|   January 1, 2015    8:11 PM ET

January is always about a detox, a time to cleanse yourself of negative influence, guilty pleasures and useless clutter. And Twitter is a great place to start.

Are you wasting too much time scrolling through the feeds of vacuous celebrities who only tweet pre-approved crap from their PRs?

Ever wonder, 'why am I so angry ALL THE TIME?' when your feed is stuffed full of overly opinionated journalists whose self-important blather raises your temperature?

Have you kept loyally following grimly unfunny parody accounts who should just die quietly?

Did you eve think it was a good idea to follow the D-listers reinventing themselves professional trolls?

Yes, we've all done it. But with most of us following hundreds of accounts, it can be hard to know where to begin. Help is at hand. Here are the top 20 people to unfollow in 2015.

Paul Vale   |   December 31, 2014    3:50 PM ET

President Vladimir Putin has used his New Year's speech to hail Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula.

He said Crimea's "return home" will "forever remain a landmark in the national history."

His comment in his prepared annual address already has been broadcast in Russia's far eastern regions, where the holiday was celebrated hours ahead of Moscow, given the time difference.

After Ukraine's former Russia-friendly president was driven from power, Moscow sent troops to overtake Crimea, home to a Russian naval base. Those forces blocked Ukrainian military garrisons and set the stage for a hastily called referendum on Crimea joining Russia, which Ukraine and the West rejected.

The West has since introduced sanctions against Russia over the annexation of Crimea and Moscow's support for a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

The Russian leader also used the turn of the year to tell US President Barack Obama that Moscow is looking for equality in bilateral relations next year.

The Kremlin on Wednesday published several dozen New Year's messages addressed to heads of states and international organizations such as the Olympic Committee and FIFA.

Putin reminded Obama of the upcoming 70th anniversary of the allied victory in World War II and said that it should serve as a reminder of "the responsibility that Russia and the United States bear for maintaining peace and international stability." Moscow is anxious for the relations to advance but only as long as there is "equality and mutual respect."

Conspicuously absent from the list of the recipients of New Year's messages was Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Position Available: President Of The United States 2016

Jon-Christopher Bua   |   December 29, 2014   11:25 AM ET

In this political environment if anyone thinks they can predict who the 2016 presidential candidates will be let alone the next president...Not So Fast!

At a similar moment in the run-up to 2008, I wrote a Sky News 'Washington Notebook' Blog entitled "Hillary v Rudy: The Main Event"....Enter Barack Obama and all bets were off!

Unless Joe Biden decides to run, 2016 will be another wide open presidential contest just like 2008. There will be no incumbent or VP seeking their party's nomination.

In most presidential election cycles the voters make an initial assessment - is the country headed in the right direction?

This question typically turns on how the economy is doing.

In 1992 the winning message was - "Its the economy stupid!"

If things are going well the American people are inclined to stay the course - lately however almost nothing seems to be going right.

Despite candidate Obama's many promises, President Obama has been faced with a
never-ending cavalcade of crises to attend to.

These unforeseen events have forced his agenda of hope and change to the back burner of reality.

When soon-to-be private citizen Barack Obama walks out of the Oval Office for the last time on January 20, 2017 it is likely that what has plagued and confounded this administration in Iraq,
Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, and the Middle East will not have been resolved; ISISL and al Qaeda will have continued their evil ways and "Rootin Tootin Putin" will still be challenging the West, gobbling up as much of his former Soviet Empire as he can get away with.

North Korea's "boy fanatic" Kim Jong-Un will continue to cause heartburn for anyone actually paying attention.

U.S. race relations - a far cry from being repaired could in fact get worse; the world economy will likely remain fragile and diseases like Ebola and HIV-AIDS tragically will still be with us as well as the phenomena of disappearing aircraft.


All of this along with Global Warming and the world energy crisis will be waiting for the next occupant of the White House as soon as the sound of the twenty-one gun salute begins to fade.

What a job!
Who would want it?

Well, there seems to be a growing number of possible candidates interested in vying for the top spot.

For the Democrats at the moment the possible contenders are Hillary Clinton (former New York Senator and Secretary of State), Joe Biden (Fmr Senator DE and VP), Martin O'Malley (Fmr Gov MD), Jim Webb (Fmr Senator VA), Brian Schweitzer, (Fmr Gov Montana), Joe Manchin (Fmr WVA Gov and Senator) and if Hillary decides not to go forward there is talk of Elizabeth Warren (Sen MA), Andrew Cuomo (Gov NY), Mark Warner (Sen VA) and the list continues to grow!

For the Republicans at the moment the possible contenders are Jeb Bush (Fmr Gov FL), Chris Christie (Gov NJ), Rand Paul (Sen KY), Marco Rubio (Sen FL), Ted Cruz (Sen TX), Paul Ryan (Rep WI) Ben Carson (surgeon), Rick Perry (Gov TX), Bobby Jindal (Gov LA), Scott Walker (Gov WI), and yes Mitt Romney (Fmr Gov MA and 2012 GOP Presidential Candidate) this list also keeps on growing!

Then there are the "others" - from both parties - who might consider throwing their hats into ring - Bernie Sanders (Sen VT), Carly Fiorina (Fmr head of HP), Rick Santorum (Fmr Sen PA), John Bolton (Fmr UN Amb), Michael Bloomberg (Fmr Mayor NYC), Jon Huntsman (Fmr Gov UT and Amb to China), George Clooney and the perennial favorites - Sarah Palin (Fmr Gov AK), Michele Bachmann (Rep MN), Donald Trump (businessman) and Rudy Giuliani (Fmr Mayor NYC).

What is probably the biggest challenge for both parties is that the long primary process gives the extreme elements of both parties far too much influence on the selection of their party's nominee.


To become a viable and well financed nominee a potential candidate must appear to support the most extreme views of their party.

As a result the candidate that can win their party's primary contest will have a tough time moving back to the middle which is usually what is required to win the general election.

This was one of Mitt Romney's biggest problems in 2012.

In selecting their president the American people tend to react to what they perceived were the weaknesses of their last choice.

Although the jury is still out on whether the Obama presidency has been a success, President Obama still has time to build and solidify his legacy.


There are certainly some things that the American people had hoped for that President Obama has not yet been able to achieve - and changing "the way that things are done in Washington" was at the top of their wish list.


Since the painful Democratic losses in the Midterms, President Obama now must deal with a Republican controlled Senate and House of Representatives for the remainder of his term.


So his legislative agenda is likely to be limited at best.

What qualities will the American people be looking for in their president this time?


One could argue that perhaps the most important quality our next president should have is the ability to work with the opposition to break the gridlock and get things done!

Some say this argues in favor of a "seasoned political hand" with lots of government experience.

This probably explains why two scions from America's most recently famous political dynasties seem to be the "front runners" at the moment in a race which has not yet officially begun - Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.

Both of these potential contenders know first hand the personal sacrifice this jobs requires and the hardships it will impose on their entire family.

If they choose to compete Hillary and Jeb really do know what they are getting into.

Hillary Clinton has yet to formally declared her candidacy although she already has a formidable apparatus in place and lots of monetary support ready to go the minute she confirms she is in the race.

Hillary has been First Lady, U.S. Senator from New York, a presidential candidate and Secretary of State - so she clearly has significant political and government experience.


She was also a partner in a law firm before she became First Lady of the State of Arkansas.

In short, Hillary is probably the most experienced woman to ever run for presidency.

Hillary has a tough decision ahead - if she does not run - she still remains the "Grand Dame" of the Democratic Party and a "king maker" supreme!

If she runs and loses she will have sought the presidency twice unsuccessfully and she could lose her superstar status.


If she wins she will be the first woman president and the only wife of a former president to be elected to that same office on her own.


And just think Chelsea Clinton would be able to say that both of her parents were Presidents of the United States!

Jeb Bush has been a successful governor of Florida and both the son and brother of a president.


If he runs he probably has a lock on Florida and Texas - which could give him a real advantage on election night.


Jeb is also one of the only GOP possible contenders who might be able to appeal to the Hispanic vote and change the numbers game to favor a Republican win.


Jeb has real credentials with the Hispanic community - his wife is a Mexican born American, he is fluent in Spanish and his views on immigration policy have been more moderate than many other GOP contenders.

On the downside, if Jeb runs he loses his right to a private life forever -something Hillary lost long ago.


Jeb will be exposing himself and his family to a level of scrutiny they have yet to experience.

If he wins he will be the third Bush to hold the office of President -gaining a special place for his family as a unique political dynasty in America.


Since this will make The Bushes the only family that will have produced three presidents - beating out the Adamses, Harrisons and Roosevelts.

There is another trying aspect to a Clinton - Bush redux.

These two presidential families have now become close and the dirty and painful presidential campaign process necessary to win may no longer be that appealing or even acceptable.

Chelsea Clinton and George P. Bush would also have to wage all out war to win the "youth vote" on behalf of their parents.

Of the other potential wannabes we have U.S. Senators, Members of the House of Representatives, several Governors, former Governors and Mayors, a variety of business leaders, a physician and an actor or two.

All of these individuals can bring some unique skills to the competition.

Americans often pick governors because they have executive experience - running their state, dealing with the opposition in their legislatures, commanding the National Guard in emergencies and balancing their budgets.

In fact, 17 of our presidents were governors - and 9 of the 17 were governors immediately before becoming president. 16 presidents also served as senators but only 3 held that position immediately before becoming president and 14 presidents previously served as vice-president immediately before attaining the highest office in the land.


So as I said at the beginning of this blog it is simply too soon to tell who will capture the attention and the imagination of the voters in 2016.

Perhaps it will be Hillary or Jeb or Marco or Elizabeth or Ted or Chris or maybe a true surprise like a Manchin-Huntsman or
Huntsman-Manchin ticket.


This attractive and dynamic bi-partisan duo - two former governors who have worked together before to bridge the partisan divide with their "no labels" approach to problem solving - is something worth keeping your eyes on.

The only thing we can all count on, is that the battle to fill this particular "Position Available" job posting will be a hard-fought, entertaining and exciting ride...full of surprises!

Paul Vale   |   December 29, 2014    3:19 AM ET

Revelations by a Senate Intelligence Committee in December detailing the extent of the CIA’s torture programme instituted in the months after 9/11 reverberated around the world, while forcing America into an uncomfortable introspection as to the values that should define the Republic. Yet the report was just one piece of remarkable news emanating from the United States towards the end of 2014.

In the same month, Washington moved to normalise diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than half a century of hostility, while protesters marched through towns and cities demanding an end to the killing of unarmed black men by officers of the law.

Fears of an Ebola outbreak dominated the news in September after Thomas Eric Duncan became the first Ebola patient to die in the US having travelled to Texas from Liberia. Officials scrambled to allay the fears of the citizenry by placing some doctors returning from Africa into quarantine, though the virus would go on to claim only one more victim on American soil.

In politics, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spent much of the year mired in scandal, diminishing his chances of a serious tilt at the presidency in 2016, while the midterm elections in November gave Republicans control of both houses of Congress, setting the stage for a difficult end to the Obama administration.

Below we chart the 10 biggest US news stories of 2014:


Thomas Tamblyn   |   December 23, 2014    4:00 PM ET

North Korea's internet suffered a complete blackout on Monday 22 December and even now is still reportedly suffering from intermittent connection problems.

According to security company Arbor Networks, North Korea was hit by a sustained denial of service attack which was designed to overwhelm the country's servers.

The attack was partially successful as the entire country suffered an internet blackout for around 24 hours before intermittent service was resumed.

pyongyang


Dan Holden, director of security research at Arbor Networks spoke to the Guardian about the attack confirming that given North Korea's lack of technological sophistication it wouldn't take much to knock the entire country's internet offline.

“Anyone of us that was upset because we couldn’t watch the movie, you could do that. Their internet is just not that sophisticated.”

Holden's comments suggest that although the US Government is the likely perpetrator, the task could easily have been undertaken by a band of reasonably well-trained civilians who took umbrage over the Sony Pictures hack.

President Obama confirmed on Friday that the US would retaliate to the attack on Sony Pictures with appropriate force however he failed to go into further detail.

The US government has since declined to comment on the attack against North Korea so until more is known about the incident it'll be difficult to determine who was behind the attack.

What is certain however is that North Korea's internet blackout is connected to the recent cyber attack on Sony Pictures which saw the entire company's digital assets distributed online including payroll details, unreleased films and thousands of private emails.

Sony Pictures has since been trying to contain the spread of leaked corporate information including threats to sue Twitter after it failed to block those users that were posting leaked email conversations.

Jack Sommers   |   December 23, 2014    1:00 PM ET

Widespread internet outage in North Korea has been blamed on a cyber-attack by the US, in retaliation for the hacking that intimidated Sony into cancelling a movie release and left the country feeling humiliated and angry.

The White House and the State Department declined to say whether the US government was responsible, after North Korea experienced sweeping internet outages for hours before coming back online late on Monday.

The US had promised a "proportional response" to the Sony hacking.

One computer expert said the country's online access was "totally down."

north korea

A poster in South Korea shows how cyber war can be waged against the North

After the Sony hacking led to release of comedy 'The Interview' being cancelled, Barack Obama said the US government expected to respond to it.

He described it as an expensive act of "cyber vandalism", which led to the leaking of private emails, and an FBI investigation blamed North Korea.

He did not say how the US might respond and its offensive cyber operations as highly classified.

"We aren't going to discuss, publicly operational details about the possible response options or comment on those kind of reports in anyway except to say that as we implement our responses, some will be seen, some may not be seen," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

North Korea has forcefully denied it was responsible for hacking into Sony. But the country has for months condemned the 'The Interview', a comedy about a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

SEE ALSO:

Sony cancelled plans to release the movie after a group of hackers made terroristic threats against cinemas that planned to show it.

In North Korea, one of the most isolated states in the world, few have access to computers, and even those who do are typically able to connect only to a domestic intranet.

Though the country is equipped for broadband Internet, only a small, approved segment of the population has any access to the World Wide Web.

More than a million people, however, are now using mobile phones in North Korea. The network covers most major cities but users cannot call outside the country or receive calls from outside.

Ivan Simonovic, the UN assistant secretary-general for human rights, said he couldn't speculate about the origin of the internet outages but he hoped it would be "thoroughly investigated."

Doug Madory, the director of Internet analysis at Dyn Research, an Internet performance company, said the problems began over the weekend and grew progressively worse to the point that "North Korea's totally down."

Another Internet technology service, Arbor Networks, which protects companies against hacker attacks, said its monitoring detected denial-of-service attacks aimed at North Korea's infrastructure starting on Saturday and persisting into Monday.

But North Korea's limited connectivity and lack of Internet sophistication would make it relatively simple for a band of hacktivists to shut down online access, and we should not assume that the US government had any part, said Dan Holden, director of security research at Arbor Networks.

"Anyone of us that was upset because we couldn't watch the movie, you could do that. Their Internet is just not that sophisticated," he said.

The Interview - Poking a Sleeping Bear

Jack Banister   |   December 22, 2014    7:24 PM ET

Despite Sony having pulled the pin on the release of the controversial satire, The Interview, the film is still, unsurprisingly, causing a fracas. Far from extinguishing the heat in the situation, pulling the film - which depicts the assassination of Kim Jong Un - has left much of America angry that North Korea has been allowed to impose censorship within the United States. Obama called Sony's decision a mistake, and highlighted the problems with letting American decisions be dictated by threats from abroad. These views are incredibly important to our way of life and we do not want to be in a position where one nation can impose censorship upon another. But we could've been a little bit smarter throughout and in doing so, avoided an international incident.

There are so many fundamental issues that should have been considered before the film idea Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg had was even turned into a screenplay. Is it not immoral to be making a film where the central plot line is the assassination of a living person? Irrespective of whether you think Kim Jong Un is a legitimate head of state or not, that question still needs to be asked. I'm all for satire, for making people laugh and for making political statements through film, but there have to be some boundaries.

From a business point of view, it is absolutely remarkable that Sony didn't foresee, from the beginning, problems with trying to release a film with such a controversial central plot line. Maybe they did, and decided to go for it anyway. Either way, North Korea wasn't exactly going to sit there and heartily chuckle along with the rest of the world. Could you imagine any head of state reacting passively to the release of a film involving their assassination? Putin, for example? Worse, could you imagine the backlash from America if North Korea released a film depicting Obama's killing?

The counter-argument is that we shouldn't decide what films we do and don't make - and what we do and don't say - based on the potential for someone to react aggressively. In it's own way that is a form of censorship. But if we wanted to make a political statement about North Korea, I'd like to think it could have been done with a bit more tact.

We haven't just walked into a forest, found a sleeping bear, and poked it with a blunt stick. We've gone for the sharpest stick we could find by depicting the assassination of a head of state. The bear was always going to get angry, and America is now left to deal with the mess.

If you replace North Korea with a fictional country and Kim Jong Un with a fictional world leader, you still have a film pitch with the potential to be incredibly funny, that carries zero risk of inviting serious backlash. You avoid the schmozzle, Sony doesn't lose 40 million dollars and the Obama administration can carry on with business as usual. I'm not saying anyone wanted to provoke North Korea and cause this almighty ruckus, but in future, I'd like to think we show a touch more thought and tact.

Sara C Nelson   |   December 19, 2014    5:06 PM ET

The FBI has formally accused the North Korean government of being responsible for the devastating hacking attack on Sony Pictures.

In a statement, the intelligence service said it has enough evidence to conclude that North Korea was behind the punishing breach, which resulted in the disclosure of tens of thousands of leaked emails and other materials.

“North Korea's actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a US business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior," the statement said.

the interview

The film stars James Franco and Seth Rogen as journalists hired to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

The FBI's case cited, among other factors, technical similarities between the Sony break-in and past "malicious cyber activity" linked directly to North Korea.

President Barack Obama’s administration officials had previously declined to openly blame North Korea but said they were weighing various options for a response.

The statement on Friday did not reveal what options were being considered. President Obama is expected to face questions about the Sony hack at a year-end news conference with reporters later on Friday.

The break-in escalated to terrorist threats that prompted Sony to cancel the Christmas release of the movie "The Interview."

The film stars Seth Rogan and James Franco is a comedy romp in which two journalists are contacted by North Korea to take part in a staged Q&A, and are then hired by US agents to kill Kim Jong Un.

A group of hackers known as Guardians of Peace (GOP) had earlier claimed responsibility for the attack.

TIME magazine writes: "Early reports suggested North Korea was behind the GOP, and there's been some evidence of that. But North Korea has denied responsibility for the hack, and it's equally possible the assailants planted clues leading to North Korea as a distraction."

It's not immediately clear what action, if any, the US government will take. Bringing the shadowy hackers to justice appears a distant prospect. A cyber-retaliation against North Korea would risk a dangerous escalation. And North Korea is already targeted by a raft of sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.

The FBI did not indicate whether it has identified any individual hackers who might be culpable.

In May, the Justice Department indicted five Chinese military officers accused of vast cyberespionage against American corporate interests, but none of those defendants has yet to set foot in an American courtroom.

Five Politicians With Style and Substance

Marcus Hobley   |   December 19, 2014   10:07 AM ET

Politians are forever requesting that voters judge them on substance rather than style. Yet the realities of our telegenic age are that they are often judged on both. So is it possible for a political leader to simultaneously achieve success in both areas? From Arnold Schwarzenegger to Ronald Regan there are examples of politians who have pulled off the double act of policy supremo, while also not looking out of place on a Hollywood movie set, or the catwalk at London Fashion Week. In a light hearted festive piece, here are five modern politians who pull off both:

2014-11-25-FinishPM2.jpg
photo credit: (left) www.alexstubb.com (right) Reuters

Alexander Stubb, Prime Minister of Finland (2014-present)

Resembling somewhat of a blend between an Abercrombie and Fitch model and The Great Gatsby, Alex tops the list. Beyond politics he is a keen athlete who competes in iron men events. He also manages to maintain a blog and is an active tweeter despite his hectic schedule.

2014-11-25-norway_PM.jpg
photo credit: (left) Connie Maria Westergaard (right) msn.com

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Prime Minister of Denmark (2011-present)

Following in the theme of well groomed and chiselled Scandinavian leaders, Helle holds together a four party fractious coalition. She is also said to be the inspiration behind the fictional drama Borgen and is married to Stephen Kinnock, son of former UK Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. She grabbed international headlines for taking a cheeky selfie with Obama at Nelson Mandela's funeral.

2014-11-25-Boris.jpg
photo credit: (left) http://london.report, (right) GQ magazine

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London (2018-2016)

Boris's style can best be described as shabby chic, with his centrally defining feature being his incredible mop of hair, usually ruffled and a little scruffy, Boris wouldn't be Boris without it. As style goes we particularly like the brilliant union jack handkerchief presuming selected by stylising at GQ.

2014-11-25-CHUKKA.jpg
photo credit: (left) Francesco Guidicini (right) GQ magazine

Chuka Umunna MP, UK Shadow Business Secretary (elected in 2010)

Chuka elegantly manages to combine the easy charm of Obama with the suave of Savile Row's Oswald Boateng. Touted as a future Labour Leader, watch his next moves following the 2015 general election. His most recent interview with Alistair Campbell for GQ magazine makes for an insightful read.

2014-11-25-OBAMA.jpg
photo credit: (left) Getty Images (right) AFP / Getty Images

Barack Obama, President of the United State of American (2008-2016)

A modern day JFK; it is little remembered that Obama entered the democrat primary race in 2007 as an underdog, yet his wide appeal and inspirational prose is credited with his then surprise victory over the candidate who now looks set to seize the 2016 democrat presidential nomination, Hilary Clinton.

The Normalisation of Relations Between the US and Cuba Is a Victory for Right Over Might

John Wight   |   December 18, 2014    4:43 PM ET

The announcement that the US and Cuba are to begin the process of normalising relations after decades of a US-imposed economic blockade and policy of undermining the Cuban Revolution is long overdue.

Cuba and the Cuban people have successfully defied the world's most powerful superpower for decades, which history will record as a triumph of self determination, dignity, and justice over a global economic system under which nations of the Global South have been denied same. Because for all the mountain of anti-Cuban and anti-Castro propaganda that has been erected over the years by the US and its supporters- slating Cuba on its alleged lack of human rights, democracy, and freedom - Washington's enmity towards this tiny island in the Caribbean has been the result not of the bad things Cuba has done, but the good.

The human right in Cuba to be hungry or homeless or mired in extreme poverty alongside millionaires and billionaires does not exist. The right to be educated, receive healthcare, and be housed does, regardless of wealth or status or luck. It is a society whose people enjoy freedom from illiteracy, poor health, low life expectancy, and infant mortality. And what could be more democratic than a revolutionary process constantly renewed with a level of participatory and grassroots democracy that working people and poor people living in the West could only ever dream about?

In following an economic and social system founded on the principal of justice and dignity for all, and continuing to do so even in the face of an unremitting economic blockade designed to starve it out of existence, Cuba has stood as a beacon throughout the developing world. Its remarkable achievements in literacy, healthcare, and education in conditions of economic scarcity has over many years put the industrialised world to shame. A recent example of Cuba's priorities is its leading role in the fight against Ebola and West Africa, where it has sent hundreds of doctors and medical professionals.

Cuba's international medical missions, in fact, are legendary, even though they have gone largely unheralded in the West.

When the Cuban Revolution, led by Fidel Castro, overturned the US-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Cuba was glorified bordello and fleshpot for visiting American tourists, mafia hoods, politicians, and businessmen. Its social and economic development, as with comparable countries in the region, had been retarded as a consequence of its control by the US and US corporations.

The imposition of an economic blockade, which in its early years ran in conjunction with terrorist attacks, repeated attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, sabotage, and the threat of invasion, was a measure of the threat of a good example to US interests in the region. The fact Cuba survived Washington's campaign to return to its former status as US satellite is testament to the consciousness and resilience of its people.

Of course, Cuba is not a socialist utopia. Those only exist in books. It has suffered and had to deal with real life challenges of scarcity and economic paralysis throughout its history, especially in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, referred to in Cuba as the 'special period'.

Ironically, there are some who believe that most challenging period in the history of the Cuban Revolution is about to begin with the normalisation of relations with its neighbour to the north. Speculation that the embargo has benefitted the Cuban government, allowing it to ascribe the island's problems to factors outwit its control, is about to be tested.

But, then, such speculation is surely the product of wishful thinking when we consider the inordinate ability of the Cuban government and its institutions to adapt and overcome the huge challenges it has had to face over the past six decades.

Those voices in the West, and they still remain, that have come out in condemnation of this historic development, announced in Washington and Havana, are marginal and antediluvian. Punishing countries and their people for exercising their right to self determination is never done in service to democracy, whatever that word means in states where the only people in power are the rich and connected, but rather in service to a political and economic order under which human beings are considered the means to the end for a narrow economic elite, rather than the end in themselves.

The difference between both when written in a sentence is a semantic one. But when applied in practice it is the difference between dignity and degradation, independence and servitude, indeed life and death itself.

Now, at last, the ideas that have guided the development of Cuba since the revolution can be placed against the ideas that have driven its neighbours - the Dominican Republic and Haiti for example - to the depths of despair and immiseration.

The Obama administration deserves credit for ending the anachronism of a vindictive policy that only succeeded in making the case for Cuba rather than diminishing it. But by far most of the credit for this new departure must go to the Cuban people. Without their determination and unwillingness to submit to the writ of Washington, and often doing so in conditions of extreme hardship, they have won a hard fought victory for right over might.

The words of Nelson Mandela are apposite: "From its earliest days, the Cuban Revolution has been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of the vicious imperialist-orquestrated campaign to destroy the impressive gain made in the Cuban Revolution.

Long live the Cuban revolution!"

The West Is Sending a Message: It's Fine to be a Violent Regime

Lukas Mikelionis   |   December 18, 2014    3:14 PM ET

The expectation for the west to defend freedom in the world was never universally believed. Even during the peak of the Cold War, there were politicians and people who uttered, 'better red than dead' as a badge of honour. They believed that the west must start living in harmony with the occupying power in the east that puts people on a train to Siberia for the crime of possessing dissent thought. But the latest sinister actions on Cuba and Palestine are a unique declaration of submission to conformism.

Firstly, the United States normalised sanctions with Cuba, which means lifting embargo and greater cooperation. Then, there was European Union that sinisterly passed two inter-linked motions: recognised Palestinian statehood and took off Hamas terrorist group from the terrorist organisations list. What message the west is trying to send here? I think it's quite obvious, the meaning of these actions is that we tolerate murderous regimes, which if had a chance would obliterate our democracy without a blink.

Sanctions on Cuba indeed worked. Drying up any possibility to sell their products produced by ineffective laid-back state companies led to economic suffering for the whole country. The Cuban government apparatchiks desperate in preserving their privilege were forced to allow people to open small businesses, strive in free market, and create wealth. Those capitalist reforms would had eventually led to certain democratisation, because once people notice that it's not them who are reaping the benefits of the hard work - they will demand a stake in the political process. But foolishly, after decades of peacefully letting Cuba slide to democracy, President Obama with a single signature empowered a violent, murderous regime.

There's a fallacy about Cuba that it's not as bad as other remaining communist countries such as North Korea, therefore we shouldn't punish it. While it's true that the extent of repressions is incomparable with certain other countries, it's still a mischievous human-right abuser. Human Rights Watch reported that Cuban government have caged up to 57,000 Cubans in prisons or work camps, while dissent constitutes anything from a call for elections to attending a church. In fact, in 2013, more than 30 women, who happened to be related to political prisoners, were arrested after attending a church in Santiago, beaten, and then left in the isolated outskirts of the city. This is a regime the United States just legitimised and offered an opportunity to prolong its existence.

On the other side of the pond, the European Union's decision to recognise Palestinian state and take Hamas off the terrorist list is the most appalling, immoral decision in the history of the union. We know that the union is spineless against Russian government, for example, because of vested interests of Germany and France, but what Europe is winning by pandering to the group which is openly and violently anti-Semitic and has wet dreams about annihilating the state of Israel, the only democratic force in the Middle East? We're constantly hearing about the Jewish lobby, but it seems that this time the twisted Palestinian lobby bought the politicians with an idea that general population supports Palestine, while it seems only like that due to extremely vocal activists who portray Israel as an 'apartheid state.'

Let's assume for a moment, that the verdict to recognise Palestinian state is harmless. A two-state solution between Palestinian and Jewish populations is an old idea, thus the decision of recognition could indeed be viewed as a welcoming change in fixing the conflict. However, the astonishing choice to essentially recognise Hamas as a legitimate government of Gaza corrupts the whole idea of two-states living side by side, because, and I'm worried that I have to remind this often enough, Hamas don't want a two-state solution - it wants a total destruction of Israel. This is why the group had underground tunnels to smuggle rockets that were used to shoot towards Israel indiscriminately, this is the reason why Hamas cheered the massacre in the Synagogue in November this year.

The depravity of the west is becoming too obvious. We have lost our sense of knowing what is right and wrong. The foreign policy became dominated by the idea of not offending any feelings and being bought into the culture of relativism. Cuba and Palestine are just the recent examples of how easily the west can be forced into the obedience.

Torture Is Torture - Regardless of Who Does It

James Snell   |   December 16, 2014    1:01 AM ET

On Tuesday 9 December, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released the executive summary and portions of an as yet unpublished report into the torture undertaken by the CIA. In the following days, much was revealed about American programmes of 'enhanced interrogation'. We had all heard of 'waterboarding', of course, but this was different. In scale, intensity and variety, the programmes of torture as described in the report eclipse the expectations of all but the most seasoned observers.

Some of these horrors make agonising reading - but it is incorrect to say that they defy description. In the cold, expressionless language of the Senate report, even blunt, mechanical phrases can contain the key to understanding a world of pain. 'Rectal feeding' is one. 'Stress position' is another. Through reams of inert prose, an appalling picture of abuse is built up and solidified.

There is one small, meek defence to all of this, a defence not in and of itself, but one which begs comparison. 'Other countries do it too,' this line of thought goes, 'but only America has the guts to say it.' This is true for many secretive nations; and tyrannies and theocracies partake in torture just as much as, if not more than, the Americans. But this truth is a hardly a mitigating factor; it does not excuse the brutality, and it does not excuse the futility.

Much is made of the following hypothetical, the 'ticking bomb' scenario. There is, we are told, an imminent attack; terrorists are threatening to kill a vast number of innocent, blameless civilians in a public place; and the only way we can get hold of the intelligence necessary to avert this catastrophe is by torturing another, captured terrorist into telling us. The situation is horrifying, but it is also neat. Too neat. The moral calculation is placed before us as if it were a simple numerical exercise: One person against hundreds, possibly thousands; an awful individual, engaged in nefarious acts, is pitted against a moral mass of the innocent. Quite simple, really; it is almost utilitarianism in action. But that is not the whole story. An essential, shocking part of the equation has been entirely removed. In this scenario, and in all of the others which populate the messy, eternally complicated world of security and defence, we don't even know if it's going to work. And we never know; not until it's underway or over. And it probably won't work: This torture produced 'false confessions and fabricated information, [and] no useful intelligence'. Brutality was condoned and even encouraged by the CIA, and for almost no gain.

Knowing this, the inescapable conclusion is the following: We will not be able to know if our actions of inhumanity are justified until they have taken place. Morally, I think, there is only one place to be, and it is not alongside the professional sadists employed to threaten to murder the mothers of captives, or to leave detainees to freeze to death in a hidden prison camp, days after subjecting them to '48 hours of sleep deprivation, auditory overload, total darkness, isolation, a cold shower and rough treatment.'

There is, of course, a little hitch in my own thinking. I do not pretend otherwise. I am very happy, as a rule, for those in the employ of my country to kill, or to maim, or to brutalise those agents of terror who threaten the innocent. Bomb them in their hiding places; kill them on the battlefield; vaporise them with drones - I can handle that. But when the battle is over, when these men are stripped of their weapons, their offensive capacity, and even, in some cases, their clothes, by the agents of democracy - that's when I start to get a little squeamish. Perhaps it's the indefinite confinement. Perhaps it's the transportation to secretive facilities across the world. It's certainly got something to do with the torture.

One of the most vehement defences of inhumane and illegal conduct is the rallying cry of pragmatism. I have outlined it above. This is war, the argument goes, and sometimes bad things have to happen in order to protect that which we hold most dear. But this sentiment has two major flaws: In engaging in torture, there is no guarantee of protecting that which we hold dear; and by doing so, we are participating in the self-destruction of our own morality, something I imagine most would like their governments to at least bear in mind.

This is war, and some acknowledgement of the situation must be made. Killing terrorists and fascists 'legitimately' - on the battlefield, from the air, with the assistance of drones - is my own concession to the imperfect world in which we live. Such methods are flawed, and do not always achieve the desired result; but at least they are not predicated on the false hope of averting imaginary massacres, and at least they do not challenge the very core of what makes Western civilisation worth defending.

Is Racism the New Black?

Tracey Agyeman   |   December 13, 2014   12:11 AM ET

The United States prides itself on being a melting pot, intertwining cultural, religious and racial differences in the hope of finding freedom and, most importantly, achieving the American Dream. Nevertheless, today's reality would contradict this idea given that the USA's social construction is not founded upon assimilation but rather multiculturalism. The Grand Jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the death of unarmed Michael Brown is a confirmation of the cultural and racial divide. Despite the progress made in race-related issues including the black freedom and justice movement and, in more recent years, with the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the USA continuously struggles to desegregate itself and grow towards racial equality. Presidencies have repeatedly and fruitlessly promised 'change' and 'hope' to the electorate, but disillusionment and outrage felt across generations have proven to be a recurrent theme.

The USA's racial divide has encouraged me to reflect on Britain and its progress towards racial equality. I was born during the year of Stephen Lawrence's murder, and today as a black woman in my twenties, living in the 21st century, I can acknowledge the fact that Britain has come a long way since then, yet I believe there is still a long way to go. British society is often described as multi-cultural, and the rising representation of ethnic minorities in politics, music, arts, media and other agents of socialisation, is a product of greater tolerance and change in social attitudes. However, despite progress on the small screen and in the high-visibility worlds of these establishments, this is not reflected in the real lives of individuals of ethnic backgrounds who according to the Guardian, 'are 26 times more likely than their white counterparts to be stopped and searched by police'. Or who enter a department store only to be followed around by the 'discreet' security guard watching their every move, or who, better yet, are encouraged by careers advisers to 'westernise' their full name because the employer may struggle to pronounce their 'ethnic' name. Despite graduating with a prestigious degree, or gaining years of valuable work experience, a report conducted by MPs indicated that women originating from an ethnic minority background face discrimination at every stage of the recruitment process. Accordingly, even if candidates possess identical education, experience, skills and work history, gender and race also play a significant role in the candidate's profile.

It seems the only time we attempt to confront the race question is when a life is taken and announced on the news. Otherwise, the issue is kept hidden in the wardrobe amongst other short-term issues and discarded until it comes back into fashion. Why is race a topic that is given up so easily? Why do we need a tragic event to reawaken our concerns about social inequality? Why do we believe that living in an era in which the president of the United States is of Kenyan descent is an indication of the end of racism? Why are we still pushing for greater representation and equality in society when it should already be the norm? Why should job seekers put his or her name in a smaller font or in a less visible place on a CV in order to be considered by the recruiter? Why do we fail to notice racism because it is presented in a subtle manner?

When it comes to addressing race, it seems there are more questions than dignified answers. There are more problems than solutions. There is more fear than courage. There are more surveys and data than action. There are more deaths than survivors. There is more despair than hope.

The truth is, although we may no longer live in the shadows of the past, traces of our history remain in the present, and resonate on a widespread level.

Paul Vale   |   December 12, 2014    2:08 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Michele Bachmann, perhaps the least hinged Republican serving in a Congress in which sanity passes as voting to repeal a healthcare law 33 times, is to leave the august institution at the end of the year, thus robbing Washington of one of its more colourful minds.

Yet the Representative from Minnesota, who once equated the gay community with child rape, has not exited the stage without delivering one final piece of insanity advice, informing President Obama at a recent White House holiday Party that he should "bomb Iran".

Speaking to the Washington Free Beacon, Bachmann said she told the President that he must take out the Iranian nuclear facilities otherwise the "course of world history" would change.

"I turned to the president and I said, something to the effect of, ‘Mr. President, you need to bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities, because if you don’t, Iran will have a nuclear weapon on your watch and the course of world history will change,'" Bachmann told the conservative newspaper.

"And he got his condescending smile on his face and laughed at me and said, ‘Well, Michele, it’s just not that easy,’" she continued. "And I said to him, ‘No, Mr. President, you’re the president, it will happen on your watch, and you’ll have to answer to the world for this.’ And that was it and then I left. Merry Christmas."

What a lovely festive gift for those diplomats entrenched in delicate negotiations to rein in Tehran’s nuclear programme. A statement like this couldn’t possibly upset that at all…

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