Thursday, April 30, 2009

Barack Obama at 100 Days

Photo courtesy of New York Times

News from around the country as the Obama administration goes into Day 100.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

President Barack Obama said Wednesday night that waterboarding authorized by former President George W. Bush was torture and that the information it gained from terror suspects could have been obtained by other means. "In some cases, it may be harder," he conceded at a White House news conference capping a whirlwind first 100 days in office.

Obama also expressed much greater optimism now than a month ago that Chrysler could remain a "going concern," possibly without filing for bankruptcy or with a "very quick" one. Obama did not say so, but Italian automaker Fiat Group SpA is expected to sign a partnership agreement with Chrysler LLC by Thursday as part of negotiations to keep the struggling U.S. automaker alive without bankruptcy protection.

The president gave assurance that one way or another Pakistan's nuclear arsenal would not fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. He said he was confident "primarily, initially" because he believes Pakistan will handle the issue on its own. But he left the door open to eventual U.S. action to secure the weapons if need be.

The prime-time news conference was the third of Obama's presidency and the first not dominated by a recession that has thrown millions of Americans out of work.

At a town-hall style meeting in Missouri earlier in the day, as well as in the White House East Room, Obama said progress has been made in rebuilding the economy, yet more remains to be done.

"You can expect an unrelenting, unyielding effort from this administration to strengthen our prosperity and our security — in the second hundred days, and the third hundred days, and all the days after," he said in opening his news conference.

He called on Congress to enact his ambitious all-at-once agenda, including education spending to produce a better-trained work force, greater support for renewable energy development, a high-priced system for companies to buy and sell rights to emit dangerous pollutants, a vast expansion of health insurance and new rules to rein in the riskiest Wall Street behavior.

Though Obama's most notable legislative triumphs to date have been enacted on party-line votes, he said he remains eager for bipartisan cooperation with Republicans. But, he said, "I can't sort of define bipartisanship as simply being willing to accept certain theories of theirs that we tried for eight years and didn't work and the American people voted to change."

Obama said Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter's switch from Republican to Democrat wouldn't automatically change the math on legislation because of Specter's independence, nor give him a "rubber-stamp Senate." Specter gave majority Democrats 59 votes in the Senate, pushing them one step closer to the 60 needed to overcome Republican filibusters.

But the party change would "liberate" Specter to cooperate with Democrats more than he has in the past, Obama said.

The president also said he was "absolutely convinced" he had acted correctly in banning tough interrogation techniques including waterboarding, which simulates drowning, and in making public the Bush administration memos detailing their use on terrorist suspects. "Not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees ... but because we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are."

Obama has come under heavy criticism for his actions from former Vice President Dick Cheney and other Republicans. They have urged Obama to release memos they say will show the tough methods were successful in obtaining information.

Obama told reporters he has read the documents Cheney and others are referring to but said they are classified and declined to discuss their details. In a White House exchange with House Republican leader John Boehner last week, Obama said the record was equivocal.

The news conference lasted an hour and covered topics ranging from the outbreak of swine flu — which Obama referred to as the H1N1 virus, evidently in deference to U.S. pork producers — to abortion and the recent flare-up in violence in Iraq.

Alongside wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the situation in Pakistan has grown more ominous in recent days as a resurgent Taliban shows signs of strength.

Obama said he was "gravely concerned," not about an immediate takeover of the country by the Taliban but because he said the Pakistani government seems unable to deliver basic services and thus gain the kind of public loyalty necessary to survive against challenges over the long term.

The president also gave his strongest public admission yet that the overhaul of the current immigration system that he once promised to tackle in his first 100 days will not happen in 2009. He focused instead on the "key administrative steps" he has directed officials to take this year that he said would demonstrate competence to opponents in the contentious debate.

Obama defended his administration's continuation of Bush's policy that the president has inherent and unchecked power to shield national security information from disclosure — the so-called "state secrets" doctrine. Obama said that court filings came too quickly in his presidency to go in a new direction but that his advisers are already working on ways to have the doctrine modified, even while he said certain cases will require its use.

With the government now functioning as a major shareholder in financial institutions as well as, possibly, auto companies such as General Motors, Obama also said Washington has no intention of micromanaging private businesses or of remaining an investor for any longer than necessary. "I've got more than enough to do," he said.

But the president said the government does have the right, on behalf of the taxpayers, to "scrutinize what's being proposed and make sure that their money is not just being thrown down the drain."

Obama's intensive schedule marking his 100th day in office demonstrated the degree to which the administration saw both possibility and peril in the milestone — a symbolic evaluation point since Franklin Roosevelt took office in the depths of the Great Depression in 1933.

Presidential aides have derided it as a media-created "Hallmark holiday" in which the White House participates reluctantly. But they also recognize it is a time frame by which all modern presidents are judged, at least initially, and which can produce negative narratives that dog administrations for years. So the White House heartily embraced the marker, making high-level Obama advisers available anywhere they were needed over the last week and crafting the president's day to maximum advantage.

The opening act of the Obama presidency has been head-turning, not only for the dire times in which he took office but his flurry of activity.

The reward: strong public backing despite a still-staggering economy. An Associated Press-GfK poll shows that 48 percent of Americans believe the United States is headed in the right direction — the first time in years that more people than not expressed optimism for a brighter future.

But most of what Obama has done so far, as would be expected for little more than three months, amounts to no more than a down payment.

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Excerpts of Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - From reluctant CEO to chief U.S. medical adviser, President Barack Obama showed how many hats he wears at a news conference marking his 100th day in office on Wednesday.

Shrugging off critics who say he has taken on too many tasks in his young presidency, Obama said all the issues had landed in his lap at the same time and had to be dealt with simultaneously:

* First off, he was his own U.S. surgeon general, since he has yet to appoint anyone to the job, offering common-sense advice to Americans on how to deal with the threat of swine flu.

"Wash your hands when you shake hands, cover your mouth when you cough. I know it sounds trivial but it makes a huge difference," he said. "If you are sick, stay home. If your child is sick, keep them out of school."

* Obama was the top U.S. human rights advocate, saying the interrogation technique known as waterboarding used during the Bush administration is torture and questioned its use.

Those who insist the techniques gained useful information from terrorism suspects that saved lives fail to answer a core question, he said.

"Which is: could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it doesn't answer the broader question, are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?"

* The president, who taught law at the University of Chicago, showed himself to be a bit of a philosophy professor, talking about how he wants to leave behind a legacy of change, that he hopes in 10 or 20 years the next generation will look back and see this was a period of transformation.


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Excerpts from the Washington Post:

One hundred days into his term, President Obama used a pair of public events Wednesday to chart how far he has steered the country from the course set by the Bush administration, saying, "We are off to a good start, but it is just a start."

Capitalizing on the heightened public attention surrounding the milestone, Obama said his early achievements include setting a timeline to end the U.S. combat role in Iraq -- a war he inherited from President George W. Bush -- and moving quickly to remake an economy suffering as a result of irresponsible borrowing during Bush's tenure.

But his most pointed comments during a day that included a prime-time news conference at the White House and a town-hall forum in Missouri involved his decision to ban waterboarding and other abusive interrogation methods sanctioned by the Bush administration for use against terrorism suspects.

Last night, Obama flatly called those techniques "torture" and said the practice "corrodes the character of a country."

He said the "public justification" of those methods, including claims by Vice President Richard B. Cheney that they helped save American lives, "doesn't answer the core question, which is: Could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it doesn't answer the broader question: Are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?"

"This is a decision that I'm very comfortable with," Obama said. "And I think the American people over time will recognize that it is better for us to stick to who we are, even when we're taking on an unscrupulous enemy."

Obama appeared relaxed and reflective throughout the news conference, the third of his presidency, and he struck a reassuring tone on issues as diverse as the widening swine flu crisis and the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. With nearly seven in 10 Americans approving of his performance, according to polling, Obama spoke more personally than he has before on issues such as abortion and the surprises he has encountered since taking office.

He said he is encouraged that two large U.S. carmakers will remain in business. He said he is "confident" that Pakistan's military has a secure hold on its nuclear arsenal even as he acknowledged that he was "gravely concerned" about the stability of that country's government in the face of Taliban gains. And twice he detailed the precautions people should take to avoid exposure to swine flu -- wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough, don't go to work if you feel sick.

"I know it sounds trivial," Obama said, "but it makes a huge difference."

Obama spent his 100th day in office in much the same way he spent the previous 99 -- in the public eye. He began the day welcoming Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter into the Democratic Party, bringing it closer to a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, and ended it with the news conference.

In between, Obama traveled to Missouri, a state he narrowly lost to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in last year's election. At a boisterous town-hall meeting in Arnold, a distant suburb of St. Louis, Obama said, "We have begun to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off, and we've begun the work of remaking America."

"I'm pleased with the progress we've made, but I'm not satisfied," Obama told the cheering crowd at Fox Senior High School. "I'm confident in the future, but I'm not content with the present."


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The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Wednesday that he was “gravely concerned” about the stability of the Pakistani government but that he was confident Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal would not fall into the hands of Islamic militants.

Speaking at a prime-time news conference on his 100th day in office, Mr. Obama called the government in Pakistan, where army forces are at war with Taliban insurgents who have been advancing on Islamabad, “very fragile.” Pakistan’s leader, President Asif Ali Zardari, is to visit Washington next week, and American officials have been pressing his government to be more aggressive in battling the insurgency.

“I am more concerned that the civilian government right now is very fragile,” Mr. Obama said, because it lacks the capacity to deliver services like health care and the rule of law. “As a consequence,” he added, “it’s very difficult for them to gain the support and loyalty of their people.”

Mr. Obama also hit back at critics including former Vice President Dick Cheney, maintaining that harsh interrogation techniques used by the previous administration did not yield any information that could not have been obtained through other means.

Responding to the fallout over his decision to release secret memorandums that laid out the Bush administration’s legal justification for interrogation techniques like waterboarding — which Mr. Obama called torture — the president said that none of the intelligence reports he had seen left him thinking such methods were justified or necessary. “I will do whatever is required to keep the American people safe,” Mr. Obama said. “But I am convinced that the best way to do that is to make sure we’re not taking shortcuts that undermine who we are.”

He offered no shift, however, in his opposition to an independent inquiry into the Bush administration’s policies on the interrogation of terror suspects.

During the one-hour news conference, Mr. Obama struck a variety of notes, ranging from historian-in-chief to mom-in-chief, when he lectured Americans to take precautions against the swine flu.

“Wash your hands when you shake hands; cover your mouth when you cough,” he said. “I know it sounds trivial, but it makes a huge difference.”

There were a few light moments, particularly when Mr. Obama was asked what has surprised, troubled, enchanted and humbled him in the past 100 days. “Wait, let me get this all down,” he said, taking out a pen.

He was surprised, he answered, by the number of critical issues that appear to be coming to a head all at the same time.

“I didn’t anticipate the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” he said. “The typical president has two or three big problems, we have seven or eight.”

He said he was troubled, or at least, “sobered” by how much “political posturing and bickering takes place even when we’re in the middle of really big crises.”

He called himself enchanted by American servicemen and women, and their sacrifices they make, although he allowed that “enchanted” might not be the exact characterization.

By the time he got to what humbled him, he was ready to expound, going on about the how the presidency was “just part of a much broader tapestry of American life” and how “the ship of state is an ocean liner, not a speed boat.”

Often over the course of the hour, he sought to draw distinctions between himself and his predecessor, and said that he had changed America’s relations with the world. “We have rejected the false choice between our security and our ideals,” he said.

Asked about his administration’s support in several recent court cases for the Bush administration’s position that the government had a broad right to invoke national security secrets to block litigation, Mr. Obama responded that he wants to modify the so-called state secrets doctrine, but had not had time to do so when the court cases came up.

“I actually think that the state secret doctrine should be modified,” he said. “I think right now it’s over broad.”

Addressing the economy, Mr. Obama said his administration had made progress but that there was much more to be done and that he ultimately wants a more stable economy less prone to boom and bust.

“We cannot go back to an economy that is built on a pile of sand — on inflated home prices and maxed-out credit cards, on overleveraged banks and outdated regulations that allowed the recklessness of a few to threaten the prosperity of us all,” Mr. Obama said in an eight-minute speech before taking questions from reporters.

He offered a new catchphrase to describe his economic program, calling for a “new foundation for growth,” that would encompass increased spending on issues like education and renewable energy.

Mr. Obama suggested that the pressures of governing at a time of economic crisis, war and now a potential flu pandemic have led him to pay less attention to some issues of intense interest to his political base. Asked if he would keep a campaign promise to eliminate federal, state and local restrictions on abortion, he said that while he favored abortion rights, getting rid of those restrictions were “not my highest legislative priority.”

Asked about how he would use the government’s power as a major shareholder in companies like General Motors and Citigroup, he said the government should limit its involvement.

“I don’t want to run auto companies. I don’t want to run banks,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ve got two wars I’ve got to run already. I’ve got more than enough to do. So the sooner we can get out of that business, the better off we’re going to be.”

The news conference in the East Room of the White House was the final act in a daylong series of events staged to mark Mr. Obama’s 100th day in office.

Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Obama traveled to Missouri for a town meeting in a state that he narrowly lost last year. He offered an upbeat assessment of his first three months in the White House, but implored patience as he tackles a mountain of challenges, saying he could not work miracles.

The tone of Mr. Obama’s remarks on Wednesday reflected an assessment from several advisers that the next chapter of his presidency is likely to be even more difficult than the first. But his job approval rating remains high, particularly given the wave of challenges on his desk, which in the last week grew even larger with the first health emergency of his administration.


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(CNN) -- President Obama said Wednesday that he's under no illusions that he'll have a "rubber-stamp Senate" now that Sen. Arlen Specter has switched parties to join the Democrats.

"To my Republican friends, I want them to realize that me reaching out to them has been genuine," Obama said at a prime time news conference capping his 100th day in office.

"I can't sort of define bipartisanship as simply being willing to accept certain theories of theirs that we tried for eight years and didn't work and the American people voted to change."

Specter on Tuesday announced he was changing parties, saying he's found himself increasingly "at odds with the Republican philosophy." He also admitted Wednesday he was worried about the prospects of facing a Republican primary in order to keep his seat next year.

Specter's move puts the Democrats one shy of a filibuster-proof Senate majority of 60 seats. Senate Democrats can reach the 60-seat mark if courts uphold Al Franken's disputed recount victory in Minnesota.

As if to prove the president's point, Specter voted against Obama's budget plan shortly before the news conference.

Asked if the GOP is in desperate straits, Obama said, "Politics in America changes very quick. And I'm a big believer that things are never as good as they seem and never as bad as they seem." Watch what Obama says about working with Republicans »

Obama has faced criticism from Republicans that he hasn't been reaching across the aisle. His budget moved through both chambers of Congress on Wednesday with no GOP support, and his economic stimulus plan passed with just three Republican votes from the Senate.

The president said he thinks the administration has taken steps to restore confidence in the American people, noting that "simply opposing our approach on every front is probably not a good political strategy."

In his first 100 days, he's been "sobered by the fact that change in Washington comes slow," said Obama. Watch Obama discuss what's surprised him in the first 100 days »

"That there is still a certain quotient of political posturing and bickering that takes place even when we're in the middle of really big crises," he said, adding that he'd like for everyone to say "let's take a time-out on some of the political games."

In a shift from his previous news conferences which were dominated by questions about the economy, Obama fielded multiple queries on the foreign policy front.

The president said a recent uptick in violence in Iraq won't affect his plan for a phased military withdrawal.

"Civilian deaths, incidents of bombings ... remain very low relative to what was going on last year," Obama said. "You haven't seen the kinds of huge spikes that you were seeing for a time. The political system is holding and functioning in Iraq."

Obama said more details need to be nailed down before U.S. troops leave Iraq -- including how oil revenues will be divided, what the powers of provincial governments there will be and the political relationships between minority Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites -- including the armed Sons of Iraq groups.

On Pakistan, the president said the United States has "huge national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable" and doesn't end up a "nuclear-armed militant state."

"I am gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan, not because I think that they're immediately going to be overrun and the Taliban would take over in Pakistan. I'm more concerned that the civilian government there right now is very fragile and don't seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services," he said.

Obama also said Wednesday he is "very comfortable" with his decision to ban interrogation techniques like waterboarding, which he called torture. Watch what Obama says about torture »

The president called the practice a recruiting tool for terrorist groups like al Qaeda, citing World War II-era British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who also rejected such "enhanced interrogation" techniques.

"Churchill understood that if you start taking shortcuts, over time that corrodes what's best in a people," Obama said. "It corrodes the character of a country."

Asked about the previous administration, he said, "I think that whatever legal rationale were used, it was a mistake."

On the recent outbreaks of swine flu, Obama insisted his administration is "prepared to do whatever it takes to control the impact of the virus."

"I've asked every American to take the same steps you would take to prevent any other flu: Keep your hands washed; cover your mouth when you cough; stay home from work if you're sick; and keep your children home from school if they're sick," he said.

Obama downplayed the possibility of closing the border with Mexico as a way to control the virus, also known by its clinical name of H1N1. Watch as Obama warns Americans about the flu »

"It would be akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out," Obama said

The first cases of the virus were detected in Mexico, where health officials suspect swine flu in more than 150 other deaths and roughly 2,500 illnesses. Only 26 cases have so far been confirmed, including the seven fatal cases.

So far, the World Health Organization has reported 148 cases in nine countries.

Obama said the $1.5 billion he asked from Congress to help fight the outbreaks will help government health officials monitor and track the virus and replenish the supply of antiviral drugs.

On immigration, Obama said he wants to work with members of Congress, including former Republican presidential rival Sen. John McCain, to revive efforts to reform the system.

Obama said he hopes lawmakers will begin working on such reform legislation and expects the process to be under way within the year.

Both Obama and McCain supported an ultimately failed plan backed by then-President Bush that would have fined illegal immigrants living in the United States but provided a pathway to citizenship for some.

Obama's news conference came just hours after both chambers of Congress passed his $3.4 trillion budget resolution for fiscal year 2010.

The measure approves most of Obama's key spending priorities and sets the federal government in a new direction with major increases for energy, education and health care programs.

Obama said his budget begins to lay a "new foundation" that will strengthen the U.S. economy.

"But even as we clear away the wreckage of this recession, I've also said that we can't go back to an economy that is built on a pile of sand -- on inflated home prices and maxed-out credit cards; on overleveraged banks and outdated regulations that allowed the recklessness of a few to threaten the prosperity of all," he said.

The United States "will see a better day," but there's still a lot of work to do, he said.

"I want to thank the American people for their support and their patience during these trying times, and I look forward to working with you in the next hundred days, in the hundred days after that, all of the hundreds of days to follow, to make sure that this country is what it can be."

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plez sez: 100 months ago, no one had heard of him. 100 weeks ago, he was a dark horse candidate. 100 days ago, he took the oath of office... and the world will never look at america the same again!

~ ~ Citations ~ ~

Read the article about Obama's first 100 days.

Read the Reuters article about Obama's first 100 days.

Read the New York Times article about Obama's first 100 days.

Read the Washington Post article about Obama's first 100 days.

Read the article about Obama's first 100 days.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Open Thread for Sunday Morning in plezWorld XI

Okay, the social media bug has bitten plezWorld big time. A few weeks ago it was Twitter and for the last few days, I've been consumed by FaceBook. I've been finding folk from the Sleepy Hollow, New York (where I grew up), from my high school in Hampton, Virginia, from Georgia Tech, relatives, and long lost frat brothers... and even made a few new friends in the process.

Follow plezWorld on Twitter.

Send me a tweet... and I'm the only plez on FaceBook!

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The Commodores sang, "That's why I'm easy... easy like Sunday morning."

Write what you'd like, because plezWorld should be taking it easy on Sunday... watching some NBA playoff games.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Day of Blogging for Justice: Death by Police Tasers

Over the past couple of years, there has been a growing epidemic of taser-related deaths at the hands of the police. Unfortunately, an unsettling number of these deaths are Black men. As peace officers, the job of the police is to maintain order and enforce laws. Using their police powers to indict, convict, and execute innocent Americans has never been part of their job description. The only time that deadly force should be used is when their lives or the safety of the general public is threatened.

The taser is supposed to be a non-lethal way to subdue and apprehend those suspected by the police of crime or mayhem. Unfortunately, this tool has become as lethal as a bullet fired from an officer's service revolver. reports that Amnesty International has reported that, since June 2001, more than 150 people have died in the United States after being subdued with a stun gun. The organization has called for police departments to suspend use of the devices pending study of their possible risks. Few have done so, said Amnesty, which added that more than 7,000 of the nation's 18,000 law enforcement agencies use the devices.

Back in July 2008, plezWorld posted the sad story of Baron "Scooter" Pikes who was executed by the police after he was tasered NINE TIMES.

After wandering over to Electronic Village, you will notice that Scooter's sad story is far from being out of the ordinary:

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plez sez: i am a proponent of the actions necessary to review the use of tasers. if they are no longer a non-lethal alternative, then maybe they should be banned.

it is my hope that by bringing this story to plezWorld on this day of blogging for justice, the injustice caused by the unlawful use of tasers by the nation's police will be addressed.

the UN has condemned the use of tasers as torture. in light of the ongoing discussion about the Bush policies of torturing prisoners of war, we have verifiable examples of US citizens being tortured to death by the very police who had sworn to protect them.

~ ~ Citations from Around America ~ ~

Read the July 2008 Chicago Tribune article about Scooter Pikes death by taser.

Read the July 2005 Arizona Republic article about a Chicago death caused by police taser.

Read the February 2009 Indybay article about the sixth man killed by San Jose police and their tasers.

Read the April 2009 article about the second 15-year old in one month who was killed by a taser.

Read the November 2007 article about a Maryland man who was killed by a sheriff's taser.

Read the October 2008 Reuters article about the New York police officer who killed himself after order a taser death.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day 2009

plez sez: click here to make your own icon

NEWTON, Iowa (CNN) -- President Obama marked Earth Day Wednesday by announcing a new initiative to lease federal waters for the purpose of generating electricity from wind and ocean currents.

The president announced the initiative, to be administered by the Interior Department, while reiterating his pledge to push for a comprehensive energy plan that encourages the development of alternative fuel sources, cuts dependence on foreign oil, addresses climate change, and creates new jobs.

Wind power can generate 20 percent of the country's electricity by 2030 and support 250,000 jobs, Obama said during a visit to a wind turbine tower manufacturing plant.

It is part of "beginning a new era of energy exploration," he said.

Contrary to the assertion of some critics, the country does not have to choose between protecting the environment and expanding the economy, Obama said. The real choice is between "prosperity and decline."

The president said there is no "silver bullet" to solving the country's energy needs, and that a variety of energy sources will be required to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The United States needs to boost domestic production of oil and natural gas in the short term before fully transitioning to alternative sources, Obama said.

But over the long term, new energy sources will be required both to address the issue of climate change and strengthen the economy, he said.

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday that $300 million in stimulus money will be given to state and local governments to help expand the number of clean and sustainable vehicles in cities around the nation. The program is called the Clean Cities Alternative Fuel and Advanced Technology Vehicles Pilot Program.

"Every day is Earth Day," said Biden at a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority training facility in Landover, Maryland, where he announced the program.

The plan, according to Biden, would help local governments and transportation authorities invest in clean vehicles and fund the fueling infrastructure to support them.

"From advanced battery cars to hybrid-electric city buses, we're going put Recovery Act dollars to work deploying cleaner, greener vehicles in cities and towns across the nation that will cut costs, reduce pollution and create the jobs that will drive our economic recovery," Biden said in a statement.

The funding adds to $11 billion already allocated to the Department of Energy to boost local energy efficiency programs and weatherize low-income homes. To participate, local governments have to apply to the Clean Cities Program for funding, and they can receive money for a variety of hybrid vehicles and alternative fuels.

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~ ~ Citations ~ ~

Read the article about Obama on Earth Day.

Click here to sign the petition to support Al Gore (and Repower America) in support of clean energy legislation that is currently making its way through Congress.

Make yourself a green jobs icon here.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Jennifer Hudson with Fantasia & Jennifer Holliday in the ATL (LIVE at the Fox)

This a treat for the eyes and ears.

If you love good LIVE R&B music... this one is for you! On Thursday, April 16, 2009, Jennifer Hudson took to the stage at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, Georgia. She was joined on-stage for a rare live rendition of "I'm His Only Woman" by her "American Idol" mate, Fantasia! And if that wasn't enough, she was later sang a duet with Jennifer Holliday of their hit "And I Am Telling You" from the "Dreamgirls" soundtrack.

One of my frat brothers shared a bootleg video shot at the show... awesome!

I'm His Only Woman" by Jennifer Hudson and Fantasia

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"And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going"
by Jennifer Hudson and Jennifer Holliday

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plez sez: sing it Effie!

just to think, when this concert was going on at the Fox, plezWorld was at the public meeting for the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. Southeastern Province Council Meeting about one mile down peachtree street in atlanta. the frat brother who shared this video with me was supposed to be at the public meeting to pick up his 25 year service award... i guess you could say i was on the right street but sitting in the wrong seat! i love my frat, but can't nobody i know sing like this! *smile*

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

That Little Tea Party... So Much Haterade

When plezWorld heard the right wing fanatics (of the Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh vein) were organizing a tax day protest akin to the Colonial Period protest when a rogue band of patriots dumped a shipment of Britain's finest tea in the Boston Harbor, I knew that it would quickly devolve in a racist-tinged rant against the Barack Obama presidency (that hasn't seen its hundredth day) and calls for the repeal of forthcoming Obama tax hikes (which as of this writing hasn't been enacted). It left one scratching his head why this people who claim to love this country wasn't out protesting Obama's predecessor's off-the-hook deficit spending of the past eight years? I don't even have to dust off my engineering degree to come up with an answer... one president was an establishment white guy and the other is a liberal Black guy! Darker skin makes an easy target for the rudderless, faceless, tactless right wing fanatics.

Instead of spending too much time interpreting for the reader the myriad of the same that occurred around the country on yesterday, I thought it'd be cool to include excerpts from a few select newspapers. Here goes... covered the Atlanta "Tea Party" for Georgia:

Thousands of tax protesters streamed Wednesday to state government’s front lawn, creating a sign-waving, anthem-shouting mass as darkness fell.

The Atlanta “Tea Party” at the Georgia Capitol stretched for blocks in protest of federal spending and the Obama Administration’s efforts to stimulate the economy.

“We stand here tonight seeing clearly what has been done and what we must do,” state Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ranger), said.

Graves quoted a favorite of the crowd, the late former President Ronald Reagan, who warned “a government is never more dangerous than when our desire to have it help us... blinds us to how it can harm us.”

The Atlanta rally was one of 20 around the state and more than 300 around the country. Billed as grass-roots protests, critics — especially Democrats — have labeled the gatherings as frauds created by Republican advocacy groups with the backing of deep-pocketed lobbyists and Fox News.

Meanwhile, at the Capitol itself, protesters — who model themselves after the Revolutionary-era Boston Tea Party — decried a federal government they say has lost touch.

Speaker after speaker complained about the bailouts of banks, automakers, mortgage lenders and anyone they deemed responsible for the current economic crisis. Fox News erected a massive set where conservative personality Sean Hannity planned to broadcast live.

Former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) spoke. His organization, Freedom Works, is a primary organizer of many of the tea parties around the nation. Armey’s group, along with conservative groups Americans for Prosperity and American Solutions for Winning the Future, founded by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), helped organize the events. Gingrich was scheduled to speak at the New York City tea party. American Solutions president and CEO Dave Ryan spoke here.

Armey planned to address the concerns critics have raised over who was in charge of the events.

“I plan to tell everybody they need to make it clear it’s their gathering,” Armey said before the rally, as he stood at the corner of Martin Luther King Drive and Courtland Street. “It’s not organized by big shots in Washington.”

Jason Pye of Covington, the legislative director for the Georgia Libertarian Party, had mixed emotions about the rally. He and his fellow Libertarians have long supported the ideals exhorted Wednesday: less government, free markets and a Darwinian-approach to private business.

Many of those speaking, he said, haven’t always protected those ideals.

“I’m happy people are getting together,” he said. “But the movement has been co-opted by Republicans who are trying to regain their identity and want to forget George W. Bush existed. Libertarians aren’t forgetting.”

~ ~ ~

The New York Times' Paul Krugman wrote an op-ed piece about the tea parties:

This is a column about Republicans — and I’m not sure I should even be writing it.

Today’s G.O.P. is, after all, very much a minority party. It retains some limited ability to obstruct the Democrats, but has no ability to make or even significantly shape policy.

Beyond that, Republicans have become embarrassing to watch. And it doesn’t feel right to make fun of crazy people. Better, perhaps, to focus on the real policy debates, which are all among Democrats.

But here’s the thing: the G.O.P. looked as crazy 10 or 15 years ago as it does now. That didn’t stop Republicans from taking control of both Congress and the White House. And they could return to power if the Democrats stumble. So it behooves us to look closely at the state of what is, after all, one of our nation’s two great political parties.

One way to get a good sense of the current state of the G.O.P., and also to see how little has really changed, is to look at the “tea parties” that have been held in a number of places already, and will be held across the country on Wednesday. These parties — antitaxation demonstrations that are supposed to evoke the memory of the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution — have been the subject of considerable mockery, and rightly so.

But everything that critics mock about these parties has long been standard practice within the Republican Party.

Thus, President Obama is being called a “socialist” who seeks to destroy capitalism. Why? Because he wants to raise the tax rate on the highest-income Americans back to, um, about 10 percentage points less than it was for most of the Reagan administration. Bizarre.

But the charge of socialism is being thrown around only because “liberal” doesn’t seem to carry the punch it used to. And if you go back just a few years, you find top Republican figures making equally bizarre claims about what liberals were up to. Remember when Karl Rove declared that liberals wanted to offer “therapy and understanding” to the 9/11 terrorists?

Then there are the claims made at some recent tea-party events that Mr. Obama wasn’t born in America, which follow on earlier claims that he is a secret Muslim. Crazy stuff — but nowhere near as crazy as the claims, during the last Democratic administration, that the Clintons were murderers, claims that were supported by a campaign of innuendo on the part of big-league conservative media outlets and figures, especially Rush Limbaugh.

Speaking of Mr. Limbaugh: the most impressive thing about his role right now is the fealty he is able to demand from the rest of the right. The abject apologies he has extracted from Republican politicians who briefly dared to criticize him have been right out of Stalinist show trials. But while it’s new to have a talk-radio host in that role, ferocious party discipline has been the norm since the 1990s, when Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, became known as “The Hammer” in part because of the way he took political retribution on opponents.

Going back to those tea parties, Mr. DeLay, a fierce opponent of the theory of evolution — he famously suggested that the teaching of evolution led to the Columbine school massacre — also foreshadowed the denunciations of evolution that have emerged at some of the parties.

Last but not least: it turns out that the tea parties don’t represent a spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment. They’re AstroTurf (fake grass roots) events, manufactured by the usual suspects. In particular, a key role is being played by FreedomWorks, an organization run by Richard Armey, the former House majority leader, and supported by the usual group of right-wing billionaires. And the parties are, of course, being promoted heavily by Fox News.

But that’s nothing new, and AstroTurf has worked well for Republicans in the past. The most notable example was the “spontaneous” riot back in 2000 — actually orchestrated by G.O.P. strategists — that shut down the presidential vote recount in Florida’s Miami-Dade County.

So what’s the implication of the fact that Republicans are refusing to grow up, the fact that they are still behaving the same way they did when history seemed to be on their side? I’d say that it’s good for Democrats, at least in the short run — but it’s bad for the country.

For now, the Obama administration gains a substantial advantage from the fact that it has no credible opposition, especially on economic policy, where the Republicans seem particularly clueless.

But as I said, the G.O.P. remains one of America’s great parties, and events could still put that party back in power. We can only hope that Republicans have moved on by the time that happens.

~ ~ ~

In the Washington Post, Dana Milbank opined that the tea parties were flavored with haterade over all things President Obama:

As a tea party, what happened in Lafayette Square across from the White House yesterday was a washout.

There were no buttered scones, none of those dainty cucumber sandwiches and, as it happens, not a spot of tea. Organizers of the conservative protest were told at the last minute that they didn't have a permit to dump a million tea bags in the square, as they had planned.

Instead, they served up a rather noxious brew.

"Hey Big Brother: Show us Your Real Birth Certificate," said one sign in the rain-soaked crowd.

"Blackbeard Obama, King of the Tax Pirates," said another.

A third showed the president dressed up as Steve Urkel, the nerdy black kid with big glasses and suspenders from "Family Matters." "Did I do that?" the sign said, showing a graph of the economy plunging.

Young girls wore T-shirts printed with the message "Don't tax me, bro" -- a play on a protester's famous "Don't tase me, bro" cry at a John Kerry event.

Those messages might explain why Fox News, though actively promoting the "tea party" protests for tax day, tried to argue that it was not behind yesterday's coast-to-coast events. But Fox News analyst Tobin Smith, who took the stage in Lafayette Square yesterday, evidently didn't get the memo. "On behalf of Fox News Channel," he told more than 500 mud-spattered demonstrators, "I want to say: Welcome to the Comedy Channel of America, Washington, D.C."

After a few preliminaries, he went into a Fox News commercial for anchor Glenn Beck. "Anybody watching Glenn?" he asked to cheers. "That was a shameless plug, wasn't it? Glenn says hello as well. He's out at another tea party." Indeed he was, as were Sean Hannity and Neil Cavuto.

A small group of counterdemonstrators, wearing ballgowns, tuxedoes and pig snouts, interrupted and were stripped of their signs. Smith seized the display as an opportunity to highlight the Fox News slogan. "You know what 'Fair and Balanced' means?" he asked. " 'Fair and Balanced' means we take our message and try to overcompensate for their lack of message." Smith left with instructions: "Keep watching Fox, will you?"

The theme was echoed in some of the homemade signs the demonstrators carried, including "Watch Fox News," "Thank You Fox News," and even a recommendation: "Move Glenn Beck to 7 PM."

Without the spectacle of a 1773-style tea-bag dump in the square, the handmade signs became the focus of the event. Though ostensibly an anti-tax protest, it was more of an anti-Obama festival. Among the messages: "The Audacity of the Dope," "O Crap" and Obama as an acronym for "One Big Awful Mistake America." Some messages were ugly ("Napolitano -- Obama's Gestapo Queen," "Hang 'Em High Traitors," and a sign held by a young girl saying "Victim of Child Tax Abuse"). Others were funny ("Don't Talk to Me! I Forgot My Teleprompter"). Certain ones had sinister overtones ("Tax Slavery Sucks," and "Obama bin Lyin"). Then there was the guy holding a Cabbage Patch doll by its hair with the message: "My kid's growth stunted by your stimulus."

Though the left and right will fight over whether the protests were organic or fake AstroTurf, there can be little doubt that the grass roots were well nourished yesterday. The Secret Service informed the protesters that they could not set up their stage in front of the Treasury Department, as they had planned, so they wound up in a muddy patch of grass on the hindquarters side of Andrew Jackson's horse. The legs of the stage began to sink in the mud, and, as the lawn turned into a lake, several of the demonstrators had to wiggle their feet free of the muck.

"I don't think it could rain any harder," one of the organizers said. He urged the crowd to embrace the adversity: "When they tell you you can't bring a million tea bags to Lafayette Square, you work with it -- you find a place to put them."

For somebody, the "place to put them" turned out to be the North Lawn of the White House. As the protest began to break up, a demonstrator hurled what appeared to be a box of tea bags toward the executive mansion. The Secret Service, much like His Majesty's government in Boston, was not amused. The White House was locked down while a robot examined the tea.

Before the main acts, organizers allowed a bit of open microphone time, which resulted in one man telling Obama "You're an idiot!" Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, in a drenched business suit, rallied the crowd before some counterdemonstrators with whistles interrupted; Norquist scolded the "loud brownshirts." Alan Keyes, another headliner, railed against the "orgy of selfishness," the "orgy of debt" and "the scourge of immigration." Americans for Prosperity's Phil Kerpen directed his anger at Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner: "The tax cheat got our permit revoked." And Fox's Smith colorfully described Congress as "the only whorehouse in the world that fails to make a profit."

Talk-show host Mike Church treated the crowd to a mock fascist salute and said that "it's time to have a little revolution, I think. We don't have to fire weapons. You should own them, you should have a lot of ammo to go with them, but you don't have to shoot them."

"Unless we have to!" somebody called out.

"No, you're not going to have to," Church answered.

That's because these rebels, unlike the patriots of 1773, have Fox News.

~ ~ ~

Then has an article about the nationwide spending protest:

Armed with signs reading "no taxation without deliberation" and "stop bankrupting America," tens of thousands of people spent national tax day at organized "tea party" demonstrations across the country, protesting what some view as excessive government spending and bailouts.

"If you look at these nine little beautiful grandbabies, I'm here for them. Our government's out of control with spending and their future's being robbed," said Mary Wojnas, whose sign had a photo of her grandchildren next to the phrase, "Stop Generational Theft."

"Stop out-of-control spending and stop government takeover and intrusion in our lives. They're here to protect us and beyond that, get out of our way," said Wojnas, who attended a rally in front of the Georgia state capitol in Atlanta.

In Massachusetts, hundreds cheered as people dressed in 18th-century style wigs and clothes tossed crates of tea into Boston Harbor, harkening back to pre-Revolutionary War protests in that city against British taxation policies.

"I think it's only a matter of time before these people quit carrying signs and start doing something else," said Ed McQueen, an Ohio resident who attended the Chicago rally. "What that is, I don't know. Quit paying taxes? Are they going to start carrying sticks and clubs? I don't know." See McQueen's photos

Conservatives borrowed a page from President Obama's Web-savvy style to promote the gatherings on videos and blogs.

But many insisted protesters' grievances cut across party lines, reflecting a general anger among people who contend the government takes too much from their pocketbooks.

"The importance of these tea parties is to let our elected officials know that there's a lot of people out there who are unhappy. They're not Republicans, they're not Democrats, they're everyday Americans who are concerned about our taxes," said said T.J. Welsh, an organizer of a protest attended by thousands in Jacksonville, Florida.

Financial-industry and automotive bailouts were launched at the end of George W. Bush's presidency, but many demonstrators aimed their words and signs at the Obama administration, criticizing it in part for the recently passed stimulus package. See map showing where some tea parties took place

The $787 billion economic stimulus bill President Obama signed in February "was basically shoved down the throat of the American people," Welsh said.

"Now is not the time to be running a $700 billion dollar plus budget through that people did not talk about, that people did not read," Welsh said.

Along with concerns over too many taxes and excessive bailouts, a common theme that emerged from the demonstrations was the threat of big government on the lives of individual citizens.

"People are tired of the nanny state and the growth of government, tired of having our money basically robbed," a demonstrator in Jacksonville said. "[We] want to return to constitutional form of government, limited government that allows people to be free and independent."

"The biggest problem we have is the government is too big ... real people understand that and say we can't take the burden of a burgeoning government," said former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, whose organization, FreedomWorks, helped organize Wednesday's nationwide event.

"We need to reign in the size of government, and once having done so, we can cut taxes responsibly," he said.

Boston wasn't the only place where protesters played off the pre-Revolutionary War tea-dumping protests. As many Americans rushed to file their tax forms Wednesday, cheering crowds across the country heaved huge coolers with "Tea" painted on the side into bodies of water.

Protesters on Wednesday said that like their colonial forebears, they felt their voices were not being heard by their government.

At one protest Wednesday morning a sign read, "I read as much of the stimulus bill as my Congresswoman." Another read, "You can't put lipstick on socialism."

McQueen, a 44-year-old litigation consultant and CNN iReporter, said he had no problem with paying taxes.

"But when no can tell us where this amount of money is going, no one can sketch it out for us, just seems like an injustice," he said.

Bloggers in Seattle, Washington, were the first to bring conservatives together for a rally on February 16 against what they saw as too many government handouts to banks, the auto and mortgage industries. Protests followed in Colorado and Arizona.

The embers turned into a raging fire when later that month, CNBC personality Rick Santelli went off on Obama's policies live on air.

"The government is promoting bad behavior," Santelli said, asking why Obama would make Americans who pay their bills subsidize the mortgages of "losers."

Santelli said he wanted a tea party to happen in Chicago, Illinois, to stand up and angrily demand "No more."

Cheers erupted behind him on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange floor and a video of the rant became viral, drawing comparisons of Santelli to Howard Beale, the fictional "mad as hell" anchorman in the 1976 movie "Network."

The outrage spread, prompting rallies in the Midwest and the South.

Pajamas TV, a conservative Web site that says it gets about 1 million viewers a week, ran streaming video from several protests. PJTV hired McCain campaign poster boy Samuel Joseph "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher to act as a reporter at one of the protests. At least one video shows a protester asking Wurzelbacher if he would like to waterboard Obama.

"I don't approve of that," said Pajamas TV CEO Roger L. Simon. "I would like to hope, and I think, that most people are respectful."

Liberal tea party critics aren't buying it. They call the protests "Astroturf," saying they aren't real grassroots events, but are organized by old-fashioned Republican Party bosses.

The events have been promoted in part by FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, whose Web site says it engages citizens "in the name of limited government and free markets."

"Groups like Americans for Prosperity [are] working and helping an organizing, but no one group, no one organization, no one political party could pull off something like this," Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips said. Tax protest brewing in San Antonio

In remarks in Washington on Wednesday, Obama said he'd been true to campaign promises to lessen the tax burden on most Americans.

"My administration has taken far-reaching action to give tax cuts to Americans who need them while jump-starting growth and job creation in the process," the president said.

A tax cut enacted April 1, Obama said, "will reach 120 million families and put $120 billion directly into their pockets."

The plan offers a refundable tax credit of up to $400 for working individuals and up to $800 for married taxpayers who file joint returns, according to the IRS.

Not everyone disapproves of Obama's tax policies. In March, 62 percent of people taking a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll said they approved how Obama is handling taxes. The sampling error was plus or minus 4.5 percent.

~ ~ ~

plez sez: 'nuff said! NO ONE likes paying taxes. the only people who received a benefit from the bailouts were the top tier executives of the companies who received them.

[Hat Tip: Kimistry 101]

the whole idea of a tax day revolt was a publicity stunt by a handful of republicans trying to find a way to make themselves relevant during a time that their party is mired in irrelevancy! every argument made today (save the attacks on Obama) could've been leveled against george w. bush. so the impetus behind their drinking their haterade-flavored tea is quite evident... and it ain't got nothing to do with taxes!

~ ~ Citations ~ ~

Read the coverage of the Atlanta "Tea Party".

Read the New York Times op-ed piece titled "Tea Partied Forever."

Read the Washington Post article about how the anti-tax protests devolved into anti-Obama rants.

Read the article about the nationwide "tea party".

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Burger King Whopper Ad Offends Mexicans

Burger King print ad
The Burger King Texican Whopper "inspired by the land where a man ain't afraid to sink his teeth into something hot and spicy."

~ ~ ~

Mexico is protesting what it says is a whopper of an insult.

An advertisement for Burger King's Texican Whopper burger shows a small wrestler dressed in a cape resembling a Mexican flag. The wrestler teams up with a lanky American cowboy almost twice his height to illustrate the cross-border blend of flavors.

"The taste of Texas with a little spicy Mexican," a narrator's voice says.

The taller cowboy boosts the wrestler up to reach high shelves and helps clean tall windows, while the Mexican helps the cowboy open a jar. The lazy Mexican swims by while the Texan cleans the pool.

Mexico's ambassador to Spain said Monday he has written a letter to Burger King's offices in that nation objecting to the ad and asking that it be removed. Jorge Zermeno told Radio Formula that the ads "improperly use the stereotyped image of a Mexican."

~ ~ ~

The company pledged Tuesday to pull the ads for its chili-flavored "Texican" hamburger, saying they were "not intended to offend anyone."

"Burger King Corp. has made the decision to revise the Texican Whopper advertising creative out of respect for the Mexican culture and its people," the company said in a statement sent to The Associated Press. Burger King, which is known for its signature Whopper hamburger, said it would air redesigned ads "as soon as commercially possible."

"The revised campaign will focus solely on the Texican Whopper sandwich and will not feature any characters or the use of the Mexican flag," the company said.

~ ~ ~

plez sez: what are these ad execs thinking when they approve these obviously offensive projects? demeaning fried chicken ads with black people (kfc). now this over-the-top portrayal of a stereotypical mexican in a burger commercial. the only way to make this commercial more offensive would've been to have the "lil wrestler" illegally cross the border to answer the personal ad in the newspaper!

this is what happens when the people sitting around a table making decisions is not a representative sample of the people who will consume the products. after yuckin' it up at an ad that looks like it was created by a roomful of sixth grade boys, no one in the room considered that having a little person traipse around draped in a mexican flag would inflame some passion from people of mexican descent!

it's been about two years since plezWorld has graced kfc with his presence... i guess i can replace that personal boycott with one of burger king and their texican whopper!

~ ~ Citations ~ ~

Read the article about how Burger King plans to alter the ad.

Read the NY Daily News article about the offensive Burger King Texican Whopper ad.

Read the article about Mexican outrage over the commercial.

Read the Fox News article about Burger King's little Mexican ad.

Read how plezWorld blew a gasket over an offensive KFC commercial.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Obama Eases Some Cuba Travel Restrictions

On February 7, 1962, way back when John F. Kennedy was the President, the United States imposed a commercial, economic, and financial embargo (described in Cuba as el bloqueo, Spanish for "the blockade") on the Castro government in retaliation for their open relationship with the now-defunct USSR (the Soviets). It has been advocated by the pro-embargo Cuban-American exiles, whose votes are crucial in southern Florida, and consequently most politicians have chosen to adopt Cuban-American views. The Cuban-American views have been opposed by business leaders, who claim that freer trade would be good for Cuba and the United States. The embargo was codified into law in 1992 with the stated purpose of to maintain sanctions on the Castro regime so long as it continues to refuse to move toward democratization and greater respect for human rights.

A U.S. arms embargo had been in force since March 1958 when armed conflict broke out in Cuba between rebels and the Batista government. In July 1960, in response to the expropriations by the Cuban government, the United States reduced the Cuban import quota of brown sugar by 7,000,000 tons; the Soviet Union responded by agreeing to purchase the sugar instead, and Cuba took further actions to take over American businesses. In response to Cuba's alignment with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, President John F. Kennedy extended measures by Executive Order, first widening the scope of the trade restrictions on February 7 (announced on February 3 and again on March 23, 1962). According to former aide, Kennedy asked him to purchase 1,200 Cuban cigars for Kennedy's future use immediately before the extended embargo was to come into effect. Salinger succeeded, returning in the morning with 1,200 Petit H. Upmann cigars, Kennedy's favorite cigar size and brand. Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy imposed travel restrictions on February 8, 1963, and the Cuban Assets Control Regulations were issued on July 8, 1963, under the Trading with the Enemy Act in response to Cubans hosting Soviet nuclear weapons, which led to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Under these restrictions, Cuban assets in the U.S. were frozen and the existing restrictions were consolidated. {Cuba embargo info from Wikipedia}

~ ~ ~

On April 13, 2009, President Barack Obama lifted all restrictions on the ability for individuals to visit relatives in Cuba, as well as to send them remittances.

The move represents a significant shift in a U.S. policy that had remained largely unchanged for 45 years. It comes days before Obama leaves for a key meeting of hemispheric powers, the Summit of the Americas, in Trinidad and Tobago.

"President Obama has directed that a series of steps be taken to reach out to the Cuban people to support their desire to enjoy basic human rights and to freely determine their country's future," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.

Obama also ordered new steps to promote the "freer flow of information among the Cuban people and between those in Cuba and the rest of the world, as well as to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian items directly to the Cuban people," Gibbs added.

Several key components of America's embargo on the island nation will be preserved, however. Among other things, Americans will still be barred from sending gifts or other items to high-ranking Cuban government officials and Communist Party members. Travel restrictions for Americans of non-Cuban descent will also remain in place.

~ ~ ~

plez sez: it's about damn time! the wall in berlin has come down. the ussr no longer exists. the last olympic games were in beijing. ...and now some elements of the 45 year old trade embargo with cuba is finally being lifted.

the only people being punished by the trade embargo where the families who were torn apart by the revolution in cuba some 50 years ago. hell, president kennedy made sure he got a lifetime supply of cuban cigars before the door was shut on trade.

okay, there are a few republicans wringing their hands about families finally being able to get together after 45 years. to my way of thinking, if the republicans are against it, then plezWorld is ALL FOR IT along with 75 percent of respondents to a recent poll about opening relations with Cuba!

the russians haven't even tried planting any missiles on the banana republic in over 40 years... what the heck do we have to fear from cuba? fidel castro's biggest concern is crapping himself after a bowl of beans and rice.

i'm surprised that Obama didn't lift ALL trade restrictions with the island nation, thousands of americans visit the nation every year... don't tell anyone, but plezWorld almost took a short excursion to the island during my honeymoon in jamaica almost 20 years ago. they run flights to cuba from jamaica every damn day... i think it cost less than 100 bucks for the round trip flight. i would've gone, but the plezWife wouldn't let me go!

~ ~ Citations ~ ~

Read the article about the easing of travel restrictions to Cuba.

Read the article about GOP lawmakers blast Cuba visit by Black lawmakers.

Read the in depth New York Times article about Obama's easing of travel restrictions to Cuba.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Monday, April 13, 2009

Obama Pulled Trigger on Captain's Rescue from Somali Pirates

Reports out of Washington confirm that it was President Barack Obama who granted U.S. forces what aides called "the authority to use appropriate force to save the life of the captain." In a dramatic rescue mission led by the Navy SEALS, US forces rescued the captain who had been held hostage for four days while killing three Somali pirates.

President Obama has always opposed the war in Iraq and was viewed by most of his opponents as being weak in military affairs. Unlike his two Democratic predecessors (Jimmy Carter in Iran and Bill Clinton in Haiti), he successfully launched a military action.

What follows are excerpts from the Washington Post story about the dramatic Indian Ocean rescue by the Navy SEALS:

Throughout the past four days, White House officials played down Obama's role in the hostage drama. Until yesterday, he made no public statements about the pirates.

In fact, aides said yesterday, Obama had been briefed 17 times since he returned from his trip abroad, including several times from the White House Situation Room. And without giving too many details, senior White House officials made it clear that Obama had provided the authority for the rescue.

"The president's focus was on saving and protecting the life of the captain," one adviser said. Friday evening, after a National Security Council telephone update, Obama granted U.S. forces what aides called "the authority to use appropriate force to save the life of the captain." On Saturday at 9:20 a.m., Obama went further, giving authority to an "additional set of U.S. forces to engage in potential emergency actions."

A top military official, Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, commander of the Fifth Fleet, explained that Obama issued a standing order that the military was to act if the captain's life was in immediate danger.

"Our authorities came directly from the president," he said. "And the number one authority for incidents if we were going to respond was if the captain's life was in immediate danger. And that is the situation in which our sailors acted."

After the rescue ended, White House officials immediately offered expanded information about Obama's role, though the president simply released a statement praising the troops and expressing pride in the captain's bravery.

The operation pales in scope and complexity to the wars underway in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Obama's adversaries are unlikely to be mollified by his performance in a four-day hostage drama.

Nonetheless, it may help to quell criticism leveled at Obama that he came to office as a Democratic antiwar candidate who could prove unwilling or unable to harness military might when necessary.

From the Washington Post, an account of how the mission was accomplished:

The SEALs set up operations on the USS Bainbridge, which had been communicating with the four pirates via radio and had used smaller boats to make deliveries of food and water to their lifeboat. Yet the pirates were growing increasingly agitated, the officials said. At one point Saturday, the pirates opened fire on one of the smaller U.S. Navy craft that approached.

As the seas grew rougher, the Bainbridge offered to tow the lifeboat to calmer waters, and the pirates agreed, linking up the lifeboat to the destroyer with a towing cable that left 75 to 80 feet between the two vessels. Capt. Phillips at the time was tied up in the lifeboat, having been bound -- and occasionally beaten -- by the pirates ever since he had attempted to escape by jumping into the water on Friday, the officials said.

Meanwhile, one of the pirates, estimated to be between 16 and 20 years old, asked to come aboard the Bainbridge to make a phone call. He had been stabbed in the hand during an altercation with the crew of the Maersk Alabama and needed medical care. "He effectively gave himself up," a senior military official said. The Navy then allowed that pirate to speak with the others in hopes that he could persuade them to give up.

The three other pirates, however, showed signs of growing irritation, as the Bainbridge, 18 miles from shore, towed the lifeboat further out to sea, the senior military official said. "They had no promise of money, clearly no passage. The one ticket they had was the captain," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record.

"In the last discussion, they said, 'If we don't get what we want, we will kill the captain,' " the official said.

Soon afterward, two pirates moved to one of the hatches of the lifeboat and stuck their heads out. The third pirate advanced toward the captain and pointed his AK-47 straight at Phillips's back, the rifle touching it or inches away, the official said.

U.S. military observers thought that Phillips was about to be shot. SEAL snipers, who were positioned on a deck at the stern of the Bainbridge, an area known as the fantail, had the three pirates in their sights. The on-scene commander gave the snipers authority to fire.

"As soon as the snipers had a clear shot at the guy who had the rifle, they shot him and the other two in the hatches," the senior military official said.

A member of the Special Operations team slid down the tow line into the water and climbed aboard the lifeboat. Phillips was then put in a small craft and taken to the Bainbridge.

~ ~ ~

plez sez: when i think of pirates, i have visions of old merchant ships of the 1700's, errol flynn, and cannon balls. buried treasure, long john silver, a peg-legged man walking the plank, or "mutiny on the bounty." it still seems strange that there is talk of pirates taking ships hostage in the 21st century.

how is it that a group of swashbucklin' somali pirates riding in speedboats could commandeer a large tanker as it makes its way in the open seas? maybe they need to outfit these boats with some cannons! something tells me that if these ships started shooting back, the piracy problem would quickly abate!

it's great to hear that PRESIDENT OBAMA was briefed and took the appropriate action to save American lives on the high seas. plezWorld is only guessing here, but i Obama isn't the wimp those right-wing wacko's wanted him to be!

~ ~ Citations ~ ~

Read the Washington Post article about how President Obama authorized the rescue mission.

Read the Washington Post article about how the captain was rescued by Navy SEALS.

Read the article about the high seas rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips.
Read the account of the daring rescue of the American captain.

Read the article about piracy on the high seas.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sunday, April 12, 2009

President Obama and the First Dog - "Bo"

Cudlly pooch named BoNormally, plezWorld reserves the Sunday spot for an open thread, but this breaking news warranted a real, live blog post... plus, i love dogs!

The New York Times got the exclusive on the Obama vegetable garden. The first dog was promised to the Washington Post. The story was supposed to break on Tuesday, but Washington is like a sieve.

Here is the Washington Post story about Bo - the Obama dog - in its entirety:

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 12, 2009; Page A01

Who let the dog out?

That's the Washington mystery du jour.

The identity of the first puppy -- the one that the Washington press corps has been yelping about for months, the one President Obama has seemed to delight in dropping hints about -- leaked out yesterday. This despite White House efforts to delay the news until the big debut planned for Tuesday afternoon.

The little guy is a 6-month-old Portuguese water dog given to the Obama girls as a gift by that Portuguese water dog-lovin' senator himself, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. The girls named it Bo -- and let it be noted that you learned that here first. Malia and Sasha chose the name, because their cousins have a cat named Bo and because first lady Michelle Obama's father was nicknamed Diddley, a source said. (Get it? Bo . . . Diddley?)

Bo's a handsome little guy. Well suited for formal occasions at the White House, he's got tuxedo-black fur, with a white chest, white paws and a rakish white goatee.

Clearly, the identity of the dog was information too big to contain. A mysterious Web site called published a picture of a Portie yesterday morning, complete with a Q and A with the dog, which it said was originally named Charlie. The celebrity gossip Web site linked to the picture. So much for the big White House unveiling.

For an Obama team that ran a famously tight-knit press operation during last year's presidential election campaign, it was a sign of how tough it can be to keep a leash on information in Washington.

It's not for lack of trying, though. Bo's story starts sometime around the Ides of March. Word on the street was that the White House was going to plant a vegetable garden. Health gurus had been pushing the Obamas to plant seedlings for months, hoping it would set a good example for children everywhere.

A Washington Post food reporter was making calls, probing, pushing. But the White House was mum. Word filtered out that the exclusive had been promised to the New York Times. But the White House offered The Post, the newspaper that cracked Watergate, a mollifier: A puppy exclusive.

These kinds of arrangements get made all the time in Washington. For a while, the puppy deal seemed to be holding up. Sure, reporters here and there nipped at the story. There were hints that the puppy was a gift. There were reports that the Kennedys were involved -- but the senator's press people professed no knowledge.

But then came yesterday morning. The FirstDogCharlie site included a photograph of a Portuguese water dog that looked exactly like the dog in a White House photograph -- right down to the multicolored lei. (FirstDogCharlie was registered anonymously on Friday on the Web site Will its creators surface to take credit?)

The White House dismissed the Web site picture as "bogus." Both photos are reproduced here; you decide.

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Still, there's lots of stuff that didn't leak out, including a secret get-acquainted session with the family at the White House a few weeks ago. The visit, known around the White House as "The Meeting," was a surprise for the girls. Bo wore a lei then, too.

Bo charmed the first family, a source who was there said. He sat when the girls sat, stood when the girls stood. He made no toileting errors and did not gnaw on the furniture. Bo has, after all, been receiving lessons in good behavior from the Kennedys' dog trainers. These lessons have been taking place at a secret, undisclosed location outside Washington.

Bo, though he was raised elsewhere, already has a keen sense of who's in charge inside the Beltway. When the president walked across the room during the visit, Bo followed obediently.

"He's sooooo cute," the source said, referring, let us be clear, to the puppy. "It's very exciting. They had a great meeting."

Sasha was excited; Malia focused on all the "responsibility issues"--how will Bo be trained, cared for, etc.

"Malia has done extensive research," the source said.

Just in case Portie-mania ensues -- how could it not, after all this buildup? -- a staffer warns that Porties "are not for everyone. They're very energetic. They play, play, play. Then they sleep."

They also need a lot of room to run. Fortunately, the White House has a lot of lawn.

Some issues remain to be resolved. Where, for instance, will Bo sleep? The White House has plenty of rooms to choose from, but the great question of whether he'll get to bunk with one or both of the girls remains undecided. The feeding and walking schedules are also still to be hammered out -- a "family decision," the source said.

"They're approaching this responsibly as a family," the source said.

All of this is new to the first family. Sasha and Malia have never had pets. And neither the first lady nor the president had dogs growing up.

During the campaign, word surfaced that Obama had promised a dog to his girls. Since then, he has been, ahem, hounded constantly about the choice. Precious moments in most of his first major interviews as president-elect and then as president were dedicated to the puppy question.

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The Labradoodle and the Portuguese water dog -- known to its fans as a PWD -- were always in the running because they are considered good pets for children who have allergies, as Malia does.

Kennedy began lobbying for a PWD -- he has three: Sunny, Splash and Cappy. His wife, Victoria, chatted about the virtues of the rambunctious breed in frequent phone calls with Michelle Obama, the source said.

"The Kennedys and the Obamas have become great friends," the source said.

In a statement, the Kennedys said: "We couldn't be happier to see the joy that Bo is bringing to Malia and Sasha. We love our Portuguese Water Dogs and know that the girls -- and their parents -- will love theirs too."

The choice of a Portie raised one complication. The Obamas have long said they wanted a rescue dog. But the carefully bred PWDs almost never end up in shelters. Bo had been living with another family, but it wasn't a good fit, so the Kennedys acquired him for the Obamas.

As for the rescue pledge, the Obamas came up with a solution intended to lend a serious symbolic note: They're going to make a donation to the D.C. Humane Society.

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Of course, there's the intrigue that continues to surround the Obamas... is this actually the dog the Obama girls will get? The poll below is from the Washington Post story:

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plez sez: growing up, i had a labrador retriever. but they shed a lot, so it probably wouldn't be a good choice of someone with allergies... but an excellent family dog.

i hope "bo" enjoys his new home and family.

~ ~ Citations ~ ~

Read the Washington Post article about the first puppy.

Read the Minneapolis article about the new first dog.

Read the article about Bo, the new first dog.

View the First Dog Charlie site **here** .

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