Tuesday, July 24, 2012

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Cuba dissidents mourn activist killed in car crash

Relatives and friends of Cuban activist Oswaldo Paya gather at his home in Havana, Cuba, Monday, July 23, 2012. Paya, who spent decades speaking out against the communist government of Fidel and Raul Castro and became one of the most powerful voices of dissent against their half-century rule, died Sunday in a car crash. He was 60. 
Relatives and friends of Cuban activist Oswaldo Paya gather at his home in Havana, Cuba, Monday, July 23, 2012. Paya, who spent decades speaking out against the communist government of Fidel and Raul Castro and became one of the most powerful voices of dissent against their half-century rule, died Sunday in a car crash. He was 60. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
By Andrea Rodriguez Associated Press / July 23, 2012

  • HAVANA—Cuban dissidents vowed to press ahead with their fight for more political and civil rights Monday despite the death of prominent activist Oswaldo Paya in a car crash. Foreign governments from the United States to the European Union sent messages of condolence.
Several hundred relatives, friends and fellow dissidents converged on a chapel in the Cerro neighborhood Havana for Paya's wake after his body arrived from the eastern province of Granma.
As the coffin carrying his remains entered, many applauded.
"He was a person sincerely committed to achieving the best for the Cuban people," said Miriam Leyva, one of the founding members of the activist group Ladies in White.
Earlier at Paya's home, a close associate gave thanks for what he called an outpouring of support.
"I can promise you and assure you we will continue our struggle, our demands for the civil rights of all Cubans," Ernesto Martini told the mourners.
Paya, 60, gained international fame as the lead organizer of the Varela Project, a signature-gathering drive asking authorities for a referendum on guaranteeing rights such as freedom of speech and assembly. The initiative launched a decade ago was seen as the biggest nonviolent campaign to change the system Fidel Castro established after the 1959 Cuban revolution.
Paya died Sunday afternoon along with another dissident, Harold Cepero Escalante, in the crash in La Gavina, 500 miles (800 kilometers) east of the capital. Authorities said the driver of the rental car carrying Paya and Cepero lost control and struck a tree. Fellow passengers Jens Aron Modig, a Swedish citizen, and Angel Carromero, a Spaniard, were hospitalized with minor injuries and later released.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the wheel.
U.S. President Barack Obama's administration lamented Paya's passing.
Paya was "a tireless champion for greater civic and human rights in Cuba ... (who) gave decades of his life to the nonviolent struggle for freedom and democratic reform in Cuba," the White House said in a statement.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said "the cause of freedom in Cuba has lost one of its strongest voices and respected leaders," and called Paya's death "profoundly heartbreaking and infuriating."
Romney and other politicians including members of the Cuban-American congressional bloc alluded to unconfirmed reports suggesting that another car may have been involved. Cuban exile groups in the United States demanded a thorough investigation.
Some dissidents have spread those theories on Twitter and blogs, while others said there was no reason to suspect foul play.
"We rule out any conspiracy theory," said Elizardo Sanchez, a de facto spokesperson for Cuba's small opposition.
Cuban state media reported the deaths without mentioning that Paya and Cepero were government opponents. Official media rarely refer to dissidents except to excoriate them as "counterrevolutionaries" financed by Washington.
Spanish Embassy spokesman Francisco de Borja said Carromero has been giving statements to investigators and it was unclear when he would return to Spain.
Kalle Back, secretary-general of the Swedish Christian Democratic Youth, said Modig was in Cuba together with Carromero, who's deputy chairman of the Spanish ruling conservative Popular Party's youth wing. The Popular Party said Carromero was in Cuba for vacation and could not say how he came to be traveling in the vehicle with Paya.
Modig is chairman of the youth wing of the Christian Democrats, a small political party that's part of Sweden's center-right coalition government.
"He is doing well under the circumstances," Back said of Modig. "He has been released from the hospital and is under the care of the Swedish Embassy. ... He was there to show his moral support for the democracy movement."
The Spanish government and the European Union, which awarded Paya its Sakharov human rights and democracy prize in 2002, both sent condolences.
"Oswaldo Paya had dedicated his life to the cause of democracy and human rights in Cuba," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.
Associated Press writers Peter Orsi in Havana, Karl Ritter in Stockholm, Jorge Sainz in Madrid and Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this report.

Obama Fundraises With Players in Solyndra Scandal

SAN FRANCISCO - At an exclusive re-election fundraiser tonight, President Obama hobnobbed with 60 of his wealthiest supporters, including two figures at the center of the Solyndra loan controversy.
Steve Westly, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, was one of the first to raise red flags about the administration's support for a $500 million loan to Solyndra, the solar energy start-up that later went bankrupt. He wrote directly to senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett in 2010 to raise concerns about the company's viability ahead of the president's high-profile visit that year.
Matt Rogers, a former senior adviser at the Department of Energy, played a key role in approving Solyndra's loan as part of the stimulus plan.
Both men were spotted by White House print pool reporter Darren Samuelsohn of Politico at the Piedmont, Calif., home of Quinn Delaney and Wayne Jordan, who were hosting the $35,800-a-head event.
Samuelsohn noted that Westly was seen near the pool "juggling lemons, entertaining kids at the party."
Republicans have seized on Obama's ties to Westly and Rogers - and the Solyndra loan - as part of their case that the president engages in "crony capitalism."
"The Obama Administration betrayed American taxpayers when it dumped hundreds of millions of public dollars into Solyndra while ignoring clear warnings about the company's dire financial situation," Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams said in a statement.
"President Obama's first term worked out well for his donors who got special access and taxpayer money for their failed ventures," Williams said. "It hasn't worked as well for the 23 million Americans struggling for work in the worst economic recovery our country has ever had."
Before receiving a fast-tracked loan from the Obama administration in 2010, Solyndra had been singled out by both Republicans and Democrats as a promising venture potentially worthy of government investment. The company first applied for a Department of Energy grant under the George W. Bush administration.

Mitt Romney Sees Sudden Unexplained Spike in Twitter Followers

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Twitter account saw two sudden and massive spikes in new followers over the weekend.
The spikes were first noticed by Zach Green of 140elect.com, a blog which monitors Twitter trends relating to the 2012 presidential election.
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According to Green's data, Romney "was gaining around 3000-4000 new followers per day for the past month," then his account suddenly got 23,926 new followers on Friday, 93,054 on Saturday and 25,432 on Sunday:
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Green's analysis indicates that Romney hasn't seen a noticeable uptick in other metrics, such as mentions, which would suggest Romney was getting these followers organically:
Green suggested that somebody else may have bought the new followers for Romney to embarrass the campaign.
Zac Moffatt, the Romney campaign's digital director, has denied buying Twitter followers. Moffatt has in the past stressed that his strategy revolves around targeted engagement and not simply accumulating massive numbers of new followers. Buying fake followers doesn't mesh well with that approach (plus, follower totals mean very little for politicians if real voters aren't interacting with the message being sent).
However, some Twitter users believe the Romney campaign itself is responsible:
Fake Twitter Accounts are people my friend #p2 #MoreFakeMitt #topprog
— Sarcastic Liberal(@SarcastLiberal) July 22, 2012
Troubling reports that Romney has millions of Twitter followers hidden in Switzerland & the Caymans waiting to be unleashed. #MoreFakeMitt
— Todd Mecklem (@ToddMecklem) July 21, 2012
OH DEAR!Multiple #moreFakeMitt accounts all seem to be using the exact same phototwitter.com/KatieAnnieOakl…^@DkChoco#p2
— Shoq Value (@Shoq) July 21, 2012
This isn't the first time a presidential candidate has been accused of buying fake followers. Last summer, an ex-staffer for Newt Gingrich alleged that many of Gingrich's followers were purchased from following agencies.
A PeekAnalytics report found that 8% of Gingrich's Twitter followers were individuals, as opposed to businesses or spam accounts (average Twitter users have 30-60% real followers according to that report).
Vincent Harris, who served as digital consultant for Gingrich, never confirmed the allegations and recently made the following plea regarding Romney's new followers:
Those attacking Romney campaign for Twitter issue should hold and let @zacmoffat respond before jumping to conclusions
— Vincent Harris (@VincentHarris) July 21, 2012
Mashable has reached out to the Romney campaign and Twitter for additional comment, and we'll update this post when we hear back.
This story originally published on Mashable here.