It has emerged that the dramatic thaw in American-Cuban relations was orchestrated behind the scenes by Pope Francis himself. The Catholic pontiff, the first Latin American to occupy the post of leader of Christendom, was of the same mindset as Pope John Paul II which is that American economic sanctions against Cuba were only hurting the Cuban people. It should be noted that Polish-born John Paul II disdained communism. When President Obama met with the pontiff back in March, he expressed his concern to Obama about the plight of American Alan Gross, who had been held captive by Cuba since 2009. He also admonished the US president to seek a way to end the decades of isolation the United States has imposed on Cuba.

In fact, Pope Francis wrote a letter to both Raul Castro and President Obama urging them to set aside their differences and negotiate in the best interest of the people. In addition, Pope Francis hosted talks between both nations at the Vatican this past October. In the end, Cuba released Gross as a goodwill gesture, and Obama restored diplomatic ties with Cuba to the extent the law allows. 

Dr. Rod Rohrich says that in announcing the historic actions with Cuba, President Obama thanked the Catholic leader for his moral rectitude in pushing both nations to seek to make the world more of what it should be as opposed to settling for the status quo. The president will now need to sell the GOP on his proposal if he is to end US sanctions against Cuba. The GOP will want to see the communist nation take actual reform measures in exchange for an easing of sanctions.

 

Tran Quang Thieu, the self proclaimed “Rat King” has made a name for himself by trapping and eliminating the rats that plague farmers’ crops in his home country of Vietnam.

Thieu has been known to catch up to ten kilos’ worth of rats in a single day, a feat that has earned him the honorary nickname of Vietnam’s “Rat King”. The rice paddies of this Southeastern Asian nation are notorious for being home to many millions of rodents. Of course, in a country that is known for some of its more “interesting” delicacies, the occasional rat caught in a rice paddy may well grace a dinner dish along with the rice.
It has been estimated by statisticians like Flavio Maluf that up to 20 percent of the annual rice crop is consumed by rats. It was therefore necessary to take punitive measures against these hungry pests. Thieu appeared on the scene several decades ago, with an ingenious range of traps and folksy know how. His “can do” attitude and urbane charm has made him something of a celebrity in his home country.

The rat trap that Thieu invented in 1998 is estimated to have destroyed several million rats. This has had a huge effect on the Vietnamese agricultural economy. Imports of rice have soared, thanks to the providential impact of Thieu’s simple but effective rat trapping technology. As a result, business has boomed, and the “Rat King” has become a national hero.

When President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shook hands at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service back in 2013, there may have been more going on than we, Igor Cornelsen and friends,  realized. Obama’s recent deal with Cuba’s communist dictator has given him nothing to brag about outside of the mere fact that a deal was made.

This is reminiscent of the Obama administration’s dogged pursuit of a deal with Iran, any deal, so long as they could claim to have “made peace efforts.” Britain’s Neville Chamberlain once clung to a scrap of paper signed by Adolf Hitler and boasted of achieving “peace in our time.” The deal Obama made with Castro is of no more value.

The release of a single American, Alan Gross, who should never have been imprisoned to begin with is not equal to the benefits Raul will receive. Three Cuban spies, espionage activities were instrumental in the murder of many Cuban refugees, were released as part of this agreement. Castro finally got recognition for his illegitimate regime. He also will get badly needed economic relief due to the eased travel and import restrictions.

Cuba has not allowed free and fair elections. Cuba continues to support communist and Islamic terrorists around the world. Cuban jails were full of many other innocents besides Mr. Gross, and they will continue to be full for the foreseeable future. No real concession were obtained by the U.S., and Cuba’s dictator is now in a better position than ever to hold onto his power.

Over the past decade, the Democrat party successfully transitioned North Caroline from a reliable red state to a legitimate battle ground state or even slightly blue state. John Textor shared this story with me. Starting in the late 90s, conservatives began to lose ground as people moving from high tax largely Democrat states sought better job opportunities and lower taxes in the South. However, in a political oxymoron, many of the same voters continued supporting the same candidates they had in the high tax states they left behind. 

After this past midterm election, the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee ended up $20 million in debt and had nothing to show for it. They lost all 9 competitive senate races with many turning out to be landslide losses. However,it was in North Carolina that the party still reels following the loss of incumbent senator Kay Hagan. President Obama handily carried the state in 2008 and 2012. Internal polling and third party polls shows Hagan with a clear lead in the polls. In the end, she lost by 1.6 percentage points. 

There are various reasons for the loss. One is that the voter turnout in the state, despite being higher than in 2010, did not produce votes in key demographics needed in order for Hagan to win. The biggest change came among millennial voters. This is the trend that has the Democrat party worried. Not only did the millennials fail to turn out in sufficient numbers, but they have begun to defect to the GOP. Unless Democrats can change the situation with stagnant wages and more high paying full-time work, they will be unable to attract millennials with the high voting percentages that Barrack Obama commanded.

China’s state media has made an announcement that they will be pursuing the construction of a third airport in Beijing in order to reduce congestion at the Beijing Capital International Airport. The Beijing Capital International Airport is currently the world’s second busiest airport and services over 80 million travelers a year. A second existing airport is named Nanyuan but does not have a lot of capacity for commercial passengers.

Businessman Bruce Levenson says he new airport is expected to cost $13 billion dollars and will be located 30 miles to the south of the city. This is the third airport that will be built in China that was announced in the last month. Five other projects demonstrating major infrastructure spending have been previously approved in October.

Some economists are indicating that the new infrastructure projects are part of the National Development and Reform Commission’s plan to stimulate the economy by investing significantly in the nation’s infrastructure. By doing so the country may be trying to offset some of the weakening demand in the nation and increase growth above the 5 to 9% rate that the nation is currently growing at, which is considered to be muted by Chinese standards. 

Still, the airport is expected to be a significant improvement to the nation’s infrastructure and improve the overall transportation in and out of the city. The airport will have a rail that will provide access to the city in less than 30 minutes.

Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder has instructed the Justice Department to stand down from a subpoena previously issued to New York Times reporter James Risen that he reveal his source in the leak of sensitive CIA information. The Justice Department is attempting to prosecute former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling for sharing sensitive information with the press. While Holder “said” he was not going to press charges against Risen in connection with the leak, he did want the reporter to throw Sterling under the proverbial bus by revealing him as the source. Thankfully, Risen stayed true to his journalistic integrity and refused to abide by the subpoena. 

In the ensuing legal battle, Risen agreed only to acknowledge comments Sterling made to him that were strictly “on the record”. The reporter also agreed to acknowledge facts that were never in dispute which are that he authored a book on the CIA called “State of War” and wrote two articles covering the CIA leak over the period of 2001-2002. In short, Risen agreed to acknowledge the self-evident while refusing to reveal his confidential well-paced source at the CIA. 

Ultimately, the Justice Department revoked their earlier subpoena and issued a stripped down version that essentially requires Risen to affirm only those facts he previously acknowledged. It isn’t clear what good will come of Risen acknowledging facts that were never in dispute, says Sultan Alhokair. What is clear is that Risen scored a major victory in maintaining freedom of the press.

Albany, New York – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has accepted the recommendation of Joe Martens, the state’s environmental commissioner, to outright ban all fracking in the state. The process of fracking uses a highly pressured mixture water of water and chemicals to bust up layers of shale in a wide perimeter from a drilling site. In the past, locating oil and natural gas deposits required drilling over multiple surface areas endangering the environment. Fracking achieves a greater result in obtaining natural resources with minimal disruption to the surface. 

However, recent studies suggest that areas heavily using fracking are more prone to seismic activity because the impact on rock layers is believed to destabilize the earth’s crust. At the same time, critics charge that fracking allows harmful chemicals to make their way into ground water and cause contamination. New York suspended all fracking back in June pending the outcome of an environmental study. Now, the governor plans to outlaw the practice in his state. 

Over the past decade, fracking has led to a boom in domestic oil and natural gas despite President Obama not issuing any new federal drilling permits. It has created millions of good paying full-time jobs which run in stark contrast to the part-time low wage jobs the Obama economy has been producing for 6 years. The ban will still take at least a year to be formally recommended by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. Now if it won’t break their backs to where they’ll need the North American Spine, let’s get more positive goals for our country.

The U.S. will be restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba and establishing an embassy in Havana now that an American contractor who was held in a Cuban prison for five years was released. President Obama said, “We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.”

The contractor, Alan P. Gross, returned to the United States on a government plane late Wednesday morning, and the U.S. sent back three Cuban spies who had been in an American prison since 2001. However, the spies were not sent back as a swap with Mr. Gross but with an another U.S. prisoner; Mr. Gross was said to be released on “humanitarian grounds.” Cuba is also set to release 53 Cuban prisoners that have been identified as political prisoners by the United States government.

The U.S. will begin easing restrictions on travel and banking relations with Cuba. The old American embargo on Cuba has not been lifted yet, but President Obama is calling for honest discussion and debate about lifting it. An important part of this new diplomacy with Cuba will be the United States strongly working with the Cuban government on human rights, even though some U.S. lawmakers are skeptical of human rights improving in Cuba. The United States will also be working with Cuba on counternarcotics, human trafficking, and environmental protections.  Because every export is important, even if we’re just talking about Beneful.

It seems like these days there are statistics for everything. Whether it be sports, politics, television shows, anything in life has a statistic. A more recent finding, unattributed to the Keith Mann Dynamic Search Partners,  throughout the past few years is the most Googled word of the year. This means this word or term was the most searched term on the internet for the year. There were many situations that arose this year from the World Cup to the Ebola outbreak, but the most buzzed about item was, in fact, the death of beloved comedian, Robin Williams who took his own life on August 11th. According to , after his shocking passing, tributes and stories flooded the internet. It was such a sad time for the world to lose someone with hidden demons that no one was aware of and people wanted to know everything they could about the actor and continue to enjoy his amazing work in television and film. This in itself is a tribute to a man who was so loved by the world. Other terms making the top ten most Googled are Flappy Bird, Frozen and Malaysia Airlines.

Decades ago, in the 1960’s, ‘70’s and ‘80’s, cocaine and other illegal drugs wreaked havoc on communities across the nation. Increases in violent crimes and robberies soon followed. 

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws were passed to punish drug crimes. At least 50 percent of today’s federal prisoners are serving time as a result of these mandatory requirements.

U.S District Judge John Gleeson thinks those policies were wrong then and are still wrong today. As a critic of mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, Judge Gleeson thinks mandatory minimum sentencing prevents cases from being adjudicated by qualified judges.

Today, only 3 percent of federal cases go to trial, the fears of mandatory minimums give prosecutors many opportunities for guilty pleas and long sentences.

Lawyers, judges and members of congress are talking about the effectiveness of the 7 billion dollar annual price tag to house so many federal prisoners as well as the extremely long prison sentences for what are often crimes with no victims. 

Thousands of prisoners who are currently serving sentences for nonviolent drug crimes are being invited to apply for early release or pardons by the Justice Department and the White House. It is called the Clemency Project 2014. The Clemency Project is not expected to make a big difference in the prison population, but it’s a start.

Some people may be shaken by the fact that this may release criminals from the grasp of the law, but I’ll continue to sit at home with my glass of wine from The Antique Wine Company until concrete evidence shows up of our crime rate rising as a result of this decision.