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Obama to Tell Congress Lifting Cuba Embargo Is Right Thing to Do

Serena Marshall/ABC News(WASHINGTON) — President Obama will tell members of Congress at Tuesday night’s State of the Union he has done all he can do to normalize relations with Cuba and only they can lift the 50-year-old embargo, sources tell ABC news.

The president will say it’s the right thing to do and will make his case again to the American people that the embargo is failed policy and it’s time to engage Cuba.

He will not explicitly tell Congress to lift the embargo, but instead will use the time and pulpit to sell his idea that opening full diplomatic relations with the island nation is in America’s national interest and will help Cubans move toward more freedoms.

In the audience, sitting with first lady Michelle Obama, will be Alan Gross, the 65-year-old government contractor who was held prisoner in Cuba for five years. He endorses normalization.

It’s a big week in Cuba, as a new era in U.S.-Cuba relations begins.

The first congressional delegation since the announcement last month of Gross’ release reset relations between the two countries met with Cuban officials on Monday to discuss the next steps.

“Fifty-four years of policy was changed overnight,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said, referring to Obama’s executive order at a news conference capping off their visit. “It was remarkable and I believe, long overdue event, but what we did on this trip was meet with people from agriculture to technology, to Cuban arts, to Cardinal Ortega who had worked with me and others to facilitate the Vatican discussion with Pope Francis and President Obama.”

“And we wanted to become more knowledgeable but we had to all almost keep saying to ourselves. It’s [only] been one month,” Leahy added.

Sen. Dick Durban, D-Ill., one of six congressional delegates who came to Cuba this week, said, “We are moving to a new era. It is a dramatic development and it’s more than opening trade and travel between the United States and Cuba; it’s the question of opening up a relationship and the exchange of ideas. Any of us believe that ideas are compelling, compelling when they come to basic human values and human rights.”

“Opening up Cuba and opening up a relationship with the united states gives us a chance to move forward in this hemisphere,” he added.

Leahy and Durbin — along with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Rep Christopher Van Hollen, D-Md., and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., — arrived Saturday to meet with Cuban officials, dissidents and everyday citizens, and hear what they envision normalization to mean in their lives.

After the State of the Union address, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson arrives in Havana to negotiate the reopening of the U.S. Embassy, as well as migration and restoration of full diplomatic relations. She’s the first high-level State Department official to visit the country in three decades.

Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department laid out the dos and do-nots of travel to the island nation.

With the president’s executive order, U.S. airline carriers will be allowed to fly in and out of Cuba, not just as chartered flights.

And individual Americans, not just tour groups, will be able to purchase tickets to come on those flights if they promise their visits are religious, cultural, family or charity based, and not just a beach romp.

In Cuba, the atmosphere is upbeat. While everyone is skeptical that real change will happen fast, they are nevertheless surprised at the progress.

And while change in Congress may not happen overnight, the congressional delegation also remains hopeful.

“I think we can put 50 years of cold war behind us in Cuba and move forward in a better way to make the relationship stronger,” Durbin told ABC News.

“It’s not going to happen quickly,” he said. “I don’t believe it will. It takes some time. But I believe when we start testing this issue. In the Senate for example, with votes we are going to find members coming forward on both sides. There was a time not that many years ago when 60-plus members of the Senate, in both political parties, said let’s expand agricultural trade with Cuba. Even in the depths of the embargo and blockade.”

“So there is openness to ideas,” he added. “And I think those ideas will build a consensus.”

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Obama to Tell Congress Lifting Cuba Embargo Is Right Thing to Do

Serena Marshall/ABC News(WASHINGTON) — President Obama will tell members of Congress at Tuesday night’s State of the Union he has done all he can do to normalize relations with Cuba and only they can lift the 50-year-old embargo, sources tell ABC news.

The president will say it’s the right thing to do and will make his case again to the American people that the embargo is failed policy and it’s time to engage Cuba.

He will not explicitly tell Congress to lift the embargo, but instead will use the time and pulpit to sell his idea that opening full diplomatic relations with the island nation is in America’s national interest and will help Cubans move toward more freedoms.

In the audience, sitting with first lady Michelle Obama, will be Alan Gross, the 65-year-old government contractor who was held prisoner in Cuba for five years. He endorses normalization.

It’s a big week in Cuba, as a new era in U.S.-Cuba relations begins.

The first congressional delegation since the announcement last month of Gross’ release reset relations between the two countries met with Cuban officials on Monday to discuss the next steps.

“Fifty-four years of policy was changed overnight,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said, referring to Obama’s executive order at a news conference capping off their visit. “It was remarkable and I believe, long overdue event, but what we did on this trip was meet with people from agriculture to technology, to Cuban arts, to Cardinal Ortega who had worked with me and others to facilitate the Vatican discussion with Pope Francis and President Obama.”

“And we wanted to become more knowledgeable but we had to all almost keep saying to ourselves. It’s [only] been one month,” Leahy added.

Sen. Dick Durban, D-Ill., one of six congressional delegates who came to Cuba this week, said, “We are moving to a new era. It is a dramatic development and it’s more than opening trade and travel between the United States and Cuba; it’s the question of opening up a relationship and the exchange of ideas. Any of us believe that ideas are compelling, compelling when they come to basic human values and human rights.”

“Opening up Cuba and opening up a relationship with the united states gives us a chance to move forward in this hemisphere,” he added.

Leahy and Durbin — along with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Rep Christopher Van Hollen, D-Md., and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., — arrived Saturday to meet with Cuban officials, dissidents and everyday citizens, and hear what they envision normalization to mean in their lives.

After the State of the Union address, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson arrives in Havana to negotiate the reopening of the U.S. Embassy, as well as migration and restoration of full diplomatic relations. She’s the first high-level State Department official to visit the country in three decades.

Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department laid out the dos and do-nots of travel to the island nation.

With the president’s executive order, U.S. airline carriers will be allowed to fly in and out of Cuba, not just as chartered flights.

And individual Americans, not just tour groups, will be able to purchase tickets to come on those flights if they promise their visits are religious, cultural, family or charity based, and not just a beach romp.

In Cuba, the atmosphere is upbeat. While everyone is skeptical that real change will happen fast, they are nevertheless surprised at the progress.

And while change in Congress may not happen overnight, the congressional delegation also remains hopeful.

“I think we can put 50 years of cold war behind us in Cuba and move forward in a better way to make the relationship stronger,” Durbin told ABC News.

“It’s not going to happen quickly,” he said. “I don’t believe it will. It takes some time. But I believe when we start testing this issue. In the Senate for example, with votes we are going to find members coming forward on both sides. There was a time not that many years ago when 60-plus members of the Senate, in both political parties, said let’s expand agricultural trade with Cuba. Even in the depths of the embargo and blockade.”

“So there is openness to ideas,” he added. “And I think those ideas will build a consensus.”

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Pool of 9,000 Prospective Jurors in Colorado Rampage Trial

Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office(DENVER) — Jury selection will begin Tuesday for the trial of James Holmes, accused in a 2012 rampage inside a packed Colorado movie theater.

The search is on for an impartial jury to decide the fate of Holmes, who’s charged with killing 12 people and injuring 70 others in the Aurora movie theater attack. Twelve jurors and 12 alternates will be chosen from a pool of 9,000.

Prosecutors want Holmes, now 27, to face the death penalty.

Holmes admits he committed the July 20, 2012, attack at the Century movie theater, but says he was having a “psychotic episode,” pleading guilty by reason of insanity.

MaryEllen Hansen’s niece, Ashley Moser, was paralyzed and suffered a miscarriage in the shooting, and her daughter Veronica, 6, died. Hansen believes a plea deal would spare survivors and families from an ordeal that could drag out for years.

“I would like to see him locked up with no possibility of parole, ever,” Hansen said. “He did monstrous things. Therefore, he is a monster.”

Holmes’ parents, Robert and Arlene Holmes, released a statement in December pleading for their son’s life.

“He is not a monster,” the statement reads. “He is a human being gripped by severe mental illness.”

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ISIS Threatens Japanese Hostages in New Video

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Two men kneel in orange jumpsuits in the desert as a black-clad figure speaks to the camera, waving a knife and threatening their lives, demanding an astronomical sum of money in return for their freedom.

It’s a setup that Westerners are familiar with since the on-camera executions of several American and British journalists and aid workers at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but this is the first video of its kind in weeks and this time it’s two Japanese men who are threatened.

The man in black, who appears to be the same man from previous gruesome videos, addresses the Japanese people, saying, “Just as how your government has made the foolish decision to pay $200 million to fight the Islamic State [ISIS], you now have 72 hours to pressure your government in making a wise decision, by paying that $200 million to save the lives of your citizens.”

Last year ISIS released a video of what their fighters claimed was a captured Japanese “spy,” who had been beaten and bloodied.

The Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, spoke about the video just hours after it appeared online, saying that his country would not give in to terrorism and that the country would do their best to protect its captured citizens.

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Watch Out, Spanx: “Shark Tank” Shapewear Business on the Rise

Courtesy Susie Sutton(NEW YORK) — The hot pants boosted by the first joint investment by two female Shark Tank investors are selling like never before since appearing on the ABC show.

With a line of tops, leggings and capris, the company’s trademarked tagline is: “‘Cause a girl has a right to look tight.”

“We call ourselves ‘shapewear redefined,’ a fashion trouser with fully integrated shapewear liner from the waist to below the calf,” co-founder Jenny Greer, 43, told ABC News.

Shapewear has increasingly become a huge business, with companies like Spanx making billions of dollars.

The Georgia-based company Hold Your Haunches first appeared on Shark Tank in April. Founders Greer and Erin Bickley, 46, of Macon, Georgia, received a $75,000 investment from “sharks” Barbara Corcoran and Lori Greiner.

In the year leading up to that episode, the company earned $165,000 in sales. Six months after Shark Tank, the company had $1.5 million in sales.

After co-founders Bickley and Greer appeared on Shark Tank again this past Friday night for an update, the company reported that it had sold another 1,900 pairs of pants, making $280,000 just over the weekend.

“We were told by Barbara, because we aired and had a re-run it was explosive — she told us not to expect the same reaction, because it was so short and it doesn’t describe what the product is,” Bickley, formerly a part-time floral and interior designer, told ABC News. “We never know what to expect because we have been pleasantly surprised.”

The stay-at-home moms came up with the idea in 2010, then built various prototypes before selling their first pair online in November of that year.

Their price range is $120 to $149 and about 80 percent of their sales come from their website, while the rest is sold in high-end boutiques across the country.

“We have employees who help us with things out of our wheelhouse, but we love having that relationship with our customers directly,” Bickley said, using social media like their Facebook page.

Next up their sleeves are “On Top by HYH” long-sleeve and tank tops.

The pair said they are enjoying the “Shark Tank effect” on their business.

“Since we aired in April, we are constantly being surprised by the growth,” Bickley said. “[Barbara and Lori] both will offer any advice or answer any questions. They will do anything we need them to, but we haven’t asked for a whole lot. They are going to continue helping us build the brand. And I guess people need to know how accessible they really are. I think it’s exciting for people to know — we can only speak for ours — after they’ve done a deal, they are in our cell phones and email.”

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Trove of 130K Air Force UFO Documents Available Online

UFO enthusiast John Greenewald posted the entire collection of 130,000 Air Force UFO documents for the first time last week on his site The Black Vault. ABC News photo.(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Air Force’s nearly 130,000 pages of UFO records have hit the Internet.

There are countless bizarre sightings, hundreds with no explanation, and they are now easy to find online thanks to UFO enthusiast John Greenewald, who posted the entire collection for the first time last week on his site The Black Vault.

“There’s absolutely something out there,” he told ABC News. “The big question mark is: ‘Have they come here?’”

Greenewald spent 20 years requesting and then collecting, collating and studying the documents. Though the papers had been declassified years ago, they were not easily accessible by the public.

After the infamous alleged alien landing in Roswell, New Mexico, in July 1947, the U.S. Air Force investigated 12,618 sightings from 1947 to 1969.

The cases were known as Project Blue Book and made up the bulk of Greenewald’s document dump.

“The military and the government want you to believe there’s nothing to this topic,” he said.

Most sightings were, in fact, debunked — including a sighting in 1965 at the World’s Fair later that was called “a photographic anomaly” — but 701 cases remain not fully explained in the papers.

Those cases include numerous sightings over Washington, D.C., in 1952.

“They really couldn’t, at the end of the day, explain some of these more important cases,” Greenewald said.

In 1969, the government announced it was no longer interested in pursuing the cases, saying that they’d found “no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as ‘unidentified’ are extraterrestrial vehicles.”

But Greenewald said he’d never bought into the U.S. decision.

“When I look at the documentation, I’m a believer, based on that,” he said. “I believe the documentation proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a cover-up going on.”

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Trove of 130K Air Force UFO Documents Available Online

UFO enthusiast John Greenewald posted the entire collection of 130,000 Air Force UFO documents for the first time last week on his site The Black Vault. ABC News photo.(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Air Force’s nearly 130,000 pages of UFO records have hit the Internet.

There are countless bizarre sightings, hundreds with no explanation, and they are now easy to find online thanks to UFO enthusiast John Greenewald, who posted the entire collection for the first time last week on his site The Black Vault.

“There’s absolutely something out there,” he told ABC News. “The big question mark is: ‘Have they come here?’”

Greenewald spent 20 years requesting and then collecting, collating and studying the documents. Though the papers had been declassified years ago, they were not easily accessible by the public.

After the infamous alleged alien landing in Roswell, New Mexico, in July 1947, the U.S. Air Force investigated 12,618 sightings from 1947 to 1969.

The cases were known as Project Blue Book and made up the bulk of Greenewald’s document dump.

“The military and the government want you to believe there’s nothing to this topic,” he said.

Most sightings were, in fact, debunked — including a sighting in 1965 at the World’s Fair later that was called “a photographic anomaly” — but 701 cases remain not fully explained in the papers.

Those cases include numerous sightings over Washington, D.C., in 1952.

“They really couldn’t, at the end of the day, explain some of these more important cases,” Greenewald said.

In 1969, the government announced it was no longer interested in pursuing the cases, saying that they’d found “no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as ‘unidentified’ are extraterrestrial vehicles.”

But Greenewald said he’d never bought into the U.S. decision.

“When I look at the documentation, I’m a believer, based on that,” he said. “I believe the documentation proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a cover-up going on.”

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Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

Trove of 130K Air Force UFO Documents Available Online

UFO enthusiast John Greenewald posted the entire collection of 130,000 Air Force UFO documents for the first time last week on his site The Black Vault. ABC News photo.(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Air Force’s nearly 130,000 pages of UFO records have hit the Internet.

There are countless bizarre sightings, hundreds with no explanation, and they are now easy to find online thanks to UFO enthusiast John Greenewald, who posted the entire collection for the first time last week on his site The Black Vault.

“There’s absolutely something out there,” he told ABC News. “The big question mark is: ‘Have they come here?’”

Greenewald spent 20 years requesting and then collecting, collating and studying the documents. Though the papers had been declassified years ago, they were not easily accessible by the public.

After the infamous alleged alien landing in Roswell, New Mexico, in July 1947, the U.S. Air Force investigated 12,618 sightings from 1947 to 1969.

The cases were known as Project Blue Book and made up the bulk of Greenewald’s document dump.

“The military and the government want you to believe there’s nothing to this topic,” he said.

Most sightings were, in fact, debunked — including a sighting in 1965 at the World’s Fair later that was called “a photographic anomaly” — but 701 cases remain not fully explained in the papers.

Those cases include numerous sightings over Washington, D.C., in 1952.

“They really couldn’t, at the end of the day, explain some of these more important cases,” Greenewald said.

In 1969, the government announced it was no longer interested in pursuing the cases, saying that they’d found “no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as ‘unidentified’ are extraterrestrial vehicles.”

But Greenewald said he’d never bought into the U.S. decision.

“When I look at the documentation, I’m a believer, based on that,” he said. “I believe the documentation proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a cover-up going on.”

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NASA Probe Gets Up-Close and Personal with Dwarf Planet Ceres

IDA/DLR/MPS/UCLA/JPL-Caltech/NASA(NEW YORK) — NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is closing in on the dwarf planet Ceres, and the space agency Monday released new photos showing what the gigantic cosmic mass looks like up close.

Ceres, the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, has an average diameter of 590 miles. The images are relatively grainy compared to the power of the Hubble Telescope, but even so, they’ll be used to help guide Dawn closer to the dwarf planet.

The photos, which were taken Jan. 13 but released Monday, show Dawn’s view of Ceres from a distance of 238,000 miles, according to NASA.

The space agency said the images will continue to improve as Dawn draws closer to Ceres, with the eventual goal of placing the satellite in orbit on March 6. It will be the first time the spacecraft has visited a dwarf planet.

The mission is expected to continue for 16 months as researchers analyze data about Ceres, which is thought to be icy and possibly feature an ocean. Researchers said the current images already show what appear to be craters — something they’re eager to get a closer look at as Dawn edges toward its destination.

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NASA Probe Gets Up-Close and Personal with Dwarf Planet Ceres

IDA/DLR/MPS/UCLA/JPL-Caltech/NASA(NEW YORK) — NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is closing in on the dwarf planet Ceres, and the space agency Monday released new photos showing what the gigantic cosmic mass looks like up close.

Ceres, the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, has an average diameter of 590 miles. The images are relatively grainy compared to the power of the Hubble Telescope, but even so, they’ll be used to help guide Dawn closer to the dwarf planet.

The photos, which were taken Jan. 13 but released Monday, show Dawn’s view of Ceres from a distance of 238,000 miles, according to NASA.

The space agency said the images will continue to improve as Dawn draws closer to Ceres, with the eventual goal of placing the satellite in orbit on March 6. It will be the first time the spacecraft has visited a dwarf planet.

The mission is expected to continue for 16 months as researchers analyze data about Ceres, which is thought to be icy and possibly feature an ocean. Researchers said the current images already show what appear to be craters — something they’re eager to get a closer look at as Dawn edges toward its destination.

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