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The first Latino president? Obama’s not there yet. Print E-mail

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 9:  A member of the crowd holds up a

The first Latino president? Obama’s not there yet.

By Edward-Isaac Dovere

Bill Clinton was the first black president. Thursday afternoon, taking in the Cuba thaw after weeks buoyed by President Barack Obama’s immigration reform executive actions, Labor Secretary Tom Perez put down a new marker for his own boss.

“When I reflect on the breadth and depth of what he has done for Latinos, it really makes him in my mind, and in the minds of so many others, the first Latino president,” said Perez, the son of Dominican immigrants and one of the administration’s highest-ranking Latinos.

Perez isn’t alone in that assessment. But many Latinos aren’t ready to go that far. But they’re starting to move. Obama’s approval rating shot up among Latinos since the executive action announcement, and the change in Cuba policy is a reminder of just how much politics have shifted: Most older Cubans rage against lifting the embargo, while most younger Cubans track with the American public in supporting what Obama did — not to mention that Cubans now make up only 3.5 percent of the country’s Hispanic population. But polls show non-Cuban Hispanics support normalizing relations with Cuba by far greater margins.

Obama has already increased his Latino support from 67 percent in 2008 to 71 percent in 2012. If things keep up this way, pollsters see the chance that one of his electoral legacies could be helping deliver upward of 80 percent of a quickly growing population to the next Democratic nominee.

Gary Segura, the principal and co-founder of the polling firm Latino Decisions, said Republicans risk hastening that along if they spend the next two years railing against the immigration executive actions — which, he said, will only help Obama’s standing among Latinos by giving him a chance to repeatedly remind them that he stood with them.

“He’ll spend most of the last two years of his presidency defending Latinos and his executive action. He’ll look good, his party will look good, the opposition party will look bad,” Segura said.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) is a leader of immigration reform efforts among House Republicans. But as a Cuban himself, and one who represents many other Cubans in South Florida, he said Obama’s outreach to Castro demonstrates “a limitless willingness to appease enemies of freedom,” and a “grotesque concession.”

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Sony Made It Easy, but Any of Us Could Get Hacked Print E-mail


Sony Made It Easy, but Any of Us Could Get Hacked

WSJ Essay: The information-technology security lessons of the broad cyberattack on Sony.

Cuba Is A Kleptocracy, Not Communist Print E-mail

Cuba Is A Kleptocracy, Not Communist

It’s not communism that’s the problem in Cuba, it’s the Castro brothers’ winking at corruption.

Fidel Castro seized power in January 1959 after waging a guerilla war against then-dictator Fulgencio Batista. The charismatic bearded revolucionario dressed in a dark olive uniform promised to restore order and hold elections. People on the streets of Havana cheered and celebrated the return of fighters from the Sierra Maestra. Batista had fled and Castro was their hero.

But the dream of a new dawn was short lived—at least a democratic one. Soon enough, Castro turned his back on those ideals, embracing Soviet style communism. Cuban exiles fled. Others were ousted. In 1961, the United States broke off relations with the island 90 miles off Florida’s shores.

For years, Americans and Cuban exiles alike speculated that the normalization of relations between the two countries would spark a new kind of revolution. Cubans would flood the streets once again ousting the Castro brothers who have now been in power for 55 years.

That is now considered unlikely. Instead, Cuba probably will undertake a process of economic reforms that integrates its economy more with the United States and the global system. But other states, especially Russia, have had trouble adjusting to a market economy, degenerating into massive kleptocracies. Cuba, already corrupt, will have to avoid becoming even more so when American investment pours in.

Experts agree that much will depend on the measures undertaken both by the United States and Cuba. As it stands, the deal will ease the travel ban and trade embargo, and make it easier for Americans to do business in Cuba. But only Congress has the ability to completely lift the trade embargo, which has been in place since 1962.


In the past, Fidel Castro and his brother Raul were considered permanent enemies of Washington. In return, Cuban rhetoric wholeheartedly blamed the United States for crippling their economy. Politically in the last five decades, every problem Cuba faced was part of larger struggle against northern imperialists.

But in a transition process heavily based on economic reforms, the real challenge facing Cubans is not removing the Castro’s communist regime, but tackling corruption.

“The black market is a form of corruption. Most people in Cuba find jobs not because of a salary but because other perks they may have at that job,” explains Ted Henken, Chair of Sociology and Anthropology at Baruch College. “Another part which is more pernicious is corruption by well-placed people on top of the food chain,” he says, referring to former military cadres that control sectors of Cuba’s economy.

According to Transparency International, an organization that monitors corporate and political corruption worldwide, Cuba scored 46 just close of the halfway mark where 0 is most corrupt and 100 is transparent. China and Russia, countries that ushered in similar economic transitions, scored 36 and 27 accordingly.

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The Right-Wing Billionaire Who Bowed to North Korea over ‘The Interview’ Print E-mail

The Right-Wing Billionaire Who Bowed to North Korea over ‘The Interview’

He may own some tough-talking, hard-right media outlets. But when a movie controversy crested, Philip Anschutz’s Regal Cinemas caved.

When the top movie-theater chains in the United States dropped Seth Rogen and James Franco’s Kim Jong Un assassination comedy The Interview—ostensibly over fear of terrorist attacks against their theaters—Regal Cinemas was the greatest loss.

Regal Entertainment Group is the biggest and most geographically diverse theater company in the country. It operates over 7,000 screens all over America. Industry sources with knowledge of the situation tell The Daily Beast that Regal and AMC Theatres were the “”first dominos to fall” in the top-five theater circuits, essentially sealing the fate of The Interview.

“Due to the wavering support of the film The Interview by Sony Pictures, as well as the ambiguous nature of any real or perceived security threats, Regal Entertainment Group has decided to delay the opening of the film in our theatres,” Regal announced in their statement.

Regal’s move brings back into the public view a right-wing media baron who would rather be elsewhere. The chain’s biggest owner is a secretive deeply conservative billionaire and devout Christian who is, according to The New Yorker, “the man who owns L.A.”

Philip Anschutz, whose investment fund owns about 47 percent of Regal’s shares, has all the makings of a major-league boogeyman of the left—like a Rupert Murdoch or a Koch brother. He presides over a sprawling media and sports empire that spans from the Lakers to The Chronicles of Narnia. He has donated generously to conservative (and anti-gay) causes and candidates, including Rick Santorum, both Bush presidents, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. Last year, Regal Entertainment Group slashed some workers’ hours down to 30 per week, blaming Obamacare. And Media Matters, the liberal media-watchdog group, labeled Anschutz, “the other right-wing media mogul you should worry about” in 2009.

North Korea’s bizarre Sony saga uncovers Hollywood’s hidden truth Print E-mail

A worker removes a billboard for "The Interview" in Hollywood. (Getty)

North Korea’s bizarre Sony saga uncovers Hollywood’s hidden truth

Ann Hornaday

Despite Hollywood's protests that movies are “just” movies, “The Interview” shows that they are all political.

There’s really no bright side to discern from this week’s bizarre, unprecedented spectacle involving Sony Pictures and “The Interview,” a Seth Rogen-James Franco satire about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

After weeks of suffering through the most destructive corporate hack in history, and on the heels of theaters refusing to show the comedy because of terrorist threats made by the hackers (now believed to be sponsored by the North Korean government), Sony finally pulled “The Interview” on Wednesday, refusing even to make it available on demand.

It was a particularly distressing choice given that the decision arrived the same day President Obama announced a new, liberalized policy with Cuba — a softening of relations presumably designed to bring American democratic values to the communist country. This is what freedom of expression looks like, extruded through the priorities of late corporate capitalism and aggressively asymmetrical global politics.

The truth that the Sony/“Interview” debacle has laid bare is that all films are political, from the most banal escapist romp to the self-valorizing action adventures we aggressively send to the overseas markets — especially in Asia — that account for around 70 percent of the movie industry’s profits.

That point was inadvertently proved with perhaps the most provocative kernel of information that emerged during the disorienting past few days. In the middle of the swirl, the Daily Beast revealed communications between Sony Entertainment chief executive Michael Lynton and the State Department, which told him that “The Interview” had the potential of actually moving the needle in North Korea. Lynton had already run the project by a specialist at the Rand Corp. (where he sits on the board of trustees).

In a June e-mail, Rand defense analyst Bruce Bennett wrote to Lynton: “I have been clear that the assassination of Kim Jong Un is the most likely path to a collapse of the North Korean government. Thus while toning down the ending may reduce the North Korean response, I believe that a story that talks about the removal of the Kim family regime and the creation of a new government by the North Korean people (well, at least the elites) will start some real thinking in South Korea and, I believe, in the North once the DVD leaks into the North (which it almost certainly will).”

Lynton subsequently wrote back: “Bruce — Spoke to someone very senior in State (confidentially). He agreed with everything you have been saying. Everything. I will fill you in when we speak.”

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The Revolution Fidel Castro Began Evolves Under His Brother Print E-mail

The Revolution Fidel Castro Began Evolves Under His Brother

The college students of a surprised Cuba sang karaoke on Thursday afternoon beside a dark green tank memorializing the Cuban revolution. They played dominoes in the shade of the University of Havana law school, where Fidel Castro found his footing as a leader with a pistol at his side.

When asked about the historic shift by the United States to ease its trade embargo and pursue normalized relations with Cuba, they spoke first of what it meant for the Cuban people, then of what it said about President Obama, and finally, a few mentioned the boldness of President Raúl Castro.

They said nothing of Fidel.

At a moment described by many as an equivalent to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the absence of Fidel Castro — he has said nothing about it, and has not appeared in public for months — spoke volumes. For many Cubans, it confirmed that Fidel, perhaps by his own design, is slipping further into the past, into history, at a time when his approach to the United States seems to be fading as well.

“It’s a break with the past, and a transition,” said Jorge Luis Rivero González, 26, a master’s student in information technology. “What we have now is hope for a new path. We don’t know what’s coming, but it better be good.”

Fidel is still an imposing figure in the Cuban consciousness, a leader so venerable and fiercely protected that many avoid talking about him at all. Few here or in Washington, where the name Fidel is often shorthand for communist revolution itself, suggested that détente with the United States could have happened without his approval.

Some of the former leader’s most loyal followers here have even described Mr. Obama’s recognition of Cuba with a Castro still in power as a final triumph for Fidel — a formal nod of respect that the old guerrillero has demanded since 1959.

There was even some Fidel-like braggadocio in the speech by his brother Raúl, who celebrated the return on Wednesday of Cuba’s three convicted spies from the United States with a rare flair for theatrics. After years of appearing mostly in a suit, Raúl was careful to wear his military uniform, linking the prisoners’ release to “Comrade Fidel” and his promise years ago to bring the men home.

Some experts argued that it was yet another sign that on big, geopolitical questions, the Castro brothers largely remain in sync.

“Raúl and Fidel have no daylight between them on things like this,” said Julia Sweig, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies Cuba. “They have been in complete lock step on Cuban foreign policy.”


And yet the new Cuba that Raúl is fashioning from the old is a far cry from Fidel’s youthful revolution. Today’s Cuba seems less concerned with ideals than dollars. It is a hatchery of private enterprise and nascent inequality, where property can be bought and sold, along with cars and filet mignon. It is a proud country, tired of struggling, where the poor can see the rich rising along the way to Raúl’s stated goals: economic growth and stability.

“Raúl is a pragmatist; he is not a mindless idealist,” said Brian Latell, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst who has written books on the Castros. “Fidel has always been the heavy anchor on change and reform.”

Perhaps the difference is that now, with Cuba’s economy still on the edge of collapse, that weight seems to be lifting as Fidel fades further from view.

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Blackberry Launches New Smartphone, the 'Classic' Print E-mail

Blackberry Launches New Smartphone, the 'Classic'

Blackberry launched its new phone, the "Classic," on Wednesday. What's new about it, and who will buy it?

Is an early death a fair trade for a pro sports career? Print E-mail

Chris Conte

Is an early death a fair trade for a pro sports career?

Bears safety Chris Conte said he would cut 15 years off his life for his NFL career. But he shouldn’t have to make the choice

If you missed it, Chris Conte – a safety for the Chicago Bears who has recently suffered two concussions – went on the radio Wednesday to say that just being able to play in the NFL is worth the associated health risks. He elaborated, saying that he would “rather have the experience of playing and, who knows, die 10, 15 years earlier than not be able to play in the NFL and live a long life.”

Obviously, as the NFL is under continuous litigious bombardment over alleged negligence with regards to concussions suffered by its players, the remark got attention. But was it a totally ridiculous thing to say?

Let’s talk about why it might actually not sound totally ridiculous. Then we’ll talk about why it actually is. To break it down, what Conte is presenting in his remark are two options for us to consider. They are as follows:

Option 1: Conte plays football, gets injured, experiences the glory and fame that come with an NFL career, but dies early due to his injuries.

Option 2: Chris Conte never plays football, and so never gets injured, and lives a long life without the experience of playing in the NFL and the subsequent glory and fame.

Presented in such a way, we can see why option 1 is the more appealing of the two. You could make a strong argument that being able to play the sport you love at its highest level even though you’ll get injured doing it and therefore die at a younger age, is better than not playing at all and having a few old-age years at the end of your life.

Conte’s comment – essentially, opting for scenario 1 – made enough sense that when ESPN asked former New York Giants guard Chris Snee whether most guys in the NFL would agree with it, Snee (who suffered a concussion in his career) answered “…I would say yes.” He’s right. When ESPN took a survey, “85% of the 320 players polled said they would play in the Super Bowl with a concussion.”

Why? Conditioning.

Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer and the Glass Cliff Print E-mail

Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer and the Glass Cliff


Marissa Mayer is in trouble.

An excellent new New York Times Magazine cover story makes the case. Yahoo’s revenues are flat. Its raison d’être is a mystery. Its business plan is a hodgepodge. Its staff is queasy. Its shareholders are worried. And now, activist equity-holders are pushing for a merger with AOL, one that would presumably cost the company hundreds of jobs, potentially including Mayer’s.

The multimillionaire former Google executive had hoped to be the captain to right the ship, à la Steve Jobs at Apple. But instead she seems to be busy rearranging the deck chairs. It is a sad tale. And I fear that it will become an exemplar of a much bigger, much deeper trend in American corporate governance. 

That trend is of the “glass cliff,” a relative of the “glass ceiling” that holds back businesswomen, the “glass closet” that stifles the ambitions of gay executives, the brick walls facing many managers of color, and the “glass elevator” that helps so, so many white bros up to the top.

The term comes courtesy of two psychologists, Michelle K. Ryan of the University of Exeter and S. Alexander Haslam of the University of Queensland. In a pioneering study published a decade ago, they found that women were often promoted to board positions after a company had started faltering. Women weren’t picked to lead companies on an upswing, in other words. They were promoted to help manage turbulence and decline.

To show it, the researchers looked at the performance of firms before and after the appointment of a male or female board member. “During a period of overall stock-market decline those companies who appointed women to their boards were more likely to have experienced consistently bad performance in the preceding five months than those who appointed men,” they found. 

It seems borne out by an ample array of anecdotal evidence. There is Erin Callan, promoted to chief financial officer of Lehman Brothers at the end of 2007, long after the housing market started to collapse and just as the financial markets tipped into panic. There is Sallie Krawcheck, moved to a stressed unit of Citi in 2007 and a stressed unit of Bank of America in 2009. There is Mary Barra, brought in as chief executive officer at the still-shaky General Motors earlier this year.

And other studies conducted have backed the theory up. Susanne Bruckmüller and Nyla R. Branscombe, for instance, asked college students to read about an organic food company, sometimes headed by a woman, sometimes by a man, sometimes growing, sometimes failing. They then asked the students to choose between two equally qualified candidates to become chief executive, a man and a woman.

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Guantánamo not part of U.S.-Cuban bargain Print E-mail

Peering through the fence from the U.S.-controlled portion into the Cuban side of the Northeast Gate on March 20, 2014 at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Guantánamo not part of U.S.-Cuban bargain

By Carol Rosenberg

The Obama administration has no intention of withdrawing from the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, despite the sudden shift in U.S.-Cuban relations.

“There is no impact to Guantánamo from the changes announced today,” the National Security Council spokeswoman, Bernadette Meehan, said Wednesday evening.

Thursday, at the U.S. outpost in southeast Cuba, base spokeswoman Kelly Wirfel said a monthly meeting between Cuban and U.S. military officers along the fenceline dividing the base from the rest of the island was still on schedule for Friday.

The base commander, U.S. Navy Capt. John “J.R.” Nettleton, represents the United States; a U.S. diplomat attends the conversation too.

A U.S. Marines Humvee patrols the fence line that divides the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. on March 14, 2002.

“As far as the base goes we are still maintaining current operations and policies,” she said, noting there have been “no immediate changes” for staff at the 45-square-mile base of about 6,000 residents that straddles Guantánamo Bay and sits behind a Cuban minefield.

From the earliest days of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro sought to get the United States out of the base — a prime piece of real estate long before the George W. Bush administration decided to put its iconic war-on-terror prison there.

Successive U.S. administrations have said its military has permanent tenancy under a 1934 treaty made public by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The United States cuts an annual check for $4,085 in rent, even though the Cuban government does not cash it.

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