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Cuba’s President Castro Sends Positive Signals to the New Obama Administration

The Obama administration has taken note of remarks both by Cuban President Raul Castro and by his brother, former President Fidel Castro, expressing, in part, positive sentiments about Barack Obama and the significance of his presidency, according to a senior State Department official. Both Castros, using somewhat different language, have said they view Obama as intelligent and sincere in wanting to change U.S. foreign policy and see his presidency as historic.

The Castros’ remarks have come since the U.S. election and have continued occasionally in interviews, comments to the media, and, in the case of Fidel Castro, his frequent articles in the Cuban press. “I think the statements are important. They’ve registered,” said the State Department official.

U.S. policy toward Cuba, including the various restrictions that flow from a 47-year-old economic embargo, will be reviewed by Obama administration agencies. During the campaign, Obama said that he intended to remove restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba by Cuban-Americans and that he favored well-prepared “direct diplomacy” with the island’s communist government.

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The foreign secretary, David Miliband, today argues that the use of the “war on terror” as a western rallying cry since the September 11 attacks has been a mistake that may have caused “more harm than good”.

In an article in today’s Guardian, five days before the Bush administration leaves the White House, Miliband delivers a comprehensive critique of its defining mission, saying the war on terror was misconceived and that the west cannot “kill its way” out of the threats it faces.

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WASHINGTON — Advisers to President-elect Barack Obama say one of his first duties in office will be to order the closing of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay. That executive order is expected during Obama’s first week on the job _ and possibly on his first day, according to two transition team advisers. Both spoke Monday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

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 After a couple of presidential terms, mismanagement in every area of policy — foreign, domestic, even extraterrestrial — starts to add up. When George W. Bush entered the White House in January 2001, he inherited peace and prosperity. The military, the Constitution and New Orleans were intact and the country had a budget surplus of $128 billion. Now he’s about to dash out the door, leaving a large, unpaid bill for his successors to pay.

To get a sense of what kind of balance is due, Salon spoke to experts in seven different fields. Wherever possible, we have tried to express the damage done in concrete terms — sometimes in lives lost, but most often just in money spent and dollars owed. What follows is an incomplete inventory of eight years of mis- and malfeasance, but then a fuller accounting would run, um, somewhat longer than three pages.

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The International Committee of the Red Cross on Thursday accused Israel of delaying ambulance access to the Gaza Strip and demanded it grant safe access for Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances to return to evacuate more wounded. Relief workers said they found four starving children sitting next to their dead mothers and other corpses in a house in a part of Gaza City bombed by Israeli forces, the Red Cross said on Thursday. “This is a shocking incident,” said Pierre Wettach, ICRC chief for Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The news of families and children found starved to death and some lying next to the corpses nearly dead was reported today on the Jim Lehrer News Hour. But also today the U.S. Senate voted to support the Israeli invasion and occupation of Gaza. What kind of barbarians rule our country and occupy our Senate building? Surely some of them heard this news. Is Jimmy Carter the only politician in America to admit and condemn the starvation genocide in Gaza? The only solution is revolution. We need a global, interconnected, coordinated revolution, uniting all the moralists in every country, who will stop the atrocities and human rights violations in every country simultaneously. I do not know what form that revolution will take. But tell me, is there any other way to stop the genocide of Gaza, to stop other genocides taking place around the world? Political leaders will never care for justice. It is the common people who must stop being sheep, and who must rise to the clarion call of the Almighty to organize a global revolution to build a new world on the ashes of the old. There is no alternative. – Garda Ghista

The Iranian businessman was looking for high-quality American electronics, but he had to act stealthily: The special parts he coveted were denied to Iranians, especially those seeking to make roadside bombs to kill U.S. troops in Iraq.

With a few e-mails, the problem was solved. A friendly Malaysian importer would buy the parts from a company in Linden, N.J., and forward them to Iran. All that was left was coming up with a fake name for the invoice. Perhaps a Malaysian engineering school? “Of course, you can use any other company as end-user that you think is better than this,” the Iranian businessman, Ahmad Rahzad, wrote in an e-mail dated March 8, 2007.

The ruse succeeded in delivering nine sensors called inclinometers to Iran, the first of several such shipments that year and the latest example of what U.S. officials and weapons experts describe as Iran’s skillful flouting of export laws intended to stop lethal technology from reaching the Islamic republic.

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Remember Lee  Iacocca, the man who rescued Chrysler Corporation from its death throes?  He’s now 82 years old and has a new book, ‘Where Have All The Leaders Gone?’.

 

Lee Iacocca Says: 

‘Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder! We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, ‘Stay the course.’

 

Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned, ‘Titanic’. I’ll give you a sound bite: ‘Throw all the bums out!’

 

You might think I’m getting senile, that I’ve gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore.

The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we’re fiddling in  Iraq , the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving ‘pom-poms’ instead of asking hard questions. That’s not the promise of the ‘America’ my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I’ve had enough. How about you?

 

I’ll go a step further. You can’t call yourself a patriot if you’re not outraged. This is a fight I’m ready and willing to have. The Biggest ‘C’ is Crisis! (Iacocca elaborates on nine C’s of leadership, with crisis being the first.)

 

Leaders are made, not born. Leadership is forged in times of crisis. It’s easy to sit there with your feet up on the desk and talk theory. Or send someone else’s kids off to war when you’ve never seen a battlefield yourself. It’s another thing to lead when your world comes tumbling down.

 

On September 11, 2001, we needed a  strong leader more than any other time in our history. We needed a steady hand to guide us out of the ashes. A hell of a mess, so here’s where we stand.

 

We’re immersed in a bloody war with no plan for winning and no plan for leaving. 

We’re running the biggest deficit in the history of the country.

 

We’re losing the manufacturing edge to Asia,

 

 while our once-great companies are getting slaughtered by health care costs. 

Gas prices are skyrocketing, and nobody in power has a coherent energy policy.

 Our schools are in trouble. 

Our borders are like sieves. 

 

The middle class is being squeezed every which way.

 

These are times that cry out for leadership

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But when you look around, you’ve got to ask: ‘Where have all the leaders gone?’ Where are the curious, creative communicators? Where are the people of character, courage, conviction, omnipotence, and common sense?

 

 I may be a sucker for alliteration, but I think you get the  point.

Name me a leader who has a better idea for homeland security than making us take off our shoes in airports and throw away our shampoo?

 

We’ve spent billions of dollars building a huge new bureaucracy, and all we know how to do is react to things that have already happened.

 

Name me one leader who emerged from the crisis of Hurricane Katrina. Congress has yet to spend a single day evaluating the response to the hurricane or demanding accountability for the decisions that were made in the crucial hours after the storm. 

 

Everyone’s hunkering down, fingers crossed, hoping it doesn’t happen again. Now, that’s just crazy. Storms happen. Deal with it. Make a plan. Figure out what you’re going to do the next time.

 

Name me an industry leader who is thinking creatively about how we can restore our competitive edge in manufacturing. Who would have believed that there could ever be a time when ‘The Big Three’ referred to Japanese car companies? How did this happen, and more important, what are we going to do about it?

Name me a government leader who can articulate a plan for paying down the debt, or solving the energy crisis, or managing the health care problem. The silence is deafening. But these are the crises that are eating away at our country and milking the middle class dry.

 

I have news for the gang in Congress. We didn’t elect you to sit on your asses and do nothing and remain silent while our democracy is being hijacked and our greatness is being replaced with mediocrity. What is everybody so afraid of?

 

That some bonehead on Fox News will call them a name? Give me a break. Why don’t you guys show some spine for a change?

 

Had Enough? Hey, I’m not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom here.  I’m trying to light a fire. I’m speaking out because I have hope – I believe in America. In my lifetime, I’ve had the privilege of living through some of  America ‘s greatest moments. I’ve also experienced some of our worst crises: The ‘Great Depression,’ ‘World War  II,’ the ‘Korean War,’ the ‘Kennedy Assassination,’ the ‘Vietnam War,’ the 1970’s oil crisis, and the struggles of recent years culminating with 9/11.

 

If I’ve learned one thing, it’s this: ‘You don’t get anywhere by standing on the sidelines waiting for somebody else to take action. Whether it’s building a better car or building a better future for our children, we all have a role to play. That’s the challenge I’m raising in this book. It’s a “Call to Action” for people who, like me, believe in America’. It’s not too late, but it’s getting pretty close. So let’s shake off the crap and go to work. Let’s tell ’em all we’ve had ‘enough.’

 

Make your own contribution by sending this to everyone you know and care about. It’s our country, folks, and it’s our future. Our future is at stake!!

 

AMEN!

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) — The U.N. Security Council late Thursday overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.

Fourteen of the council’s 15 members voted in favor of the resolution, with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice abstaining from the vote on behalf of the United States.

The resolution expresses “grave concern” about the growing humanitarian crisis and heavy civilian casualties in Gaza, as well as civilian deaths in Israel from Hamas rocket fire.

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The Venezuelan government reversed course Wednesday, announcing that its US oil subsidiary would continue to provide free home heating oil to poor Americans two days after the government announced that the program had been suspended.

Venezuelan government officials wasted no time in reinstating the program, which saved some 180,000 US households around $260 apiece in 2008. That covered about one month’s heating bill.

Among the beneficiaries of the 100 gallons of heating oil per household were 65 Indian tribes, including those in Alaska, Montana, and South Dakota.

Alejandro Granado, the chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Citgo Petroleum, the Venezuelan government’s Houston-based oil subsidiary, said he discussed the plan to renew the program with Chávez on Wednesday morning.

Pretty sad when America can’t take care of it’s own

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The Democratic leadership’s strident support for the ongoing Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip underscores how the Democrats suffer from the same illusions as the outgoing Republican administration: that placing an Arab territory under debilitating sanctions that punish the population as a whole, bombarding heavily populated civilian areas — resulting in widespread casualties among innocent people — and invading and occupying territories with a long history of resistance to outsiders will somehow lead to greater moderation from those afflicted. 

The reality is that Israel’s war against Hamas and the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip is no more likely to result in more rational and compromising positions from the Palestinian side than the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel will lead to more rational and compromising positions from the Israelis. 

As a result, the hard-line militaristic position of the Democratic Party does not bode well for a more enlightened Middle East policy after eight disastrous years under President George W. Bush. 

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President George W. Bush is giving the nation’s highest civilian award to three foreign leaders who have been among his most loyal partners on the world stage, particularly in the Iraq war.

Bush is awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and to two former leaders: former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Bush is conferring the prestigious award on his friends in an East Room ceremony on Jan. 13 — exactly one week before he leaves office, White House press secretary Dana Perino said Monday.

“The president is honoring these leaders for their work to improve the lives of their citizens and for their efforts to promote democracy, human rights and peace abroad,” she said. “All three leaders have been staunch allies of the United States, particularly in combating terrorism.”

A travesty to the Medal of Freedom…..but we all know that Bush has no problem with embarassing the US and disrespecting the American Tradition..

News outfits are reporting that Leon Panetta has been tapped by President-elect Barack Obama to take over the Central Intelligence Agency.

It’s an unusual choice, for Panetta, a former Democratic congressman who became President Bill Clinton’s budget chief and then his White House chief of staff, has no direct intelligence experience, and the CIA in previous decades has been rather unwelcoming to outsiders. (Obama’s first pick for the spy chief slot, John Brennan, a career CIA officer, withdrew his name, after bloggers and others raised questions about his involvement in the agency’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation programs.) Panetta, if confirmed, will work closely with retired Admiral Dennis Blair, Obama’s choice to be director of national intelligence.

Panetta is an even-tempered and highly regarded Washington player–kind of a Mr. Fixit in a nice suit. He is also a zero-tolerance critic of the use of torture, and he considers waterboarding–a tactic used by the CIA–to be torture. A year ago, he wrote in The Washington Monthly:

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The Promise of Change was central to Barack Obama’s presidential election. It also played well abroad to a global populace that was largely critical of US policy in Iraq and its handling of suspected terrorists, according to polls. Expectations for a new approach are high.

But Can Obama restore US prestige abroad?

In many places, Obama’s election has already reversed a deep pessimism, according to foreign-policy analysts, ambassadors, and intellectuals interviewed. Some American diplomats say that, despite problems that would be serious without a global financial crisis, they are optimistic, guardedly, for the first time in years. Obama does not have a long track record of foreign policy experience. But he represents an opening abroad for something new. The intelligence with which the Obama team organized the campaign and outlasted formidable opponents is not lost on foreign elites. Europeans say Obama “gets” the globalized world, and his biography gives him some unique insights.

“Obama is the most global, multilateral president we’ve had in a century,” argues Ronald Asmus, director of the German Marshall Fund in Brussels, “and he will change the direction of US foreign policy.”

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— Iraq, the holder of the world’s third-largest oil reserves, has opened nearly 90 percent of its reserves to international oil companies for development in two major bidding rounds this year as the war-plagued country tries to raise money amid falling oil prices.

Iraq, with at least 115 billion barrels in reserves, plans to add 4 million to 4.5 million barrels a day to its current 2.4 million barrels per day capacity over the next four to six years as it tries to rebuild its infrastructure and develop its economy.

On Wednesday, Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani kicked off the country’s second postwar bidding round, naming 11 oil and gas fields or groups of fields as eligible for development proposals.

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These consistent acts by the US over the past several decades do add up……

(CNN) — The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting Saturday, but failed to agree on a statement in response to Israel’s ground offensive launched in Gaza.

Arab nations blamed the United States for blocking a consensus.

“We shared our view in the root cause … that is Hamas continues the rocket attacks and violence,” said U.S. envoy Alejandro Wolff. He said the United States, a permanent council member with veto power, is seeking a sustainable cease-fire in Gaza — “that means no more rocket attacks, no more smuggling bombs.

“We were not able to come to an agreement today,” Wolff said.

Libyan Ambassador Giadalla Ettalhi, who circulated a draft resolution on the crisis at a Security Council meeting last week, said the proposal, which “strongly condemns Israeli military action” and calls on the Jewish state to immediately cease “military attacks against the civilian population,” had wide support among Council members.

“Unfortunately, the delegation of the United States a clear position that is against any product or outcome from this meeting,” Ettalhi said.

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