Day: June 14, 2017

Trump mulls US policy towards Cuba, may curb Obama 'detente' with island nation

James Williams, president of a coalition that works for normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations, was busy on Capitol Hill this week trying to persuade administration officials not to reverse travel and trade policies with Cuba that were eased by President Obama two years ago.

Williams, who heads Engage Cuba, said it seems inevitable that the White House — which has not made any announcement about changing America’s Cuba policy — will roll back some steps his predecessor took in 2014 toward full-scale relations with Cuba. So Williams is working to contain the expected reversal of Obama’s policies.

“This is the last thing the Cuban people need, a return to this hostility,” Williams told Fox News. “The people in Cuba are starting to see their lives change, they want it to go faster. At the end of the day, there are hardliners in both governments who are out for blood toward each other, and it’s everyday people whose lives are going to be destroyed.”

In Miami, a Bay of Pigs veterans group, Brigade 2506, sent out a statement expressing hope that when Trump appears before them on Friday in a scheduled visit to the city, he will announce major changes to Obama’s U.S.-Cuba policy.

Many news outlets, quoting unnamed Trump administration officials, are reporting that the president may announce a new U.S.-Cuba policy as early as Friday in Miami. The administration has been drafting a new policy with input from Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Sen. Marco Rubio, both Cuban-American Republicans from South Florida. 

“It was on October 25, 2016 that for the first time in the history of Brigade 2506 a candidate for the presidency of the United States received their endorsement,” the veterans group said in its statement. “During that important event, then-candidate Donald J. Trump addressed an audience eager for a president that would place human rights and freedom in Cuba as well as the protection of U.S. national security first when dealing with the Castro regime.”

The statement repeated the message that Trump delivered to the group during his campaign: “What you are asking for is right, and what you are asking for is just. The United States should not prop up the Castro regime economically and politically, as Obama has done and as Hillary Clinton plans to do. I won’t let you down.”

During his presidential campaign, Trump said that Obama’s decision to ease trade and travel restrictions had amounted to playing right into the hands of a regime that had made no concessions in return. Earlier this year, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Trump administration would conduct a “top-to-bottom” review of U.S.-Cuba policy.

Those who want Trump to return to a more hardline U.S.-Cuba policy say the infusion of money into Cuba from increased U.S. tourism and business deals mainly is benefitting the regime, which continues to crack down on dissidents and to resist democratic reform, according to Amnesty International.

Marion Smith, executive director of Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC) is calling on Trump to return to a stricter policy on Cuba.

“Despite claims that detente with Cuba will lead to new freedoms for the Cuban people, an influx of capital and tourism has only further fueled the Castro government’s repressive policies,” Smith said in a statement. “President Trump should use this opportunity to push the Cuban government to release its political prisoners, allow for dissent, and adhere to international standards on human rights.”

Proponents of lifting the embargo say that taking a punitive approach toward Cuba has done nothing to bring about improvements in human rights in more than 50 years, and that it is time to try something new. They believe that the more contact Cubans and Americans have and the more opportunities Cubans have to form entrepreneurial ventures —  helped by Americans – the more pressure there will be for the political system to change on the island.

“Trump is in a very difficult spot with this,” John Gronbeck-Tedesco, a professor at Ramapo College in New Jersey and author of books about Cuba, said. “One the one hand, he’s trying to make good on his campaign pledge, and speak to his base, especially Cuban-Americans in Florida who voted for him. But he also promised Americans more jobs, and reducing trade is not going to help.”

Among those supporting an expanded business relationship with Cuba are those in the agricultural industries in some of the most conservative parts of the United States, Gronbeck-Tedesco noted. That has prompted some Republicans lawmakers at the state and national level to back more trade with Cuba, and to push for lifting the embargo.

A White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press to discuss internal deliberations on Cuba policy, said that the U.S. embassy in Havana will remain open, but Americans can expect actions by the departments of State, Treasury and Homeland Security to ban U.S. trade with any Cuban entity linked to the military. 

Also planned: a reduction in the number of categories for which Americans do not need U.S. government licenses to go to Cuba. The U.S. will demand greater internet access and the release of prisoners and return of American fugitives in Cuba. Obama’s repeal of the special Cuban immigration privileges known as wet-foot, dry-foot will not change, the official said.

A particular focus is saving Obama’s easing of U.S. travel to Cuba, which tripled the number of American travelers to the island and pumped tens of millions of dollars into the island’s private hospitality sector.

More than half of tourists now staying in Havana hotels are from the United States, say those in the U.S. travel industry. 

“Thousands of Americans are visiting Cuba and fueling the fastest growth in its private sector since 1959,” CubaOne, a group of young pro-engagement Cuban-Americans, wrote in an open letter to Trump on Monday.

After months of public silence, Airbnb last week released a report on its activities in Cuba, which have put $40 million into the hands of private bed-and-breakfast owners since the online lodging giant became the first major U.S. company to enter Cuba in the wake of Obama’s declaration of detente. Google, which installed servers on the island to speed Cuban internet service last year, spoke out for the first time Monday in favor of maintaining relations.

“Google has played a formative role in the first chapter of Cuba’s connectivity story, but this is just the beginning,” Brett Perlmutter, head of strategy and operations for Google Cuba, said at a conference in Miami on Monday. “Connecting Cuba will require an entire ecosystem of players … It will also require the US maintaining a policy that allows telecommunications firms work in Cuba.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for, and can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.


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Woman linked to slain lottery winner wins $1 million herself

A Florida woman whose boyfriend pocketed a $30 million lottery prize a decade ago — before he was murdered — just won a $1 million prize herself, local media reported Wednesday.

Antoinette Andrews first went to Tallahassee in 2006 with her partner, Abraham Shakespeare, to claim his lottery winnings. Andrews and Shakespeare shared a child.

In 2010, Shakespeare’s body was found behind a home in East Hillsborough County. He had been missing for close to a year.

Two years later, Dorice (Dee Dee) Moore was convicted of his murder and is serving time in jail. At the time, Fox News reported Moore had befriended Shakespeare in 2008 and later became his financial advisor, ultimately dwindling away his winnings, leaving the $30 million untraceable.

When he realized she had stolen his money, he threatened to kill her but she killed him first, according to Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner. 

Raheem Dumas, Andrews’ son, told Fox 13 he felt like God was giving them a second chance. “We didn’t get to get what we wanted and God blessed us in this day and age, that we can get whatever we want,” said Dumas.


He said his mom was thinking about buying him a new car and buying the family a different home.

Andrews called Dumas when she saw she had won. Dumas recalled, “she was just crying and screaming on the phone. I was like, are you sure that it’s not $1,000 or $100,000?”


Andrews sent him a picture of the ticket to confirm. “When she did, I called her back and started freaking out,” said Dumas.

Andrews told The Ledger she’s “a little scared” of the winning ticket, and that “it still doesn’t seem real.”

Andrews chose to take the cash payout of $770,000. 

Click for more from Fox 13.

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New York City eases severity of laws against public urination, drunkenness

New Yorker City residents and visitors may see more public urination soon. That’s because the city council has decided that such activity will now draw a civil ticket, like breaking the speed limit, rather than a criminal summons.

The council — in a move that mirrors a similar action in Denver — also downgraded the severity of similar offenses, like public drunkenness. Instead of going before a criminal judge, offenders will be required to attend an administrative hearing.

The shift in policy is the result of the Criminal Justice Reform Act and critics say that it undermines the city’s long-time “broken windows” policing policy in which cracking down on minor offenses, like public urination, is deemed to prevent more serious crime from occurring, according to the New York Post.

Those who advocate for the new initiative say it will divert 100,000 cases a year from a backlogged criminal justice system and stop minor offenders from racking up a criminal record.

The police aren’t happy about the change.

“They shouldn’t be doing that. It’s just going to make crime go up again,” a high-ranking police source said to the newspaper. “Grandmothers and children have to get in the elevator every day and every day it smells like p— and it’s going to keep happening. Before, the guy might have thought, ‘I better not p— in the elevator because I might get caught up in the system.’ Now, there’s no fear of embarrassment or recrimination.”

What the reform act does not protect is those who are on probation or parole. They will still receive a criminal summons, as well as those who have two prior arrests, cops said to the newspaper.

The only caveat is that officers will have to wait for their supervisor’s permission to write up the summons. They’ll also have to back away from repeat offenders until that individual has racked up a total of three civil summonses.

In May, the administration of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock proposed a reform act that seeks to split criminal violations of city ordinances into three categories, including lessening maximum penalties for public urination.

Click here for more from the New York Post

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Suicide car bomb explodes outside Somalia restaurant, at least 4 killed

Two gunmen have been killed and 10 hostages have been rescued after a situation unfolded in the Somali capital of Mogadishu Wednesday, police said.

Security forces fatally shot two gunmen who were holding hostages inside of the Pizza House restaurant, a popular eatery in the Somali capital.

Five attackers are thought to remain in the restaurant with an unknown number of hostages, according to Capt. Mohamed Hussein.

Before the hostage situation, an explosive-laden vehicle exploded at the restaurant’s gate, killing at least nine people and wounding several others, police said.

Initial reports claimed gunmen rushed inside the restaurant soon after the explosion.

Most of the victims were young men who were entering the Pizza House at the time, Hussein said.

Al-Shabab, a Somalia-based extremist group that often targets popular area in Mogadishu, claimed responsibility and says their attack is ongoing.

“A mujahid (fighter) with his suicide car bomb martyred himself after he rammed into Posh Hotel, which is a nightclub. The operation goes one,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group’s military spokesman, told Reuters.

The group has vowed to step up attacks after the recently elected government launched a new military offensive against it.

Abas Ahmed, who was at a nearby restaurant when the explosion happened, told i24News that he saw “the dead bodies of several people and others who were injured.”

Wednesday’s explosion was the second suicide car bomb outside an eatery in Mogadishu in two months. In early May, 8 people were killed when a car bomb exploded outside Bar Italia. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility.

Al-Shabab last year became the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa, with more than 4,200 people killed in 2016, according to the Washington-based Africa Center for Strategic Studies.

The extremist group also faces a new military push from the United States after President Donald Trump approved expanded operations, including airstrikes, against al-Shabab. On Sunday, the U.S. military in Africa said it carried out an airstrike in southern Somalia that killed eight Islamic extremists at a rebel command and logistics camp.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Rolling Stones muse dead

Anita Pallenberg, an Italian-German actress and model who starred opposite Mick Jagger in the 1970 film “Performance” and had three children with his Rolling Stones bandmate, Keith Richards, has died at age 73.

Her friend Stella Schnabel, the daughter of painter and filmmaker Julian Schnabel, announced she passed away Tuesday. No cause of death was revealed.

The Hollywood Reporter wrote Pallenberg, who was born in 1944 in Italy, was sent to a German boarding school as a child. However, she was expelled at 16. Pallenberg then went to New York where she hung out with pop artist Andy Warhol.


In 1965, Pallenberg and a friend snuck backstage before a Rolling Stones concert in Munich. That led to a romance with guitarist Brian Jones. However, Pallenberg left Jones for Richards, which led to a tumultuous relationship before they broke up in 1980.

“I like a high-spirited woman. And with Anita, you knew you were taking on a Valkyrie — she who decides who dies in battle,” wrote Richards in his 2010 autobiography “Life.”

Despite her success as a model, Pallenberg also pursued acting. She appeared as The Black Queen opposite Jane Fonda in the 1968 film “Barbarella” and as Nurse Bollock with Marlon Brando and Richard Burton in “Candy.” Pallenberg said she started using heroin while filming “Performance.” Richards wrote about his drug-induced “descent into hell” with the star in his memoir.

On a 2001 episode of “Absolutely Fabulous,” she guest-starred as Devil with singer Marianne Faithfull.

Pallenberg is survived by her children with Richards, Marlon and Angela. Their infant son Tara died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in 1976.

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New info on Disney tragedy

Nearly a year after tragedy struck at one of its lakeside resorts, Disney World has announced plans to erect a statue in honor of the young boy who was killed by an alligator at their Grand Floridian hotel last summer.

On June 14, 2016, 2-year-old Lane Thomas Graves of Nebraska was playing near the resort’s Seven Seas Lagoon with parents Matt and Melissa Graves, as well as his 4-year-old sister, when he was dragged into the water by an alligator. His father jumped in after Lane in an attempt to pry the boy from the gator’s jaws, though he was ultimately unsuccessful.


Lane’s body was recovered by dive teams the day after the alligator attack. His cause of death was cited as drowning and traumatic injuries.

Now, a year later, Disney has confirmed plans to install a lighthouse sculpture in Lane’s memory somewhere on the park grounds, although the exact location of the sculpture has yet to be revealed.

The sculpture will also serve as a symbol of the Lane Thomas Foundation — a charitable organization established by Lane’s family following their horrific tragedy — which too uses a lighthouse as its logo.

“The foundation is dedicated to supporting families of children needing life-saving organ transplants,” Walt Disney World Resort president George A. Kalogridis said in a statement on Tuesday. “To provide continued awareness of the foundation and its mission, we’ve commissioned an original sculpture of the lighthouse the foundation uses as a symbol of love and hope, to be installed on our property this summer.”


Following Lane’s death, Disney World officials were criticized for their failure to provide proper warning signage along the lagoon. According to reports, Disney World had posted “no swimming” signs, but nothing warning of alligators, save for one at a nearby pond at the property.

Disney World later announced plans to install proper warning signs for gators.

Just weeks prior to Lane’s incident, a British family also claims they had were forced to flee from an alligator at that very lagoon. In their case, however, the alligator presumably returned to the water after giving brief chase.

A representative for Disney World was not immediately available for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Senate passes Russia sanctions package

The Republican-led Senate voted decisively to punish Moscow for interfering in the 2016 election by approving a wide-ranging sanctions package that targets key sectors of Russia’s economy and individuals who carried out cyber attacks.

Senators on Wednesday passed the bipartisan sanctions legislation 97-2, underscoring broad support among Republicans and Democrats for rebuking Russia after U.S. intelligence agencies determined Moscow had deliberately interfered in the presidential campaign. Lawmakers who backed the measure also cited Russia’s aggression in Syria and Ukraine.

Despite Russia’s bellicosity, there’s been no forceful response from President Donald Trump. The president has instead sought to improve relations with Moscow and rejected the implication that Russian hacking of Democratic emails tipped the election his way.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “brazen attack on our democracy is a flagrant demonstration of his disdain and disrespect for our nation,” Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said ahead of the vote.

“But in the last eight months, what price has Russia paid for attacking American democracy?” McCain said.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered tepid support for the sanctions measure, telling the House Foreign Affairs Committee he agreed “with the sentiment” among lawmakers that Russia must be held accountable for its meddling in the election.

But Tillerson urged Congress to make the sanctions legislation doesn’t tie the president’s hands and shut down promising avenues of communication between the two former Cold War foes. He asked lawmakers “to ensure any legislation allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation.”

If the Trump administration decides to oppose the new sanctions, they could be in a bind. The sanctions measure has been attached to a bill imposing penalties on Iran that the Senate is currently debating and which also has strong bipartisan support. So the White House would have to reject stricter punishments against Iran, which it favors, in order to derail the parts of the legislation it may object to.

Once the Iran bill is passed, the legislation moves to the House for action.

The leaders of the Senate Banking and Foreign Relations committees announced late Monday that they’d reached an agreement on the sanctions package after intensive negotiations.

The deal was forged amid the firestorm over investigations into Moscow’s possible collusion with members of Trump’s campaign. House and Senate committees are investigating Russia’s meddling and potential links to the Trump campaign. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is conducting a separate probe.

The measure calls for strengthening current sanctions and imposing new ones on a broad range of people, including Russians engaged in corruption, individuals in human rights abuses and anyone supplying weapons to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Broad new sanctions would be imposed on Russia’s mining, metals, shipping and railways sectors.

The measure would punish individuals who conduct what the senators described as “conducting malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government.” Also covered by the sanctions are people doing business with Russian intelligence and defense agencies.

The package also would require a congressional review if a president attempts to ease or end current penalties. The review mechanism was styled after 2015 legislation pushed by Republicans and approved overwhelmingly in the Senate that gave Congress a vote on whether Obama could lift sanctions against Iran. That measure reflected Republican complaints that Obama had overstepped the power of the presidency and needed to be checked by Congress.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, said the Senate has finally confronted Russia.

“This bipartisan amendment is the sanctions regime that the Kremlin deserves for its actions,” Shaheen said.

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Truth about low-fat foods

You’re shopping at the grocery store and faced with the option of buying regular or reduced-fat peanut butter. Seems like reaching for the latter variety would be doing your health (and your waistline) a favor, right? Not exactly.

The low-fat craze started in the ’90s after a few observational studies linked fat intake to heart disease, Kerry Clifford, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian for Fresh Thyme Farmers Markets, told Fox News. That’s all it took for Americans to consider fat evil, and low-fat, fat-free and reduced-fat versions of nearly ever food imaginable followed suit.

The problem is they don’t simply take fat out. “The fat is typically replaced with sugar, sodium, additives, preservatives or thickeners to create a similar taste, texture and consistency,” Tracy Lesht, MS, RD, told Fox News. “This process turns the once full-fat food into a heavily processed low-fat item with a slew of added ingredients.”


A January 2016 study published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes found sugar content is higher in foods marked as low-fat versus the full-fat versions. The researchers concluded that even slightly higher sugar counts can lead to weight gain, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

There’s also proof that people tend to eat more of foods labeled low-fat, thinking they’re healthier. Researchers from Cornell University found people end up eating as much as 50 percent more from a snack labeled low-fat than those who don’t see the claim. Lesht said that’s problematic because many low-fat foods have just as many calories as their regular counterparts.

Finally, experts agree it was wrong to obsess over low-fat foods, as saturated fats aren’t as bad as people once thought, Lesht said. Good-for-you fats, such as those found in nuts, olive oil and avocados, help control blood sugar and tell the brain when you’re feeling full, Clifford said.


Clifford and Lesht recommended loading up on foods that are naturally low in fat, such as fruit, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains, and staying away from packaged foods labelled low-fat, including:

  • Anything that’s healthy because of its fat, including peanut butter and almond butter, Clifford said.
  • Salad dressings. “Low-fat salad dressings are notorious for being loaded with artificial ingredients and preservatives,” Lesht said. Go for full-fat versions, which usually have healthy olive oil as a key ingredient. Or make a simple dressing of olive oil and fresh lemon juice at home, she suggested.
  • Yogurt — especially flavored yogurt, which is usually packed with sugar (looking at you, fruit-on-the-bottom varieties). Choose full-fat Greek yogurt or low-fat plain yogurt instead, Lesht said.
  • Packaged cookies, cakes, chips and crackers. By eating a full-fat option, you’ll likely feel satisfied after a smaller portion, Clifford said. Plus, you’ll avoid the processed ingredients that go into these “diet” foods, Lesht said.
  • Milk. Fat-free versions lack the vitamin D content that makes milk healthy, Clifford said. A June 2013 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care also found men who ate low-fat dairy had a higher risk of becoming obese than those who went for the full-fat options.


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Experts find lost world wonder

They were considered the eighth natural wonder of the world and the greatest tourist attraction in the Southern Hemisphere in the mid-1800s—and then they were gone: The Pink and White Terraces of Lake Rotomahana in New Zealand’s North Island spellbound visitors until June 1886 when Mount Tarawera erupted, wiping the silica sinter (a kind of quartz) formations off the map.

Now researchers say they have located the fabled wonder, claiming the formations may well have survived the disaster but are now buried under mud and ash.

Rex Bunn and Dr. Sascha Nolden say they’ve corrected past attempts to identify the location of the terraces thanks to the 19th-century field diaries of a German-Austrian geologist.

Bunn tells the Guardian the terraces were never surveyed by the government, meaning their exact latitude and longitude weren’t determined. But someone did record their compass bearings: Ferdinand von Hochstetter, whose diary data the researchers used to reverse engineer the terrace locations.

The researchers believe they’re buried no more than 50 feet under the surface skirting the shoreline and not beneath the lake, as previously believed, or totally destroyed, as government scientists recently have claimed, NewsNow reports.

The pair are raising funds to conduct a full archaeological study and prove their claim—and say that if they’re right, it’s possible the terraces could be brought back to life.

In 2016, the BBC explained just why they were so stunning: Not only were they the largest silica sinter formations on the planet, they sat at opposite ends of the lake, one white, one slightly pink, their positioning making them “greater than the sum of their parts.” (Petra’s secret was found hiding in plain sight.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Researchers Say They’ve Found Lost Wonder of World

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Comey reportedly confronted Lynch over Clinton email probe involvement

Former FBI Director James Comey reportedly told members of Congress that he had a “frosty” exchange with former Attorney General Loretta Lynch last year when he discussed her possible interference in the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

Circa reported that in a closed session following Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last Thursday, the fired FBI director told lawmakers he confronted Lynch over a sensitive document reportedly suggesting she had agreed to stop any Clinton prosecution. 

During the closed-door conversation, Comey reportedly told lawmakers Lynch looked at the document and then looked up with a “steely silence” — and directed Comey to leave her office. 

In the open session before the Intelligence Committee, Comey said that Lynch directed him to describe the Clinton email probe as a “matter” and not an “investigation.” Comey also said that the directive, combined with Lynch’s unusual Arizona tarmac meeting with former President Bill Clinton, led him to make his independent announcement regarding the Clinton email probe last July.

Comey testified that the tarmac meeting was a “deciding factor” in his decision to act alone to update the public on the Clinton email probe—and protect the bureau’s reputation.

“There were other things, significant items,” he added, citing how “the Attorney General directed me not to call it an investigation and call it a matter—which confused me.”

“That was one of the bricks in the load that I needed to step away from the department,” Comey said, later adding he was concerned Lynch was trying to align the DOJ’s comments with the way the campaign was talking about the probe. “That gave me a queasy feeling,” he said. 

On Wednesday, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, sent a letter to committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and said the committee will pursue investigations into any efforts to influence FBI investigations. 

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