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U.S. to Begin Talks With Cuba to Open Embassy, Normalize Full Diplomatic Relations

Cuba_obama

President Obama is set to announce a broad new range of changes to the U.S. Government's policies toward Cuba including talks to normalize full diplomatic relations and open an embassy, the AP reports.

The announcement was preceded Wednesday morning by the freeing of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, held in Cuba since 2009, CNN adds:

Gross' "humanitarian" release by Cuba was accompanied by a separate spy swap, the officials said. Cuba also freed a U.S. intelligence source who has been jailed in Cuba for more than 20 years, although authorities did not identify that person for security reasons. The U.S. released three Cuban intelligence agents convicted of espionage in 2001.

President Obama is also set to announce a broad range of diplomatic and regulatory measures in what officials called the most sweeping change in U.S. policy toward Cuba since the 1961 embargo was imposed.

Satellite-image-of-cuba

CNBC adds:

Obama plans to overhaul Cuba's policy while Cuba plans to free 53 political prisoners and to allow U.S. debit and credit cards, Dow Jones reported.

General tourism will still not be allowed but some travel restrictions will be eased for the purposes of making it easier for Americans to do business there.

Some of the other changes, according to CNN:

In an effort to boost the nascent Cuban private sector, the President will also allow expanded commercial sales and exports of goods and services to Cuba, particularly building materials for entrepreneurs and private residences, and allow greater business training, as well as permit greater communications hardware and services to go to the island.

Other announced changes permit U.S. and Cuban banks to build relationships and travelers to use credit and debit cards. U.S. travelers will be allowed to import up to $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including $100 in alcohol and tobacco -- even Cuban cigars. Remittances by Americans to their families back in Cuba will also be increased to approximately $2,000 per quarter.

While only Congress can lift the decades-long full embargo, the President appears to be extending many measures which are within his power.

Many, of course, will be asking how the human rights violations of the Castro regime will be addressed during these talks. Just this week, on Human Rights Day, more than 100 and reportedly up to 240 political activists were arrested throughout the island.

Obama is set to speak about Gross and Cuba at 12 ET today. At the same time Cuban President Raul Castro will be giving a press conference about the policies in Havana.

A CNN report on Alan Gross, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Texas Gets 1st Openly Gay Federal Judge Thanks to Anti-Gay GOP Senators John Cornyn, Ted Cruz

Pitman.Robert

Thanks to the support of two rabidly anti-LGBT senators, Texas is getting its first openly gay federal judge. 

The Senate on Tuesday night confirmed Robert Pitman to fill a San Antonio seat that's been vacant for more than six years. 

President Barack Obama in June nominated Pitman, who was backed by Cornyn and Cruz, both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Cruz also inadvertently aided Pitman's confirmation when he forced the Senate into session last weekend. 

Pitman will become one of about 10 openly LGBT federal judges in the US. When Obama took office, there was only one.

Eric Lesh, fair courts project manager at Lambda Legal, said in a statement responding to Pitman's confirmation: 

“For the judicial system in the United States to be truly fair, it must reflect the tremendous diversity of the country. President Obama has made great strides in promoting and ensuring that diversity with his nominations of people of color and of openly gay and lesbian individuals to the federal bench. We celebrate the confirmation of Judge Pitman, which brings welcome diversity to the federal bench in Texas while simultaneously filling a seat that had been vacant for more than six years.

"While great progress has been made to bring diversity to the courts, we still have a long way to go. There are nearly 900 federal judges in the U.S., and most are straight white men. Federal courts are charged with providing everyone with equal access to justice, and yet justice has not always been a reality for some. A judiciary diverse in race, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation and lived and professional experience serves not only to improve the quality of justice, but to boost public confidence in the courts."

Pitman is a Fort Worth native who attended Abilene Christian University and earned his law degree from the University of Texas. He currently serves as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas. 

When Pitman was first recommended for U.S. attorney by Cornyn and former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2009, the pick riled some fellow Republicans, but Cornyn stood behind it.

“A person’s sexuality has no bearing on his qualifications for a job. … It’s just not even remotely considered,” Cornyn spokesman Keven McLaughlin said at the time. 

Based on that statement, one might think Cornyn would be a supporter of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but he voted against it last year and received a zero on the Human Rights Campaign's most recent Congressional Scorecard


80 Congressional Democrats Call Bull On One Year Gay Blood Deferral, Urge Obama Administration To Lift Ban

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Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, along with 78 other congressional Democrats, urged the Obama Administration to lift the ban on gay men donating blood on Monday, calling the 1983 policy archaic and a scientifically unjustified barrier reports BuzzFeedThe two lawmakers wrote a detailed letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Burwell.

BloodThe lawmakers' request comes after the FDA reaffirmed that it will not repeal the longstanding ban on gay blood. The request also addresses the recommendation by the Health and Human Services’ Advisory Committee on Blood & Tissue Safety & Availability's relaxation on the lifetime ban to instead ban donations from men who have had sex with men in the previous year. However, the lawmakers believe both policies are unfair saying, "both policies are discriminatory, and both approaches are unacceptable.”

In the letter the lawmakers request that the ban should be replaced with a "risk-based blood donation policy.” The most poignant part of the letter addresses the common objection of gay men donating blood; that gay men tend to be higher carriers of HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS.

Said lawmakers:

“The pertinent scientific question is not whether a cross-section of the population is more likely than another to transmit an infection, but rather whether an across-the-board, risk-based screening will reduce the likelihood of all infectious contaminations.”

Two other letters were addressed in the past concerning the ban however, the latest letter explicitly lays out the lawmakers’ policy platform and asks Secretary Burwell several pointed questions. The prominent question is will Burwell "Commit to replacing the lifetime deferral policy by the end of 2014?" And if a blood-screening network is established, when would it be functional, and would it need to be up and running to roll back the ban?

The lawmakers expect Burwell to address the matter before or on Dec. 22. 

Read the letter below:


One Direction Responds to Tabloid Claim That Harry Styles and Barack Obama Are Having a Gay Affair: VIDEO

Examiner

U.S. tabloid and paragon of exceptional journalism National Examiner has an explosive new front page story claiming the commander-in-chief has been getting intimate with One Direction's is-he-or-isn't-he-bisexual member Harry Styles.

And now, with the cat out of the bag, One Direction has been forced to address the damning allegation [via The Gay UK]

StylesWhen Harry, 20, was quizzed about the affair at last night's BBC Music Awards he seemed unaware of the rumour replying, "I honestly have no idea what you're talking about" before he then added, after a quick explanation: "I've heard some good ones in my time, but that's interesting."

Liam added: "Wow, it's all getting a bit political!" Louis then joked: "So, does that give you some power in the White House then?" as Harry said: "Yeah, maybe."

Harry, cheeky as always, followed up by saying that he ultimately wouldn't hook up with Obama because "Niall would be a bit jealous."

Check out footage of the band addressing the gay rumor, as well as their speech last night accepting the Billboard Award, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "One Direction Responds to Tabloid Claim That Harry Styles and Barack Obama Are Having a Gay Affair: VIDEO" »


Florida State University Lecturer Resigns Following Racist, Homophobic Rant - VIDEO

Deborah O'Connor

Florida State University College of Business senior lecturer Deborah O’Connor has resigned from her position following an outburst last week on Facebook in which she used racist, Islamophobic and homophobic slurs, reports the Tallahassee Democrat.

Eborah O'connor 2In response to a post by hair stylist Colin Lively last Thursday on the police killings in Ferguson, Staten Island and Cleveland, O’Connor’s comments included:

“YOU elected POTUS, Holder et al. And they are supposed to represent all Americans, not just blacks … why don’t these ass clowns insert themselves into their stories?”

“Take your Northern fagoot [sic] elitism and shove it up your ass.”

“I teach at a University, you asshole. What do you do?”

“You are an intellectual fraud, just like your Messiah. Obama has single-handedly turned our once great society into a Ghetto Culture, rivaling that of Europe. France is almost at war because of his filthy rodent Muslims who are attacking Native Frenchmen and women.”

O'Connor has confirmed her decision to bring a planned retirement next spring forward as “the path of least resistance.” Her comments have since been deleted.

Lively said:

"I'm surprised her employers weren't aware of her and hadn't done something about it. I feel very bad for any woman who carries that kind of rage inside her heart. I feel very bad and sorry for her."

Watch a report, AFTER THE JUMP...

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President Obama Hijacks 'The Colbert Report' - VIDEO

Obama

President Obama dropped by The Colbert Report's broadcast from Washington, D.C. last night and decided since Colbert likes to take a swipe at how he does his job, the President would take a whack at Colbert's job. The President then took over the remainder of Colbert's cold open. By executive decree, so to speak. President Obama read Colbert's pre-planned address, opening with “I, Stephen Colbert, have never cared for our President." The segment then went on to make good comedic use of the graphics that usually display pithy jokes next to Colbert's face. Mediaite notes:

Most of the segment involved the president talking about getting rid of Obamacare, while jokes about himself, Republicans, and even Fox News popped up next to him. For example, Obama as Colbert said that appearing on a comedy show would be below his dignity; the words next to him then read “but above his approval ratings.”

And when President Obama said, “Young people don’t watch real news shows like this one,” the words next to him read “Or fake ones like Fox.”

Watch as President Obama temporarily puts Colbert on unemployment and sits down for an interview that covers everything from nuclear launch codes to Keystone XL, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "President Obama Hijacks 'The Colbert Report' - VIDEO" »


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