Friday, December 10, 2010

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Bill Clinton implores Democrats to back tax deal

Barack Obama, Bill Clinton AP – President Barack Obama looks on as former President Bill Clinton speaks in the briefing room of the White …
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WASHINGTON – Bill Clinton implored Democrats to back the tax-cut deal that President Barack Obama negotiated with Republicans as the former president made a surprise appearance with Obama in the White House briefing room Friday — and later took over the podium.
"I don't believe there is a better deal out there," Clinton told reporters who'd been summoned at a moment's notice to see the former chief executive back the current one. Clinton and Obama had just finished a private meeting in the Oval Office.
Obama said it was a "terrific meeting" and then yielded to Clinton. The voluble former president took it away, and Obama left part-way through his remarks, saying he had holiday parties to attend. Clinton not only provided an economic tutorial but riffed on several topics, including the need for the Senate to ratify a U.S.-Russia nuclear treaty.
"Both sides are going to have to eat some things they don't like," Clinton told reporters about the tax deal. "We don't want to slip back into a recession. We've got to keep this thing going and accelerate its pace. I think this is the best available option."
The pact would extend cuts in income tax rates for all earners that would otherwise expire next month, renew long-term jobless benefits and trim Social Security taxes for one year. A number of liberal Democrats say it gives away too much to Republicans, and a provision that's particularly irksome to Democrats cuts estate taxes for the wealthiest Americans.
Nonetheless the measure appears headed for Senate approval after negotiators added a few relatively modest sweeteners to promote ethanol and other forms of alternative energy. It's unclear whether House Democrats, who are most opposed, will be able to demand changes that go much further.
Clinton gave the package his full-throated endorsement, even while noting that he opposes the extension of upper-income tax cuts — though he himself will benefit from it.
"I personally believe this is a good deal and the best he could have gotten under the circumstances," Clinton said, urging fellow Democrats to support it.
"If I was in office now, I would have done what the president has done," he said.
Clinton, whose focus on the economy helped get him elected in 1992, said he spends about an hour a day studying up on it and trying to figure out what to do about it. He said the proposal to trim Social Security taxes is the "single most effective tax cut" to support economic activity and create jobs. "I expect it to lower the unemployment rate and keep us going," he said.
"In my opinion, this is a good bill and I hope that my fellow Democrats will support it," Clinton said. "I think this is a much, much better agreement than would be reached were we to wait until January."

Cuba's Economy May Be `Fatal' in 2 Years, U.S. Cable Says

Cuban President Raul Castro
Cuban President Raul Castro. Photographer: Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images
Cuba’s economic and financial situation may become “fatal” within two to three years as the Communist island-nation has been slow to respond to the global financial crisis and accumulates foreign debt, a confidential U.S. diplomatic cable said.
The cable, released yesterday by WikiLeaks, cited Italian diplomats as saying that Cuba may “become insolvent as early as 2011.” It was sent in February before President Raul Castro announced plans to cut more than 500,000 state jobs in a bid to reduce inefficiencies.
The cable described a breakfast hosted by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana for diplomats from most of Cuba’s main trading partners, including China, Spain, Canada, Brazil and Italy. France and Japan, among the country’s largest creditors, were also present.
“All diplomats agreed that Cuba could survive this year without substantial policy changes, but the financial situation could become fatal within 2 to 3 years,” the cable said. “Promised structural reforms remain on hold while the Cuban government wrings its hands in indecision, fearful of the political consequences of these long-overdue changes.”
Chinese diplomats at the breakfast objected with “visible exasperation” to what they said was the Cuban government’s insistence that it have a majority stake in all joint ventures with foreign businesses on the island, according to the cable.
“This is another one of the famous predictions that the U.S. government has made for 50 years to try to discredit the revolution and the Cuban government,” Alberto Gonzalez, spokesman for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, said in a telephone interview.
Cuba’s economy is suffering its worst slump since the former Soviet Union ended its support in the 1990s. The government stopped making debt payments to foreign countries and companies, according to the cable.
WikiLeaks, an organization that publishes secret documents on its website, last week began posting what it says are more than 250,000 State Department cables. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Nov. 29 the disclosures could hurt negotiations and endanger individuals.
State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson said Nov. 28 the agency won’t comment on specific documents.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jens Erik Gould in Mexico City at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at

On This International Human Rights Day

The Castro regime is determined to show it's one of the world's worst offenders.
Last night, over 50 of the Ladies in White marched to commemorate International Human Rights Day.

In one of the most appalling irony's of the year, upon arriving at Martin Luther King Park in Havana, the Ladies were confronted by a regime mob -- they were harassed and physically assaulted.
Thus, leaving it clear -- once again -- where the Castro regime stands on the issue of human rights and dignity.

Meanwhile, 11 of the 52 political prisoners announced for release in July remain imprisoned (two month's past the November 7th deadline) because they refuse to accept forced exile as a pre-condition.

And Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega is apparently on vacation.

UPDATE: A repressive crackdown on dissent has consumed the island. Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez is compiling a list of all those activists arrested this morning, including Darsi Ferrer and Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez."

A Wikileak Worth Reading Very Carefully

Thursday, December 9, 2010
This cable is a must-read for three reasons:

1. Most of Cuba's trading partners believe that the Castro regime's so-called "reforms" are bogus.

2. Some believe that the regime could become insolvent by 2011 -- all believe in 2-3 years max.

3. Even China concurs.

Here are some excerpts:


1. (C) SUMMARY: There is little prospect of economic reform in 2010 despite an economic crisis that is expected to get even worse for Cuba in the next few years, according to key commercial specialists, economic officers and Cuba-watchers in Havana. Promised structural reforms remain on hold while the Cuban government wrings its hands in indecision, fearful of the political consequences of these long-overdue changes. The one potentially significant reform implemented in 2009, the leasing of idle land, has not been effective. The Cuban government (GOC) could be forced to speed up reforms in the event of a significant reduction of assistance from an increasingly unstable Venezuela. Otherwise, the GOC will continue to prioritize military-led control and aim for a slow, measured pace of reform focused on agriculture and import substitution. The Cuban people have grown accustomed to tough times and will respond to future government belt tightening with similar endurance. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) Pol/Econ Counselor hosted a breakfast with commercial and economic counselors from six of Cuba's seven largest trading partners, including China, Spain, Canada,(the U.S.), Brazil and Italy, plus key creditors France and Japan. These countries also represent most of the foreign companies investing in Cuba, with the notable exception of Venezuelan state-owned enterprises.


3. (C) The global financial crisis and the inability to service foreign debt will make the dire situation in Cuba even worse in 2010, according to EU diplomats. Brazil was a bit more optimistic noting that Cuba can still withstand more economic hardship. All diplomats agreed that Cuba could survive this year without substantial policy changes, but the financial situation could become fatal within 2-3 years. Italy said GOC contacts had suggested Cuba would become insolvent as early as 2011.


5. (C) Payment problems continue for all countries. Despite once again restructuring all of its official debt in 2009, Japan has yet to see any payments. Even China admitted to having problems getting paid on time and complained about Cuban requests to extend credit terms from one to four years. When France and Canada responded with "welcome to the club", China suggested Canada help secure payment from a Cuban joint venture that includes Canadian firm Sherritt International which is now reportedly receiving its share of profits.

--------------------------------------------- ---

6. (C) Foreign investors have been treated poorly in Cuba and new investors will demand additional protections and guarantees, according to the French. The Chinese complained that the GOC's insistence on keeping majority control of all joint ventures makes no sense. "No matter whether a foreign business invests $10 million or $100 million, the GOC's investment will always add up to 51%," China's commercial counselor said in visible exasperation. He noted a joint venture to produce high-yield rice that produced a good first harvest but was not sustainable at the GOC-mandated prices. Brazilian investors are taking a longer term view on returns, however, noting some success in raising capital for the refurbishment of the port at Mariel.


7. (C) Despite the grave analysis, none of our contacts foresee meaningful economic reform in 2010. Immediate reform is neither necessary nor politically advisable since it has the potential of being too politically "destabilizing," said the Brazilian. Even reforms openly supported in the official press late last year (Ref A), such as the ending of the food ration system, are now on hold due to the initial negative public reaction. Any discussions around Chinese-style reforms, particularly regarding foreign investment, have been difficult and "a real headache" according to the Chinese. The French said the GOC will not act until its face is up against the wall and it runs out of options, which is not yet the case in spite of all the challenges. One cited example of the GOC's hesitancy is that all proposals for micro-credit programs coveted by the Ministry of Foreign Investment require the Council of State's approval. To date, only one small project by the Spanish has been approved with little success.


8. (C) The Spanish see future reforms determined by two factors: 1) foreign pressure that is outside of the regime's control; and 2) domestic pressure developed after a consensus is reached through internal discussions. All our colleagues agreed that Venezuela is the most important and "increasingly complicated" foreign variable. Without Venezuelan support, the GOC would have to enact significant reforms similar to those that enabled the regime to survive through the Special Period of the early 1990s (Ref B), according to the Spanish. The view from the French is that Venezuela "es en flames" and a source of serious concern for Cuba.

Read more at the Realcubablog ...

WikiLeaks: Diplomats referred to the Cuban economy as "fatal"
Dec. .10 - Diplomats from several countries said Cuba's economic situation could become "fatal" within two to three years while a Chinese diplomat groused that discussing reforms with the Cuban government was "a real headache," according to a purported U.S. cable obtained by WikiLeaks and published on Thursday by the Spanish newspaper El Pais.
The cable was written in February, before the communist-led government announced significant economic reforms in September.
It chronicled a breakfast meeting hosted by a U.S. diplomat for economic and commercial counselors from China, Spain, Canada, Brazil, Italy, France and Japan.

WikiLeaks: Spain's current Foreign Minister referred to Chávez as a "clown"
Dec. .10 - According to diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks, the current Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jiménez considers that Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez is a "clown" that "lives in another world."  In another occasion she said that Chávez is "a beast, but not stupid."
Spanish Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero told American diplomats that Venezuela under Chávez is a "disaster."
Spanish diplomats told their American counterparts that the visits that Chávez made to Spain in 2005 was at the "strong insistence of Chávez" and that the one in 2009 was because "he invited himself."
The U.S. Embassy cables also point to Zapatero's disdain for Castro and his regime and emphasized that the Spanish prime minister has refused to meet with him. Noticias24 (Spanish)
The Ladies in White harassed by pro-government thugs on the eve of International Human Rights Day
Dec. .10 - About five dozen members of the Ladies in White and their supporters held one of their customary protests on the eve of International Human Rights Day, leaving from the home of leader Laura Pollan and marching to a public park.
A crowd followed and harangued the women, calling them "worms" and "traitors." "Viva la revolucion!" they shouted, and "This street belongs to Fidel!" 
When the march ended back at Pollan's home, the pro-government crowd melted away.  WashingtonPost
"Let's play hardball"
Dec. .8 - Miami Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was named chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, giving her more power to shape U.S. policy on Cuba, Iran, foreign aid and much else.
Her elevation, approved by Republican colleagues, likely spells doom for attempts by many in Congress to loosen the U.S. embargo of Cuba and allow tourists to legally visit the island.
The long-standing critic of the Castro regime favors a confrontational policy when dealing with adversaries and strongly opposes President Obama’s attempt to engage in discussions to try to settle differences.
“Rogue regimes never respond to anything less than hardball,” she said on Wednesday.
She made her worldview clear: “Isolate and hold our enemies accountable, while supporting and strengthening our allies. I support strong sanctions and other penalties against those who aid violent extremists, brutalize their own people, and have time and time again rejected calls to behave as responsible nations.”  Sun-Sentinel
Drunk Canadian "tourist" returning from Cuba threatens to shoot fly attendants
Dec. .8 - Hysteria erupted on a plane full of Canadians Wednesday when a drunk man, heading home after visiting Cuba, threatened to shoot flight attendants with a handgun after they stopped serving him drinks.
“He was cut off from further alcohol consumption as a result of his behavior, which essentially catapulted him in terms of his aggression,” said Windsor Police Staff Sgt. Mike Langlois. “He made a threat to one of the stewardesses with respect to shooting them with a 9 mm handgun.”
The 58-year-old Windsor man is facing a charge of uttering death threats.
Windsor police said the man started causing trouble about midway between Varadero, Cuba and Windsor.
Sgt. Langlois said the man got “unruly” and made derogatory sexual comments to flight attendants.
The pilot, co-pilot and flight attendant manager were informed of the situation.
A flight attendant told him he wasn’t allowed to have any more booze.
“He made reference to shooting her with his 9 mm,” said Sgt. Langlois. “He wasn’t happy about being cut off and he made reference to wanting to shoot them. That caused a bit of hysteria within the plane.”
The pilot radioed ahead for police help. When the plane landed at 6:50 p.m., officers were waiting for him. National Post
International Human Rights Day in Cuba (Updated)
Dec. .10 - 3:30 PM Spanish newspaper El Pais is reporting that dozens of dissidents have been arrested, to prevent them from participating in the commemoration of the International Human Rights Day.
El Pais reports that the Ladies in White split into several groups and went to the different prisons where their relatives are being held.The Spanish newspaper also mentions the arrest of Dr. Darsi Ferrer and his wife, that we reported earlier.
12:15 PM Yoani Sánchez is reporting that all students at her son's school, Jose Miguel Perez, are being sent to Parque Villalón (Villalon Park) to hold a repudiation meeting against the dissidents who were planning to march on Human Rights Day.
Dr. Darsi Ferrer and his wife Yusmaini were on their way to Parque Villalón when they were arrested.
The Ladies in White are also marching in Havana.
11:30 AM Darsi Ferrer and his wife have been arrested when they left their home to participate in a march in commemoration of International Human Rights Day.
Dozens of other arrests are being reported.
11:15 AM Cuban dissident Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antunez" and a friend reportedly arrested. Yoani Sánchez reports of score  of dissidents arrested in several provinces.  More information as it becomes available.
At 10:55 AM, Yoani Sánchez informed via her Twitter account that the Ladies in White were getting ready to begin marching in Havana to commemorate the International Human Rights Day.
According to Yoani, dozens of University of Havana students have been taken from class and assembled in front of the University to harass the women when they get near there.

AWARD | European Parliament...

Cuba tries to stop Fariñas leave the island to collect the Sakharov Prize

El disidente cubano Guillermo Fariñas, en su casa. | AfpCuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, at home. | Afp
  • Is a psychologist and journalist founder of the agency Cubanacan Press
  • Fariñas has been honored for his freedom of conscience
The Cuban regime has not succumbed to international pressure and continues to unauthorized departure from the island to Guillermo Fariñas prevent dissident collect the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday.
Socialist sources said, the award will be granted 'in absentia because Havana has given to activate the "permit exit. "plans, according to the PSOE, is that Fariñas send your address to Strasbourg and contact on Wednesday with full video-conferencing or by telephone. Farina was also invited on Monday to other meetings with MEPs to which, it seems, will never come.
The dissident's mother, Mercedes Hernandez has Europa Press reported that the Cuban Government has begun procedures for the issuance of exit permits for the island to Farinas thus assumes that you can not go.
However, the Parliament continues to press and no notification Sakharov official that this year will not attend. Still expected to  dissenting, that got a ticket for Sunday and is awaiting only the permit scheme.  Popular sources indicate that "we have to wait until Monday", if it shows "pessimistic" about the chances of seeing Fariñas in Strasbourg.
Jerzy Buzek, president of the Parliament today sent a letter to Cuban President Raul Castro, asking him to help the opponent, journalist and psychologist  has made several hunger strikes to protest the lack of freedom on the island.
A gesture to improve relations between Cuba and the EU.
"The presence of Fariñas would be greatly appreciated by MEPs and European citizens. I sincerely believe that unless your trip could have a positive impact not only in our camera, but in relations between Cuba and the EU " writes the Polish Buzek, opposition to the former communist regime in country and member of the European People's Party, which sponsored a Fariñas for the award.
Buzek was elected on December 10, International Day Human Rights, to send his letter of appeal rather than demand. "In the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, I beg of you and  Cuban authorities to grant permission to the Lord Fariñas to travel to Strasbourg, "he says.
Complaint of the Spanish Socialists in the third Sakharov Cuban dissidents.
The award ceremony and the presence of dissident is another source of friction between the PSOE and the PP in the Parliament. The Spanish Socialists complain about the third Sakharov Prize for dissident Cuban and the 'popular' suggest that the Socialists seek ways for Wednesday's ceremony that does not resemble that of the Nobel Peace Prize with the empty chair of  Fariñas. One solution defending the socialist era that another dissident or relative pick up the award on his behalf.
In any case, the output veto could damage Fariñas EU talks with Cuba to sign an agreement on political cooperation  and commercial. The representative of EU foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, maintained "contacts" from October to Havana as  asked the foreign ministers of the Twenty a proposal Spain. European sources said today that Ashton's report result of these efforts in early January, a month later initially expected.
S: OCR CopyRights LPPNEWS Expert translates FrontLine Results

Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to Jailed Chinese Dissident Liu Xiaobo

Nobel Peace Prize laid on empty chair Play Video AP  – Nobel Peace Prize laid on empty chair
The Nobel certificate and medal is seen on the empty chair where this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo would ha Reuters – The Nobel certificate and medal is seen on the empty chair where this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner …
The ceremony Friday, Dec. 10, awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo in absentia drew the world's attention to the jailed Chinese dissident's courageous struggle for human rights. But history suggests the award may not alter his plight.
The 1991 laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, was also absent from her award ceremony; the charismatic figurehead of Burma's democracy movement had been placed under house arrest in Rangoon by a brutal military junta. Like Polish opposition leader Lech Walesa and Russian dissident Andrei Sakharov before her, Suu Kyi was forced to send someone in her place - her 18-year-old son Alexander attended the Oslo ceremony. The then chairman of Norway's Nobel Committee, Francis Sejersted, sounded a somber note, warning, "We must face up to the likelihood that this will not be the last occasion on which a Peace Prize laureate is unable to attend." (See how Liu's absense speaks volumes.)
Nineteen years later - with military rule still entrenched in Burma - Sejersted has been proved right. This year, though, there was no proxy; Friday was the first time a Nobel Peace Prize winner was not represented at the ceremony since 1936, when the award for the previous year went to German anti-Nazi activist Carl von Ossietzky, who languished in a Nazi concentration camp and later died of tuberculosis. Thorbjorn Jagland, current chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, placed the blue diploma - engraved with the initials LXB - and prize medal on the seat of an empty chair as an audience of international diplomats and dignitaries, including House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and actor Denzel Washington, delivered a standing ovation.
Liu's absence alone, said Jagland in his keynote address, "shows that the award was necessary and appropriate." Jagland's speech extolled the Gandhian virtues of the imprisoned 54-year-old writer and academic, praising him for his commitment to nonviolence and his championing of human rights. Departing from the script posted on the official Nobel website, Jagland declared, "We can say [Liu] is like Nelson Mandela."
The giant elephant in the room was not a universally reviled apartheid regime or military junta but a rising global superpower. In the week before the prize ceremony, China had ramped up criticism of the Nobel Committee and of Liu and his supporters. On Tuesday, Dec. 7, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu denounced the award's "Cold War–like" pressure tactics meant to force political change, adding, "We will not change because of interference by a few clowns." (See Liu Xiaobo and TIME's other top 10 political prisoners.)
Jiang claimed that more than 100 nations and international organizations supported China in its opposition to this year's Nobel award, but she didn't list them. After Beijing asked other nations to boycott the ceremony, some 16 of them - including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Egypt, Sudan, and Cuba - declined to attend, while 46 embassies in Oslo sent representatives to the ceremony.
In his speech, Jagland sought to counter Beijing's objections, insisting that the prize was not meant to "offend anyone" and taking pains to praise China's economic miracle, saying the country "is carrying mankind's fate on its shoulders" while calling on its leaders to grant "full civil rights."
Don't expect Beijing to heed that plea for political reform. Liu was sentenced last Christmas to an 11-year prison term for "inciting subversion of state power"; he now spends his days in a cell with five common criminals. His crimes included co-writing Charter 08, a reformist manifesto that called for an end to the Communist Party's monopoly on power. In the weeks since Liu's award was announced, China's crackdown on political activists has intensified. Several were barred from leaving the country for fear they would attend the Oslo ceremony. (See TIME's photo-essay on Liu's legacy.)
Zhang Zuhua, an activist who helped Liu draft Charter 08, was grabbed off the street by national-security police Thursday afternoon in Beijing, according to a statement from the group Chinese Human Rights Defenders, and his current whereabouts are not known. "The Chinese government is losing credibility by making a mockery of its own pledge to uphold international human rights standards," said Renee Xia, international director of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, in a written statement. "Its angry retaliation against the Nobel Peace Prize - by harassing its own citizens - reinforces the fact that it is the Chinese leaders, not the Chinese people, who reject the universal values of which the Nobel Peace Prize speaks."
Stories about Liu on CNN International and BBC were blacked out in China in recent days, and several websites, including the official Nobel website, where the prize ceremony was streamed, were blocked. Online, the phrase empty chair has become code for Liu, and despite reports of it being blocked by censors, the phrase could still be found in a few posts on Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter. On Thursday, in a gesture deemed to counter the Nobel award, a Chinese organization gave a Confucius Peace Prize, which it described as representative of Chinese values. Lien Chan, the former Vice President of Taiwan, won the award but wasn't on hand to attend the ceremony. His office told reporters they knew nothing about the award.
Reporters who gathered Friday outside the Beijing apartment complex where Liu's wife Liu Xia is under house arrest were barred from entry. At the ceremony in Oslo, a Norwegian actress read Liu's final statement in court before his sentence, in which he described his wife's love as "the sunlight that leaps over high walls and penetrates the iron bars of my prison window ... allowing me to always keep peace, openness and brightness in my heart."
Despite the universal acclaim his courage has earned, the abiding image of Liu is one of loneliness. "I am an insensate stone in the wilderness," he said in his final court statement. Nobel Prizes may honor the courage of those who challenge abusive regimes and raise awareness of their plight, but they don't alter the situations. No one knows this better than Aung San Suu Kyi, who only this year was released from house arrest. In a phone interview this week with the BBC, she described her hearing of the 1991 ceremony as "a little strange" because "it had to do with me, yet it seemed to have nothing to do with me." When asked about Liu, Suu Kyi spoke little of politics or of being a fellow laureate, simply saying, "I think it's really sad, and as one human being to another, I'd really like to hold out a hand of sympathy."
See Liu Xiaobo and other influential people in the 2010 TIME 100.