Monday, May 14, 2012

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Report: Fire at Cuba charter flight co. was arson

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — A blaze last month that scorched the offices of a Cuba travel agency in Miami was deliberately set, fire investigators say, one of the first acts of violence in years against a company arranging visits to the island.
The Coral Gables Fire Department said in a report that investigators found a disposable lighter, the remains of a green bottle, and a piece of asphalt after the April 27 fire at the Airline Brokers Co.
Those items indicate the "potential use of a projectile to breach the building window, and the use of a liquid accelerant incendiary device in this fire," the report says.
The report was obtained by the Spanish-language newspaper El Nuevo Herald, which published a copy on its website. Coral Gables fire officials referred all inquiries to the state fire marshal's office, which did not return requests for comment by phone or e-mail Sunday.
The blaze severely damaged the offices of the company, which arranged the flights and travel for hundreds of Cuban-Americans and others to the island for Pope Benedict XVI's visit in March. The agency has also recently expanded its operations to include flights from Fort Lauderdale.
In the 1970s and '80s, bombings of businesses and Cuba travel companies considered sympathetic to the Castro regime were commonplace. Another uptick of violence occurred in the summer of 1996, when Marazul Charters, a company that arranges legal flights to the island, had two of its offices bombed. A second travel business, Maira and Family Services, had a bomb thrown inside its offices within the same month.
But in the last decade, such incidents have become unheard of and travel to the island has grown. President Barack Obama removed a cap that limited family visits soon after taking office. Last year, the Cuban government said it was expecting 500,000 U.S. visitors annually, most of them Cuban-Americans, many of whom still have strong ties and family on the island.
"It surprised me," said Maira Gonzalez, whose former business was targeted more than a decade ago. "I thought people had matured a bit."
Gonzalez said her company went out of business about a year after someone threw what she described as a Molotov cocktail inside their offices early one morning. No one was in the building. Police said gas spilled but the device did not go off.
The incident scared off customers and business declined.
"We thought we were helping the Cuban community, but there are always others who think differently," Gonzalez said.
The report on the Airline Brokers Co. fire noted that the business owner said she had been the subject of threats and other hostile activities in the past. But Vivian Mannerud told El Nuevo Herald she had not received any recent threats, even as they were arranging flights for the papal visit.
No possible suspects have been identified.

Will Obama Run for Re-election?

By J. Robert Smith

Could it be déjà vu all over again?  1968, that is... something similar.  That was the year a sitting president -- Lyndon Johnson -- withdrew from the Democratic race for re-nomination and reelection.  Might 2012 see Barack Obama pull an LBJ?
Let's go back for a moment to 1968.  The nation was in turmoil.  In late January and early February, the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive, which was a military failure but a psychological triumph and, hence, a propaganda coup.  North Vietnam's victory during Tet jolted Americans' confidence in the war's conduct and further emboldened the anti-war movement.
President Johnson -- architect of the Great Society -- was running for his second full term.  LBJ went into New Hampshire's Democratic primary in March expecting a lopsided win over underfinanced challenger and self-styled peace candidate Senator Eugene McCarthy.  Everybody, including the national media, expected Johnson to win in a walk.
But in a shocker, LBJ lost the primary to McCarthy -- well, no, LBJ didn't lose the contest, he won 50%-40%.  What Johnson lost was the expectations game.  McCarthy's showing beat expectations.  McCarthy did to LBJ in New Hampshire what the communist Vietnamese did to the U.S. through the Tet Offensive: win at perceptions.  Shortly thereafter, in a nationally televised address, LBJ withdrew from the presidential race.
So, you say this scenario can't possibly apply to Barack Obama?  History certainly doesn't repeat itself exactly.  But there are enough similarities between 1968 and 2012 to make an Obama pullout from a reelection bid worth mulling. 
Today, the U.S. isn't embroiled in a controversial major war, but the nation's economic mess might well loom bigger than the Vietnam War in people's perceptions. 
Like Vietnam, the country's economic fall is seen as having no end in sight... there's "no light at the end of the tunnel," as was the cliché used in the 1960s about the Vietnam War.  There's a palpable fear among most Americans that the nation's economic woes are getting worse, not better.  Moreover, unlike the Vietnam War, a sputtering economy touches most Americans' lives directly.
Increasingly, there's concern that a second recession may occur next year (let's set aside that the first recession may not have ended).  Storm clouds are visible now, as a matter of fact.  The stock market is dropping, manufacturing is anemic, and the U.S. was green-lighted to acquire greater debt, thanks to a feeble budget deal between Mr. Obama and Republicans.  Consumer confidence continues to plunge and the housing market remains a drag, among other factors.  Europe's financial and economic situations deteriorate daily.  Bad decisions in Europe are adversely impacting the U.S. economy.    
It's conceivable that a second recession may come sooner than next year.  Economic forecasting is a bit like weather forecasting: it's quite inexact.  Nonetheless, just the perception that the nation's economy is sliding into another recession cripples Mr. Obama's election chances.  Mr. Obama is already on the wrong end of voters' perceptions about his job performance.
Rasmussen Reports' daily tracking poll gives Mr. Obama only a 21% "strongly approve" by voters for his performance; 43% of voters strongly disapprove.  Majorities also rate Mr. Obama's handling of the economy as poor.  Even more damning for the President, a whopping 77% of voters believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction (only 16% think things are going right).
Check out this scenario.  By the autumn, the nation's economic deterioration has dragged Mr. Obama's overall approval ratings into the thirties (his ratings now hang precariously in the low forties).  The left, already out of love with Mr. Obama, sees that an historic electoral debacle is in the offing, with Mr. Obama pulling down congressional Democrats too.  Political survival pushes left-wingers to field a challenger - a new McCarthy - to serve as a lightning rod for discontented Democratic voters.
Absurd?  No disgruntled white leftist has the backbone to challenge America's first black president?  What about socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who remarked that Mr. Obama needs to be challenged in the primaries?  Or Cleveland area Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a diehard liberal and sometimes citric of the President.  Ohio Republicans are expected to redistrict Kucinich out of his safe House seat.  Kucinich might be a man with nothing to lose.
True, a frontloaded 2012 caucus and primary calendar benefits Mr. Obama, in that an intraparty challenger announcing in the autumn would have to ramp up awfully quickly to make a go in Iowa or New Hampshire (in 1968, the New Hampshire primary was held in March, not early January).  But there's a perfect political storm brewing for Mr. Obama, so a protest vote can coalesce around an Obama opponent rapidly.    
The President will be sitting on a huge campaign war chest, you say?  So was Lyndon Johnson.  Undoubtedly, money matters in politics, but no amount of money can overcome a candidate whose liabilities are glaring.  A crumbling economy qualifies as a glaring liability.  In fact, a worsening economy is the Rock of Gibraltar hanging around Mr. Obama's neck.
Let's say Mr. Obama loses the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary to a left-wing challenger - no, not loses outright but loses the expectations game, a la what happened to LBJ versus McCarthy.  Then what?  Does Mr. Obama play bitter-ender, clinging to the nomination despite being grievously wounded?  Barack Obama is an egotistical and stubborn man, you say?  Mr. Obama won't surrender, even if it means going down in flames and ripping apart the Democratic Party?  Well, LBJ wasn't known much for his humility and pliability.  Reality has a way of biting hard, even for presidents who think they walk on water.
There's another argument to consider against an intraparty challenge to Mr. Obama.  Blacks are the one constituency that unfailingly and overwhelmingly support Democrats.  A challenge to Mr. Obama from the left could smash black support for Democrats come November 2012, further dooming the party.  That could well be true, and may just stay the hand of a left-wing challenge.  But here's where history is inexact.  While the early stages of the 2012 elections might resemble 1968, the general election phase may more resemble not 1980 (Reagan's landslide), but 1932.  1932 - FDR's landslide - wasn't just a realigning election, as political scientists are wont to term it; 1932 was a tectonic shift in American politics, a shift the nation stills lives with today. 
Is the left willing to sit back and allow Mr. Obama to destroy the Democratic Party, the primary vehicle for American leftism?  Is the left willing to gamble against black voters' discontent if one of theirs takes on Mr. Obama?  If November 2012 is anything like November 1932, GOP victories could signal monumental change - decades' worth of change, and to the left's decided disadvantage.  The political wilderness is a very cold place.    
Or does the left do nothing, permit Mr. Obama to implode, and then dig out from under the electoral rubble to make its case to future voters?  The left has a very tough choice to make. 
Will Americans see Mr. Obama on T.V. come March 2012 announcing his withdrawal from the presidential sweepstakes?  It happened before, in 1968.  Who says it can't happen again?

Judge rejects effort to open CIA volume on Cuba

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that a final volume of the CIA's three-decade-old history on the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba can remain shrouded in secrecy because it is a draft, not a finished product.
The CIA characterized the volume in court papers as "a polemic of recriminations against CIA officers who later criticized the operation."
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler accepted the CIA's arguments that the fifth volume entitled the "CIA's Internal Investigations of the Bay of Pigs Operations" did not even pass through the first stage of a multilayer review process. The volume represented a proposal by a subordinate member of the history staff that was rejected by the chief historian as containing significant deficiencies, the CIA argued.
The CIA said the volume is protected from disclosure under the deliberative process privilege, an exemption in the Freedom of Information Act.
The National Security Archive, a private group seeking transparency in government, sued the CIA to declassify the volume.
The CIA had no problem declassifying an earlier volume of the history in which the author attacked President Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy, said Peter Kornbluh, who directs the National Security Archive's Cuba documentation project.
"Apparently, the CIA sees no problem in the American public reading a 'polemic of recriminations' against the White House," Kornbluh said.
In her decision Thursday, the judge said a draft history would risk public release of inaccurate historical information.
Kessler also cited the arguments of the CIA chief historian that disclosure would have a chilling effect on the CIA's current historians. They would henceforth be inhibited from trying out innovative, unorthodox or unpopular interpretations in a draft manuscript, the agency said.

May 10, 2012

Cuba activist Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia arrested again (UPDATED)

Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia was released from jail on Thursday, 24 hours after his latest arrest.
Cuban dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia was arrested in Havana on Wednesday.
Ferrer, who had been released April 29 after almost a month in jail, was on his way to the Czech embassy to access the Internet, when the Castro police swept in and arrested him.
Details of his whereabouts were not known, but human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez, with whom Ferrer was staying while visiting the capital said he thought Ferrer would be returned to his hometown of Santiago de Cuba.
Ferrer was part of the Group of 75 dissidents arrested and imprisoned during "the black spring" of 2003. He was released last year and quickly resumed his anti-Castro activism. He currently is the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba.
Diario de Cuba has more.

Uncommon Sense

Cuban Independence Day — The Star of Liberty

“Cuban Independence Day”
By: Miguel Sigler Amaya
This May 20, 2012, all Cubans are invited to a massive patriotic event for “Cuban Independence Day.”
In addition, we would like to cordially invite all non-Cubans who have a heartfelt desire to see liberty, democracy, and sovereignty for Cuba as well as true independence.
In commemoration of this important date, the “Star of Liberty” monument will be inaugurated.
This monument is in the form of a star due to their historical importance in saving human lives. Stars have guided sailors and fishermen lost at sea. A star guided the Three Kings from the east to pay homage to infant Jesus, the savior of this world. A star called the sun is the closest one to our planet and essential for all life.
Our suffering nation will soon be lit by a Star whose light will allow the myopic in this world to see that our sacrifice was not in vain and that the blood we have shed, our martyrs, and our political exiles deserve respect.
As Cubans we will all join hands and a strong embrace this May 20, which will be the last one in exile. All those present will be able to speak and express their patriotic sentiment regarding this important date.
All news media is invited to this patriotic event; newspaper, radio, and television. Moreover, this patriotic event will also serve to provide a clear and resounding response to Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Pope Benedict XVI for taking the side of the assailants and not the victims. For taking the side of the oppressors and not the oppressed. Moreover, it will be a response to all of those who have turned their backs on the Cuban people, an act that makes them accomplices of the Castro tyranny.

Place: 5735 SW, 4 sth. Miami FL. 33144
Time: 3:00 PM
Parking is the responsibility of the visitors. Entry and celebratory toast are completely free.

For more information (in Spanish) call 786-768-4428 or 786-443-9132

Bachmann’s Fundraising Whopper

In several urgent fundraising appeals, Rep. Michele Bachmann falsely claims that biased “liberal judges” redrew her congressional district “in retaliation for repeatedly standing up to President Obama.” The truth is that only two of the five judges were Democratic appointees, and Bachmann’s Minnesota district has become even more Republican than it was before.
It’s true that a bipartisan panel of judges redrew district lines and placed the town where Bachmann lives in an abutting district represented by a Democrat. But she has chosen to again run in the 6th District, the one she has represented since 2007. And she doesn’t even have to move to do that.
Bachmann has sent out several appeals that carry the same message:
Bachmann email, May 11: A major development has just occurred in my race for the U.S. House of Representatives and I’m asking for your immediate help…
…You see, in retaliation for repeatedly standing up to President Obama on the national stage, liberal judges have redrawn the lines of my Minnesota Congressional District to try and wipe me off of the political map once and for all.
Their bias was so obvious they even gerrymandered my home — where my wonderful husband Marcus and I live –- entirely out of my District and placed it into one held by a six-term Democrat incumbent!
In the email, sent to national supporters of her failed presidential bid, Bachmann writes, “You and I must NOT allow the courts to defeat me by moving me out of my district at such a pivotal election. To hand the Obama Democrats this victory now would be to destroy all we have built over these last six years.”
The email goes on to ask donors to make “a commitment to my campaign in the amount of $2,500, $1,000, $500, $250, $100, $70, or $35 today.”
Let’s start with the bogus claim that the new district lines were redrawn by “liberal judges.” As Mother Jones reported on May 9, the redistricting was done by a five-judge panel selected by Minnesota’s chief justice, Lorie Gildea. Gildea was elevated to chief justice by former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty (the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote about it in an article headlined “Pawlenty’s picks keep high court tilting right“). Only two of the five judges on the panel Gildea selected were Democratic appointees. One was appointed by Gov. Jesse Ventura, who was a member of the Independence Party of Minnesota; one was appointed by Pawlenty. And one by former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson.
Contrary to Bachmann’s assertion that the development “just occurred,” the panel issued its redistricting decision on Feb. 21.
It’s true that the newly drawn plans moved Bachmann’s home in Stillwater into the 4th Congressional District. The decision to move Stillwater into the 4th District was perfectly logical, said David Wasserman, a political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. The 4th District, which takes in St. Paul, simply had not grown as fast as the rest of the state and needed to pick up population. And the 6th District had grown so quickly, it needed to lose population, he said.
“This was not a partisan map,” Wasserman said. “Her assertions are baloney.”
Bachmann’s home now lies in the 4th District, which is considered a safe Democratic district. But Bachmann isn’t running in the 4th District. Per the U.S. Constitution, a congressional candidate doesn’t need to actually live in a district to represent it (though the candidate does have to live in the state). Immediately after the redistricting plan was unveiled, Bachmann announced she would run to retain her seat in the 6th District.
“It may be a nuisance to her that her home was carved out of the 6th District, but the 6th District actually got more Republican,” Wasserman said. “She’s even safer than she was before.”
By the Cook Report’s estimation, the 6th District was 7 percentage points more Republican than the national average before the redistricting, and now it is 8 percentage points more Republican than the national average.
The redistricting actually “strengthened her position,” Wasserman said.
But that’s certainly not the impression Bachmann leaves in the email when she states: “As the TEA Party Caucus Chairwoman in the U.S. House and one of President Obama’s sharpest critics, the Democrats are licking their chops over Minnesota’s new political map and will spend MILLIONS to defeat me.”
Perhaps that kind of opposition is mounting, but if it does, Bachmann appears well-positioned to fight back. Bachmann’s campaign fundraising is far outpacing that of her chief Democratic opponent, hotelier Jim Graves. Graves announced recently that he had donated $100,000 to his own campaign, but according to Federal Election Commission reports, Bachmann raised nearly $580,000 for her congressional campaign in the first quarter of this year alone. In all, the latest FEC report shows that Bachmann has raised nearly $5.2 million this election cycle.
Robert Farley