Opening Up to Cuba – A Step in the Right Direction

A major change in US foreign relations is approaching, as the AP writes in Obama to allow travel, money transfers to Cuba:

President Barack Obama directed his administration Monday to allow unlimited travel and money transfers by Cuban Americans to family in Cuba, and to take other steps to ease U.S. restrictions on the island, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

The formal announcement was being made at the White House Monday afternoon, during presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs’ daily briefing with reporters. The official spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to upstage the president’s announcement.

With the changes, Obama aims to lessen Cubans’ dependence on the Castro regime, hoping that will lead them to demand progress on political freedoms, the official said. About 1.5 million Americans have relatives in Cuba.

Obama had promised to take these steps as a presidential candidate. It has been known for over a week that he would announce them in advance of his attended this weekend of a Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

“There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban Americans,” Obama said in a campaign speech last May in Miami, the heart of the U.S. Cuban-American community. “It’s time to let Cuban Americans see their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers. It’s time to let Cuban American money make their families less dependent upon the Castro regime.”

Other steps taken Monday include expanding the things allowed in gift parcels being sent to Cuba, such as clothes, personal hygiene items, seeds, fishing gear and other personal necessities.

The administration also will begin issuing licenses to allow telecommunications and other companies to provide cell and television services to people on the island, and to allow family members to pay for relatives on Cuba to get those services, the official said.

Sending money to senior government officials and Communist Party members remains prohibited. Restrictions imposed by the Bush administration had limited Cuban travel by Americans to just two weeks every three years. Visits also were confined to immediate family members.

Also in that Miami speech nearly a year ago, Obama promised to depart from what he said had been the path of previous politicians on Cuba policy — “they come down to Miami, they talk tough, they go back to Washington, and nothing changes in Cuba.”

“Never, in my lifetime, have the people of Cuba known freedom. Never, in the lives of two generations of Cubans, have the people of Cuba known democracy,” he said then. “This is the terrible and tragic status quo that we have known for half a century — of elections that are anything but free or fair; of dissidents locked away in dark prison cells for the crime of speaking the truth. I won’t stand for this injustice, you won’t stand for this injustice, and together we will stand up for freedom in Cuba.”

He also promised to engage in direct diplomacy with Cuba, “without preconditions” but with “careful preparation” and “a clear agenda.”

Some lawmakers, backed by business and farm groups seeing new opportunities in Cuba, are advocating wider revisions in the trade and travel bans imposed after Fidel Castro took power in Havana in 1959.

But Obama is keeping the decades-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba in place, arguing that that policy provides leverage to pressure the regime to free all political prisoners as one step toward normalized relations with the U.S

The trade embargo, too, should be scrapped sooner or later. Opening up to Cuba will be the best means to putting an end to the opressive communist regime on the island. Ron Paul has been advocating the same policy for a long time. Last year he was booed in a debate where the issue came up:

Global free trade is virtually non-existent at this point. There are more trade embargoes, import taxes, protectionist measures than ever in world history. But the irrefutable concept of comparative advantage has shown us long ago that everyone benefits from free trade.

It is refreshing to see common sense prevail every once in a while.

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Bravo, Mr. Obama

President Barack Obama plans several executive orders regarding Guantanamo Bay :

President Barack Obama is planning to issue three executive orders Thursday, including one demanding the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay be closed within a year, according to a senior administration official and a congressional aide.

A second executive order will formally ban torture by requiring the Army field manual be used as the guide for terror interrogations, essentially ending the Bush administration’s CIA program of enhanced interrogation methods.

A third executive order, according to the officials, will order a systematic review of detention policies and procedures and a review of all individual cases.

It’s about time that these cases be reviewed and the crimes perpetrated by the Bush administration are exposed to the public.

Obama also signed orders regarding ethics guidelines:

Promising “a new era of openness in our country,” President Obama signed executive orders Wednesday relating to ethics guidelines for staff members of his administration.

Last but not least he issued a pay freeze and established new transparency and lobbying guidelines:

The pay freeze affects the roughly 100 White House employees who make more than $100,000 a year. “Families are tightening their belts, and so should Washington,” Obama said.

Obama’s new lobbying rules will ban aides from trying to influence the administration when they leave his staff. Those already hired will be banned from working on matters they have previously lobbied on, or to approach agencies that they once targeted.

The rules also ban lobbyists from giving gifts of any size to any member of his administration. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the ban would include the traditional “previous relationships” clause, allowing gifts from friends or associates with which an employee comes in with strong ties.

The new rules also stipulate that anyone who leaves his administration cannot try to influence former friends and colleagues for at least two years. Obama is requiring all staff to attend to an ethics briefing like one he said he attended last week.

Obama called the rules tighter “than under any other administration in history.” They followed pledges during his campaign to be strict about the influence of lobbyists in his White House.

“The new rules on lobbying alone, no matter how tough, are not enough to fix a broken system in Washington,” he said. “That’s why I’m also setting rules that govern not just lobbyists but all those who have been selected to serve in my administration.”

‘Too much secrecy’
In an attempt to deliver on pledges of a transparent government, Obama said he would change the way the federal government interprets the Freedom of Information Act. He said he was directing agencies that vet requests for information to err on the side of making information public — not to look for reasons to legally withhold it — an alteration to the traditional standard of evaluation.

Just because a government agency has the legal power to keep information private does not mean that it should, Obama said. Reporters and public-interest groups often make use of the law to explore how and why government decisions were made; they are often stymied as agencies claim legal exemptions to the law.

“For a long time now, there’s been too much secrecy in this city,” Obama said.

He said the orders he was issuing Wednesday will not “make government as honest and transparent as it needs to be” nor go as far as he would like.

“But these historic measures do mark the beginning of a new era of openness in our country,” Obama said. “And I will, I hope, do something to make government trustworthy in the eyes of the American people, in the days and weeks, months and years to come.”


Within hours of Obama’s taking the oath of office on Tuesday, Emanuel ordered all federal agencies to put the brakes on any pending regulations that the Bush administration sought to push through in its final days.

All these are positive signs of a decent policy that points in the right direction. These are also signs that trust may return in the US government. In light of all this and a simultaneous financial meltdown in the UK and Europe with global deleveraging, it is safe to assume that the current short term Dollar rally will gain some more momentum over the next weeks.

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Obama Promises More of the Same

MarketWatch writes Obama issues fresh sales pitch for stimulus plan:

“There is no doubt that the cost of this plan will be considerable,” Obama said in a speech at George Mason University in suburban Virginia.
But, said the president-elect, “if nothing is done, this recession could linger for years.” Read the speech.
Obama has made a stimulus plan the centerpiece of his incoming administration, calling for a huge spending and tax-cut plan worth about $800 billion. His aim is to create or save at least 3 million jobs over the next few years.
“I don’t believe it’s too late to change course, but it will be if we don’t take dramatic action as soon as possible,” Obama said, telling congressional leaders he wants to work with them on days, nights and weekends to get a plan passed “in the next few weeks.”
Obama said the consequences of inaction would be grim. He said unemployment could reach double digits, the economy could lose $1 trillion, or $12,000 for a family of four. He warned that fewer young Americans would be able to go to college or receive adequate job-training. He predicted the nation could lose its competitve edge.
“In short, a bad situation could become dramatically worse,” the President-elect said.
But Obama faces the challenge of stimulating the economy while trying to keep Washington’s budget deficit under control — a prospect that he acknowledges isn’t possible in the short term. Aware of the dangers, he and his team of economic advisers are studying ways to lessen the flow of red ink in years to come.
While there is agreement on the need to stimulate the economy, some Republicans are differing with Obama over the size of the package and the efficacy of the proposed tax cuts. About 40% of the stimulus plan, or $300 billion, would be taken up by tax cuts. About a third of those cuts would go to businesses in an effort to spur new investments.
Obama is calling for a central role for the government in the recovery, but he also said Thursday that the financial system needs to be overhauled and that Wall Street wrongdoers must be caught before they can do any damage.

Obama will be inaugurated as the 44th president on Jan. 20.

In essence, this is what Obama said in his speech:

We need to change course immediately. We will do this by spending enormous sums of money. (…like we have been doing for decades.)

We need to cut taxes. We will do this and at the same time spend more than we ever have. (… by borrowing more money from China.)

We need to prevent bubble and bust cycles. We will do this by getting people to borrow money again, consumers to spend more, and banks to lend more. (…which caused the bubble in the first place.)

So far President-elect Obama has absolutley no idea how to battle the crisis. He is surrounded by a group of clueless fools who are outbidding each other with horrible recommendations.

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