Thursday, January 13, 2011

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Obama Calls for Unity to Prevail Over Divisive Rhetoric

President Barack Obama greets Daniel Hernandez, a intern for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who helped her after she was shot, at a memorial service in Tucso AP – President Barack Obama greets Daniel Hernandez, a intern for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who helped her after …

Friends of the accused killer, Jared Lee Loughner, keep using the same words to guess at his reasons for gunning down a congresswoman, several retirees and a 9-year-old girl in a Safeway parking lot. "He loves causing chaos," a former target-shooting buddy told one reporter. "Mainly to just promote chaos," echoed another high school pal.
On Wednesday night, President Obama addressed Loughner's alleged crime before a crowd of 14,000 in Tucson, Ariz. The speech was watched by millions of Americans, whose prime-time network reality dramas had been preempted by a jarring reality far more consequential. In the living rooms of the nation, the President's message boiled down to this: Loughner had failed. (See TIME's photo-essay "Mourning the Victims of the Arizona Shooting.")
Rather than chaos, the crime, in Obama's telling, reminded us all of the need to refocus on the order that holds together this country's tattered public life and its citizens' most treasured private relationships. "Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let's use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations," Obama said, sounding at times like a preacher, at times like a father, and at times like the President, "to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together."
The crowd before Obama was littered with wet eyes, and spotted with heroes and dignitaries, including several politicians who had, just months earlier, been his daily fierce foes. From the podium, the President recognized one elderly woman in the audience, Patricia Maische, who had tried to wrestle away the gunman's bullets. He pointed out the awkward congressional intern, Daniel Hernandez, who acted without any self-doubt to staunch the blood coming from his boss Gabrielle Giffords' head. He acknowledged the trauma-care doctors who had saved the lives of most of the wounded.
"We are reminded that, in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame," Obama continued, "but rather how well we have loved and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better." (Read "Tucson Tries to Recover Civility and Peace.")
When Obama announced that the injured Congresswoman had opened her eyes for the first time on Wednesday, her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, nearly lost it. Sitting in the front row, he grabbed the fists of First Lady Michelle Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and squeezed hard to hold back the tears. In the audience, a woman held up a sign: "We Will Heal."
"For those who were harmed, those who were killed, they are part of our family, an American family, 300 million strong," the President said.
Historically, U.S. Presidents have been called upon to be counselors in times of national grief. Ronald Reagan spoke movingly from the Oval Office after the space shuttle Challenger exploded in midflight. Bill Clinton spoke before a black-tie audience in 1995 to commemorate those killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. George W. Bush called through a bullhorn from the rubble of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Obama's condolences were offered in his own style, and they were not completely devoid of politics. The venue, a stadium filled with college kids, called to mind the massive crowds he had addressed during the presidential campaign. Calls like "We love you, Obama" and "Michelle, we love your husband," punctuated the ceremony. (See a brief history of presidential mourning.)
Perhaps in response to the lingering falsehoods about his religious beliefs, he twice quoted the Bible, and was preceded to the microphones by two Cabinet Secretaries who also read from Christian scripture. Obama also offered a pointed brush back to those in the liberal and conservative press who have tried to gain advantage from the shootings. "It's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we're talking with each other in a way that - that heals, not in a way that wounds," he said.
But the best parts of the speech left politics behind completely. When he spoke of Christina Taylor Green, the murdered 9-year-old girl, he spoke as the father of a 9-year-old himself, his voice straining a bit. "If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today," he said. This was his point, after all: that we are all just parents, or children, or spouses, all of us just Americans. He wanted us to use this time to remember this fact, and to order our lives accordingly. (Comment on this story.)
For all the speculation about political motives in the wake of last week's events, it was this sense of order that may have been the real target of Saturday's killer. And while some have been hurt, and others killed, Obama made clear four days later that those bullets shattered nothing.
Additional reporting by Alex Altman and Katy Steinmetz / Tucson

Menendez Remarks at Cuba Democracy PAC

Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Below are excerpts from U.S. Senator Bob Menendez's (D-NJ) remarks at last month's U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC luncheon:

Death of a Cuban Child Prostitute

On May 14, 2010, a 12 year-old Cuban prostitute was found dead -- of a supposed drug overdose -- following a "party" in a hotel room in the eastern city of Bayamo.

Three Italian tourists have been quietly held by the Castro regime -- for the last six months -- in connection with her death.

Let me stress -- for the last six months.

Sound newsworthy?

You better believe it -- not to mention tragic.

So why are we just finding out now through regional newspapers in Italy?

Note how the Castro regime has been able to hide this tragic, high-profile news for over half a year. Just imagine how it hides the repression, imprisonment, torture and abuse of political prisoners and democracy activists throughout Cuba. It's no wonder the regime doesn't allow the International Committee on the Red Cross or the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Torture to enter Cuba.

And where are the foreign news bureaus in Havana? They report on every senseless "Reflection" by Cuba's dictators, but not a peep about a dead 12 year-old child prostitute allegedly murdered by foreign tourists.

Meanwhile, one of the Italians in prison, Simone Pini, says he was in Italy during the time of the crime and swears that he was tortured into signing a confession. He claims to have been set up by certain "enemies."

But of course, in true Castro fashion, the defense attorney assigned to Pini is not allowed access to any files, evidence, accusers, etc.

Many lessons to be learned here. Amongst them:

Child prostitution is a tragic reality in Cuba; the regime's dangerous veil of secrecy; the cluelessness of foreign news bureaus in Havana; the utter lack of transparency in Castro's judicial system; and -- finally -- foreign tourists don't spread democracy.

People look at the British cruise ship Thomson ...

People look Thomson Dream docked

People look at the British cruise ship Thomson Dream docked in Havana Bay, Cuba, Wednesday Jan. 5, 2011. The flagship of United Kingdom-based Thompson Cruises docked in Havana Wednesday carrying 1,500 passengers as part of a three week tour of the Caribbean.… Read more »
(AP Photo/Javier Galeano)

Cuba spy's trial seen as U.S. maneuver

The U.S. chose not to deport Luis Posada Carriles for fear the former CIA operative may reveal secrets, Havana says. Nonetheless, Cuba has provided the U.S. with data on attacks in which Posada allegedly had a role.

January 12, 2011|By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times
Befitting a lifelong intelligence operative, Luis Posada Carriles is a name unknown to most in the United States.
But the 82-year-old now on trial in El Paso spent the last 50 years trying to topple Cuban leader Fidel Castro, gaining notoriety in Latin America as "the Bin Laden of the Americas" for his alleged role in blowing up a civilian airliner and bombing Havana hotels.
Posada isn't charged with terrorism, despite reported admissions of complicity in the deadly attacks on his Cuban homeland and numerous assassination attempts against Castro. The charges he faces in Texas are for lying to federal authorities when he applied for U.S. citizenship five years ago.

 2:30 p.m.: Latest suspicious package in DC not a threat

January 12, 2011
WASHINGTON (AP) - A fire department spokesman says a suspicious package reported at a mail facility in northeast Washington was not a threat.
D.C. fire department spokesman Pete Piringer said firefighters gave the all-clear Wednesday afternoon.
Authorities in Washington and Maryland are still investigating three packages that ignited last week, one at a mail facility in Washington and two others in Maryland.
Michael Romano of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service says the facility involved in Wednesday's suspicious package report is not the same one where a package ignited last week.
2:30 p.m.: Police catching more speeders on W.Va. Turnpike
January 12, 2011
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - State Police say 5,504 passenger vehicle drivers received speeding tickets on the West Virginia Turnpike last year.
That's a 97 percent increase from 2009, when 2,799 tickets were issued.
The Charleston Daily Mail reports that speeding tickets issued to commercial vehicle drivers also rose sharply. Troopers cited 290 commercial drivers last year, up 40 percent from 207 tickets in 2009.
Much of the increase is due to an enforcement effort conducted on the 88-mile toll road from late September to the end of December.
Capt. Randall Hyre told the state Parkways Authority board on Tuesday that the goal is to improve safety. Hyre leads Troop 7, which patrols the Charleston-to-Princeton highway.


L.A. County Deputy Shot in Face, Gunman Killed by Officer
Deputy Mohamed Ahmed may lose sight in one eye and was listed in critical condition late Tuesday.