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June 4, 2009

President Obama in Cairo, Egypt: Time For A “New beginning between the United States and Muslims”

Egypt Obama

This morning at 6:10 am EST President Obama made brilliant history yet again and Americans should be proud because we made progress with Muslims worldwide today.

After years of American and Middle East tension where we mutually viewed each other in a not so friendly manner, today the Egypt state broadcasting service was beaming uplifting scenes of the American and Egyptian flags flying side by side and Obama’s smiling face superimposed over graphics of the Pyramids and local landmarks. An image of the Egyptian and American flags woven together in a yin and yang fashion was kept on the screen of Egypt State TV throughout the morning.  That by itself is absolutely incredible!

Speaking in the ancient seat of Islamic learning and culture and quoting from the Quran for emphasis, President Obama called for a ‘new beginning between the United States and Muslims’, and said together, we can confront violent extremism across the globe and advance the timeless search for peace in the Middle East. ‘This cycle of suspicion and discord must end,’ Obama said

By President Obama making his much anticipated speech in the Grand Hall of Cairo University in downtown Cairo instead of heading to the Sinai beach resorts where diplomatic gatherings are often held, he told the people of Egypt that he was serious about connecting on a personal level. And when he peppered his speech with words from the Koran, and balanced support for Israel but with a strong call for a Palestinian state, the deal was closed. Home run!!!

American European Activists Demostrate for Peace in Gaza

President Obama was blunt about the United States “unbreakable bonds” with Israel but promptly stated that Palestinian was “suffering” since Israel’s founding in 1948 and that there was a real and immediate need to curb Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and establish a secure Palestinian state.

President Obama acknowledged the negative stereotypes of Islam that took root in America after the 9/11 terrorist attacks but also said that Muslim nations need to fix their own exaggerated views of the United States as a country bent on dominating them.

The history of the relationship between America and Muslim communities is deep and complex. 

Thomas Jefferson taught himself Arabic using his own Quran kept in his personal library, and had the first known presidential Iftaar (the evening meal for breaking the daily fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan) by breaking fast with the Tunisian Ambassador at sunset.   

President Dwight Eisenhower attended the dedication ceremony of the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. on June 28, 1957. 

President Bill Clinton issued the first presidential greeting for Ramadan.  Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting in which participating Muslims do not eat or drink anything from true dawn until sunset. Fasting is meant to teach patience, sacrifice and humility. President Clinton appointed the first Muslim American ambassador, M. Osman Siddique, to Fiji, and sent the first presidential Eid al-Adha greeting to Muslims.  Eid al-Adha or the “Festival of Sacrifice” is a religious festival celebrated by Muslims worldwide to commemorate the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God. 

One year after President George W. Bush placed the Holy Quran in the White House library in 2005, Representative Keith Ellison took the oath of office on the same Quran owned by Thomas Jefferson two hundred years before.

With his speech in Cairo, President Obama laid another marker, addressing America’s relationship with the Muslims around the world right in the heart of the Middle East.  Past years and decades have deepened the rift in our relationship with Muslims worldwide but particularly in the Middle East and our President have now created a new start by opening up a serious, honest dialogue hoping to find areas of common interest and new ways of communication in areas where we don’t agree. 

By continuing unprecedented outreach to Muslim communities, the President is strengthening national security and opening up new opportunities to address some of the problems that have been problematic over recent years.

Well done President Obama!

President Obama’s Cairo speech:

Cairo Palestinian boys in Gaza Strip Rafah watch President Obama Cairo U  Palestinian boys in Gaza Strip town of Rafah watch President Obama speak at Cairo University.

May 14, 2009

No (Declassified) Memos For DICK Cheney

A few weeks ago former vice president Cheney challenged President Obama to declassify two memos that he said he believes shows that the Central Intelligence Agency had reversed acts of terrorism thanks to information collected from interrogations which included waterboarding.

Said Cheney, “The memos do exist. I have seen them. I had them in my files at one time. Now everything is part of the National Archives. I’m sure the agency (CIA) has copies of those materials.”

“If we’re going to have this debate, it ought to be a complete debate. Those memos ought to be out there for people to look at and journalists like yourself to evaluate in terms of what we were able to accomplish.”

Cheney has made it clear that part of his motivation is to defend against possible legal action against Bush officials who authorized or carried out the controversial interrogation policies.

Unfortunately for Dick Cheney he has to continue his ‘I must defend myself tour’ because those memos will not be released. 

A letter dated May 7, 2009, from the CIA’s Information and Privacy Coordinator, Delores M. Nelson, rejected Cheney’s request because the documents he has requested are involved in a Freedom of Information Act court battle.

“In researching the information in question, we have discovered that it is currently the subject of pending FOIA litigation (Bloche v. Department of Defense, Amnesty International v. Central Intelligence Agency). Therefore, the document is excluded from Mandatory Declassification Review,” Nelson wrote in the letter to the National Archives, the agency responsible for handling Cheney’s request.

Cheney spokeswoman Lucy Tutwiler has said, “Vice President Cheney is preparing his appeal to the decision.”

It’s unlikely this matter will dissuade Cheney from criticizing Obama for eliminating the program that he said amounted to torture, though some Republicans are worried about the suddenly high profile of the not so popular former VP.

Cheney has also said he is seeking the documents to help with his memoirs.

May 11, 2009

Healthcare: Insurers Offer President Obama $2 TRILLION In Healthcare Savings!

This news is hotter than a Times Square Rolex!

Healthcare reform is a top priority of the Obama administration and the Obama administration wants to provide healthcare for the 46 million American citizens who do not have healthcare.  It seems that President Obama has been working on the healthcare problem even though we haven’t heard anything about it and we now know that there is a viable plan to finally get Americans a civilized healthcare system.

Some of America’s largest private healthcare providers plan to voluntarily tell President Obama that they will reduce the spending growth rate of healthcare by 1.5 percentage points per year.  Hospitals, drug makers and doctors, among others, wrote a letter to President Obama outlining their plan. The letter didn’t have many details but suggests savings could come from simplified billing, restructuring the way hospitals are paid and using more information technology, among other steps.  Several of these same industry groups — including insurers, whose lobbying group signed the letter — played central roles in defeating earlier efforts to reshape the American healthcare system — including the Clinton administration’s push in the mid-1990s.

If their plan works it could translate into significant savings for families — up to as much as $2,500 a year for a family of four by the fifth year of the program!  And the federal government could see savings as well — as much as $2 trillion during the next decade.

These momentous saving in health care could potentially reduce the growth of the federal budget deficit when similar savings are passed on to federal programs such as Medicare!

White House officials have said that representatives from six healthcare groups including America’s Health Insurance Plans, the American Medical Association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Advanced Medical Technology Association, the Service Employees International Union, and the California Hospital Association signed the letter and came to them with the offer without any quid pro quo – without giving up something in exchange for something else.

Leaders of these groups have been working behind closed doors for weeks and could lose some money if healthcare spending were substantially slowed.

It seems to me that these healthcare groups realize that President Obama means business and they don’t want him to put their backs against the wall or for him to put them in a business choke-hold so they have decided to work among themselves and come up with a more balanced plan that has some give and take that will benefit Americans. It seems to me that because of the way President Obama has been efficiently taking care of business, healthcare companies have felt some pressure and have finally decided that they want to be part of the solution.

White House officials have indicated that some of the savings would come from simple things such as common claims forms that would reduce administrative costs or a universal explanation of benefits. The groups were expected to come to the White House with concrete proposals.

The steps the healthcare industry will need to take will depend on healthcare reform, for example, under current law providers are penalized if they are more efficient.  The Obama administration wants to remove the bureaucracy that stops efficiency and clear the path for a more stream line, modern, straightforward and less expensive healthcare system. 

White House officials estimate that right now healthcare expenses are growing at about a 7 percent annually. If the companies succeed with their plan, by the fifth year, there would be a zero growth rate. By the 10th year the savings would be equal to 3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) or $700 billion – a figure close to the economic stimulus package that was enacted in January!

These are funds that could be used to pay down our debts or invested in education or other economic priorities.

Our next assignment as American citizens is to support President Obama by putting pressure on Congress when his plan his ready so that we can get a healthcare bill passed.

May 8, 2009

Invitation To Moderate Republicans: Leave RUSH, Join The Democrats!

Limbaugh 2  Radio personality Rush Limbaugh who seems to be the anointed spokesman for the GOP is trying to kick retired General Colin Powell out of the Republican Party. 

Earlier this week in an address to a conference in Washington sponsored by Fortify Software Inc., Powell said, “The Republican Party is in deep trouble. The party has to reconcile with the fact that the mood of the voters has changed, Powell suggested: “Americans do want to pay taxes for services… Americans are looking for more government in their life, not less.”

Powell said that in his observation he believe some of the party’s leaders were bowing too far to the right and suggested that neither Limbaugh nor commentator Ann Coulter serves the party well.

The party lacks a “positive” spokesperson, continued Powell: “I think what Rush does as an entertainer diminishes the party and intrudes or inserts into our public life a kind of nastiness that we would be better to do without.”

This infuriated Limbaugh and he said, “Look, if you want to know what this is all about, Colin Powell is out there saying that American people want more taxes, they want bigger government. He’s out there saying I am killing the Republican Party while he endorsed and voted for Obama,” Limbaugh said on his show. “The Republican Party nominated the exact kind of candidate Colin Powell thinks the Republican Party should have and he still endorsed Obama. He’s just mad at me because I’m the one person in the country that had the guts to explain his endorsement of Obama. It was purely and solely based on race. There can be no other explanation for it. What Colin Powell needs to do is close the loop and become a Democrat, instead of claiming to be a Republican interested in reforming the Republican Party,” Limbaugh said. “He’s not. He’s a full-fledged Democrat. So I don’t care. This kind of stuff is said about me ten times a day by liberals. He’s just one of them doing it. ”

Ha! Poor Rush cannot take even the hint of constructive criticism.  He is such a BIG cry baby! 

But, as a Democrat, speaking collectively, we will gladly accept Colin Powell and any other open minded, innovative, forward thinking Republican who wants to join us. We love America and want to see it become all it can be and we need your ideas to make this a great country for all of us.

Cross over moderate Republicans, come on down – we are glad to have you!!!

May 7, 2009

The Middle East Goes To Cuba: Qatar To Build Luxury Hotel In Cuba

cuba 

Well, if America wants to be a major player in the redevelopment of Cuba then we better start talking with Cuba in a meaningful way real soon before the rest of the industrial world beats us to it.  Do American businesses want to do business with Cuba?  Of course they do, they don’t want to miss out on all the opportunities to bring Cuba into the 21st century and all the money to be made doing so.

Here in America we have been conditioned to believe that Castro’s Cuba is all bad and that Cuba is automatically our enemy without knowing why Castro’s Cuba look at America as a fiend – it’s not just about communism.

Before the Cuban Revolution that led to the overthrow of U.S. backed Dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Havana was the original Sin City.  Havana was Las Vegas, before there was a Las Vegas.

Because gambling, liquor, prostitution, etc were all illegal in the United States, rich and famous Americans were looking for a place where they could revel and paint the town red without going to jail. They discovered Havana and since it is a tropical paradise and only 90 miles from Florida it became wealthy Americans’ winter destination and airlines and cruise lines offered grand tour packages to Havana.

American mob bosses benefited from Cuba’s President Fulgencio Batista’s corrupt regime and bribed them and created a glamorous playground for the rich. They created a prohibition haven, a place of safety from prosecution overflowing with dazzling nightclubs and mojitos flowing all day, outrageous cabarets, dancing girls, all-night bars, backstreet brothels, fancy hotels and resorts, gambling, music, drugs, sex and scandal.  Affluent Americans and movie stars did not disappoint the mob investors; they went to Havana in droves to whoop it up!

Many Cubans were outraged by the reveling and debauchery and Castro who was a young revolutionist became popular and his philosophy became widely accepted. When Castro overthrew Batista he had a new vision for Cuba and Americans were banned from travel to his tropical paradise.

Relations between the U.S. and Cuba quickly deteriorated when Castro nationalized many of the U.S. owned industries in Cuba. Each time the Cuban government nationalized American properties, the American government took countermeasures, resulting in the prohibition of all exports to Cuba on October 19, 1960.

In March 1960 President Eisenhower had quietly authorized the CIA to organize, train, and equip Cuban refugees as a guerrilla force to overthrow Castro. Consequently, Cuba began to consolidate trade relations with the communist Soviet Union which lead to the United States breaking off all remaining official diplomatic relations.

On January 3, 1961 the US withdrew diplomatic recognition of the Cuban government and closed our embassy in Havana.

So here we are 48 years later and Cuba and Qatar have signed an agreement to build a $75 million, 450-room resort on a cay south of the island.

Cuba and Qatar will spend 14 months negotiating financing details for the five-star “Gran Paraiso” or “Great Paradise,” said Ghanim Bin Saad al-Saad, president of state-owned Qatar Diar Real Estate Investment Company, construction will take another year and a half with a goal to open in 2015.

The resort is planned for Cayo Largo Sur, a strip of white sand, coral reefs and warm, calm waters 105 miles south of Havana that is already home to a cluster of high-rise hotels. The Gran Paraiso will also include 60 retreat villas that could be expanded in the future.

Tourism is Cuba’s second-largest moneymaker behind nickel exports.

A record 2.35 million foreigners visited last year, mostly from Canada and Europe. That was a 9.3 percent increase over 2007.  Foreign arrivals are up another 2 percent so far this year despite the global economic slowdown.

America should not continue to snub Cuba.  Even though we’ve not been friendly neighbors, Cuba really hasn’t done anything harmful to America. Cuba is very close to us geographically and we should have a respectable relationship with them. Sending the CIA to Cuba to overthrow Castro was not an endearing thing to do. 

If we continue our relationship with Cuba as is, out of necessity Cuba might befriend nations that are adversarial towards America.  We don’t have to be their BFF but we should be cordial and reopen trade with them.  Why not?

Will America come out and play with Cuba?

May 5, 2009

President Obama Cracks Down On Off Shore Tax Havens

ugland-house-cayman-islands  In life some people have most everything stacked in their financial favor but it doesn’t stop them from being greedy.  The wealthy in America have had tax breaks that allow them to keep more of what they earn AND the wealthy have also had laws that have allowed them to move their monies out of America (where they earned the money) to countries where they don’t have to pay taxes on that money and therefore keep more money in their greedy little paws while keeping tax money out of the Feds bank account. 

The wealthy has been successfully hiding their money from the American government for decades; money that could help America to pay for military expenditures; money which can help to build roads; money which can be used to repair bridges; money which can be used to pay for natural disasters, etc.  President Obama is going to change some of that.

President Obama has decided to crack down on corporations who move their money out of the country in order to avoid paying taxes.  He announced proposed changes in tax law that would end much of these loopholes and could raise about $21 BILLION in revenue each year.

united-bank-of-switzerland-zurich  The move comes as the IRS continues its crackdown on offshore accounts through a high-profile investigation involving thousands of people with Swiss bank accounts managed by the United Bank of Switzerland (UBS)  in Zurich. The proposal restricts the ability of companies to defer taxes owed on profits earned overseas and eliminates a popular method, known as “check the box”, for reducing taxes through transfers of money to overseas affiliates.  The proposal will also target individuals whom the IRS suspect of hiding income offshore and these individuals would bear the burden of proof, rather than the IRS.  With the proposed changes IRS penalties for failing to make required disclosures about foreign accounts would be doubled in some cases under the plan.

The plans still have to get through Congress, but the president said he was determined to close offshore tax loopholes.  President Obama said, “On the campaign, I used to talk about the outrage of a building in the Cayman Islands that had over 12,000 businesses claim this building as their headquarters. Either this is the largest building in the world or the largest tax scam in the world. And I think the American people know which it is.”

The President was referring to The Ugland House on Church Street in the Cayman Islands – pictured above – which now has 18,000 corporations registered as having their headquarters there!  Look at the picture, do you think 18,000 corporations have their offices there?

The Cayman Islands is a tiny overseas territory of Britain.  The Cayman Islands have more registered businesses than they have people.  The Cayman Islands is the fifth-largest banking center in the world with $1.5 trillion in banking liabilities. With a population of 50,000 it has the highest per capita income in the Caribbean and 90% of its economy is based on ‘financial services’.  There is no income tax or capital gains tax or corporation tax. The government’s primary source of income is indirect taxation such as sales tax, value added tax or goods and services tax.

The government also charges licensing fees to financial institutions that operate in the islands as well as work permit fees for foreign workers ranging from around US$500 for a clerk to around US$20,000 for a CEO.

I love the fact that President Obama has come into office and shows his strong commitment to national defense, strong commitment to balance our budget and an unapologetic commitment to moral and family values that he is not afraid to wear on his sleeves. I am happy to see President Obama trying to get America fiscally healthy again.  It’s a difficult task, but I’m glad to see his efforts in trying to reclaim money that have been stolen from the American government so we can spend what we have and not have to continue borrowing from China and adding to our children and grand-children’s tax debt.

April 30, 2009

The Obamas Have Shed Their Campaign Vulnerabilities

Missing in the tsunami of coverage of the First 100 Days—if it’s possible that anything has been left unwritten or unsaid—is that both President and Michelle Obama have largely shed what appeared to be their greatest vulnerabilities in the final months of the campaign.

For the would-be president, it was his lack of experience. Exasperated Republicans tried their damnedest to sound the alarms. He’s never actually done anything, the argument went. Do you really want him in the Oval Office when crisis strikes? Nervous Democrats fretted, mostly in private, and wondered if maybe John McCain wasn’t better suited to the job.

For the potential First Lady, her alleged Achilles’ heel was her “anger.” Her “for the first time in my adult life I’m proud of my country” moment became a catch-all for the country’s unresolved feelings about working moms, opinionated political spouses, and African Americans romping on the lawn at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. How can this possibly work? people wondered.

Fast-forward just three months past Inauguration Day, and those concerns have all but disappeared.

To be sure, the critics make other arguments, especially about him. He’s doing too much. (Or he’s not doing enough.) He’s moving too fast. (Or he’s not moving fast enough.) His misguided policies will bankrupt the country. He’s arrogant, an apologist, a socialist. But what they aren’t saying is that he’s unprepared, in over his head, or not up to the job. Already, he’s faced at least two crises, one foreign and one domestic, in addition to the ongoing economic disaster and the daily demands of the job: the hijacking of an American ship by Somali pirates and the outbreak of the swine flu, a potential global pandemic. In the first, the president calmly ordered American snipers to take out the ragtag pirates if the ship captain’s life appeared to be in danger. It was—and they did. And praise for the president’s steady hand was virtually universal. The second crisis is still unfolding, but again, the president’s response has been swift and steady, as he and his team have worked to calm and inform a worried public.  

People have responded by showing confidence in the president’s leadership. His job approval numbers are in the mid-to-high 60s, his personal approval numbers are higher yet, and a sizable majority see him as a strong leader and able commander in chief. John who?

As for Michelle Obama, her reversal of fortune has been so swift and so complete that the only criticism she’s faced, if you can call it that, has been answered in the same breath it was uttered. She touched the Queen! But the Queen touched her first! Or She wears too many sleeveless dresses! But her arms look great! Meanwhile, she hosted a reception for women’s-rights icon Lily Ledbetter after her husband signed the Fair Pay Act; began her outreach to military families; oversaw the planting of an organic garden on the White House grounds; became a fashion icon; engineered the adoption of a new dog; and helped her two unspeakably cute daughters adjust to their new circumstances (where they set their alarm clocks, get themselves ready for school, and make their beds every day). Gone is the stereotypical angry black woman. Front and center is an accomplished American mom, the center of gravity in her admirable American family.

How did our impressions of these two change so quickly? Mostly, it seems, because of the exceptional personal qualities of both Obamas. Ideology aside, they are honest, hard-working, disciplined—the kind of “family values” folks that have always loomed large in America’s image of itself. Perhaps those qualities were harder to see when we knew the Obamas less well. Perhaps they were a bit obscured by well-worn stereotypes of ambitious politicians, career women, and African Americans. And maybe, when all is said and done, those early vulnerabilities will in fact loom larger than they do right now.

But at least for the moment, Barack and Michelle Obama have filled out their own portraits, making them more complete, more complex, and more appealing than they were a hundred days ago. Even if the milestone is as fabricated as the Easter eggs on the White House lawn, that’s an impressive accomplishment.

This absolutely great article was written by Dee Dee Myers, a Vanity Fair Contributing Editor

http://www.vanityfair.com/online/politics/2009/04/100-days-obamas-shed-campaign-vulnerability.html?printable=true&currentPage=all

 

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