Friday, July 31, 2015

Top Senators Probe Political Motivations in Cuba Trafficking Upgrade

From Politico:

Senators probe political motivations for trafficking report

The top Republican and top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are raising questions about the integrity of the State Department’s annual report on human trafficking, pointing to the upgraded status of Cuba and Malaysia as cause for concern.

The report, which was released Monday, lifted both Cuba and Malaysia from Tier 3, considered the worst offenders, to the Tier 2 Watch List. It said both countries are making progress in battling sex trafficking and various forms of forced labor.

But the upgrade for Cuba comes as the Obama administration has renewed diplomatic ties and is pursuing more cooperation with the communist-led island nation. The upgrade for Malaysia, where mass graves of migrant workers have recently spurred alarm, also makes it legally easier to include the country in a massive Asia-Pacific trade pact.

That has led opponents of the trade pact and the opening to Cuba, groups that include both Republicans and Democrats, to question whether the upgrades in the report were politically motivated.

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey has been one of the leading critics of the latest report and has said he would push for hearings, investigations and more to probe its rankings. “Upgrades for Malaysia and Cuba are a clear politicization of the report, and a stamp of approval for countries who have failed to take the basic actions to merit this upgrade,” the Democrat said in a statement Monday.

In their letter, sent late Tuesday, Cardin and Corker said they viewed the annual Trafficking in Persons report as an “essential global tool for ensuring continued progress against human trafficking including its worst forms which amount to modern slavery” and that “maintaining the integrity of the TIP report is essential to our success.”

Miami Herald Editorial: Keep the Embargo

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Keep the Cuban trade embargo

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will be in Miami today — and reports are that she’s going to tackle Miami’s Cuban exile community’s historic third rail question: Should the 50-plus-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba be lifted?

Candidate Clinton is boldly taking a strong stand on this issue — calling for an end to the embargo now, a doubling down of the Obama administration’s testing of the waters. It’s not a new stand for Mrs. Clinton, but expounding it so openly in Miami is novel.

There was a time when any politician running for office who needed the Cuban-American vote held a rally in Little Havana to be captured on camera shouting the proverbial chant: “Viva Cuba Libre!” — the battle cry of those who believe the embargo stays until the Castros leave power.

Mrs. Clinton, who will speak at Florida International University, is probably the first serious presidential contender in recent years to bring her opposing point-of-view to Miami’s exile community. Cuba isn’t the only pressing issue that will influence how Floridians will cast their vote for president, but it’s still important. However, Mrs. Clinton’s stance on Cuba gives her a chance to present a contrast with leading contenders in the GOP field — mainly Sen. Marco Rubio and ex-Gov. Jeb Bush, two local candidates and staunch supporters of maintaining the embargo.

That support in the GOP may be wavering, though. In another sign of the rapidly changing landscape, U.S. House Republican Tom Emmer of Minnesota this week introduced legislation that would lift the embargo on Cuba.

True, people in South Florida are not as strongly anti-embargo as they once were, but at the same time many understand the malicious nature of the Cuban government and would like to see some sign that the current normalization talks are having an impact on the island government. So far, we’ve seen precious little.

Mrs. Clinton’s support for lifting the embargo reflects a political calculation about the evolution of the Cuban exile community in Miami. It has indeed evolved, which is why we support the normalization process.

But at some point there must be evolution on the other side, as well. One does not have to be a hardliner to expect a quid pro quo of some kind as this process moves forward. Simply put, Cuba hasn’t earned the embargo’s end. Far from it.

Despite months of talks between the two countries that began in December with President Obama’s announcement that relations would be normalized, we have yet to see any significant actions by the Castro regime that will benefit the United States or enhance the civil liberties and freedoms of the Cuban people.

Internally, the regime maintains the same repressive attitude that has allowed it to stay in power for decades. That includes harassment of peaceful groups like the famed Ladies in White for a series of successive Sundays, when they engage in peaceful marches. The daily arrests, acts of repudiation and censorship of any person or group that questions the official line are still in place.

Financially, Cuba has much to gain from the lifting of the embargo. Venezuela, which has been helping prop up Cuba’s chronically weak economy, is running low on cash. The Castros needed another lifeline.

If little has changed if and when Mrs. Clinton reaches the White House, she should wait before restoring full trade relations with Cuba. The embargo may be a relic of the past. But so, too, is Cuba’s government.

Here We Go Again: The Exiles Are Changing, the Exiles Are Changing!

Friday, July 31, 2015
Like the little boy who cried wolf, Hillary Clinton will call for the lifting of Cuba sanctions in Miami today, while media pundits will argue that this is due to the "changing" views of the Cuban-American community.

Never mind that every single Cuban-American elected official -- local, state and federal -- of all political persuasions, support maintaining sanctions.

Yes, elections matter.

Or that no candidate who supports lifting sanctions has everwon statewide in Florida, including President Obama, who campaigned on his support for the embargo in 2008 and 2012.

Yes, facts matter.

Here's a reminder of how this theory has been propagated throughout the years -- yet has never come to political fruition.

Ironically, the young Cuban-American generations of the 1970s, 80s and 90s, which had been purportedly "changing" -- are today called hardliners.

This is what you'd call -- a failed theory of the past.
The very active anti-Castro groups in Miami have faded into virtual obscurity.”

The New York Times, December 5, 1965

Virtually all of several dozen Cubans interviewed would like to visit Cuba either to see their relatives or just their country, which they have not seen for 10 years or more; and some segments of the exile community, especially young refugees brought up and educated here, are not interested in the Cuban issues.”

The New York Times, October 10, 1974

For the first time significant number of exiles are beginning to temper their emotion with hardnosed geopolitical realism.”

The New York Times, March 23, 1975

A majority of the persons interviewed — especially the young, who make up more than half of the 450,000 exiles here — are looking forward to the time when it will be possible for them to travel to Cuba. Even businessmen, who represent a more conservative group than the young, are thinking about trading with Cuba once the embargo is totally lifted.”

The New York Times, August 31, 1975

A new generation of professionals between 25 and 35 years of age has replaced the older exile leadership.”

The New York Times, July 4, 1976

"...there has been a generational change among Cuban voters. The power is no longer being wielded exclusively -- perhaps not even primarily -- by those whose political orientation is Cuba..." 

The Miami Herald, November 10, 1985

"The memory was reinforced in a similar conversation with a middle-aged Cuban American who watches some of his contemporaries react in anger and frustration to the obvious Americanness of their yuca (Young Upscale Cuban American) children. They want their children to feel the loss of Cuba as they feel it.  This wish to have our children re-create our own past experiences is common, perhaps even universal. But it is a vain hope, one that brings only grief if it is pressed very hard." 

The Miami Herald, November 20, 1988

"For Hispanic candidates banking on ethnic calls to arms, the survey suggests that the approach may bring no better than mixed results right now. And in the future, they may not work at all, as the numbers of younger voters overtake their seniors." 

The Miami Herald, November 7, 1993

"There is a generational transition going on," said Jose Ceballos, Hispanic coordinator for the Clinton-Gore campaign. 'I have a lot of young Cubans who come up to me and say, 'Don't tell my Mom, but your guy's doing pretty good.'

The Miami Herald, October 27, 1996

"There are also some generational differences. Younger people are more likely than older exiles to favor dialogue and to want to hear music from the island played on Miami radio, according to the poll." 

The Miami Herald, June 29, 1997 

"Some of the change is generational . Cubans who came to the United States in the 1960s - and traditionally have held the more conservative views - now make up only a third of the Cuban population in Miami-Dade. 'Through time, there has been a greater acceptance that there are going to be these initiatives,' Perez said. 'I also think that to some extent, there's been a transition in the Cuban-American community. People have changed their position, and many of the traditional hard-liners have died.'' 

The Miami Herald, March 26, 1999

Eighty Percent of Las Tunas Province Is Facing Soil Erosion

Translating Cuba / 14ymedio
July 29, 2015 

Experts have just confirmed what peasants in Las Tunas Province already knew due to the declining yields of their harvests and the degradation of their land. Eighty percent of the province’s arable land has already eroded, and another 28% is facing desertification. According to reports appearing in the official Cuban press on July 28th, this problem is a result of “changes in rain patterns, and inadequate management of the province’s farmable lands.”
Specialists from this eastern Cuban province’s Communist Party Agricultural Affairs Committee estimate that 445,000 acres of previously fertile land are now ruined, accounting for 11.67% of the of the island’s deserts. According to the report, climate change combined with a growth in farming in the so-called “vulnerable zones” will only exacerbate and spread the environmental damage.
Top and subsoil erosion, poor drainage, salinization, and compaction are among the negative results of soil degradation. Consequently, the region’s agricultural output has dropped significantly.
The government experts stress that uncontrolled forest fires, the burning of harvest leftovers, the absence of crop rotation, deforestation, and the excessive use of machinery are some of this situation’s other causes. Las Tunas Province has a naturally dry climate, from where it takes name.* Nevertheless, this reality has only been worsened by the current predicament.
The loss of arable land is worse on the northern border with Camagüey Province. According to Amado Luis Palma, an expert from the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment, “ (northern) Las Tunas Province is beginning to resemble Cuba’s only semi-arid region, the desert corridor between Caimanera and Maisí, in Guantánamo Province.”
*Translator’s note: “Tunas” are a type of native Cuban cactus that grows wild in the province.
Translated by José Badué


Opinion: Palestinians – A Rare Voice of Sanity

Palestinians protesting the resuming of peace talks with Israel in Ramallah, July 2013 (Majdi Mohammed/AP)
Palestinian violence

Khaled Abu Toameh
By Khaled Abu Toameh. (This article first appeared in Gatestone.)
It is almost unheard of for a prominent Palestinian figure to hold the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas equally responsible for corruption and abuse of power.
Dr. Ibrahim Abrash, a former Palestinian Minister of Culture from the Gaza Strip, recently surprised many Palestinians by publishing an article that included a scathing attack on both the PA and Hamas, holding them responsible for the continued suffering of their people.
In his article, Dr. Abrash also holds the two Palestinian parties responsible for the delay in rebuilding thousands of houses that were destroyed or damaged in the Gaza Strip during last year’s military conflict between Israel and Hamas. He points out that Hamas and the PA have been holding each other responsible for the suffering of Palestinians. “Sometimes, they also put all the blame on Israel for all that is happening in the Gaza Strip,” he said.
Referring to the ongoing power struggle between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which reached its peak with the violent takeover by Hamas of the entire Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, Dr. Abrash accused the two rival parties of exploiting their dispute to cover up corruption in vital sectors of Palestinian society.
“In light of the division [between the PA-controlled West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza], corruption and absence of accountability have become widespread,” Dr. Abrash wrote. “This division has led to the collapse of the political system and the system of values, and an increase in corruption. This has also allowed many opportunists and hypocrites to reach important positions, where they do anything they want without being held accountable.”
And while many in the international community and media continue to hold Israel fully responsible for the plight of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Dr. Abrash offers a completely different perspective.
Noting that the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip have fallen victim to the power struggle between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, he says that no one today knows who is supposed to be helping the people living there.
From the left, Dr. Ibrahim Abrash, a former Palestinian Minister of Culture, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. (Gatestone)
From the left, Dr. Ibrahim Abrash, a former Palestinian Minister of Culture, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Abrash accuses Palestinian Authority and Hamas officials of corruption, extortion, opportunism and hypocrisy. (Gatestone)
“The interests of the people have been lost as result of the two parties’ rivalry,” Dr. Abrash said. “No one knows who is in charge of the people’s needs in the Gaza Strip — Hamas, which is the de facto authority in the Gaza Strip, or the Palestinian Authority and its national consensus government. Or is it UNRWA and the donors who are responsible? Or is it the sole responsibility of Israel as an occupation state? To whom should the people direct their complaints?”
Referring to widespread corruption under the PA in the West Bank, the former Palestinian minister reveals that Palestinian academic institutions, including universities and colleges, have become “commercial projects for granting certificates that have no scientific value or content.”
Dr. Abrash points out that no one knows whether universities and colleges in the Gaza Strip are subject to the supervision of the Ministry of Education in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) or the Gaza Strip.
He also blasts the PA’s Ministry of Civilian Affairs for exploiting and extorting Palestinians who seek travel permits, especially those wishing to leave the Gaza Strip. He goes on to hold Hamas responsible for “harassing” Palestinians who wish to leave the Gaza Strip through the Erez border crossing (to Israel). Dr. Abrash claims that some Palestinians are forced to pay bribes to Palestinian officials to obtain a travel permit.
“Many people have been subjected to blackmail and procrastination [by Palestinian officials] after Israel eased travel restrictions at the Bet Hanoun [Erez] border crossing,” he said. “But the people are afraid to complain, out of fear that they would be denied travel permits in the future. What is happening at the border crossing has created favoritism and bribery.”
Dr. Abrash concludes his article with a rhetorical question: “Isn’t it shameful and irritating that while Israel has been issuing travel permits for those with special needs, some influential [Palestinian] officials are placing obstacles? Until when will they continue to manipulate and blackmail the people of the Gaza Strip?”
Dr. Abrash’s article represents a rare voice of sanity among Palestinians. This is a voice that does not blame all the miseries of Palestinians on Israel alone and holds the Palestinians leadership also responsible for the continued suffering of their people.
However, this is a voice that is rarely given a platform in mainstream media outlets in the West, whose journalists continue to focus almost entirely on stories that reflect negatively on Israel.
Western journalists based in the Middle East tend to ignore Palestinians who are critical of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. That is because such criticism does not fit the narrative according to which Israel is solely responsible for all the bad things that happen to the Palestinians.
The author, an Arab Muslim, is a veteran award-winning journalist who has been covering Palestinian affairs for nearly three decades.

US Defense Secretary: Military Strike Against Iran Still an Option

US Air force F-18
A US Navy F-18E Super Hornet on mission. (AP/US Air Force, Shawn Nickel)
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said a successful Iran nuclear deal is better than a military strike, adding that the military option is still on the table.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Wednesday that the US armed forces stand ready to confront Iran if necessary. He told lawmakers that a successful implementation of the nuclear agreement with Tehran is preferable to a military strike, falling in line with the message the Obama administration is trying to convey to Congress.
Carter, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and three members of President Barack Obama’s cabinet testified at a committee hearing as part of the White House’s aggressive campaign to convince Congress to back the Iranian nuclear deal, which calls on Iran to curb its nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.
Carter said there is a possibility that the nuclear agreement will move forward but will not be “successfully implemented.”
“That’s why we are under instructions from the president to preserve, and indeed we are improving — and I can’t get into that here — the military option,” Carter said. “Temporary as it is, it needs to be there because that’s our fallback.”
At the same time, Carter said that successful implementation of the agreement would be better than taking military action because a strike would be temporary and likely make Iran “irreconcilably resigned” to getting a nuclear weapon.
Dempsey added that implementation of the nuclear deal actually strengthens the military option because with enhanced inspections and access to sites in Iran, the US would be able to obtain more knowledge about nuclear sites “that we might strike.”
Congress, which has begun a 60-day review of the deal, is expected to vote in September. Obama has said that if the Republican-controlled Congress passes a resolution of disapproval for the deal, he will veto it.
Kerry Monitz Lew
US Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew (R), and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz (L). (AP/Andrew Harnik)
The administration is hoping to secure the backing of Democrats to sustain the veto. Underscoring the hard-fought gains and losses for votes on the deal, New York Representative Grace Meng, a Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, came out against the deal on Wednesday. She said the inspections protocols in the agreement are “flawed” and that she is concerned that Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact.
“This leads me to believe Iran would simply resume its pursuit of a nuclear weapon at the conclusion of the deal in a decade’s time,” Meng said, adding that she also fears the sanctions relief will give Iran more money to fund terrorism.
Some Democratic representatives have voiced support for the deal.
Secretary of State John Kerry, the lead negotiator of the deal, tried to allay the concerns of senators who complained that they are being asked to vote on the Iran nuclear deal without being privy to verification documents separately negotiated by the UN’s International Atomic and Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors.
“That is absolutely astounding,” said Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Iran, he said, has a “clear record of cheating.”
Kerry said there is no side deal or secret agreements between Iran and the IAEA. There are, however, technical documents that are standard practice and not released publicly.
“We are aware of what the basics of it are,” Kerry told the committee members. “It is standard procedure for 189 counties that have an agreement with the IAEA. … We don’t get that. It is not shared with the world, but we do get briefed on it.”
By: AP

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WATCH: Exposing the Good Life in Gaza

After Operation Protective Edge, the world was left thinking that Gaza was completely destroyed with people living in crippling poverty under severe and brutal Israeli control. Here is the truth.
This video exposes the reality of life in Gaza, which happens to still contain great beauty. While the video shows the beaches, shops, hotels and homes, there are some areas that were damaged in last year’s war with Hamas. Still, what the mainstream media generally portrays on Gaza is a far cry from what this video reveals.
Hamas and thousands of its supporters cry about the Israel blockade, claiming that Gaza resembles a prison. But now you can see the truth for yourselves.
Please note, this video was not produced by United with Israel. The accompanying soundtrack may be offensive to some and it is therefore recommended that you lower the volume.

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Want to do something great for Israel today? Make a donation to United with Israel, and help to educate and inspire millions around the world to support Israel too!
We are a grassroots movement that fosters unity and love for the People, Country and Land of Israel. Every day we publish stories about Israel to educate, inspire and empower Israel supporters around the world. We contribute to vital causes like building bomb shelters and helping the needy. Donations from true friends of Israel like you make this possible, so please show your support today!

British Jews See Sharp Increase in Anti-Semitism

Anti-semitism in London
Anti-Semitic graffiti on a north London street in 2008. (AP)
A new report on anti-Semitism in the UK shows a serious increase in incidents against the British Jewish community.
Jews in the United Kingdom have been slammed by a tidal of wave of anti-Semitism in recent months, a Jewish monitoring organization stated Wednesday.
The Communal Security Trust (CST), a London-based organization, published its Anti-Semitic Incident Report for January to June 2015, which shows a staggering 53% increase in anti-Semitic incidents compared to the same period last year.
CST recorded 473 anti-Semitic incidents during the first six months of 2015, compared to 309 in the first half of 2014. The 2014 figure was itself an increase of 38 percent from the 223 anti-Semitic incidents recorded during the first six months of 2013.
The hate-related incidents included 44 violent anti-Semitic assaults, two of which were classified as ‘Extreme Violence,’ meaning that they involved grievous bodily harm (GBH) or a threat to life; 35 incidents of damage and desecration of Jewish property; 36 direct anti-Semitic threats; five cases of mass-mailed anti-Semitic leaflets or emails and 353 incidents of abusive behavior, including verbal abuse, anti-Semitic graffiti and anti-Semitic abuse.
Detailed analysis of the timing, content and sources of each one of these recorded anti-Semitic incidents suggests that while they may partly reflect a serious rise in incident levels, the primary explanation for the rise is most likely to be a greater willingness by people to report antisemitism, either to CST or to police, the report explained.
“We welcome the apparent increase in reporting of anti-Semitic incidents but regret the concern and anxiety about antisemitism that this reflects. CST, our communal partners, police and government need to know the facts so that we can best support our community now and in an uncertain future,” CST stated.
CST has recorded anti-Semitic incidents since 1984. The highest total CST has ever recorded for the January-to-June period was 629 incidents in the first half of 2009. In addition to the 473 anti-Semitic incidents recorded during the first six months of 2015, a further 333 reports were received by CST, but they were not deemed to be anti-Semitic and are not included in this total.
The year 2014 saw the highest total recorded by CST for a full calendar year, the watchdog emphasized, with 1,174 anti-Semitic incidents recorded. This could be partially attributed to Operation Protective Edge, which raised the ire of anti-Semitic Muslims around the world.

‘Vile, Wrong and Totally Unacceptable’

European anti-Semitism
(Israeli Jewish Congress)
Separate figures, released by individual UK police forces and reported by the BBC, showed 459 anti-Semitic incidents recorded by the Metropolitan Police in London in 2014/15, up from 193 in 2013/14. In Greater Manchester, anti-Semitic reports increased from 82 to 172.
BBC quoted Communities Minister Baroness Susan Williams as saying that anti-Semitism and hate crimes are “vile, wrong and totally unacceptable in our society.” They are “an affront to the British values that we hold dear.”
“Whilst one anti-Semitic incident is one too many, it is positive that members of the Jewish community now feel more able to speak out against these pernicious crimes knowing that their government will hear their voice and act decisively to protect them,” she added.
British Prime Minister David Cameron recently announced his plan to combat Muslim extremism and anti-Semitism in the UK.
By: Max Gelber, United with Israel

Do You Support Israel?

Want to do something great for Israel today? Make a donation to United with Israel, and help to educate and inspire millions around the world to support Israel too!
We are a grassroots movement that fosters unity and love for the People, Country and Land of Israel. Every day we publish stories about Israel to educate, inspire and empower Israel supporters around the world. We contribute to vital causes like building bomb shelters and helping the needy. Donations from true friends of Israel like you make this possible, so please show your support today!