.9 percent in the last three years, the lowest growth rate in 50 years.

Although the economic downturn contributed to that slow growth, ACA provisions that incentivize providers to be more efficient while improving the quality of care, such as Accountable Care Organizations, medical homes and value-based purchasing, are helping to drive these encouraging trends, too. Some cost savings are even higher than expected. Before the ACA, Medicare spending was expected to grow 6.8 percent over the next 10 years, but new projections show a dramatic slowdown in spending growth to 4.8 percent. That 2 percent drop in spending will result in cost savings of $751 billion over the ACA's first 10 years.

But Republican and Democrats alike ran away from Obamacare during the mid-term elections; nobody gave him any credit at all. And he alone has stood firm in his support of real health care reform, even when his own party abandoned him.


When half of our country accepts the huge steaming pile of feces from the GOP that Obama deserves credit for nothing, our future does not look bright. But make no mistake: Democrats are also to blame for this bleak outlook. They deserved to lose the Senate and House because they ran away from Obamacare and the president's amazing record of success; instead of embracing his policies they distanced themselves as fast as their pathetic legs could run. Democrats have fully ceded the territory of reality to Republican fantasy. Need a specific example? The media not long ago touted the story of "Obama's dropping approval ratings" noting that his "approval ratings have plunged to record lows" and have "plummeted" and are "sinking to historic lows." Only one problem with this narrative: it is factually and demonstrably false. Here is the verifiable truth: from January 1, 2014 to October 30, 2014, Obama's approval rating fell from 42.6 percent to 42 percent. The year's peak was 44 percent, and the low of the year was 41 percent. A drop of about one-half of one percent does not constitute numbers that are "plummeting" or "sinking" or even "dropping." Yet the Democrats sit by and let this nonsense flow forth with no fight. And so it goes.

This inability or unwillingness on the part of the Democrats to demand that our political debate be based on fact and reason has given the GOP the odd ability to deny Obama's many and significant successes, or more perversely, take credit for them when they cannot be denied. Our political landscape has been permanently altered by this pull away from reality.

If the Democrats fought, if they supported Obamacare, if they rallied behind the president and his outstanding record of success, if they had demanded reason over false despair, they would likely still control the Senate. But instead they bought into the bogus narrative of the GOP in which Obama is to blame for all our ills and is responsible for none of our gains. I am confident history will treat Obama well; but we should not have had to wait for that verdict when the obvious is right before our very eyes.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Colorado 2, Detroit 1: Wings still stymied by shoot-outs - Detroit Free Press

Berkley Information from Google News - Sun, 12/21/2014 - 9:19pm

Kansas City Star

Colorado 2, Detroit 1: Wings still stymied by shoot-outs
Detroit Free Press
If the close losses hurt, Mike Babcock wasn't sure. "Sometimes you wonder if being close all the time is the best way," he said. "Sometimes when you just lose by a touchdown then you really didn't even get 'er going." And the punches keep coming, the ...
Recap: Detroit vs. ColoradoCharlotte Observer
NHL CapsulesBradenton Herald

all 79 news articles »

Categories: Berkley Area News

Terrorism's Tour de Farce: Sony and Cheney

Huffington Post News - Sun, 12/21/2014 - 7:20pm


By Mark Green

Shrum and Lowry discuss North Korea's film fatwa and Cheney's eagerness to become Mr. Torture. Then: If Nixon recognized China 25 years after its Communist Revolution, why shouldn't Obama do so with Cuba 50 years later? And can the third Bush beat the first woman?

*On Obama and Cuba. Bob thinks it ridiculous to balk at recognizing Cuba after 50 years of a failed policy. "We recognize Communist China but not Cuba? Saudi Arabia but not Cuba?" In any event, "the Castro regime is not going anywhere and the economy has been liberalizing."

Rich distinguishes between Nixon's China opening, "which was a strategic play with the Soviets," adding that: "while people can disagree about the embargo and isolation of Cuba, what did we get in return for recognizing Cuba? Nothing. If the Castros are so popular, why not win an election?"

Rich's phrasing jogged my memory. The Host recalls eight hours of talks with Fidel in Havana in 1987 with a human rights delegation. MG: "El Presidente, if you're so popular, why not allow these human rights groups to publish a newsletter?" FC: "Why waste the paper?" We all prefer elections but apparently authoritarian revolutionaries think differently.

Aren't Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz et. al. like those 1957 De Sotos on the streets of Havana, relics sticking to their heritage and base, which puts them on the wrong side of history in 2016? Rubio even chided the Pope for his role in brokering the deal. Somewhere Hillary is smiling.

Q: After Climate-China, Immigration, now Cuba (and Putin's economic distress), isn't the conservative trope that Obama's a lead-from-behind foreign policy weakling harder to argue? Bob thinks that commentators who wrote Obama off after the Mid-term elections are now being proven wrong. "He's bending the course of history." Rich counters that on other major matters, he has dithered "but after failing at public persuasion and twisting arms on Capitol Hill, he's found something that he is good at -- just issuing unilateral orders."

*On Sony and North Korea. When Jon Stewart last Thursday asked Chris Rock about his new film "Top Five", Rock replied, "First of all, it's very Korean-friendly." Funny... but the problem of North Korea's cyber-terrorism shutting down a Hollywood studio and film is deadly serious.

Bob thinks that a) it was pretty stupid "for Sony to originally green-light a movie about the assassination of an actual head-of-state and not fictionalize it;" but b) once major theater chains refused to show it, "there wasn't much Sony could do." We recall how 23 years ago The Catholic League complained to the Weinstein brothers about a movie "The Pope Must Die", which successfully got a title change to "The Pope Must Diet". Truly.

Rich says Catholic League criticism is one thing, but the hackers ability to destroy the hard drives of Sony and use threats of terrorism to censor the film quite another. He hopes that the company will now figure out a way to distribute it online, losing the $40 million investment but at least taking a principled stand. The audience might exceed Ali-Frazer.

What about the Sorkin-Boies complaint that media outlets should not be publishing stolen emails of non-public people, unlike The Pentagon Papers or Wikileaks? Shrum says that's a fair but irrelevant point. "Once this stuff is out, it will be printed" and distributed. The larger issue now is what the U.S. does to retaliate against the North Koreans and what happens in the future when an adversary hacks into and takes down, say, the Social Security system or a major bank? We three assume that somewhere there are experts figuring out cyber-war protocols for what happens when something beyond a movie is electronically attacked.

*On Cheney on "Meet the Press". In what the Host thinks the greatest example of stonewalling on steroids since Baghdad Bob, what does our panel think of Cheney's defense of the CIA "enhanced interrogation" program? Do we deplore or admire his unflinching willingness to go down in history as Mr. Torture?

Rich is no fan of the Feinstein Report but agrees that, at the margins, the program may have gone too far. But overall, he thinks that basically Cheney is on solid ground and that there's popular support for a program that used these techniques on suspected terrorists after 9/11.

Bob condemns Cheney "for lying us into a war and now lying about torture, since, for example, we did execute Japanese generals for only waterboarding." He doubts recent polling on this since the questions presume that torture worked to get useful information "when we know that it did not, that some information was obtained before any torture occurred and that if polling supported Slavery [in the 1800s], that wouldn't have made it right."

... Not to mention that a) torture is as likely to get bad intel as good; b) its use damages our national reputation and interests around the world; and c) exactly why did we not torture British soldiers in 1781 or Nazis in 1943 but now should do so to suspected terrorists? Are they worse than an enemy in a position to deny all Americans their freedom and an enemy gassing people to death by the millions? The former VP's blithe unconcern in response to Chuck Todd's questions was a near perfect example of how, in the name of patriotism, the means can undermine the goal of keeping America exceptional.

*On Jeb Bush's presidential prospects. Can his strategy of not pandering to the far right in primaries enable him to win the nomination and general election? Bob answers, "I don't know. Until now, the more establishment candidate has won nominations -- Dole, both Bushs, McCain, Romney -- but we may be getting to a tipping point given the Tea Party so that even a Paul or Cruz could be the nominee."

Rich and Bob agree that, other than Immigration and Common Core, Jeb is very conservative and that the string of more "moderate" Establishment nominees may end next time. Rich acknowledges that Jeb has vulnerabilities because he's been out of the game since 2006 (Host: on the "rusty" scale, during this same time one Hillary Clinton ran for Senate, ran for President, and served four years as Secretary of State) and as a major businessman, he's no middle class champion. Then there's no getting around the reality that the Clinton brand beats the Bush brand by 20+ points. "Another President Bush? How'd the last one work out?"

*On Colbert and 2014 "bests." As Colbert ends his nine-year run as a bloviating, smug TV talker, why has he been so phenomenally successful? And while right-wing talk dominates talk radio, why do liberal comics (Colbert, Stewart, Maher, Rock) dominate political comedy? Rich cites his incisive wit, Bob adds that younger audiences on cable skew left. Neither will touch the Host's observation that, since political comedy has to be based on something true so that everyone gets the joke (e.g., O'Reilly is a smug bloviator and climate change and white privilege exist), there's less material for conservatives to play with.

Finally, best books and movies of 2014? Shrum goes with Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century because of its thesis on growing inequality and its wide impact, and then the brilliant Birdman. Lowry loved Daniel Hannon's Inventing Freedom and Rory Kenney's Last Days in Vietnam and Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel.

Then, a miracle consensus. Asked what was the biggest news story of 2014, Rich resisted Jonathan Gruber and Obama once saluting left-handed but instead said it was the fracking boom that would make America shortly energy independent "changing the world's geopolitics of oil"... and Shrumie agreed with him!

On that note of harmony, best for the holidays all. See you next year.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

You can follow him on Twitter @markjgreen

Send all comments to, where you can also listen to prior shows.

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Fortified house slowed rescue efforts in Warren fatal fire - The Macomb Daily

Berkley Information from Google News - Sun, 12/21/2014 - 6:48pm


Fortified house slowed rescue efforts in Warren fatal fire
The Macomb Daily
A police officer on patrol Saturday afternoon saw smoke from a fire coming from this house on Stanley Drive in Warren. Firefighters extinguished the blaze and found the female homeowner on the floor inside. DAVID ANGELL -- FOR THE MACOMB DAILY.
Warren woman killed in house fireDetroit Free Press
Woman killed in Warren house fireWDIV Detroit
Cigarette In Paper-Filled House Blamed For DeathCBS Local

all 18 news articles »

Categories: Berkley Area News

Readout of the Vice President’s Call with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko

News from the White House - Sun, 12/21/2014 - 6:19pm

Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke today about the situation in eastern Ukraine and diplomatic efforts to support the Minsk peace process. They also discussed the financial situation in Ukraine and the government's notable efforts to implement broad reforms. President Poroshenko thanked the United States for enacting additional restrictions on trade and investment with entities in Crimea, and for the President's signing of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014. The Vice President and President Poroshenko discussed progress in assembling a new package of international financial assistance to support Ukraine as it moves forward with its reform program.

Categories: White House News

Man Dressed As Santa Shoots 2 At Detroit Gas Station - CBS Local

Berkley Information from Google News - Sun, 12/21/2014 - 5:42pm

New York Daily News

Man Dressed As Santa Shoots 2 At Detroit Gas Station
CBS Local
DETROIT (WWJ) – A man dressed as Santa shot two people at a gas station Sunday morning in Detroit. Detroit police officials confirmed that the two victims — both 29-year-old men — were recovering from gunshot wounds following the incident at the ...
Man dressed as Santa arrested after two people were shot in downtown DetroitWXYZ
Man in Santa suit shoots 2 at Detroit gas stationMonroe Evening News
Crazy Santa shoots 2 men in Detroit fight over 'Mrs. Claus'New York Daily News
Deadline Detroit
all 25 news articles »

Categories: Berkley Area News

Obama To Nominate Sally Yates To Be Deputy Attorney General

Huffington Post News - Sun, 12/21/2014 - 5:21pm

(Adds cases Yates has worked on as federal prosecutor, names Republicans who oppose Lynch)

By Julia Edwards

HONOLULU, Dec 21 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to announce on Monday that U.S. Attorney Sally Yates will be his nominee for deputy attorney general, the No. 2 position at the Justice Department, a U.S. official said.

Yates, 54, currently serves as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia where she is known as a close ally of outgoing U.S. Attorney Eric Holder's Justice Department.

She is a vocal proponent of Holder's policies on lowering incarceration rates by cutting jail time for low-level drug offenders.

During her time as a federal prosecutor in Georgia, Yates led several high-profile cases, including the successful prosecution of Eric Rudolph, who bombed a building in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics.

Some Republicans, including Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and David Vitter, have threatened to hold up confirmation of the new attorney general, who would oversee Yates, over disagreements with Obama's new immigration policy.

If confirmed, Yates will replace outgoing Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who is leaving in January and has not announced future plans.

The choice of Yates signals that little may change at the Justice Department after Holder leaves the post.

Yates currently serves on Holder's advisory committee of U.S. attorneys under the leadership of Loretta Lynch, Obama's pick to be the next attorney general.

"Their very effective partnership leading the U.S. attorney community will be taken to a whole new level," said U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman, who previously led the committee. (Editing by Eric Walsh)

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Blue Bleeds Too, All Lives Matter

Huffington Post News - Sun, 12/21/2014 - 5:20pm

Today I had to say bye to my father. He was their [sic] for me everyday of my life, he was the best father I could ask for. It's horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer. Everyone says they hate cops but they are the people that they call for help. I will always love you and I will never forget you. RIP Dad.

Jaden Ramos, 13 year old son of slain NYPD Officer Rafael Ramos

Clarity Over Hatred
Like a brief break in a violent storm, there are times when in the wake of
unspeakable loss, there is fragile opportunity for clarity, introspection and the
amelioration of hatred.

At 2:47 P.M. Saturday, two New York City Police Officers Wenjian Liu, 32 and Rafael Ramos, 40 of the 84th precinct were shot to death in a brazen day time "revenge" assassination while in their patrol car on a Brooklyn street in New York's 79 Precinct. Ramos, who with his wife have two sons was about to become a "community crisis" chaplain at Christ Tabernacle Church in Queens. The Daily News has reported that the New York Yankees will pay for the brothers' education. Liu had just been married two months ago.

They are the eighth set of NYPD partners to be killed in the line of duty. There have been 113 line of duty police deaths this year, with 46 from hostile gunfire, up from 30 in 2013. Two Las Vegas police officer partners were gunned down earlier this year by anti-government extremists.

The assailant a 28 year old with a criminal record, shot his former girlfriend earlier Saturday morning in Baltimore County, posted threats on Instagram about previous police shootings, and drove to New York: "I'm putting wings on pigs. They take one of ours, we take two of theirs...This may be my final post."

Revenge and Violence Is Neither Restorative or Moral
On the evening of Dr. Martin Luther Kings assassination Bobby Kennedy's passionate
address to a stunned crowd not only invoked the unspeakable pain from the act of premeditated hate, but the moral response to it:

...[M]y favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forgetfalls drop by drop upon the heart,until, in our own despair,against our will,comes wisdomthrough the awful grace of God.
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

In the 1960s and 1970s the civil rights movement had a schism from the peaceful seeds planted by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King:

Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

Some like the violent Symbionese Liberation Army, Weather Underground, and Black Liberation Army (BLA) rejected Dr. King and sickeningly believed that bombings, assassinations, and kidnapping were morally justified as well as effective tools to implement an egalitarian society. The BLA alone, killed 13 officers coast to coast, and was even suspected of planting a bomb at a church service for a fallen officer. They killed two pairs of NYPD officers, including an African-American in the early 1970s. One BLA associate Assata Shakur, who was convicted of murdering a New Jersey State Trooper lives comfortably in Cuba, while paroled convicted cop killer Kathy Boudin happily teaches at Columbia University.

Like their failed predecessors, the violent political fringes today who burn, loot, and use tragedies and legitimate peaceful protests as a justification to assault and kill police officers are retrograde miscreants. These parasites, who use sincere heartache and calls for reform as vehicles to glorify and incite violence should be called out and condemned by everyone of good will, irrespective of politics. Make no mistake: no bomber, killer or arsonist is ever about dialogue.

Even before this horrendous bloody execution, assaults against police and refrains of "kill pigs" reverberated on the streets, on graffiti and on social media without enough condemnation. Not only have they drowned out those who nobly seek peaceful legal reforms, they have elevated anti-police stereotypes and calls for violence to into a counterfeit, yet quasi acceptable socio-political currency. Property has been destroyed, people injured and now two more families mourn.

Humanitarian Ethos Often Ignored
Despite its flaws, a sometimes tense history and heated rhetoric, there is also a beautiful humanitarian ethos that pervades much of the NYPD. Over 70 law enforcement and 23 NYPD were killed in 9/11 rushing to save others. When I first entered the police academy our instructor Frank Breen, who himself lost an officer brother, taught about everything from art, to deliberation, to courage. He said courage was exemplified not by the movies, but by King Christian of Denmark who when Hitler asked for the Jews to be lined up with armbands was the first to show up.

When I was a young boy I would sometimes go with my grandfather Lothair, who for decades volunteered for the families of fallen officers to an evening of food and entertainment hosted by NYPD Honor Legion. I saw eloquent department chaplains of all faiths and big stars of the day volunteer like Stiller and Meara, Henny Youngman, Regis Philbin as well as talent from Broadway.

My father an American teenaged POW whose life was spared by his Nazi captors because he could do amateur surgery, wanted me to be a doctor so I could survive under any circumstance and help vulnerable people at times of chaos. At these functions I met a dashing young Lieutenant in dressed blues named Mike Scagnelli who for years lovingly doted over every child there. I asked my grandfather who the heck was this guy and what was he doing. My grandfather said he was a hero cop who was committed to the families of fallen officers, and that all his siblings were doctors. I knew from that day that I wanted to be like him and my other relatives who had been in the NYPD.

Forgiveness From Role Model
A year after I became a police officer in July 1986 Steven MacDonald, 29 was shot three times: in the head, throat, and spine. He almost died while questioning a young African-American teenager who was suspected of stealing a bicycle in Central Park. Steven survived, but as a quadriplegic hooked to a ventilator. His wife delivered a beautiful baby boy named Conor shortly thereafter and in 2010, he too joined the NYPD. Steven MacDonald was at the violent end of an interracial police-civilian encounter. However, while physically hobbled, Steven soared following his injury. Instead of falling into an intoxicated mindset of hate and vengeance, Steven publicly forgave his assailant disempowering those who would exploit his tragedy for hate.

The officer and his shooter spoke shortly before the young man was killed in a motorcycle accident, three days out of prison. During his recovery Steven was counseled by NYFD Chaplain Mychal Judge, who later died himself, while administering last rites at the World Trade Center on 9/11. The picture of his ash covered lifeless body being carried by the scene by two firefighters, a police officer and a civilian became an iconic photo of that tragedy.

More Helpers Please
When a police officer is assassinated, it is more than an individual harm. The vitality of a civilized society is be measured in both how we treat not only the weakest and most vulnerable, but also how we honor and protect those who safeguard us as well. That is what made Father Judge so very, very special to New Yorkers especially cops and firemen. The son of Irish immigrants, his compassion radiated across the beautiful patchwork spectrum that was the city: firefighters, cops, alcoholics, victims, the homeless and gay youth.

The late Fred Rogers counseled:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world.

If there is a lesson to be learned from this tragedy, it is that we lost two genuine unsung helpers yesterday, one's that don't fit a negative media stereotype, when we are in desperate need of more contemplative helpers and maybe less impulsive talkers.

Brian Levin is a former NYPD officer

Categories: Political News and Opinion

My Take on Ferguson

Huffington Post News - Sun, 12/21/2014 - 5:13pm

Many protests have taken place and much has been said in the past weeks about Ferguson and race relations in America. Meanwhile, the recent shooting of African-American teenager Akai Gurley in the stairwell of his East New York housing project has been qualified and downplayed because it happened at the hands of a "nervous rookie cop" (see press coverage of event) who entered the stairs with a cocked gun -- as if being a rookie excused gunning down a young black man. This last police-perpetrated homicide hit home particularly strongly with me, because I had read some of my poetry once with a young writer who lived in the same East New York projects--a talented guy with energy, verve and literary flair. I wondered to myself--could he not have been the young man gunned down instead?

While we have made some progress in race relations in this country, the judicial and police systems lag. African-Americans in particular continue to be arrested, sentenced and incarcerated at rates that dwarf those of their white counterparts--even when members of these two groups have committed similar offenses. That such things can go on in 2015 in a country that acquired much of its wealth from the appropriation of Native American wealth and on the back of African-American slaves is simply a disgrace. I don't know that there is much I can add to what has already been said in general terms, except that I felt ashamed listening to President Obama, whom I voted for twice and whose campaign I worked on (and himself an African-American!) when he half-heartedly condemned these events at a press conference, recalling the progress that had been made in race relations "in his own lifetime." No doubt he is right, but that does not excuse the present state of affairs. We have not come far enough.

I had the opportunity of spending a few hours several years back in the downtown Manhattan "tombs" , where people who are arrested are kept before appearing before a judge. This experience was an eye opener as there were literally hundreds of mostly young African American men there. I saw three, perhaps four Caucasians in the whole place. Whites don't commit crimes??? I was able to question two young black men there. Both were clean-cut and well-dressed. I asked simply: why are you here? One came from an immigrant Caribbean family. The police had conducted a search of his apartment looking for pot: they simply knocked on the door and his mom, not knowing that they needed a search warrant, let the police in. They ransacked his room and eventually found a bit of marijuana. I attended a leading mostly white private school on New York's Upper West Side growing up and I can assure you that half the school would have been jailed had their homes been searched in such a way. But the police would never dare attempt to illegally search the homes of affluent whites living on the Upper East Side or in Tribeca or wherever, especially when they might have lawyers for parents or know their rights (not that African Americans don't necessarily know their rights--you get my drift.) The other youth was a tall Ethiopian teenager with an Orthodox cross hanging over a Ralph Lauren/A & F type cardigan. He was rounded up in front of his housing project on the Upper East Side because he was out thirty minutes past curfew kissing his girlfriend. What a crime.

I realize that many factors play a role in the examples I cite above, including the judicial system itself; official versus real life police attitudes, not to mention the law and recent questionable policing techniques implemented in New York City and elsewhere. Some people will tell me that if I was indeed surprised by what I saw that evening in the tombs, then I was naïve beforehand. Perhaps I was. It's not that I didn't know that there were still appalling double standards in how whites and blacks are treated in this country--I just didn't quite realize how crushing the inequality still is. Two or three years later then, I wasn't surprised to hear about Ferguson and other similar recent events. I hope that this short piece contributes in a small way to helping the brave people of all races who are fighting for a freer and fairer America--one where equality and justice exist for all. Amen.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Chris Christie Wants Obama To Demand That Cuba Return Cop Killer To U.S.

Huffington Post News - Sun, 12/21/2014 - 4:50pm

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie disagrees with President Obama's decision to normalize relations with Cuba and wants the president to demand the immediate return of a convicted cop killer from the country "before any further consideration of restoration of diplomatic relations with the Cuban government."

In a letter sent to the White House Friday and made public by his office Sunday, Christie pressed for the return of Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973 during a gunbattle after being stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike. Chesimard was found guilty but escaped from prison and eventually fled to Cuba, where she was granted asylum by Fidel Castro. She is now living as Assata Shakur and is the first woman placed on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List.

Christie said Cuba's decision to grant Chesimard asylum "is an affront to every resident of our state, our country, and in particular, the men and women of the New Jersey State Police, who have tirelessly tried to bring this killer back to justice."

Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the White House's National Security Council, said it will "continue to press in our engagement with the Cuban government for the return of U.S. fugitives in Cuba to pursue justice for the victims of their crimes."

Christie expressed "profound disagreement" with the president's decision, but he said the moment marked an opportunity for Cuba to prove it's serious about change.

"I do not share your view that restoring diplomatic relations without a clear commitment from the Cuban government of the steps they will take to reverse decades of human rights violations will result in a better and more just Cuba for its people," Christie wrote. "However, despite my profound disagreement with this decision, I believe there is an opportunity for Cuba and its government to show the American people it is serious about change."

Christie has generally been reluctant to weigh in on contentious foreign policy issues as he mulls a run for president in 2016.

Other potential Republican candidates, most notably Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have been publicly disputing one another's opposing stances.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Homeless Raise Tent City In Shadow Of Downtown Detroit - CBS Local

Berkley Information from Google News - Sun, 12/21/2014 - 3:23pm

CBS Local

Homeless Raise Tent City In Shadow Of Downtown Detroit
CBS Local
Tents set up for the homeless along Jefferson Ave. in Detroit. (credit: Stephanie Davis/WWJ). Related Tags: detroit, homeless, Tent City. COREY WILLIAMS, Associated Press. DETROIT (AP) — Bankruptcy behind it, Detroit's atmosphere swirls with the ...
Tent city sprouts up in shadow of downtown DetroitLivingston Daily
Tent city sprouts in shadow of downtown DetroitEnquirerherald

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Categories: Berkley Area News

Determined Detroiter awaits blight, trash removal - Detroit Free Press

Berkley Information from Google News - Sun, 12/21/2014 - 2:21pm

Detroit Free Press

Determined Detroiter awaits blight, trash removal
Detroit Free Press
Next door to the southwest Detroit home Richard Brown has lived in for nearly 60 years are the charred ruins of a house that burned down more than a year ago. Across the street is a vacant house, behind which is attached the blackened, wilted remains ...

Categories: Berkley Area News

North Korea Threatens To Attack U.S. If Obama Retaliates Over Sony Hacking

Huffington Post News - Sun, 12/21/2014 - 2:10pm

A top North Korean defense committee threatened attacks on "the White House, the Pentagon and the whole U.S. mainland" if President Barack Obama retaliates over last month's cyberattack on Sony Pictures, according to a statement posted Sunday to the country's official Korean Central News Agency.

"The army and people of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] are fully ready to stand in confrontation with the U.S. in all war spaces including cyber warfare space to blow up those citadels," said the statement, which was attributed to North Korea's top policymaking institution, the National Defense Commission. The statement did not provide further details of the threatened attacks. Pyongyang has a long history of issuing ominous warnings to other nations.

The statement said that President Obama is 'recklessly' spreading rumors about North Korea's involvement in the recent cyberattack on Sony Pictures.

North Korean officials on Friday denied having a part in the Sony hack after the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation released a statement concluding that "the North Korean government is responsible for these actions." Obama said he was considering a proportionate response, including adding North Korea back to the United States' list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Sony canceled its Dec. 25 release of "The Interview," a comedy directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, after hackers threatened to attack screenings of the film, prompting major theater chains to pull it. The movie concerns a fictional assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and reportedly includes a graphic depiction of Kim's head exploding.

In Sunday's statement, the National Defense Commission said it had "clear evidence" that the U.S. government was involved in the making of the film, with the intention of undermining Kim's regime. It's not clear what evidence, if any, exists to support that claim.

The commission praised the hackers for their "righteous action," but added that the hackers acted independently of the regime.

"We do not know who or where they are but we can surely say that they are supporters and sympathizers with [North Korea]," the statement read.

Pyongyang could not resist bragging about the "tremendous losses" to Sony caused by the data breach, in which confidential Sony emails and unreleased movies were posted online. The attack is believed to be one of the most expensive corporate hacks in history.

"One may say this is the due price incurred by wrong deed, the evil act of hurting others," the statement said.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Homeless Persons Memorial Day Honors Dignity, Worth Of People Without Shelter Whom We've Lost

Huffington Post News - Sun, 12/21/2014 - 2:04pm

Sunday marks National Homeless Person's Memorial Day, commemorated on the longest night of the year.

The event and awareness day honors the thousands of homeless people who have died and serves as a reminder of the innumerable hardships and risks people living without shelter face.

Advocates hope that the designated memorial day will encourage health care providers, community organizations, and social service agencies to combine forces in order to more effectively address the needs of this population.

At the same time though, supporters see declaring the names of the dead of equal importance, to remind society of their dignity and worth.

While homelessness is on the decline in the U.S., the more than 578,000 homeless people living without permanent shelter face critical challenges. Homeless individuals face violent attacks and, compared to the general population, are at greater risk for chronic illness, poor mental health, and substance abuse, according to the CDC.

Last year, homeless people experienced a 23 percent surge in targeted attacks compared to the number of assaults in 2012, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH).

One of the drivers of these assaults, experts say, is the criminalization of homelessness.

"Cities continue to crack down on the homeless population by enforcing laws and creating a hostile attitude toward the homeless population," Michael Stoops, NCH director of community organizing, told The Huffington Post in March when the preliminary figures were released.

Now that winter has set in, homeless people are also at a heightened risk of developing hypothermia and freezing to death.

Though hypothermia can set in anywhere between 32 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, many emergency shelters don’t open their doors until well after the thermometer drops to that point, a NCH survey released in February found.

Winter shelters in Des Moines, Iowa, for example, don’t open until the thermometer plummets to 20 degrees.

But people aren't freezing to death just in characteristically frigid places.

In one week last winter, seven homeless people died on the streets in California from possible hypothermia, according to ABC7.

One of those casualties was Joe White, 50, who didn’t want to burden his mother and couldn’t get a spot at a shelter, ABC7 reported.

After waiting for months, the Hayward, California man finally climbed to the second spot on a list for permanent housing.

But he was found dead, likely from hypothermia, before he could get his chance to move indoors.

Several hundred people commemorated their own local version of Homeless Persons Memorial Day on Thursday night in Philadelphia to remember 149 people who were homeless or formerly homeless and died in the last year, reported.

“[When movie stars die, their passing is] ‘mourned by millions,’ The Rev. Domenic Rossi said, according to “[As for the homeless], ‘God remembers them, and in God's name, so do we.’”

Find out more about Homeless Person's Memorial Day and what you can do here.

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Ray Kelly: Bill De Blasio Ran 'Anti-Police Campaign'

Huffington Post News - Sun, 12/21/2014 - 1:05pm

Former New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had contributed to police officers turning against him by running an "anti-police campaign" for mayor in 2013.

Kelly appeared on ABC's "This Week" Sunday to discuss the killing of two NYPD officers. When asked by host George Stephanopoulos if it's fair for critics to partially blame de Blasio for the death of the two cops, Kelly said the mayor had set off a "firestorm" by raising concerns over his son's safety.

“Obviously, there's a lot of emotion involved when two police officers are killed," Kelly said. "When the mayor made statements about how they had to train his son, who is biracial, to be careful when he’s dealing with the police, I think that set off this latest firestorm."

On Saturday, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were shot dead in their squad car by a gunman identified by police as 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley. Brinsley had reportedly posted on social media boasting of his plan to kill two cops in revenge for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police.

The head of the largest police union in New York City, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, accused de Blasio and those protesting the deaths of Brown and Garner of inciting violence that led to Saturday's shooting.

"There's blood on many hands tonight," NYC PBA president Pat Lynch said Saturday. "That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor."

Kelly served as police commissioner from 2002 to 2013, and is a staunch defender of the city's stop and frisk policy -- which de Blasio promised to reform during his mayoral campaign.

"Quite frankly, the mayor ran an anti-police campaign last year when he ran for mayor,” Kelly told ABC.

"You're talking about his opposition to stop and frisk," Stephanopoulos asked. "Is that what you think was anti-police?"

“I think a lot of the rhetoric was -- at a time when the police had a 70 percent approval rating," Kelly replied. "Obviously that’s not the case now."

Kelly's remarks echoed those of former New York Gov. George Pataki (R), who disparaged both the mayor and Attorney General Eric Holder:

Sickened by these barbaric acts, which sadly are a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric of #ericholder & #mayordeblasio. #NYPD

— George E. Pataki (@GovernorPataki) December 21, 2014

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani also criticized de Blasio, accusing him of "allowing protests to get out of control" following a grand jury's decision to not indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo for using a fatal chokehold on Garner.

"If I was in the situation that Mayor de Blasio is in, and I feel sorry that he's in this situation, I would give a speech to the police department and I would explain that maybe I was wrong about a few things," he said during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday."

Giuliani also blamed the murder of the two officers on anti-police propaganda.

"We've had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police," Giuliani said. "I don't care how you want to describe it -- that's what those protests are all about."

Giuliani said that protests across the country after the deaths of Brown and Garner, even if they were peaceful, had led people to think that the police were bad.

"That is completely wrong. Actually, the people who do the most for the black community in America are the police," he said.

Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, de Blasio praised the slain officers and strongly condemned the "heinous individual" responsible for the attack.

"When a police officer is murdered, it tears at the foundation of our society," he said. "It is an attack on all of us. It’s an attack on everything we hold dear."

Read more on the NYPD shooting here.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Cuba Announcement 'A Truly Historic Moment'

Huffington Post News - Sun, 12/21/2014 - 12:54pm

Every week, The WorldPost asks an expert to shed light on a topic driving headlines around the world. Today, we look at the future of U.S.-Cuba relations.

The United States and Cuba announced on Wednesday that they will start talks to restore ties, a landmark announcement given the decades-long hostile relations between the countries.

The announcement came alongside a prisoner swap that includes a Cuban who was arrested on the island while working for American intelligence more than twenty years ago, and the three of the "Cuban Five" who remained jailed in the United States. Cuba also released Alan Gross, an American aid worker who was arrested in Cuba five years ago.

The WorldPost spoke with Julia E. Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations about this week's developments.

Wednesday's announcement was hailed as "historic." But how much does the announcement really change? And how quickly will we start to see change?

The announcement truly was a historic moment, not only for the Americas, but also for Obama’s legacy. The executive action is fairly comprehensive in terms of what he has the power to make happen. It expands general licenses for travel to Cuba, allows travelers to use American credit and debit cards, significantly eases restrictions around remittances, make it easier for Americans to provide support to and help grow the emerging private sector in Cuba, expands commercial sales and exports, and initiates new efforts to increase access to the internet and other telecommunications services, among other important changes. Obama and Castro are also going to convert the existing interest sections into embassies in Havana and Washington and name ambassadors.

On the travel end, which I think has been the most confusing part for a lot of people, American visitors to Cuba will no longer have to go through cumbersome bureaucratic processes prior to their travel to the island. All they have to do is sign a document saying what they’re going to be doing in Cuba and then go. And that is a huge difference. It does not lift the travel ban because it doesn't permit tourism, but it does streamline travel and will help it grow quite substantially.

As far as how quickly these changes will take root, I think diplomatic ties will move fairly rapidly. The assistant U.S. secretary of state for Latin America, Roberta S. Jacobson, is leading a delegation to Cuba in January for immigration talks and to further conversations about diplomatic relations. However, the implementation of new economic openings is going to take some time. Various agencies will have to write and roll out regulations, which, of course, means bureaucracy and at least some politics. Though, I suspect that, given the Summit of the Americas in April and the upcoming shift in Congress, a lot of the regulatory framework that is needed to ease trade and travel restrictions is probably close to complete if not fully ready for primetime. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker already seems to be organizing a business delegation to Cuba, and I suspect Barack Obama and John Kerry will both make it to the island over the next two years. Can’t get more historic than that.

Will the embargo be lifted as well? And if so, when do you think that will happen?

Implementation of the steps the president announced Wednesday will create their own political momentum, not only in the United States and Cuba, but also in the U.S. Congress. However, officially lifting the embargo is an entirely different process that has to go through Congress due to the Helms-Burton Act signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996. Though we are on the verge of having a Republican majority in Congress, pollsters now see that 60 percent of Americans, including those in Florida, support the kinds of changes Obama announced on Wednesday. Staunchly supporting the embargo is getting less politically tenable, and both parties, yes even the GOP, are beginning to recognize that.

I think the expectation with Obama’s executive order is that it will help grow certain kinds of trade and investment in, for example, construction, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and telecommunications. This kind of investment, restoring diplomatic lines of communication, getting more Americans down to Cuba, and allowing banking services and credit cards – sort of laying the scaffolding to ultimately shift opinion inside Congress – will help create the political space to push for a full nullification of Helms-Burton to lift the embargo. Though, I do think that will take some time.

What concessions did the U.S. and Cuba have to make respectively to make this agreement happen?

I think the biggest negotiation that compelled these talks was the Alan Gross situation and the imprisonment of the remaining three of the Cuban Five, the intelligence officers who penetrated into the United States in the 1990s and were imprisoned in American jails. For Raul Castro, and even before his presidency, getting the rest of the Cuban Five back was a huge foreign policy priority. On the other hand, U.S. government officials repeatedly warned that if anything ever happened to Gross, reestablishing relations would be near impossible. I think a breakthrough in negotiations came when the Cuban government agreed to release Gross on humanitarian grounds, and exchange Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, an intelligence officer who the Cubans had been holding for the last twenty years or so, for the remaining three of the Cuban Five. It unlocked the policy changes the president announced on Wednesday.

There were also a number of other areas of compromise to get to where we are now. Raul agreed to release 53 political prisoners, all of whom were given the choice of staying in Cuba or leaving, rather than being given exile as their only option, and the Cuban government agreed to allow American telecommunications providers to help build the infrastructure that they need to increase broadband access, which is very low, perhaps even the lowest in Latin America. The Cubans also agreed to allow ICRC visits to the island, and they haven’t been there since the late 80s I believe.

Of course, a number of outstanding issues were not agreed upon during these conversations. For example, the U.S. government would not end its democracy promotion programs – a la the infamous Cuban Twitter – despite Cuban protest and did not include negotiation of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in the conversations.

How have Cubans reacted to the announcement?

As far as I’ve seen, across Cuba, the reaction has been very favorable. Even sharp critics of the government -- like dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez -- view the changes with a degree skepticism, but also as potentially beneficial to the country. In her editorial the other day in the New York Times she wrote, “For everyone, a new era has begun. We cannot confirm that it will be better, but at least it will be different.” There seems to be euphoria around the island, a lot of expectations, and the Cuban blogosphere is full of fascinating analysis about what this will mean for the country. I think most Cubans on the island are at least relieved, and definitely filled with anticipation for what’s to come.

Categories: Political News and Opinion