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April 13th, 2009
01:58 PM ET

Why Cuba, and why now

The changes in Cuban policy will be unveiled before President Obama's trip to the Summit of the Americas.

The changes in Cuban policy will be unveiled before President Obama's trip to the Summit of the Americas.

Elise Labott
CNN State Department Producer

Just days before traveling to Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas, President Obama has lifted some travel and financial restrictions on Cuban Americans with family back in Cuba.

Now Cuban Americans will be able to visit their family back home and send them money, which many Cubans on the island depend on in the face of a stiff economic embargo.

Many in the U.S. Cuban American community went along with the Bush administration crackdown on those remittances and travel, because they believed it would squeeze the regime, which skims from the payments and tourist revenue.

But countries like oil-rich Venezuela were making up the difference with cash payments to the Castro regime. Cuban Americans were prepared to sacrifice seeing their families and sending money for a greater purpose, but that wasn't working. So now they have been pushing for an end to the restrictions.

Lifting restrictions will be a step-by-step process. This issue is a political hot button, so administration officials say President Obama is going to start with what is most palatable politically. The administration doesn't see the narrow lifting of restrictions as very contentious with Congress. A full lifting of the travel embargo would be a "natural next step," one senior official said, but the administration wants to see how this initial move goes first.

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April 13th, 2009
01:20 PM ET

Is economic stress causing violence?

The site of a recent shooting in Binghamton, New York.

The site of a recent shooting in Binghamton, New York.

Dr. Gail Saltz
Psychiatrist
AC360° Contributor

At least 47 people have been killed in this past month due to mass shootings. Hospitals are reporting higher numbers of shaken baby syndrome and injuries from domestic violence. Is there a connection between this recession and the growing numbers of violent crimes?

Job loss and economic desperation leads to anxiety and even depression. It causes many people to live on the edge; to question whether or not their life is worth living and find it difficult to control their hostile and aggressive impulses. In two of the recent shootings, there were indications that the perpetrators may have been affected by a job loss.

Traumatic events, such as a job loss, can tip these people over that edge. Perceived humiliation – like being unable to support a family – can also create feelings of hopelessness. Many folks are finding themselves in this terrible boat with no source of support. They may feel they cannot afford to get help or treatment for their terrible feelings and some may be unable to ask friends or family for help out of shame and anger.

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Filed under: Gail Saltz • Gun Control • Gun Violence
April 13th, 2009
01:04 PM ET

Financial Dispatch: Tax deadline looming

Andrew Torgan
CNN Financial News Producer

The April 15 deadline to file your taxes is just days away, but today is “Tax Freedom Day.”

Americans had to work 103 days from January 1 before they earned enough to pay their taxes for 2009, according to the Tax Foundation. Everything after that is theoretically theirs to keep.

April 13 is the earliest date since 1967. That's eight days earlier than 2008’s “Tax Freedom Day” and a full two weeks earlier than 2007’s.

The Tax Foundation cited two reasons for the shift to an earlier date: The recession has reduced tax collections faster than it has reduced income; plus, the Obama administration's stimulus package includes large temporary tax cuts for 2009 and 2010.

So with millions of Americans facing job losses and the threat of foreclosure, what do you do if you can't pay your taxes? IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman will make an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington today to discuss his agency's new initiatives to help those in financial distress, including giving IRS employees the flexibility to adjust or defer tax payments for certain taxpayers in hardship situations.

Shulman is also expected to highlight the new tax credits available this year, such as those for first time home buyers and car buyers, and give offer advice on what to do if you're having trouble paying your taxes.

CNNMoney.com has launched a special section: “Get Ready for April 15

In it, you will find tax tips for the unemployed, advice for 10 million late filers and 8 tips to slash your tax bill.

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Filed under: Andrew Torgan • auto bailout • Economy • Gas Prices • Oil • Taxes • Wall St.
April 13th, 2009
12:34 PM ET

Bo knows kibble

Bo, a six-month old Portuguese water dog, was given to the first family by Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Bo, a six-month old Portuguese water dog, was given to the first family by Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Jack Gray
AC360° Producer/Writer

Well, by now you’ve heard the details:  the newest member of the First Family is a six-month old male Portuguese Water Dog whom the Obama girls have named Bo and Secret Service agents have codenamed “Gassy.”

I’m sure at any moment we’ll receive a statement from Dick Cheney’s dog calling Bo “a socialist whose policy on playing fetch is putting America’s national security at risk.”  And as soon as they hear the word “Portuguese” the president’s critics will be complaining about him outsourcing yet another job overseas.

Anyway, Bo came from a breeder in Texas to whom he was returned by his original family. The official word is that the family’s older dog didn’t like him.  Something about Bo’s penchant for loan sharking, black market cheek implants and halfway houses in Pompano Beach, Florida.  The tabloids are going to love this guy once he discovers the D.C. bar scene.

Bo, of course, succeeds Barney and Miss Beazley, the Bush family’s two Scottish Terriers who, frankly, did not set the bar for First Dogs particularly high.  Miss Beazley is now waiting tables at a Dallas strip club and Barney was last seen knocking over a Radio Shack.

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April 13th, 2009
12:01 PM ET

Good Friday killer: Why case is “highly solvable”






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Gabriel Falcon
AC360° Writer

My blog on the cold case murder of 8-year-old April Tinsley drew hundreds of comments. Several of the people responding said they couldn’t believe Fort Wayne, Indiana detectives consider the 1988 homicide “highly solvable.” A reader named Trey wrote: “HIGHLY SOLVABLE!!! Yeah, that is why they haven’t caught him yet! This sick man is smarter than all of the law enforcement officials. He gets away with murder for 21 years and then mocks the police efforts and they call it highly solvable!”

Others offered theories on the identity of the killer. Some analyzed the handwriting left in messages by the suspect. Robert shared this opinion: “From a graphology standpoint the writer's scroll reveals much about his personality, perhaps most importantly that he has an instinctual [congenital] “criminal mind’ and, despite the numerous grammatical and spelling errors, a calculating logic, which makes him cunning…and all the more ellusive and difficult to catch.”

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Filed under: 360º Follow • Crime & Punishment • Gabe Falcon
April 13th, 2009
11:48 AM ET

Where SEAL heroes come from

Editor's note: CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a bestselling author whose forthcoming book is "Late Edition: A Love Story."

By Bob Greene
CNN Contributor

There is a beach in Coronado, California, just across the bridge from San Diego. It offers a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean, which is why it attracts tourists who are drawn to the sun.

I thought about that beach yesterday, when the news from the Indian Ocean near the Horn of Africa was flashed around the world - the news that the captain of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama had been rescued from Somali pirates by U.S. forces operating off the USS Bainbridge.

That beach in California seems quite placid, even sedate. The historic, red-gabled Hotel del Coronado sits upon it - the place where the Marilyn Monroe-Jack Lemmon-Tony Curtis movie "Some Like It Hot" was filmed. The feeling of the place is one of genteel manners, of delicate tradition. You almost expect to see guests carrying parasols and making reservations to play croquet.

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Filed under: Pirates • U.S. Navy
April 13th, 2009
11:41 AM ET

Four tough questions for Democrats

Editor's note: Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School. His new book, "Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security - From World War II to the War on Terrorism," will be published this fall by Basic Books. Zelizer writes widely on current events.

By Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

This week, Jews will conclude the eight-day celebration of Passover, a holiday that has often found its way into the political realm.

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. frequently invoked the story of the liberation of the Jewish people from the Egyptians in his struggle against white oppression. President Obama made headlines last week when he hosted a Passover Seder in the White House.

Today, Democrats can draw an important lesson from Passover, this time not so much from the story that is retold during the holiday but through the rituals that are the focus of the week. Last Wednesday and Thursday evenings, Jews gathered with families, friends and other groups to have a Seder.

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Filed under: Democrats • President Barack Obama
April 13th, 2009
11:37 AM ET

Morning Buzz: And the First Dog is... (drumroll)

Penny Manis
AC360° Senior Producer

There are celebrations this morning in Vermont, home of Sea Captain Richard Phillips, after he was rescued over the weekend and now resting comfortably on a U.S. warship. He had been held hostage for almost 5 days. Navy seal snipers killed 3 Somali pirates who took him hostage, and a 4th pirate has been captured-he could spend the rest of his life in a U.S. prison.

The Navy says it acted when one of the pirates was seen pointing an AK47 at the Captain’s back. Somali pirates currently hold more than a dozen ships and over 200 hostages, and they are vowing revenge for the above killings.

We’ll give you the latest on this story, and also tell you how the US administration plans to deal with the piracy problem in the aftermath of this dramatic incident.

IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman outlines the agency’s new plan to help taxpayers who have taken a financial hit today. We’ll tell you what you need to know with tax day right around the corner.

Madonna is hoping to win over the people of Malawi after a judge already rejected her attempt to adopt a 3 year old girl named “Mercy.” She is now appealing, and in an email to a local newspaper in the country, she said she hopes the boy she already adopted and the girl she is trying to adopt will one day return to Malawi to help their people.

If you haven’t already guessed, the AC360 staff is full of dog lovers. This is why we are committed to bringing you the latest on the First Dog. Malia and Sasha will get a Portuguese water dog they have named “Bo.” The First Dog’s debut is set for tomorrow, but his identity and some pictures have been leaked. We can be sure Erica Hill will be raising her hand to tackle this story today.

See you tonight!


Filed under: Penny Manis • The Buzz
April 13th, 2009
10:58 AM ET

Toward a new Cuba policy

Maria Werlau
The Wall Street Journal

The ascendancy of Raúl Castro to Cuba's presidency has fueled expectations of reform in the 50-year-old dictatorship. Next week, President Barack Obama will be pressed on the issue at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad-Tobago.

It is a good time to acknowledge that neither the U.S. embargo nor engagement by the rest of the world have helped Cubans attain their rights. Sanctions, though ethically justified, can't work unilaterally; treating Cuba as a normal partner is immoral and counterproductive. A new unified approach is needed.

Just as the oppressed people of South Africa, Chile, and other tyrannies received international support, finding an effective approach to the Cuba problem is a shared duty. It is also in everyone's interest. A democratic, stable and prosperous Cuba would cease threatening the security of the region, slow the flow of Cuban refugees and provide better trade and business opportunities.

If the U.S. president understands totalitarianism better than his hemispheric counterparts, he will remind them that at the Ibero-American Summit in 1996 Fidel Castro signed the Viña del Mar Declaration pledging to support democratic pluralism. He has consistently ignored all such international agreements. Now Trinidad summiteers should jointly call Cuba's bluff.

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April 13th, 2009
10:52 AM ET

What Iran really thinks about talks

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a Tehran rally for the Islamic revolution's 30th anniversary in February.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a Tehran rally for the Islamic revolution's 30th anniversary in February.

Michael Rubin
The Wall Street Journal

On Apr. 9, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran's atomic energy agency, announced that the Islamic Republic had installed 7,000 centrifuges in its Natanz uranium enrichment facility. The announcement came one day after the U.S. State Department announced it would engage Iran directly in multilateral nuclear talks.

Proponents of engagement with Tehran say dialogue provides the only way forward. Iran's progress over the past eight years, they say, is a testament to the failure of Bush administration strategy. President Barack Obama, for example, in his Mar. 21 address to the Iranian government and people, declared that diplomacy "will not be advanced by threats. We seek engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect."

Thus our president fulfills a pattern in which new administrations place blame for the failure of diplomacy on predecessors rather than on adversaries. The Islamic Republic is not a passive actor, however. Quite the opposite: While President Obama plays checkers, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei plays chess. The enrichment milestone is a testament both to Tehran's pro-active strategy and to Washington's refusal to recognize it.

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Filed under: Iran • President Barack Obama
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