Jen’s Turn: Apparently, It’s in the “Cards”

It’s time to Break It Down!

Last week I discussed the San Antonio Spurs and their historic association with Becky Hammon. At that moment, it seemed to represent quite a leap for the world of sports. Staying in the realm of athletics, in today’s post I am invading the rarified (for me) air of the NFL.

My close friends and associates know I am a huge basketball fan, and as such, I’ve written about basketball, both college, and professional, on numerous occasions. Alternately, I’ve written sparingly about football.

I wrote about Michael Vick, but it had much more to do with his legal issues than with football. I also wrote about the exigencies of playing Super Bowl XLVIII outdoors in cold weather. That game was played on February 2, 2014, at MetLife Stadium at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the first Super Bowl played outdoors in a cold-weather city.

For the record, the Seahawks defeated the Broncos 43–8, the largest margin of victory for an underdog and the third largest point differential overall (35) in Super Bowl history. It was the first time the winning team scored over 40 points, while holding their opponent to under 10. This became the first Super Bowl victory for the Seahawks and the fifth Super Bowl loss for the Broncos, the most of any team.

Today, for fans of the game, the big story circulating is likely centered around N.F.L. (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell upholding the four-game suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, one of football’s biggest stars, after finding that he destroyed potential evidence as the league investigated his role in the deflation of game balls to gain competitive advantage in the A.F.C. championship matchup last January. The saga is referred to as Deflate-gate.

The League, in a 20-page statement, said yesterday that it based its decision on Brady asking an assistant to destroy a cellphone that he had used before, during, and after the week of the game. According to the League, the destruction of the phone eliminated what investigators believed to be 10,000 texts. This revelation came to light during Brady’s testimony at an appeals hearing in June, several months after investigators had requested text messages and emails.

NFL rules did not require Brady to surrender the materials. However, his failure to do so, compounded by the destruction of the phone, raised the question of obstructing the investigation. It was a compelling factor in leading Commissioner Goodell to uphold the suspension rather than reduce it, as he has often done in past disciplinary cases.

All that is interesting enough, but it’s not my focus. Football has for some time been elevated to the status of “America’s Game.” The game is intricate, complex, even cerebral, to be sure, but the things that often resonate about football are the elements of raw strength, power, and a level of physicality that frequently define the game.

Becky Hammon’s emergence on the scene as a successful basketball coach for the San Antonio Spurs is a rare air kind of development. It was surprising a year ago when she arrived, it was surprising last week when she led her team to the Las Vegas Summer League Championship, and it will certainly be surprising should she ever actually assume the reins of an NBA Head Coaching post.

But that’s basketball, a lofty perch, but a completely different kind of game. This weeks surprise comes from the NFL. On Monday, Jennifer Welter was hired as a training camp and preseason coaching intern for the inside linebackers position for the National Football League’s Arizona Cardinals. The signing made her the first female coach in the NFL. This is her third “first” for men’s football in 2014 and 2015.

On February 12, 2015, the Indoor Football League’s Texas Revolution named Welter their linebackers and special teams coach making her the first woman to coach in a men’s professional football league.

On January 24, 2014, the Revolution announced signing 5-foot-2, 130-pound Jennifer Welter as a running back. This made her the second female player for a position other than kicker or placekick-holder on a men’s professional football team, and the first at running back.

Welter is a veteran of several women’s “semi-pro” football teams (including the Dallas Diamonds and Dallas Dragons). She was a gold medal-winning member of Team USA at the International Federation of American Football’s (IFAF) Women’s World Championship in 2010 and 2013.

Cardinal’s Coach Bruce Arians had this to say about the landmark decision to bring Dr. Welter (that’s right, Dr.; I’ll get to that later) into the organization:

“Coaching is nothing more than teaching. One thing I have learned from players is, ‘How are you going to make me better? If you can make me better, I don’t care if you’re the Green Hornet, man, I’ll listen. I really believe she’ll have a great opportunity with this internship through training camp to open some doors for her. She came for an OTA and I met her, and I thought she was the type of person that could handle this in a very positive way for women and open that door. Welter has earned this.”

For her part, Dr. Welter took to Twitter to express her appreciation:

Dr. Jen Welter @jwelter47

Thank you ‪@AZCardinals & ‪@BruceArians & everyone here in ‪#Phoenix. I am honored to join this amazing ‪#footballfamily

8:26 PM – 27 Jul 2015

Mike Freeman, of Bleacher Report, shared a text he received from a player in the AFC on Welter:

“The truth is, she has more playing experience than some of the coaches who coach me now.”

The NFL may traditionally be a man’s league, but Welter has the background to handle the spotlight. She played football professionally for 14 years and most recently served as an assistant coach for the Indoor Football League’s Texas Revolution. She also entered a game as a running back for the Revolution last year, becoming the first woman to appear in a men’s pro football contest at a contact position.

The Cardinals hiring Welter is fitting for a franchise that has embraced progress and created an exciting brand of football as a result. Adding Welter figures to breed more positive energy and enthusiasm within the organization. The Cardinals have experienced quite a culture change since Arians took the reins in 2013. Arians is known for his vertical passing-based offense, aggressive style and overall confidence, which has evidently rubbed off on his players and earned their respect as they’ve compiled a 21-11 record over the last two seasons.

That bold attitude includes the front office and general manager Steve Keim, who’s been unafraid to take risks in the draft. Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and wide receiver John Brown were both polarizing third-round picks, but they’ve emerged as playmakers.

Welter has a long way to go to climb the NFL coaching ladder, but she’s already broken new ground. Although she isn’t in the position San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon was in recently when she led the squad to an NBA Summer League title, Welter’s gig in the desert provides the vital foundation for something greater.

She also brings a full Monty of educational qualifications to the table. Dr. Welter graduated from Boston College and has a master’s degree in Sport psychology and a PhD in psychology from Capella University, a for profit school in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

By the way, this is not the only NFL “first” recently. It’s the second such barrier to be broken this year. The league announced in April that Sarah Thomas would be the first woman to be a full-time NFL official. Just for the record, the NBA has had women Referees since 1997, when Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner entered the League’s pool of Referees. But, be that as it may, today is Jen’s Turn: Apparently, It’s in the Cards!”

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The Spurs and Becky Hammon: Another Chapter Added

It’s time to Break It Down!

Last August, I wrote a post entitled, “First The Spurs Won The Title: Now They Are Making History!” ( It heralded the introduction of Ms. Becky Hammon to the NBA, after her hiring by the then World Champion San Antonio Spurs.

Coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurts made Ms. Hammon the NBA’s first full-time Regular Season female Assistant Coach on August 5, 2014. It was clear at that time she had cultivated a history with the Spurs, and that she had established a relationship with both Coach Popovich and a number of Spurs’ players. Other women had served in support roles, one as an Assistant during the Summer League, and another as a Volunteer Assistant during the Regular Season. Hammon, however, assumed full coaching responsibilities, and traveled with the team.

The NBA Summer League is a series of off-season competitions designed to bring National Basketball Association teams together to try out different summer rosters instead of their regular season line-ups. Usually, participants include a mix of rookies, second year players, and unsigned free agents. The current summer league consists of three separate leagues: the Las Vegas Summer League, the Utah Jazz Summer League, and the Orlando Pro Summer League.

Summer leagues have existed for decades. Historically, there was not an organized structure, with leagues sometimes overlapping and not officially coordinated. In 2004, the league held the Las Vegas Summer League for the first time; it is by far the largest league, with 23 NBA teams plus an NBA Development League all-star team participating as of 2015.

The Orlando Pro Summer League has been held since 2001. The Utah Jazz Summer League began play in 2015, replacing the Rocky Mountain Revue, an event held from 1984–2008 before going on a lengthy hiatus due to declining participation.

On Monday evening, Ms. Hammon led the Spurs to the Championship of the Vegas Summer League, as the Spurs beat the Phoenix Suns 93-90. By doing so, she became the feature attraction in yet another chapter in the annals of history, after having added one just two weeks ago, when she became the first woman to serve as Head Coach of an NBA Summer League Team. The Spurs lost their first Summer League game to the NY Knicks, but rallied from that point, winning the rest of their games, including in the end, persevering in a hotly contested Title Game.

In describing the experience, Hammon said:

It was a grind. They’ve been together about 17 days. They really started to kind of gel here these last two or three games. They listened, and they played really hard for me. So I’m just really [appreciative of] their attentiveness and alertness and their desire to win.”

Along the way, Becky Hammon has diffused a number of the lingering concerns about whether her instincts and experience connected effectively with the rigors of the men’s game. The end result of her performance in this highly competitive environment, in which all the actors recognized her unique role, with no place to hide, should silence some of those concerns. It probably won’t, but it should.

A number of Hammon’s players recognize the value of her voice on the bench. Former Tar Heel Danny Green lauded Hammon when the Spurs hired her. At that time he said:

“Everybody here respects her. She’s a really good player and also a good person to have around. She understands the game.”

He had this to say in an interview with NBA TV during Monday’s game:

“She gives another perspective on the sidelines for us. She sees some things that we don’t see. She’s obviously a player, everybody respects her, she’s well respected. She knows the game. She understands the game. She sees it from a point guard perspective, but a female perspective [too], which is very different for us.

She’s one of my favorites … She’s doing very well. I’m happy for her.”

Jonathon Simmons won the Championship’s MVP honors. As he described it, it was “amazing” to have Hammon on the sidelines. He said:

“She’s a real cool coach and she’s a player coach and that’s what guys like my age — we like that. She’s experienced, you can’t take that away from her.”

Simmons later addressed the importance of Hammon’s trailblazing role in the league, when he told Sports Illustrated (SI):

It’s always good to be a part of history. This day will go down in the books for years to come … I love her. I barely know her and I love her already.”

Hammon, in turn, acknowledged the relationship she’s forged with her players, when she noted, also to SI:

“I’m just thankful that [Popovich] trusted me with the guys in that locker room, and that those guys trusted me back.”

One writer at YAHOO Sports, Kelly Dwyer, (Editor Ball Don’t Lie Blog), has already opined that Ms. Hammon is “ready” to become an NBA Head Coach. Admittedly, I don’t write or follow sports for a living, but I think Mr. Dwyer is wrong about that. Yes, her accomplishments are impressive. She has played the game in college, in Europe, in the WNBA, and in the Olympics. She has the background, skills, and experience that ensure she could be ready in the not too distant future. In fact, I would not be surprised if she becomes the NBA’s first female coach, though not likely in the coming year.

Yesterday, Mr. Dwyer wrote:

“These basketball reasons are why the NBA needs to get the novelty of the first hiring of a female head coach out of the damn way. Becky Hammon can coach your favorite team, and she can coach it well. And when she is hired and when she does coach it well, we can move on to more important things. Like gender equality in jobs that actually matter.”

In his blog, he suggested if Jason Kidd can be trusted running a $100-plus million dollar payroll weeks after retiring (Milwaukee Bucks), or Derek Fisher can survive a 17-win season, Hammon deserves a shot. Dwyer noted Steve Kerr is a Gregg Popovich protégé, as is Ms. Hammon. Moreover, absent coaching experience on any level, he led the Warriors to a Title in his first year.

While all of that is true, their disparate records demonstrate wildly different outcomes. At the very least, those results suggest that the potential of the team a coach goes to, any coach, plays a key role in the outcome of the coaching effort. And, as we know, and Mr. Dwyer conceded, Ms. Hammon won’t be coaching the Spurs in the near future.

Let me frame it this way. The Spurs have long since established themselves as a savvy franchise. They have assembled a mixture of veterans, free agents and young skilled players from around the world, all with an abiding willingness to accept “winning” as the preeminent mission. When they hired Becky Hammon, it was fair to presume she was or would become adept at coaching. By all accounts, she is doing just that. After Monday night’s Summer League Title, that factoid is in clearer focus than ever before.

No, she’s not ready to assume the reins of a Franchise when the NBA Season begins in November. But don’t sleep on her; she will be in the foreseeable future. I wrote last August, “Welcome to the NBA Ms. Hammon. “First The Spurs Won The Title: Now They Are Making History!” Today, “The Spurs and Becky Hammon: Another Chapter Added!”

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President Obama is Going to Jail: A Presidential First!

It’s time to Break It Down!

The United States of America is good at lots of things. In fact, our country is so outstanding at so many things, a number of politicos routinely boast that we are an “exceptional nation.” On occasion, it’s necessary and appropriate to frame a particular concept in its proper context. While there is a tendency to think of “Exceptionalism” as a desirable construct, a state to be admired and aspired to, that is not necessarily the case.

An example of one such counterintuitive instance is the incarceration rate. Long a point of contention for ethicists and other people of good will who care about the fair and equitable treatment of human beings all over the planet, the issue is drawing special attention this week in the United States. President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent offenders earlier this week, and is set to go to prison tomorrow.

Oh wait, you thought… OK, he’s not really “going” to prison, he’s going to visit a prison. Sorry GOP partisans.

Yes, for the first time in the history of the world, a sitting President of Exceptional America, the shining light on the hill, will visit a Federal Prison. On tomorrow, President Obama is scheduled to visit El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma.

The facility is a medium-security United States federal prison for male inmates. It is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice, and currently holds 1,000 inmates, 265 of whom are in prison camp.

Perhaps the most notable inmate currently residing at the facility is Kwame Kilpatrick, Register Number 44678-039, former Mayor of Detroit, (2002-2008). He was convicted of racketeering conspiracy and other charges in 2013 for using his office to commit extortion, bribery and fraud. Mr. Kilpatrick is serving a 28-year sentence, and is scheduled for release in 2037.

Two days ago the White House announced that President Obama had commuted the sentences of several dozen offenders, most convicted for nonviolent drug offenses. Officials say this move illustrates the President’s commitment to criminal justice reform. In a video posted to the White House’s Facebook page, President Obama said:

“These men and women were not hardened criminals. Their punishments didn’t fit the crime.”

Interestingly, while the President’s move commuted a number of sentences, he did not grant any Pardons. On many occasion, Mr. Obama has eloquently addressed notions of grace and redemption. However, he has been MIA (Missing In Action) when it comes to the issue of Pardons. His paucity in that area is so severe; one has to go all the way back to President James Garfield to find a President who granted fewer Pardons than the 64 that President Obama has. This is even more noteworthy when you consider President Garfield died from an assassin’s bullet in 1881, just over six months after he had been sworn in. President Obama, of course, has been in office over six years.

Doug Berman, an Ohio State University law professor, who has studied Presidential Pardons, says of President Obama:

“He’s been unusually stingy – he’s a clemency Grinch.”

A number of critics, and some current and former officials say the President’s lack of activism in this area reflects his determination to avoid the type of controversies that followed President Clinton, such as the uproar that ensued when President Clinton Pardoned fugitive financier Marc Rich on his last day in office.

P.S. Ruckman, Jr., a political science professor who writes a blog, “Pardon Power,” says:

“It’s just not something he’s interested in.”

He ranks President Obama as “the seventh least merciful” President in history.

The President, in his own defense, blamed the Office of Pardons Attorney, whose Chief, Ronald Rodgers, resigned last year amid disclosures that he had misrepresented a commutation applicant’s record to the White House. A former journalist, Deborah Leff, now heads the Office. Of the situation, the President said:

“I noticed that what I was getting [from the Pardon Office] was mostly small-time crimes from very long ago.”

He vowed to be more aggressive on petitions during his remaining time in office.

It was important to note the President’s differentiation between commutations and pardons in order to view his move to push for judicial reform in a balanced light. It is refreshing that this President is moving to address a system that has treated black and brown people specifically, and the poor in general, in a way that can rightly be called ruthlessly. By the same token, it’s worth noting that three-quarters of the way through his tenure, this President, who has done many remarkable things, has been an underwhelming player in addressing some areas of judicial inequity. The good news is, there are 18 months left in this Presidency, and lots of people will be focused on the 2016 Presidential Election. That may allow the President some oxygen and space to continue to expand the areas in which he leaves an indelible and positive mark on the American landscape.

Judicial reform is certainly an area of opportunity, and incarceration policy and practices make great targets. America is to incarceration, what CNN claims to be to news, the Worldwide Leader. So altogether now, let’s hear the cheer…”We’re Number 1!” What a dubious distinction.

The United States accounts for roughly 4 percent of the world’s population. Contrast that to the fact we account for 22 percent of the world’s prison population, and as you can see, we are vastly overrepresented in that category. In 1970, there were approximately 200,000 incarcerated Americans. By 1990, that number had increased to nearly a million. By 2008, at its peak, the number was around 1,600,000.

In the ‘70’s, America transitioned from the Sex, Drugs, and Rock-N-Roll era of the ‘60’s to a Law and Order society. To that end, the Prison industrial complex was born, and incarceration ceased being the primary purview of bureaucrats, and became principally a functioning for profit enterprise. Partly as a result, an ugly dichotomy emerged.

The crime rate peaked in the ‘80’s. Yet when President Bill Clinton became President in 1992, expanding crime fighting by increasing incarceration levels was still the favored prescription. To wit, President Clinton enacted tougher sentencing laws that not only sent more people to prison, but applied longer sentences. Factor in vastly disparate sentencing for crack (principal urban drug choice) and powdered cocaine (principal suburban drug choice), and the deluge of imprisoned people of color was a fait accompli.

As we approach the midpoint of the second decade of the 21st Century, politicians on both sides of the aisle are beginning to recognize the enormous ill effects of this questionable policy gone totally wrong. The deleterious economic consequences of subtracting hundreds of thousands of able bodied potential employees for the workforce deprives both business and families at a time critical to individuals, companies, and the nation.

I look forward to hearing what the President has to say about reforming the criminal justice system while he is at El Reno tomorrow. He will be interviewed for the HBO newsmagazine series “Vice” on the issue. The segment will air this fall. However, he likely previewed the theme when he spoke at the 2015 NAACP Convention last night in Philadelphia. There he raised the topic and argued it is one America can’t afford to ignore. In laying out his vision for fixing the criminal justice system, he noted a need to focus on communities, courtrooms, and cellblocks. He announced a federal review of the use of solitary confinement, and urged Congress to pass a sentencing reform bill by the end of the year. He also called for voting rights restoration to felons who have served their sentences, and suggested employers eliminate the box asking job candidates about their past convictions. In a nod to his commutations earlier this week, he said long mandatory minimum sentences now in place should be reduced – or discarded entirely.

Taken in total, tomorrow should be an exciting day for Oklahomans, in general, and for the inhabitants and employees of the El Reno Prison. The word is out; “President Obama is Going to Jail: A Presidential First!” But remember, he’s just visiting.

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D-Day: Will the Flag Come Down?

It’s time to “Break It Down!”

Three weeks ago, 21-year-old, self-confessed, Dylann Roof carried out a mass shooting, killing nine people at historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The dead included the church’s senior pastor, state senator Clementa C. Pinckney.  Mr. Roof is being held on $1 million bond.  At least one report claims supporters have raised $4 million in donations to pay for his legal fees, and possibly his bond.  Just an FYI!

Two weeks ago, I blogged about the incident in a post entitled: Carnage in a Charleston Church: Another Mass Murder ( A portion of that blog was devoted to the virtually spontaneously combusted movement to take down the Confederate Battle Flag, which flies at the State Capitol in Columbia, South Carolina. I noted then that the movement, which interestingly, was essentially nonexistent three weeks ago, seemed to materialize almost from thin air, after Mr. Roof’s heinous crime. Moreover, while the flag was prominently displayed by Mr. Roof, to paraphrase an expression the NRA is fond of offering as a defense, “Flags don’t kill people.”

Surely, in this instance, the Flag did not murder nine people. In fact, Mr. Roof did not use a flag to kill them; he used a gun. But not one of these new found anti-flag zealots has suggested enhanced background checks as a pre-action for acquiring a fire arm, and they certainly have not offered any ideas on strengthening legislation tied to fire arms purchases. I felt the flag initiative was a diversionary tactic designed to preempt any action on firearms when it was unveiled; I continue to think so now. I’m just saying.

Be that as it may, the South Carolina Legislature is moving apace to construct and consider legislation to remove the flag from the Statehouse Grounds. While I was dubious two weeks ago, as to the eventual outcome of the various initiatives to remove the flag, the effort has taken on an almost inexorable quality. Since that time, a number of States have joined the fray, and one courageous black woman, Ms. Brittany “AKA Bree” Newsome, actually scaled the flagpole and removed the flag on June 27, 2015. Her act drew additional national and international attention to a righteous cause. Others have referred to her as an activist; she calls herself a freedom fighter. Whatever you choose to call her, she is an American patriot and hero…a shero, if you will.

This week, over the past two days, the State Legislature of South Carolina has held a series of votes on the issue. The movement on the matter may culminate today, when the State House is expected to take up the measure. There may be a series of votes, due to a number of amendments opponents of efforts to remove the flag are expected to offer, in an attempt to derail the move to bring down the flag.

As I mentioned in the post two weeks ago, Governor Haley (now) supports removing the flag. Based on votes taken yesterday, 92% of State Senators support the measure; 82% of State House Members voted to send the Flag Bill directly to the floor and bypass committee. Hundreds of thousands of petitioners want the flag down. The debate is set to resume at 10:00 a.m. this morning when the measure will go the House floor for a second vote.

Based on a survey of lawmakers by The Charleston Post and Courier, South Carolina lawmakers have the votes necessary to remove the flag from the Statehouse Grounds. Many Republicans in the House have not said how they will vote. It’s also important to note that opponents may add amendments to the bill with a three-fifths majority vote.

If discrepancies emerge from the votes taken by the two Houses, they would need to be worked out in committee. The outcome is still unclear, for sure. But we know it won’t be long before that outcome, whatever it may be, is revealed.

There are, of course, still supporters of the flag. The State newspaper, in Columbia, reported that pro-Confederate Flag robocalls urged voters last week to call their legislators and tell them to “not stand with the leftist fanatics who want to destroy the South we love. What’s next? This attack on our values is sick and un-American, and it has to stop right here and right now in South Carolina.”

Imagine that: Nikki Haley, Lindsey Graham, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Rick Perry on a list of leftist fanatics. Who knew? They are all among a growing list of notable Conservatives, with extensive bona fides when it comes to Southern roots, who have loudly and repeatedly called for taking down the Confederate Battle Flag, since June 18th.

There is also recent research that suggests a majority of Americans view the flag more as a symbol of Southern Pride than of racism. For example, according to a new CNN/ORC poll, U.S. public opinion regarding the flag remains about where it was 15 years ago. In 2000, 59% said they viewed it as a symbol of pride; that number was 57% in recent polling. Not surprisingly, opinions are sharply divided by race, and among whites, by education.

Not to be outflanked, MoveOn members presented a petition to officials at the Statehouse yesterday. More than 570,000 signatures have been collected. In articulating the organization’s position, they made the following statement:

“The Confederate Flag is not a symbol of Southern pride, but rather a symbol of rebellion and racism. On the heels of the brutal killing of nine black people in a South Carolina church by a racist terrorist, it’s time to put that symbol of rebellion and racism behind us and move toward a better United States of America!”

When Kate Bolduan, on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront,” interviewed Bree Newsome, a filmmaker and activist from Charlotte, she told Bolduan that she accepts potential jail time as “part of my calling as a freedom fighter.” Ms. Newsome and fellow activist James Tyson were charged with defacing state property after she scaled a 30-foot pole and removed the flag. The pair face three years in prison on the misdemeanor and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

In her interview with Ms. Bolduan, she said she wanted to highlight an unjust situation. She referred to the flag as ”this symbol of hate, this symbol of treason.” When Kate Bolduan asked her about the recent poll that suggested most people see the flag as a symbol of Southern pride, Ms. Newsome said it shows people need to be better educated about the history of the Civil War. (Ain’t that the truth?)

So here we are…D-Day: Will the Flag Come Down?” I think there will be weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, but the South Carolina House of Representatives will find the necessary two-thirds majority to remove the flag. Now, about that national debate on those guns!

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Rapprochement: The United States and Cuba Resume Diplomatic Relations

It’s time to Break It Down!

As a nation, we are headed toward one of the signature weekends of the summer, if not the year. Saturday will be the Fourth of July, or, as it’s officially known in the U.S., Independence Day. It’s a federal holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, when the country declared independence from Great Britain.

Independence Day is commonly a time for fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, and political speeches and ceremonies, in addition there are a number of other public and private events celebrating the history, government, and traditions of the United States.

This year we will add a little extra spice to the celebratory fireworks. In a reversal of 55 years of varying degrees of less than neighborly hostilities, more than 54 of those years without diplomatic relations, the United States and Cuba plan to announce an agreement today to officially seal the renewal of diplomatic ties. The two countries will reopen embassies in Washington and Havana for the first time since January 3, 1961, the climax of deteriorating relations between the United States and Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower closed the American Embassy in Havana and severed all diplomatic connections. This action signaled the willingness of the U.S. to take extreme measures to oppose the Castro Regime, which officials in this country believed was transforming into a beachhead of communism in the Western Hemisphere. The stated reason for the dissolution of relations was, ostensibly, Castro’s demand that the U.S. reduce its embassy staff, based upon his assertion that the staff was being used as a base for spying. With that action, the Cold War became an active intra-continental political sport in the Western Hemisphere.

Back on Wednesday, December 17, 2014, President Obama ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of an embassy in Havana. He vowed to “cut loose the shackles of the past” and sweep aside one of the last vestiges of the Cold War.

The announcement, a surprise at the time, followed the end of 18 months of secret talks that produced a prisoner swap negotiated with the help of Pope Francis, and concluded by a telephone call between Presidents Obama and Raúl Castro. The unexpected and historic deal broke a prolonged stalemate between two countries separated by just 90 miles of water, but oceans of mistrust and hostility that go back to the days of Theodore Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill, and the nuclear brinksmanship of the Cuban missile crisis.

In revealing the deal to the American public, President Obama said:

“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries. The deal will begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas and move beyond a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”

In taking this avant-garde step in diplomacy, President Obama proved once again, as he had with healthcare reform that he dared tread where those who came before him opted to sidestep. Ten Presidents that preceded Mr. Obama had refused to go there. In fact Republicans, along with at least one senior Democrat, characterized the action as appeasement of the hemisphere’s leading dictatorship. Republicans, who were slated to control both houses of Congress, beginning in January, promised to resist lifting the 54-year-old trade embargo.

Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and son of Cuban immigrants, said:

“All this is going to do is give the Castro Regime, which controls every aspect of Cuban life, the opportunity to manipulate these changes to perpetuate itself in power.”

There are still hurdles to overcome. For the moment, there remains a Cuba travel ban in place on U.S. citizens, and Cuba is still subject to a U.S. arms embargo, in place since 1962, though President Obama has urged Congress to lift it.

Despite the hardcore GOP bravado, the wheels of change roll on. The two countries have operated diplomatic missions called “interest sections” in each other’s capitals since 1977 under the legal protection of Switzerland. However, they do not enjoy the same status as full embassies. It appears that will change in a matter of weeks.

This past April, President Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, met for the first formal talks between the two countries in more than half a century. In May, the U.S. moved Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. The nations also announced plans to resume ferry and air service between the U.S. and Cuba.

The President has long viewed ending the U.S. freeze with Cuba as central to his foreign policy legacy. It has taken the country more than five decades, and it has taken this President more than six years, but today is the day the U.S. announces a reset for Cuban relations, and with it an extension of the great week he had last week. A White House spokesman said President Obama would deliver a statement on Cuba this morning from the Rose Garden. Secretary of State Kerry is expected to speak from Vienna, about embassy openings, which are anticipated to occur in July.

The Secretary would likely travel to Cuba for an embassy opening. In Havana, the American Embassy will likely occupy the same building where the “interest section” currently operates. That is the same structure, situated on the Havana waterfront, which housed the American Embassy prior to the severing of diplomatic ties after the Cuban Revolution. Much has changed, yet some things do remain the same.

As you prepare to observe the upcoming Independence Day holiday, whether it be by eating too much, drinking too liberally, engaging friends and family at home, or taking on a travel expedition, under the shade of Old Glory, or in the surreal backdrop of the Southern Cross (Rebel Flag…in case you don’t know), feel free to kick it off, beginning today, as the amity of the Americas gets a little more genuine, because ofRapprochement: The United States and Cuba Resume Diplomatic Relations!”

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