July 24, 2015

Conditions tied to possible President Obama visit to Cuba

via @ngameztorres

The Obama administration will evaluate the progress of its new Cuba policy by considering issues such as the arrests of dissidents, access to the Internet and the development of the island’s private sector, according to participants in a recent White House meeting.

The administration would like to see improvements in those areas when it considers a possible visit of President Barack Obama to Cuba, but such progress would not be a prerequisite for the visit as White House spokesman Josh Earnest has indicated, White House and State Department officials told participants in the meeting, which was closed to the news media.

Several people invited to the Wednesday gathering, who asked that they not be identified, told El Nuevo Herald that the government officials mentioned that a possible decision on a trip would be evaluated early next year or in January. The White House denied that any specific month was mentioned.

Participants said Ben Rhodes, deputy National Security Council adviser, told the gathering that a possible Obama trip to Cuba would be evaluated at the beginning of 2016, based on the progress achieved by Cuban authorities on issues that the U.S. government considers to be important, such as human rights.

Rhodes also compared a possible Obama visit to Cuba with the events surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall, one source at the meeting told the newspaper.

More here.

July 22, 2015

Marco Rubio says Obama has 'no class,' cites Daily Show interview, likens him to Donald Trump


With Jon Stewart in his final weeks as host, President Obama made a visit Tuesday to Comedy Central's The Daily Show

Obama gave a lengthy interview in which he joked he had signed an executive order forbidding Stewart from leaving the show. He also defended the deal his administration negotiated to try to contain Iran's nuclear program.

"When you hear the critics talk about, 'Well, it's a bad deal; we could have got a better deal,' you then ask them, 'Well, what represents a better deal? What is it that you think could happen?'" Obama said.

"Typically they're vague, and they fall back on, 'Well, if you'd beat your chest a little bit more... Or if you'd brought Dick Cheney to the negotiations, then everything would be fine.'" ("Let's not get crazy," Stewart interjected.)

The Cheney line drew criticism Wednesday morning from Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, himself a Daily Show veteran, who said on Fox News that he didn't like Obama's joke.

Rubio wove in the criticism of Obama as he slammed rival Donald Trump, telling Fox and Friends that Trump's style isn't fit for the Oval Office.

"It is important that we have– to conduct the presidency, it has to be done in a dignified way, with a level of class," he said. " don't think [Trump's] behavior the last few weeks is either dignified or worthy of office he seeks."

"We already have a president now that has no class," Rubio continued, referring to Obama. "I mean, we have a president now that does selfie-stick videos, that invites YouTube stars there, people that you know eat cereal out of a bathtub... You just saw the interview he did right now where he goes on comedy shows to talk about something as serious as Iran. The list goes on and on.

"It is important for us to have a presidency that restores dignity and class to the White House, and I don't believe that some of the language that Mr. Trump is employing is worthy of the office. I just do not."


July 16, 2015

After decade in prison, Miami man granted clemency by Obama

By Rosalind Adams

A decade ago, Marcus Richards wrote to a judge from his cell in Cross City, near Florida’s Panhandle, pleading for “a second chance at life.” In neat block letters, Richards asked the judge for mercy, citing his involvement in his local church and community, despite a guilty plea on cocaine charges.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Mickle replied a few days later that he did not have the power to reduce Richards’ sentence of 20 years in prison, the mandatory minimum at the time, according to court filings. But this week, President Obama did grant Richards’ request: He is one of 46 non-violent drug offenders whose sentences were commuted on Monday. Ten of the offenders were from Florida.

“When I got the news, I was running around hollering and screaming, thanking God,” said Richards’ mother, Barbara Baker, who said her son called her from prison on Monday to relay the news that he would be released Nov. 10.

The announcement marked the largest number of commutations in one day by a U.S. president since the 1960s and is part of a larger effort by Obama to address criminal justice reforms as well as the country’s crowded prisons.

More here.

July 01, 2015

Obama announces opening of embassies with Cuba

Casting aside more than a half century of hostilities, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the United States and Cuba would restore full diplomatic relations and open respective embassies.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, he called the rapprochement “a historic step” in efforts to bring the two countries and their people together. The president said Secretary of State John Kerry would soon travel to Havana to “proudly raise the U.S. flag over our embassy.”

The United States and Cuba held four rounds of talks — two in Havana and two in Washington — to reach agreement on the terms for opening embassies and renewing diplomatic ties after Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro jointly announced on Dec. 17 that the two countries planned to work toward normalization.

He said that since then he was seen “enormous enthusiasm for this new approach.”

Turn to Mimi Whitefield's story here.

June 26, 2015

June 25, 2015

Miami LGBT activist shushed trans woman who interrupted Obama at reception

via @steverothaus

Just as an undocumented transgender woman began repeatedly shouting “Not one more deportation!” at President Barack Obama during a White House LGBT pride reception, the man standing next to her — one of Miami’s best-known gay political activists — told her to stop.

“My comment to her after she said the same thing three times, I turned to her and said, ‘Enough! You made your point and now you're being disrespectful. You need to calm down, you’re ruining it for everyone else. You have to stop now,’” said Joseph Falk, an Obama fundraiser and former board chairman of South Florida LGBT-rights group SAVE. “She didn’t.”

Falk and SAVE Executive Director Tony Lima just happened to be standing next to Jennicet Gutiérrez as she began shouting at the president during an annual East Room reception for national LGBT pride month.

“Listen, you’re in my house,” Obama told Gutiérrez, who continued to shout, amid a growing chorus of boos and hisses from other LGBT activists. “You don’t — come on. It’s not — you know what, it’s not respectful when you get invited to somebody — You’re not going to — you’re not going to get a good response from me by interrupting me like this. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. No, no, no, no. No, no. No. Shame onyou. You shouldn’t be doing this.”

More here.


June 22, 2015

Quinnipiac poll: Lopez-Cantera trails Murphy, Obama and Scott still in 'job approval hole'

Lieutenant Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera has not made it official yet, but a Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll says he is already trailing U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy in the 2016 U.S. Senate race.

If a matchup were held today, Lopez-Cantera would be behind by 40 to 28 percent. He is expected to announce on July 15. Also trailing Murphy is U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis: 39 to 31 percent. 

The news is equally grim for Gov. Rick Scott and President Barack Obama. Both remain mired in negative approval ratings in Florida, according to the poll taken June 4-15 of 1,147 Florida voters that has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. Obama's job approval rating in Florida is 43 to 51 percent while Scott's is worse with 39 percent of voters having a favorable view of him and 49 percent who don't.

Here's the press release:

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June 11, 2015

Zo on the go: Former Heat star to join White House delegation to Italy


The White House on Thursday announced that former NBA All-Star Alonzo Mourning would join a presidential delegation to the Milan Expo 2015 in Italy.

First lady Michelle Obama will lead the delegation, which will tour the USA Pavilion, which is designed to showcase American global food security and development issues. The delegation is party of Obama’s “Let's Move!” initiative to combat childhood obesity.

In a statement from the White House, Obama said: “No matter where in the world we live, we all want healthy, nutritious food for our families.”

Other members of the delegation include: John R. Phillips, U.S. ambassador to Italy and the Republic of San Marino; Risa J. Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition; Will Allen, an urban farmer and founder and CEO of Growing Power; Nicolas Jammet, co-CEO of Sweetgreen; and others.

Mourning is a seven-time National Basketball Association All-Star and also a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. He is a founder of the Miami-based Mourning Family Foundation.

His NBA career took him to the Miami Heat, as well as the Charlotte Hornets and New Jersey Nets.

May 28, 2015

In gesture to Cuban Americans, Obama visits Our Lady of Charity shrine in Miami


President Barack Obama extended a symbolic olive branch Thursday to Miami’s Cuban Americans by paying his respects to the shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Coconut Grove.

Earlier in the day, Obama visited the National Hurricane Center and met privately with the Pinecrest family of Steven Sotloff, the journalist slain last year by the Islamic State, to offer condolences.

The surprise afternoon stop at the shrine by the sea, better known by its Spanish name, La Ermita de la Caridad, comes at a time when many Cuban exiles remain miffed by the president’s decision last December to restore diplomatic relations with the communist island, especially since Obama made no effort to reach out to Miami leaders prior to his announcement.

Obama is the first president to pay his respects to the shrine, according to the Archdiocese of Miami. It’s named after the patroness saint of Cuba.

Hola,” he told 13 worshipers seated in the church pews when he walked in. The Rev. Juan Rumin Dominguez guided the president, along with Cristina Brito, who served as interpreter.

More here.

This post has been updated.

President Obama tours National Hurricane Center in Miami


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To mark the June 1 start of another storm season, President Barack Obama toured the National Hurricane Center in Miami on Thursday, learning about storm chasing and forecasting, and urging people to stay vigilant.

He visited the windowless hollows of the Hurricane Center, where the walls are covered with maps and computer screens showing storm forecasts and models. Obama asked staff questions, particularly about advances in technology.

He also wanted to know how pilots collect storm measurements. They fly into the weather systems -- not over them -- he was told. 

"Seems dangerous," the president said. "Ever scary?"

Rick Knabb, the center's director, assuured him the trips were "generally" safe -- though Knabb recounted one incident in which a pilot lost altitude and was forced to make an emergency landing.

Jamie Rhome, leader of the center's storm surge unit, showed off a new storm surge model forecasters began using last November. Scientists also have better computers to crunch data from the radar they drop into storms, so they can make more accurate models once a system forms. 

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