WBEZ | obama http://www.wbez.org/tags/obama Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Grading the Obama administration on human rights http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2015-08-10/grading-obama-administration-human-rights-112613 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Justin%20Norman.jpg" title="(Photo: Flickr/Justin Norman)" /></div></div><p>&nbsp;</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/218642375&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p style="margin: 0px 0px 18px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-stretch: inherit; line-height: 22px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(51, 51, 51);"><span style="font-size: 22px; background-color: rgb(255, 244, 244);">Obama&#39;s human rights scorecard</span></p><div style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-stretch: inherit; line-height: 22px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(51, 51, 51);"><p>President Obama came into office, vowing to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but seven years after his inauguration, the prison remains open. Conflicts in the Middle East have complicated Mr. Obama&rsquo;s policy presence abroad. Some criticize the President for supporting regimes that deny their citizens basic human rights. We&rsquo;ll speak with Elisa Massimino, president and CEO of Human Rights First, about the Obama Administration&rsquo;s human rights legacy.</p><p><strong>Guest:</strong>&nbsp;<em><span id="docs-internal-guid-7c19fc73-1939-9925-bfc2-4713b8f0eb85"><a href="http://twitter.com/ecmassimino">Elisa Massimino</a> is the president and chief executive officer of <a href="http://twitter.com/humanrights1st">Human Rights First.</a></span></em></p></div><p>&nbsp;</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/218643031&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p style="margin: 0px 0px 18px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-stretch: inherit; line-height: 22px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(51, 51, 51);"><span style="font-size: 22px; background-color: rgb(255, 244, 244);">India&#39;s Parsi population crisis</span></p><div style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-stretch: inherit; line-height: 22px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(51, 51, 51);"><p>Parsis are an ethnic community devoted to Zoroastrianism, a monotheistic religion that dates back well over three millennium. Various estimates put today&rsquo;s global Parsi population between 110,000-190,000. They live mainly in India and Iran. Chicago has about 500-600 Parsis, according to local Zoroastrian leaders. Famed Parsis include India&rsquo;s Tata family. The Parsis face a self-imposed existential crisis, in part, because of low marriage, religious beliefs encouraging small families and strict rules about cross-cultural marriage. We&rsquo;ll talk about Parsi history, culture and tradition and Indian government efforts to encourage its 60,000 Parsis to grow in population with journalist, Nell Freudenberger. Her article, &#39;House of Fire: Can India&rsquo;s Parsis survive their own success?&#39;, appears in the August 2015 issue of Harper&rsquo;s Magazine. Freudenberger&rsquo;s report was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.</p><p><strong>Guest:</strong>&nbsp;<em><span id="docs-internal-guid-a4e3969f-193e-692d-78d0-f1c3de5506f4"><a href="http://twitter.com/nellfreuden">Nell Freudenberger </a>is a </span>journalist and author of the article, &#39;House of Fire: Can India&rsquo;s Parsis survive their own success?&#39;, which appears in the August 2015 issue of <a href="http://twitter.com/Harpers">Harper&rsquo;s Magazine</a>.</em></p><div>&nbsp;</div></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 10 Aug 2015 15:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2015-08-10/grading-obama-administration-human-rights-112613 Obama Visits Kenya http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2015-07-24/obama-visits-kenya-112475 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Obama pic 3.jpg" title="U.S. President Barack Obama waves after being greeted by Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, right, on his arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya Friday, July 24, 2015. Obama began his first visit to Kenya as U.S. president Friday. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)" /></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/216187008&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_artwork=false " width="100%"></iframe></p><p><strong style="font-size: 24px;">Obama Vists Kenya as President</strong></p><p>President Obama heads to Kenya today. This is the first time he will visit his father&rsquo;s home country since he was elected president. The visit is filled with anticipation. There was discussion of making the visit a national holiday. In the town of Funyula in Busia County, which by borders Siaya County, the home area of President Obama&#39;s late father, the radio station there is calling today &ldquo;Obama Day.&rdquo; We&rsquo;ll check in with Phylis Nasubo Magina who is in Funyula. She&rsquo;s the managing director of The ABCs of Sex Education, where she leads a team of 49 community educators providing sex education and HIV prevention. Ken Opalo, an assistant professor at Georgetown University also joins us to discuss Obama&rsquo;s visit. He&rsquo;s originally from Kenya.</p><p><strong>Guests: </strong></p><p>Phylis Nasubo Magina is the Kenya Country Director of The ABCs of Sex Education</p><p>Ken Opalo Ken Opalo is an assistant professor at Georgetown University&rsquo;s School of Foreign Service and a blogger. He&rsquo;s originally from Kenya.<iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/216187612&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_artwork=false " width="100%"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size:24px;"><strong>Weekend Passport:</strong></span></p><p>Each week global citizen Nari Safavi helps listeners plan their international weekend. This week he&rsquo;ll tell us about an exhibit on North Korea, the film Hiroshima Mon Amor and Bomba Estereo: Album Release Show</p><p><strong>Guests:</strong></p><p>Nari Safavi is co-founder of Pasfarda Arts and Cultural Exchange</p><p>Alice Wielinga is a participating artist in North Korean Perspectives</p><p>Marc Prüst] is curator of North Korean Perspectives<iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/216188449&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_artwork=false " width="100%"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size:24px;"><strong>Milos Stehlik talks with Omar Sy, star of the film &#39;Samba&#39;</strong></span></p><p>Film contributor Milos Stehlik sits down with Omar Sy, star of the new film &ldquo;Samba.&rdquo; It&rsquo;s the latest film by the team that brought us &ldquo;The Intouchables. &#39;Samba&#39; tells the story of an undocumented kitchen worker who&rsquo;s battling deportation. The movie follows his struggles and budding romance with the immigration case worker who&rsquo;s trying to help him stay in France.</p><p><strong>Guests:</strong></p><p>Omar Sy, French actor and comedian, star of the film &ldquo;Samba&rdquo;</p><p>Milos Stehlik is WBEZ&rsquo;s film contributor and director of Facets Multimedia</p></p> Fri, 24 Jul 2015 13:55:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2015-07-24/obama-visits-kenya-112475 Worldview: Obama's executive action on immigration under fire http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2015-04-20/worldview-obamas-executive-action-immigration-under-fire-111908 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/AP782395362726.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="Demonstrators, led by the New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice and the Congress of Day Laborers, participate in a rally outside the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, Friday, April 17, 2015.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)" /></div><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/201750269&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 23.9999980926514px; line-height: 22px; background-color: rgb(255, 244, 244);">Immigration reform and the Obama administration</span></p><p>Last Friday, Justice Department lawyers urged a federal appeals court to lift a stay on President Obama&rsquo;s &nbsp;executive action on immigration.&nbsp;A 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel held a special hearing&nbsp;but did not make a ruling on Friday.&nbsp;In February, a Texas judge ruled that Obama&rsquo;s orders overreached and violated the constitution. We&rsquo;ll talk about the ruling, Obama&rsquo;s immigration policies and the national security implications with Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, co-director of U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch.</p><p><strong style="font-family: 'Times New Roman', serif; font-size: 16px;">Guest:</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><em><span id="docs-internal-guid-5d502e8b-d887-ff21-44c7-c513cff31558"><a href="https://twitter.com/MariaMHRW">Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno</a> is the</span> co-director of <a href="https://twitter.com/HRW">US Program at Human Rights Watch</a>.</em></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/201750670&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 23.9999980926514px; line-height: 22px; background-color: rgb(255, 244, 244);">Relatives of the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students speak out</span></p><p>Last September, 43 students from Mexico&rsquo;s Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teacher Training College of Ayotzinapa were detained and disappeared, presumably by police. The students are presumed murdered. Since then, Mexicans have demanded answers, justice and closure from their government. We&rsquo;ll speak with two relatives of the missing students. Cruz Bautista Salbador is a teacher and uncle of disappeared student, Benjamín Ascencio Bautista and María de Jesús Tlatempa Bello is the mother of disappeared student, José Eduardo Bartolo Tlatempa. They&rsquo;re on a national awareness tour and traveled to &nbsp;Chicago as guests of the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America.</p><p><strong>Guests:</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><em><span id="docs-internal-guid-38438439-d88a-c199-b7c9-bba820c4bf55">Cruz Bautista Salbador is a</span> teacher and uncle of disappeared student Benjamín Ascencio Bautista.</em></p><p><em><span id="docs-internal-guid-38438439-d88a-c199-b7c9-bba820c4bf55">María de Jesús Tlatempa Bello</span>&nbsp;is the mother of disappeared student José Eduardo Bartolo Tlatempa.</em></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/201751638&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 23.9999980926514px; line-height: 22px; background-color: rgb(255, 244, 244);">Two different sides of the Israel Palestine conflict unite under one cause</span></p><p>Hands of Peace &nbsp;is an interfaith group created by three Chicago-area women: Christian; Jewish; and Muslim to foster empathy and peace. They have a particular focus on harmonious co-existence between &nbsp;Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel. HOP brings &nbsp;teenagers together to help them understand the world from different points-of-view. We&rsquo;ll talk about HOP with Elik Elhanan, assistant professor of Hebrew and Yiddish literature at The City College of New York. He was a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), but is now a pacifist and &nbsp;military &rsquo;refusenik&rsquo;. &nbsp;In 1997, a suicide bomber killed his 14-year old sister in Jerusalem. &nbsp;We also speak with Aziz Abu Sarah, co-founder and group leader with Mejdi Tours. They help educate people via tours about the religion, culture and history of Israel&rsquo;s Jews and Palestinians by using a Palestinian guide and an Israeli tour guide.</p><p><strong>Guests:</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><em><span id="docs-internal-guid-f6c22ce0-d88d-0edb-3266-5aae6498a1ef">Elik Elhanan is an</span> assistant professor of Hebrew and Yiddish literature in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures in the Jewish Studies Program at The City College of New York.</em></p><p><em><span id="docs-internal-guid-f6c22ce0-d88d-0edb-3266-5aae6498a1ef"><a href="https://twitter.com/AzizAbuSarah">Aziz Abu Sarah</a> is a</span> 2014 Ted Fellow and National Geographic&rsquo;s 2011 &ldquo;Emerging Explorer,&quot; co-founder and group leader with Mejdi Tours, an organization that offers dual-narrative experiences by providing one Palestinian guide and one Israeli guide, exposing travelers to the unique cultural, political, and religious narratives of both groups.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 20 Apr 2015 15:29:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2015-04-20/worldview-obamas-executive-action-immigration-under-fire-111908 Obama visits Chicago to designate Pullman monument, boost mayor http://www.wbez.org/news/obama-visits-chicago-designate-pullman-monument-boost-mayor-111589 <p><div class="sc-type-small"><div><p><strong>▲ LISTEN </strong><em>Chicago cultural historian Tim Samuelson joined WBEZ&#39;s </em>Morning Edition<em> anchor Lisa Labuz to talk about Pullman&#39;s history and what Obama designating it a national monument means.</em></p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/pull%20ap%20file.PNG" style="height: 228px; width: 620px;" title="The Pullman Works administration building along with its 12-story clock tower, at left, is highlighted at sunset in Chicago. (AP/File)" /></div></div></div><p>WASHINGTON &mdash; President Barack Obama is turning a historic South Side neighborhood in Chicago into a national monument Thursday, in a visit that also could provide a political lift to the city&#39;s mayor.</p><p>Obama will formally designate the neighborhood where African-American railroad workers won a significant labor agreement in the 1930s as the Pullman National Monument. In the process, the president&#39;s trip to his hometown could help boost turnout for his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who is up for re-election on Tuesday.</p><p>A <em>Chicago Tribune </em>columnist called the president&#39;s announcement &mdash; commemorating African-Americans who served as porters, waiters and maids on the iconic Pullman sleeper cars &mdash; &quot;a big fat presidential bro-hug&quot; to Emanuel, the president&#39;s &quot;little buddy.&quot;</p><p>The White House says Obama is focused on the historical designation, which honors the neighborhood built by industrialist George Pullman in the 19th century for workers to manufacture luxurious railroad sleeping cars.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Curious City: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/will-pullman-ever-be-revitalized-107758">What would it take to revitalize Pullman?</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>The 203-acre Pullman site includes factories and buildings associated with the Pullman Palace Car Company, which was founded in 1867 and employed thousands of workers to construct and provide service on railroad cars. While the company employed a mostly white workforce to manufacture railroad passenger cars, it also hired former slaves to serve as porters, waiters and maids on its iconic sleeping cars.</p><p>The railroad industry &mdash; Pullman in particular &mdash; was one of the largest employers of African-Americans in the United States by the early 1900s. Pullman workers played a major role in the rise of the black middle class and, through a labor agreement won by the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, they helped launch the civil rights movement of the 20th century, the White House said.</p><p>Emanuel doesn&#39;t have big-name challengers in his push for a second term, but he faces the possibility of a runoff election if he doesn&#39;t get more than 50 percent of the vote Tuesday. A Tribune poll found he&#39;s close to achieving that mark.</p><p>Before leaving Washington, Obama signed a proclamation in the Oval Office designating the Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado, a 21,000-acre site along the Arkansas River popular for whitewater rafting. In Chicago, he was also expected to announce designation of the Honouliuli National Monument in Hawaii, the site of an internment camp where Japanese-American citizens and prisoners of war were held during World War II.</p><p>In his appearance before students at a South Side magnet school, Obama also will launch the &quot;Every Kid in a Park&quot; initiative to provide all fourth-grade students across the country and their families with free admission to national parks and other federal lands and waters for a year, the White House said. The program begins with the 2015-2016 school year, marking the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service next year.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/AP469626824839.jpg" style="height: 424px; width: 620px;" title="Federal troops escort a train through jeering, fist-shaking workmen on August 20, 1958 in Chicago in this drawing of an incident during the Pullman strike of 1894. (AP/File)" /></div><p>The White House said the three new monuments &quot;help tell the story of significant events in American history and protect unique natural resources for the benefit of all Americans.&quot;</p><p>The new monuments will bring to 16 the number of national monuments Obama has created under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which grants presidents broad authority to protect historic or ecologically significant sites without congressional approval.</p><p>Some Republicans have complained that Obama has abused his authority, and they renewed their complaints over the new designations, especially the Colorado site, the largest in size by far among the three new monuments.</p><p>Obama should &quot;cut it out,&quot; said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo. &quot;He is not king. No more acting like King Barack.&quot;</p><p>Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., said he was outraged by what he called &quot;a top-down, big-government land grab by the president that disenfranchises the concerned citizens in the Browns Canyon region&quot; in central Colorado, about 140 miles southwest of Denver.</p><p>Illinois&#39; two senators, Democrat Richard Durbin and Republican Mark Kirk, hailed the Pullman designation.</p><p>&quot;As Chicago&#39;s first national park, Pullman&#39;s 135 years of civil rights and industrial history will be protected and enjoyed for generations to come,&quot; Kirk said in a statement. &quot;This new national park will breathe new economic life into this community, bringing up to 30,000 visitors and more than $40 million each year.&quot;</p><p>Outdoors and wildlife groups hailed the Browns Canyon designation, which they said would allow future generations to enjoy its spectacular landscapes, world-class whitewater rafting, hunting and fishing.</p><p><em>&mdash; Matthew Daly of The Associated Press contributed to this report.</em></p></p> Thu, 19 Feb 2015 13:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/obama-visits-chicago-designate-pullman-monument-boost-mayor-111589 White House asks Congress for war powers to fight ISIS http://www.wbez.org/news/white-house-asks-congress-war-powers-fight-isis-111537 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/AP439279241343.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>In a move that is sure to set off a new round of debate over how the U.S. should fight ISIS, the Obama administration has sent Congress a request for formal authorization to use military force against the extremist group.</p><p>A <a href="http://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/02-11-15_White_House_AUMF_Text.pdf">copy of the new Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF</a>, has been posted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; it says ISIS &quot;poses a grave threat to the people and territorial integrity of Iraq and Syria, regional stability, and the national security interests of the United States and its allies and partners.&quot;</p><p>We&#39;ve updated this post to reflect the news. <em>Post continues:</em></p><p>Discussing draft versions of the request earlier this morning, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., <a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/02/11/385396486/sen-kaine-pushes-for-vote-on-military-strikes-against-isis">told NPR&#39;s Morning Edition</a> that President Obama will ask Congress to authorize ground troops, with a prohibition on their use in &quot;enduring offensive combat missions.&quot;</p><p>A similar provision is in the request for war powers; it also sets a three-year limit on the powers and repeals the 2002 authorization for using force in Iraq.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s not good to have these previous war authorizations kind of floating out there&quot; to be used years later, he said.</p><p>White House officials framed the request for war powers after meeting with members of both parties in Congress, where it will come under close scrutiny.</p><p>The effort has been a balancing act, with a key issue being the possible role of ground troops: Republicans say they don&#39;t want to limit the Pentagon&#39;s approach, while Democrats are wary of giving the OK to an open-ended conflict.</p><p>&quot;On Capitol Hill, there is going to be an extended debate, discussion, and argument over exactly what the Authorization for the Use of Military Force should say, what the limits should be,&quot; NPR&#39;s Tamara Keith reports.</p><p>The new AUMF would replace the authorization that was provided to President Bush in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. It would set new parameters for the U.S. to follow as it tries to combat ISIS, the violent group that has claimed territory in Iraq and Syria.</p><p>&quot;There&#39;s high skepticism on Capitol Hill that the earlier authorizations cover&quot; the military operations the U.S. has already conducted against ISIS, Kaine said.</p><p><a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/02/10/385215395/white-house-seeking-support-of-congress-in-fight-against-isis">As Tamara reported for the Two-Way yesterday</a>, the effort to shape the legislation has included a wide range of administration officials, from White House Counsel Neil Eggleston to National Security Advisor Susan Rice.</p><p>&mdash; <em><a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/02/11/385411567/white-house-will-request-war-powers-from-congress-today-senator-says" target="_blank">NPR&#39;s The Two-Way</a></em></p></p> Wed, 11 Feb 2015 13:28:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/white-house-asks-congress-war-powers-fight-isis-111537 Obama administration won't seek to end 529 college tax break http://www.wbez.org/news/obama-administration-wont-seek-end-529-college-tax-break-111466 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/flickr bradley gorden backpacks.PNG" alt="" /><p><div class="storytext storylocation linkLocation" id="storytext"><p>Reversing what had been an unpopular approach, the White House says it is dropping the idea of ending a tax break for 529 college savings plans. Critics had called the proposal a tax hike. All 50 states and the District of Columbia sponsor 529 plans.</p><p>Money in 529 accounts is meant to grow along with future college students, and then be distributed to pay for education expenses without being taxed.</p><p>As <a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/01/27/381783199/obama-takes-heat-for-proposing-to-end-college-savings-break">NPR&#39;s Tamara Keith reported</a> this morning, &quot;It&#39;s a pretty good deal, and one that&#39;s been around since 2001. But the White House says fewer than 3 percent of families use these accounts &mdash; and 70 percent of the money in them comes from families earning more than $200,000 a year.&quot;</p><p>Obama&#39;s plan had been to end the tax benefit for future contributions, replacing it with other education and tax proposals. But the idea drew bipartisan criticism, and the White House said today that it will now ask Congress to focus on &quot;a larger package of education tax relief that has bipartisan support,&quot; along with proposals the president mentioned in his State of the Union speech.</p><p>NPR&#39;s Keith confirmed the reversal Tuesday. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/28/us/politics/obama-will-drop-proposal-to-end-529-college-savings-plans.html">The New York Times</a> reported the news today, saying that the president was &quot;facing angry reprisals from parents and from lawmakers of both parties.&quot;</p><p>The move comes a day after Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., <a href="http://lynnjenkins.house.gov/press-releases/reps-jenkins-kind-introduce-legislation-to-expand-strengthen-529-college-savings-plans1/">introduced a bill</a> that would expand college savings plans instead of limiting them.</p><p>Today, Jenkins said her bill would &quot;further promote college access and eliminate barriers for middle class families to save and plan ahead. It would also modernize the program by allowing students to purchase a computer using their 529 funds.&quot;</p><p>House Speaker John Boehner, who had urged Obama to keep the 529 plans intact, says he&#39;s glad the president &quot;listened to the American people and withdrew his proposed tax hike on college savings.&quot; He added, &quot;This tax would have hurt middle-class families already struggling to get ahead.&quot;</p><p>Aides familiar with the conversations tell NPR&#39;s Keith that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged preserving the 529 provisions today, as she traveled with the president on Air Force One from India to Saudi Arabia.</p><p>You can read about 529 plans at the <a href="http://www.sec.gov/investor/pubs/intro529.htm">SEC website</a>, as well as at the <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/529-Plans:-Questions-and-Answers">IRS site</a>.</p><p>&mdash; <em><a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/01/27/381967958/obama-administration-won-t-seek-to-end-529-college-tax-break" target="_blank">via NPR</a></em></p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 27 Jan 2015 18:40:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/obama-administration-wont-seek-end-529-college-tax-break-111466 State of the Union primer: What President Obama proposed http://www.wbez.org/news/state-union-primer-what-president-obama-proposed-111426 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/sotu_wide-456588d57da3d41fbdf48da8113282bc3bbe242a-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Facing a Republican-controlled Congress in his sixth State of the Union speech, President Obama took credit Tuesday for an improving economy and focused on proposals aimed at advancing the middle class.</p><p>After years of recession and war, Obama claimed &quot;the shadow of crisis has passed.&quot; In its place, he asserted, is a future marked by &quot;a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production.&quot;</p><p>Here&#39;s what Obama proposed on the policy front:</p><p><strong>Economy</strong></p><p>For years, Obama has been wary of cheering too loudly about the nation&#39;s economic recovery for fear of seeming out of touch with hard-hit Americans or being caught short by another slowdown. It&#39;s happened before. But after what he called a &quot;breakthrough year,&quot; Obama is setting caution aside.</p><p>&quot;The shadow of crisis has passed,&quot; Obama said. &quot;Tonight, we turn the page.&quot;</p><p>The president has reason to celebrate. Last year saw the strongest job growth in 15 years. The unemployment rate dropped to 5.6 percent. Inflation was a non-issue. And with gasoline selling for just over $2 a gallon in many parts of the country, drivers are expected to save hundreds of dollars at the pump this year.</p><p>Polls show Americans&#39; attitudes about the economy are also improving &mdash; and that in turn has boosted the president&#39;s own poll numbers.</p><p>Wages remain stagnant, though.</p><p>The president has offered a variety of prescriptions to address that, and in his speech, he grouped those ideas together under a new label: &quot;Middle-Class Economics.&quot;</p><p><strong>Middle-Class Economics</strong></p><p>Obama&#39;s budget proposal will call for a number of new and expanded tax credits to help working families. He also wants Congress to require paid sick leave for the 43 million American workers who don&#39;t already have it. And because many jobs now require some form of higher education, Obama wants to let anyone attend community college for free, so long as they keep their grades up and graduate on time.</p><p>The president suggests paying for these proposals by raising the top tax rate on capital gains to 28 percent, and extending it to cover inherited wealth. The White House says 99 percent of the additional taxes would be paid by the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. The idea is almost certainly a nonstarter in the Republican-controlled Congress. But Democrats will use it as a rhetorical weapon to campaign on.</p><p><strong>Infrastructure</strong></p><p>The first bill the new Republican Senate took up this year would green-light the Keystone XL oil pipeline, carrying oil from the Canadian tar sands to the Gulf Coast of the United States. Obama has threatened to veto the measure, saying his administration needs more time to decide whether building the pipeline is in the national interest.</p><p>Critics say the pipeline would worsen the problem of climate change by encouraging development of the carbon-intensive tar sands. In his State of the Union address, Obama downplayed the pipeline controversy to focus on broader infrastructure needs, including modern ports, faster trains, and affordable broadband Internet.</p><p>&quot;Let&#39;s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline,&quot; Obama said. &quot;Let&#39;s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year and make this country stronger for decades to come.&quot;</p><p><strong>Trade</strong></p><p>One area where Obama may have gotten more applause from Republicans than from Democrats was his call for &quot;fast track&quot; authority to negotiate two big trade deals &mdash; one spanning the Pacific, the other the Atlantic.</p><p>Many members of the president&#39;s own party oppose the trade deals, and Obama openly acknowledged their skepticism. &quot;I&#39;m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven&#39;t always lived up to the hype,&quot; he said. &quot;But 95 percent of the world&#39;s customers live outside our borders, and we can&#39;t close ourselves off from those opportunities.&quot;</p><p>Republican congressional leaders like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have identified trade as one of the few areas where they think they can find common ground with Obama.</p><p><em>&mdash; Scott Horsley</em></p><p><strong>National Security</strong></p><p>&quot;Stopping ISIL&#39;s advance&quot; is how President Obama described the U.S. bombing campaign against Islamic State fighters in both Iraq and Syria, with the aim to &quot;degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.&quot; The president touted the U.S. leading &quot;a broad coalition&quot; including Arab nations &quot;instead of getting dragged into another ground war.&quot; Translation: The U.S. will keep fighting an air war while others battle at ground level.</p><p>The president&#39;s apparent resolve not to send in ground troops may help garner support from Congress for the new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) he called on lawmakers to pass. It may also draw opposition from hawks, including Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain, who say U.S. ground forces are needed to push back the gains Islamic State fighters have made this year.</p><p>One other unresolved question about the AUMF: Who&#39;s going to draft (and thus own) the measure?</p><p>House Speaker John Boehner says he wants the White House to send such a proposal to the Hill; Obama simply says he has committed to both parties to working on a text for the AUMF. One thing all parties agree on is that the two AUMFs, from 2001 and 2002, currently being used to justify the air war against ISIS are obsolete and need to be replaced by a measure that has a clear expiration date.</p><p>The president departed from his prepared text in proclaiming, &quot;It&#39;s time to close Gitmo!&quot; &mdash; a task he set for himself at the beginning of his presidency. Obama said he has reduced the prison population at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by half &mdash; and that&#39;s true. What he did not say is that even he thinks there are several dozen detainees being held there who are too dangerous to be set free, but against whom there is insufficient evidence for a court conviction. He did not propose what their fate should be.</p><p><em>&mdash; David Welna</em></p><p><strong>Foreign Policy</strong></p><p>President Obama is defending his new approach to Cuba, saying he&#39;s ending a policy that is &quot;long past its expiration date.&quot; He used his State of the Union address to urge Congress to lift a decades-old embargo on Cuba. Knowing that is unlikely, he has already chipped away at the embargo, easing many travel and trade restrictions on Cuba and sending Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, to Havana this week to begin talks on restoring diplomatic ties and reopening embassies.</p><p>Opponents of the president&#39;s new policy invited some Cuban dissidents to the chamber to remind Obama of the ongoing human rights abuses on the island. The White House guest list included Alan Gross, the U.S. government contractor who was freed in December after five years in a Cuban jail for trying to provide Internet services on the island; Gross&#39; release opened the door to these warming ties. He stood up to say &quot;thank you&quot; as the president spoke about his case.</p><p>On Iran, diplomats trying to resolve the nuclear issue have missed a couple of deadlines, but Obama says there is still a chance between now and the spring to negotiate a &quot;comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran.&quot;</p><p>&quot;There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed,&quot; Obama said in his State of the Union, but he warned lawmakers that any new sanctions will &quot;all but guarantee that diplomacy fails.&quot;</p><p>Obama has made this case before, arguing that the sanctions under consideration would divide the U.S. and its partners. The Obama administration has been working with the U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China and has tried to keep up a united front. Lawmakers that support new sanctions argue that it took economic leverage to get Iran to the table in the first place.</p><p>As he outlined his broader foreign policy agenda, Obama said he plans to lead &quot;not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.&quot; He touted his efforts to work with partners and not to get &quot;dragged into another ground war in the Middle East.&quot;</p><p>Obama says the U.S. is leading a broad coalition to stop the advances of the self-proclaimed Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, supporting Iraqi forces and the &quot;moderate opposition&quot; in Syria to help. However, in Syria, the situation is far more complex. The opposition and some U.S. partners are less focused on countering ISIS than on countering Bashar Assad&#39;s regime.</p><p><em>&mdash; Michele Kelemen</em></p><p><strong>Cybersecurity And Technology</strong></p><p>Obama called on Congress to pass cybersecurity legislation &mdash; something Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he&#39;s open to moving on (unlike immigration). So it&#39;s a good&nbsp;<em>political</em>&nbsp;move. But Obama may be missing the mark in terms of substance &mdash; maybe even making it easier for the private sector to pass the buck.</p><p>In this digital age, as companies throw people&#39;s data into the cloud, they have to treat that data like banks treat money &mdash; with real protections.</p><p>Obama wants more information sharing between the government and companies. But experts say that could give companies an excuse to just wait for federal dispatches or &quot;most wanted&quot; lists, and not vigilantly monitor their own networks for malicious software (malware) and other attacks.</p><p>Obama also wants consumers to be told, in 30 days, if their credit card number was stolen. But, critics say, the retailer Target sending customers a letter doesn&#39;t solve the problem of mangled internal practices.</p><p>And the president is throwing stones from a glass house. So far, government audits indicate that&nbsp;<a href="http://gao.gov/assets/670/662227.pdf" target="_blank">federal agencies are failing</a>&nbsp;to protect Americans&#39; data too, and tell us about it.</p><p>Another concern is that Obama&#39;s move to make tougher criminal justice laws, through changes to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, will be &quot;<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/01/14/obamas-proposed-changes-to-the-computer-hacking-statute-a-deep-dive/" target="_blank">too severe</a>&quot; on low-level hackers (some of whom are in fact white hats &mdash; the good guys telling companies about flaws in systems we use).</p><p>It&#39;s unclear how Obama plans to partner with other countries to take down cybercriminal rings and build international norms. But that&#39;s key, given how the Internet works.</p><p>While the president laid out a cybersecurity platform of sorts, he talked about technology a lot more in terms of economic growth. Just like the manufacturing sector is creating new jobs, he said, &quot;there are also millions of Americans who work in jobs that didn&#39;t even exist 10 or 20 years ago &mdash; jobs at companies like Google, and eBay, and Tesla.&quot;</p><p>It&#39;s not clear what he&#39;ll expect from Silicon Valley in the coming year. Obama says businesses should connect with community colleges. But his plan has been&nbsp;<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/innovations/wp/2015/01/13/if-community-college-is-going-to-be-free-coding-boot-camps-should-be-free-too/" target="_blank">criticized</a>as an ineffective, indirect route to getting young people into tech when he could just support coding boot camps.</p><p><em>&mdash; Aarti Shahani</em></p><p><strong>Justice</strong></p><p>President Obama made only brief reference to ongoing policing controversies in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., perhaps because the deaths of two black men in police-involved incidents remain under federal investigation.</p><p>But he reiterated his call for criminal justice reform, an issue his attorney general and several GOP members of Congress have been advocating at least since 2013. States have been leading the way.</p><p>The president also urged lawmakers to update the 1965 Voting Rights Act, an issue he&#39;ll press in a March 7 visit to Selma, Ala. But voting legislation is all but moribund in the House, where Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte last week said he did not see that any fixes were &quot;necessary&quot; following a sharply divided Supreme Court ruling that gutted the decades-old system for requiring many mostly Southern states to get federal approval before making elections changes.</p><p><em>&mdash; Carrie Johnson</em></p></p> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 08:14:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/state-union-primer-what-president-obama-proposed-111426 State Of The Union: 5 things to watch http://www.wbez.org/news/state-union-5-things-watch-111419 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/ap107344952338_custom-5a245bf3a994f32a35a8bf64bfc05290653e9088-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Even in the era of declining television audiences, President Obama&#39;s state of the union address is still the biggest audience he&#39;ll have all year. Historically, seventh-year state of the union speeches have a short shelf life. Every one of the five lame duck presidents (that is, presidents constitutionally barred from running again &mdash; Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama &mdash; have all had opposition congresses, making the prospects for passing major parts of the president&#39;s agenda slim to none.</p><p>But on Tuesday Obama will try to use his speech to frame the debates for the next two years and set the table for the 2016 election.</p><p>Here are 5 things to watch:<br /><br /><strong>1. How does the president talk about the economy?</strong><br /><br />We know he will make &quot;Middle Class Economics&quot; the centerpiece of his speech, with a tax plan that raises taxes on the wealthiest and the biggest banks in order to pay for tax breaks for working families. How will he convince the country that his policies have led to an economy that&#39;s growing fast enough that it&#39;s now time to move beyond the debate about deficits and stimulus?<br /><br /><strong>2. What tone will he take toward Congress?</strong><br /><br />The president&#39;s tax plan is a not-so-subtle populist challenge to the new Republican majority. Will they dare to defend tax breaks for inherited wealth &mdash; like what the White House is now calling the &quot;trust fund loophole?&quot; The president&#39;s tone is important. Will he reach out to his old golf buddy John Boehner in the spirit of compromise? Or will he treat the GOP leadership the way he did the Supreme Court in his state of the union address after the&nbsp;<em>Citizens United</em>&nbsp;ruling (the one that prompted much head shaking from Justice Samuel Alito)?<br /><br /><strong>3. Will Obama challenge his own party?</strong><br /><br />With his tax proposals, the president is finally giving Democrats the middle class economic agenda they&#39;ve been missing. Will he also challenge them on trade? Getting &quot;fast track authority &quot; through Congress is one area where there is potential for bipartisan action. But most Democrats are opposed. On Tuesday night the president can show he&#39;s willing to push his own party on this issue, or he can make it clear he&#39;d rather let Republicans do all the heavy lifting on trade votes.<br /><br /><strong>4. How does the president avoid looking like the &quot;small-ball&quot; president?</strong><br /><br />President Obama famously said he didn&#39;t want to play &quot;small-ball&quot; &mdash; referring to Bill Clinton&#39;s agenda of narrowly focused items like midnight basketball, or school uniforms. Now, though, the president has rolled out a series of bite size proposals and executive actions like expanded access to high speed broadband, mortgage relief, and free community college tuition. Can he wrap them all into a compelling agenda for the middle class that is bigger than the sum of its parts?<br /><br /><strong>5. How does he talk about Iran, ISIS, and the new terrorist threats?</strong><br /><br />This was going to be the year that Obama ended two wars and made a legacy-cementing deal with Iran on nuclear weapons. But the world isn&#39;t cooperating. Watch how the president talks about the attacks in France, the negotiations with Iran and the so far unsuccessful efforts to degrade and destroy ISIS in Syria and Iraq.</p><p><strong>NPR&#39;s reporters will be covering the speech, and here is some of our related coverage:</strong></p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/01/19/378289335/white-house-rolls-out-tax-proposals-before-state-of-the-union-address">White House Rolls Out Tax Proposals Before State Of The Union Address</a></p><p>&mdash;&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/01/18/378080969/obamas-trouble-articulating-the-economy">Obama&#39;s Trouble Articulating The State Of The Economy</a></p><p>&mdash;&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/01/17/378028524/obama-to-propose-tax-changes-in-state-of-the-union-address">Obama To Call For Tax Hike On The Wealthy In State Of The Union</a></p><p>&mdash;&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/01/20/377715976/working-3-jobs-in-a-time-of-recovery">Working 3 Jobs In A Time Of Recovery</a></p><p>&mdash;&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2015/01/16/377611438/iowas-sen-ernst-grabs-spotlight-thats-often-proven-too-hot">Iowa&#39;s Sen. Ernst Grabs Spotlight That&#39;s Often Proven Too Hot</a></p><p><em>-via <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2015/01/20/378486364/state-of-the-union-5-things-to-watch">NPR News</a></em></p></p> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 08:24:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/state-union-5-things-watch-111419 Obama says Sony should not have pulled film over hacking http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/obama-says-sony-should-not-have-pulled-film-over-hacking-111277 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/AP809914660283_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>President Obama called Sony&#39;s decision to pull its film&nbsp;The Interview&nbsp;over a hacking by North Korea a &quot;mistake.&quot;</p><p>&quot;We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,&quot; the president&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/19/371881952/live-obamas-year-end-news-conference">said in his year-end news conference</a>.</p><p>He added that he was &quot;sympathetic&quot; about their concerns, but, &quot;I wish they would have spoken to me first.&quot;</p><p>Earlier Friday, the FBI said it has enough information to confirm that North Korea was behind the hacking of Sony Pictures.</p><p>The agency tied the attack to North Korea because the malware used in the attack had the hallmarks of software written by the country in the past.</p><p>&quot;For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks,&quot; the FBI said in a statement.</p><p>The tools used, the agency said, also had similarities to a cyberattack that took place in March of last year against banks in South Korea.</p><p>The hack has caused serious repercussions for Sony. The stolen data have made public some embarrassing emails written by its executives. Hackers also leaked unreleased movies and scripts.</p><p>The group that took responsibility for the attack, &quot;Guardians of Peace,&quot; said it was responding to Sony Pictures&#39; comedy about an assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.</p><p>After the group issued threats to attack movie theaters that show the film, major movie chains pulled&nbsp;The Interview&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/17/371477960/major-theater-chains-wont-screen-the-interview-amid-threats">Sony decided against a Christmas Day release</a>.</p><p>&quot;We are deeply concerned about the destructive nature of this attack on a private-sector entity and the ordinary citizens who worked there,&quot; the FBI said. &quot;Further, North Korea&#39;s attack on [Sony] reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States.&quot;</p><p>In a separate statement, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the hack &quot;underscores the importance of good cybersecurity practices to rapidly detect cyber intrusions and promote resilience throughout all of our networks.</p><p>&quot;Every CEO should take this opportunity to assess their company&#39;s cybersecurity,&quot; he added.</p><p>Immediately following the FBI announcement, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., criticized the White House for not imposing tough financial sanctions on North Korea.</p><p>&quot;North Korea is attacking our infrastructure,&quot; Royce said in a statement. &quot;It is also attacking our values. The decision to pull &#39;The Interview&#39; from theatres unfortunately is a North Korean victory in its attack on our freedom. We better quickly respond comprehensively to defend freedom of speech in the face of terrorist threats and cyber attacks.&quot;</p><p>Options, though, are limited. The U.S. could impose new financial sanctions on Pyongyang and boost military support to South Korea. Yet these moves have had little impact on the heavily sanctioned country in the past.</p><p><a href="http://money.cnn.com/2014/12/19/media/insde-sony-hack-interview/index.html?hpt=hp_t1">CNN reported earlier today</a>&nbsp;that the hackers behind the attack issued another statement today, praising Sony for pulling the movie. Removing it from screens, the hackers said in an email to Sony executives, was a &quot;very wise&quot; decision.</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/19/371894427/fbi-formally-accuses-north-korea-in-sony-hacking"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 14:14:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/obama-says-sony-should-not-have-pulled-film-over-hacking-111277 Obama re-establishing US relations with Cuba http://www.wbez.org/news/obama-re-establishing-us-relations-cuba-111251 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/AP561226672451.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>WASHINGTON &mdash; President Barack Obama announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and an easing in economic and travel restrictions on Cuba Wednesday, declaring an end to America&#39;s &quot;outdated approach&quot; to the communist island in a historic shift aimed at ending a half-century of Cold War enmity.</p><p>&quot;Isolation has not worked,&quot; Obama said in remarks from the White House. &quot;It&#39;s time for a new approach.&quot;</p><p>As Obama spoke, Cuban President Raul Castro addressed his own nation from Havana. He said that while profound differences remain between the two nations in such areas as human rights and foreign policy, they must learn to live with those differences &quot;in a civilized manner.&quot;</p><blockquote><p><strong>Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/us-and-cuba-brief-history-tortured-relationship-111255" target="_blank">A brief history of the US relationship with Cuba</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>Obama&#39;s action marked an abrupt use of U.S. executive authority. However, he cannot unilaterally end the longstanding U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, which was passed by Congress and would require action from lawmakers to overturn.</p><p>Wednesday&#39;s announcements followed more than a year of secret talks between the U.S. and Cuba, including clandestine meetings in Canada and the Vatican and personal involvement from Pope Francis. The re-establishment of diplomatic ties was accompanied by Cuba&#39;s release of American Alan Gross and the swap of a U.S. spy held in Cuba for three Cubans jailed in Florida.</p><p>In a statement, the Vatican said Pope Francis &quot;wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history.&quot;</p><p>Obama said Gross&#39; five-year imprisonment had been a major obstacle in normalizing relations. Gross arrived at an American military base just outside Washington Wednesday morning, accompanied by his wife and a handful of U.S. lawmakers. He went immediately into a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry.</p><p>As part of resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba, the U.S. will soon reopen an embassy in the capital of Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between the governments. The U.S. is also easing travel bans to Cuba, including for family visits, official U.S. government business and educational activities. Tourist travel remains banned.</p><p>Licensed American travelers to Cuba will now be able to return to the U.S. with $400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol products worth less than $100 combined. This means the long-standing ban on importing Cuban cigars is over, although there are still limits.</p><p>The U.S. is also increasing the amount of money Americans can send to Cubans from $500 to $2,000 every three months. Early in his presidency, Obama allowed unlimited family visits by Cuban-Americans and removed a $1,200 annual cap on remittances. Kerry is also launching a review of Cuba&#39;s designation as a state sponsor of terror.</p><p>Obama said he continued to have serious concerns about Cuba&#39;s human rights record but did not believe the current American policy toward the island was advancing efforts to change the government&#39;s behavior.</p><p>&quot;I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result,&quot; he said.</p><p>There remains a divide on Capitol Hill over U.S. policy toward Cuba. While some lawmakers say the embargo is outdated, others say it&#39;s necessary as long as Cuba refuses to reform its political system and improve its human rights record.</p><p>Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the new U.S. policy would do nothing to address those issues.</p><p>&quot;But it potentially goes a long way in providing the economic lift that the Castro regime needs to become permanent fixtures in Cuba for generations to come,&quot; Rubio said.</p><p>U.S. officials said Cuba was taking some steps as part of the agreement to address its human rights issues, including freeing 53 political prisoners.</p><p>Cuba also released a non-American U.S. intelligence &#39;asset&#39; along with Gross. Officials said the spy had been held for nearly 20 years and was responsible for some of the most important counterintelligence prosecutions that the United States has pursed in recent decades. That includes convicted Cuban spies Ana Belen Montes, Walter Kendall Myers and Gwendolyn Myers and a group known as the Cuban Five.</p><p>The three Cubans released in exchange for the spy are part of the Cuban Five &mdash; a group of men who were part of the &quot;Wasp Network&quot; sent by Cuba&#39;s then-President Fidel Castro to spy in South Florida. The men, who are hailed as heroes in Cuba, were convicted in 2001 in Miami on charges including conspiracy and failure to register as foreign agents in the U.S.</p><p>Two of the five were previously released after finishing their sentences.</p><p>Gross was detained in December 2009 while working to set up Internet access as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, which does work promoting democracy in the communist country. It was his fifth trip to Cuba to work with Jewish communities on setting up Internet access that bypassed local censorship.</p><p>Bonnie Rubinstein, Gross&#39; sister, heard the news from a cousin, who saw it on television.</p><p>&quot;We&#39;re like screaming and jumping up and down,&quot; she said in a brief telephone interview from her home in Texas.</p><p>Cuba considers USAID&#39;s programs illegal attempts by the U.S. to undermine its government, and Gross was tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison.</p><p>Gross&#39; family has said he was in ailing health. His wife, Judy, said in a statement earlier this month that Gross has lost more than 100 pounds, can barely walk due to chronic pain, and has lost five teeth and much of the sight in his right eye.</p></p> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 11:15:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/obama-re-establishing-us-relations-cuba-111251