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Lift ban on Cuba

A Cold War remnant, embargo no longer serves purpose

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 31: Fifty years ago, rebel forces captured the city of Santa Clara in central Cuba, sending the island nation’s dictator, Fulgencio Batista, into a New Year’s Eve panic. He fled for exile in the Dominican Republic. A week later, a bearded 32-year-old lawyer named Fidel Castro marched triumphantly into Havana to claim his prize.

El Comandante is still there and still in charge, although last year he surrendered day-to-day control of the nation to his brother, Raul. Fidel Castro has survived 10 U.S. presidents starting with John F. Kennedy, who severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961, when it entered the Soviet Union’s embrace.

The world has changed drastically in 50 years, but the United States and Cuba remain fierce political adversaries. Their populations, paradoxically, are intertwined, even as the U.S. economic embargo restricts the flow of people, money and products to and from the tropical island of 11 million people.

The embargo is an anachronistic vestige of Cold War politics that no longer serves much purpose. Castro’s ill health, along with the beginning of President-elect Barack Obama’s administration, offers a special opening to relax significantly – if not outright reverse – its damaging effects.

The best ambassadors for democracy in Cuba are American tourists, American businesses and American cultural representatives. The Cuban people may have been isolated from the world for 50 years, but they are smart and pragmatic. The United States should reach out to them, not only in their interest, but also in our own.

Washington Post, Jan. 2: Even Barack Obama – he of the compulsive exercise regimen and workout-video-worthy physique – hasn’t been able to escape the clutches of nicotine. The president-elect, whose struggle to give up cigarettes is well documented, still sneaks an occasional smoke. That cigarettes can ensnare someone as disciplined as Obama speaks to their potency. It is inconceivable, then, that the most deadly product legally sold in the United States is exempt from federal regulation. (Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration oversees dog food, perfume and, yes, nicotine gum.) The new Congress should pass legislation that would give the FDA authority to regulate Big Tobacco.

Opponents say that the legislation would overburden the FDA and trick smokers into thinking that cigarettes are approved by the agency. In fact, the bill would impose a fee on cigarette makers to fund a separate center within the FDA to oversee Big Tobacco. The bill would also prohibit cigarette makers from claiming that their products are “FDA-approved.”

The proposed economic stimulus bill will be Congress’ top priority, but legislation regulating Big Tobacco shouldn’t be far behind.

Dallas Morning News, Dec. 30: Nobody with a conscience can look at the images of destruction and human suffering on the streets of Gaza without flinching. The pictures of the civilian victims of Israeli air strikes – especially children – are heart-rending. But let’s keep straight whose fault this tragedy is: Hamas, the fanatical Islamists who rule Gaza and who have used the land as a launching pad for firing rockets into Israel.

In 2005, Israel withdrew its military and Israeli settlers from occupied Gaza and turned the land over to the Palestinians. Fearing that Gaza would become a terror base, Israel retained control over the flow of goods and people into Gaza. The next year, Gazans voted in Hamas – a terrorist organization whose charter commits itself to the destruction of Israel and the demonization of Palestinian peacemakers.

After the Hamas takeover, Israel imposed restrictions on goods and people entering and leaving Gaza, out of a well-founded fear that Hamas would turn Gaza into a terror statelet. That they have done.

Don’t forget that Israel is committed to a peace process and a two-state solution. Hamas despises both.

Los Angeles Times, Jan. 2: Well, thank goodness. “The Terminator” has been selected for the National Film Registry and will be preserved forever. Keep your Oscars and your Golden Globes; the film that introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger in his signature role will be safe in climate-controlled Library of Congress vaults long after “Shakespeare in Love” and “Mrs. Miniver” are dust.

But what’s the point of storing the first flick in the series for posterity while allowing the sequels to rot? The registry had the good sense in the ’90s to keep not just “The Godfather” but “The Godfather: Part II” (and perhaps the equally good sense to let “Godfather: Part III” fend for itself against the elements). So, likewise, shouldn’t we try to safeguard “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”? That way, the cyborgs that peruse our archives after our civilization has vanished will learn to utter not simply “I’ll be back” but the equally immortal “Hasta la vista, baby.”

Miami Herald, Dec. 31: In addition to making it easier for coal miners to pollute rivers and streams, allowing more mining in lands adjacent to national parks and implementing rules that weaken the Endangered Species Act, the Bush administration gave the National Rifle Association a parting gift by lifting a decades-long ban on concealed weapons in national parks.

It is painful to witness the administration’s cynical use of the federal rule-making process to assault the environment and pander to the NRA during its waning days. These harmful new rules could take years to undo. Make no mistake, though, they must be taken off the books before they can do too much damage.

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