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Côte d'Ivoire: The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of travel

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Cote d'Ivoire. U.S. citizens who reside in or travel to Cote d'Ivoire should monitor conditions carefully, maintain situational awareness, and pay very close attention to their personal security. Although the security situation significantly improved in 2013, security conditions can change quickly and without warning. This Travel Warning updates U.S. citizens on the current security situation in Cote d'Ivoire, replacing the Travel Warning of November 16, 2012.
In April 2013, municipal and regional elections were held and were generally peaceful; however, there were limited and localized incidents of violence in the days following the election, as results were announced. Local security forces responded to these events, which were quickly resolved.
If you are planning travel to Cote d’Ivoire, particularly to destinations outside of Abidjan, you should review the most recent U.S. Embassy, or your host organization’s, security assessment for your travel destination. The U.S. Embassy does not restrict its personnel’s travel within Abidjan, Grand Bassam, Assine, Yamoussoukro and Bouake; however, travelers are advised to remain alert and exercise the same level of caution that they would in any major city. Mission staff must inform the Regional Security Office (RSO) of official travel to Abidjan’s Abobo and Yopougon neighborhoods and the Banco Forest. RSO notification is required when traveling to the outer regions of Abidjan, Grand Bassam, Assinie, Yamoussoukro and Bouake, in order to assess current security situations.
Crimes, such as muggings, robbery, burglary, and carjacking, pose risks for foreign visitors in Abidjan and around the country. You should take precautions when stopped in heavy traffic or at road blocks due to the threat of assault and/or robbery, and avoid travel outside Abidjan after dark to minimize risk. Additionally, the generally poor road conditions are also a factor in driving after sunset. Local law enforcement authorities have limited capacity to respond to emergencies.
The U.S. Embassy instructs its staff to avoid large gatherings, crowds, demonstrations, and political events. Peaceful demonstrations and/or political events can turn confrontational and possibly become unsafe. You are therefore urged to avoid demonstrations and to exercise caution within the vicinity of demonstrations or political events.
U.S. citizens traveling and residing in Cote d’Ivoire are urged to enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive the most up-to-date security information.

President Obama Slams A Passive Mitt Romney as ‘Reckless’ on Foreign Policy

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President Obama accused Mitt Romney of "wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map" at their final debate Monday night, while Romney took a strikingly sober and subdued approach in response.

Uncorking a half-dozen attacks within minutes as his rival sat across the table in Boca Raton, the president tried to eviscerate Romney on foreign policy. He said the Republican wanted to leave 10,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, had sent mixed signals on withdrawing from Afghanistan and proclaimed America's top enemy to be Russia.

In an obviously rehearsed line, Obama said Romney was peddling "the foreign policy of the 1980s," "the social policy of the 1950s" and "the economic policy of the 1920s."

Romney defended himself in the most measured tones. His only initial swipe was recalling that Obama had told Vladimir Putin that he would have more flexibility in dealing with the Russian leader after the election. And in a not-so-subtle effort to distance himself from the last Republican president, Romney said, "We don't want another Iraq."

This was not the Mitt Romney of the first or second debate. Sounding like a political scientist at times, he had clearly made a calculation that playing it safe and demonstrating world knowledge were sufficient in a race in which many polls are trending his way. He steered clear of anything that might be interpreted as an aggressive call to action.

Romney thus stuck to generalities and platitudes—he would "go after the bad guys," he was worried about a "rising tide of chaos"—without drawing bright lines on what he would do differently than the administration.

In fact, Romney congratulated the president on the killing of Osama bin Laden, said he supported what Obama had done in helping prod Hosni Mubarak from power in Egypt and does not favor military intervention in Syria. He also said he would complete the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan in 2014 and acknowledged that the surge there—Obama's surge—"has been successful."

It was a rope-a-dope strategy in which Romney had his gloves up but left little substantive distance between himself and his rival.

By the half-hour mark, Romney was getting so little traction on foreign policy that he pivoted to the domestic economy and how America is heading on "the road to Greece." Obama followed suit, talking about the need for smaller class sizes.

Even when asked by moderator Bob Schieffer about Obama's charge that his policies were "wrong and reckless," Romney briefly chuckled and said, "I've got a policy for the future." In diplomatic terms, it was as if only one of the contenders had signed a non-aggression pact.

Schieffer essentially let the candidates hijack the debate at times, pushing the conversation toward budgets and business.

Obama set the agenda throughout the evening. On the nuclear threat posed by Iran, the president said sanctions were "crippling their economy" and that Romney has "often talked as if we should take premature military action." Romney engaged in a bit of me-tooism—he called for crippling sanctions five years ago—and said military action would be a "last resort." He rarelh changed expression, as if getting mad, or even annoyed, was against the rules.

Two-thirds of the way into the debate, Romney said Obama had promised to "meet with all world's worst actors" and had conducted an "apology tour." But it was more of a jab than a roundhouse right. And the president parried by calling the apology charge "the biggest whopper" of the campaign.

Just when things were calming down, the president circled back to the mission against Osama, recalling that Romney said it wasn't worth moving "heaven and earth" to get the al-Qaeda leader—and then recalling a girl telling him of her last conversation with her father as the World Trade Center was collapsing. That was a line George W. Bush might have delivered.

It was easy to miss the fact that after a generation of playing defense on national security, the Democrats, at least for now, have the upper hand on the issue.

The challenge for Romney was the actual differences between the two men are slight when it comes to such thorny global issues as Iran and Afghanistan.

The candidates had very different goals heading into Monday night's faceoff. Obama had to defend his four-year record and defuse the inevitable criticism of the administration's handling of the Libya attack. Romney had to present himself as a plausible commander-in-chief in an arena that, given his inexperience, is hardly his greatest strength.

The Boca Raton debate had the potential to be the least influential of the three, in part because of the focus on foreign policy—a decidedly backseat concern in this campaign—and also because of the competition from the baseball playoffs and Monday Night Football. Obama apparently won the debate, but probably did little to change the campaign narrative in the final stretch.

The Daily Beast

Cuba drops restrictions to encourage travel abroad

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50 years ago, the United States nearly invaded Cuba to stop Russians from aiming nuclear bombs at us. Luckily, the Ruskies backed down and left.

This week, though, the Cuban government dropped a bomb of their own. Not literally, of course. They announced traveling out of Cuba will become a little easier starting next year.

Since 1961, Cubans have been required to get an exit visa to travel abroad, plus a letter from the person they'd be visiting. The whole process costs about $350– big money when the average Cuban only earns $460 a month.

Starting January 14th, though, they can skip those fees and just present a valid passport and an entry visa for the country they're visiting. Sounds like President Raul Castro may be loosening up the communist ties a bit.... or maybe not.

Doctors, scientists, military men– anyone really– can still get the kibosh on plans to leave the crocodile island.

"You see– they own your education," explained Peter Garcia, a Cuban-American and owner of El Meson, a Rice Village hot spot for Cuban cuisine for more than 30 years. "We're accustomed to the idea that if you go to school here, your education belongs to you. Well, in Cuba it belongs to the government."

Garcia still has family in Cuba and says this new policy could bring big change, "Cubans will be able to travel abroad and find out how the rest of the world gets along. And they'll bring those ideas back to Cuba, and that's when you'll see change happening."

But if someone does make it off the island, what's to stop them from never going back? "Love of family," Garcia said. "You still have your family members. They're not going to let you leave with all your family."

With these new rules, any chance this could turn into a Cuban Immigration Crisis in the U.S.? "No," said Garcia, "we're not that many. If a few more people leave Cuba, there won't be anyone left."


Romney's Problem With Women

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I'm sitting in what I'm told is one of Long Island's famous diners, digesting breakfast and the second presidential debate. It's always so hard in the first 24 hours to predict how it will play, whether my instincts and observations will be in line with the consensus formed by the American public.

I have a bit of an advantage. I'm a woman, the most highly-coveted demographic for the candidates. We all bring our own filter to these kinds of events. As a white woman who grew up in the American Midwest, I have a kind of built-in perspective.

With that in mind, my first instinct is that Governor Mitt Romney came off as really rude.

In this country, we are taught from a very young age to respect the office of the presidency, even if we don't like the man (or perhaps one day, woman) occupying it. I couldn't help but think Romney missed that day in social studies class.

At one point, he raised his hand to President Barack Obama and basically told him, "Wait your turn." He did it in such a way that made the debate audience literally gasp.

I'm not suggesting that one gesture or attitude in and of itself will cost Romney votes, but it may suggest something about his character to prospective voters. In this country, people vote -- not just for policies -- but the person.

But I believe the bigger consequence of the debate for Romney will be a comment he made about hiring women.

When he was forming his cabinet in Massachusetts, his staff brought him resumes and they were all men, he said. In response, Romney insisted they also find qualified female candidates. And his staff returned with what he described as "binders full of women."

Of course, that is the sound bite most in the U.S. media will be focusing on, simply because it just sounds funny. (It's also becoming the hottest political meme on the internet.)

The more important point is what Romney said next. He talked about his chief of staff, a woman and a mother of young children, who said she couldn't work late because she needed to be home to make dinner for her kids.

Romney then says he agreed that women shouldn't have to work late. Perhaps he thought it made him sound compassionate and understanding, but it seemed to me quite insulting, and a potential setback for women's rights in this country.

Generations of women before me have worked very hard in order to have the right to work in powerful positions in government. Romney didn't say anything about letting the fathers of young children go home early.

There is a discussion to be had in this country about changing our society so that parents -- both male and female -- can work and raise healthy, happy children at the same time.

That wasn't what was being talked about. It appeared to send the message to employers everywhere that if you hire a mother, you'll have to make concessions.

There is something else I should tell you about my "filter."

Full disclosure: I am a feminist. It's become a dirty word of sorts for the younger generation, complicated by spin, conjuring up images of women who hate men and makeup. To me, feminism simply means that women deserve equal pay for equal work. It's the equal work part that the governor seemed to be implying women with children couldn't achieve.

Romney has been gaining ground with women voters in the polls. If my instincts are right, and of course they may not be, his comments on this could cost him.

Most people don't realize this, but it has been 20 years since a woman moderated a presidential debate in this country.

I won't get into what it says that the debate commission gave Candy Crowley the one debate where the rules said she wasn't allowed to ask questions.

She didn't follow the rules and I commend her for that.

The credit though goes to a teenage girl who started an online petition to get a female moderator. I can't help but wonder what that young activist would say about Romney's comments.

Huffington Post

A performance Obama sorely needed

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If the question is who did more to help his ticket, Joe Biden won the vice presidential debate by a mile.

Republican Paul Ryan performed pretty well. He made no major mistakes, and a CNN instant poll of viewers had him winning narrowly, 48 percent to 44 percent. But my assessment of the debate agreed with that of a CBS instant poll of uncommitted voters, who saw Biden as the landslide winner by 50 percent to 31 percent.

Don't just consider the two surveys and call it a draw. If you ask whose prospects of winning the election were boosted Thursday night, President Obama's or Mitt Romney's, the answer is really not debatable. This was a moment the Obama campaign needed badly.

The only reason for such urgency, of course, was the sudden disappearance of Obama's lead in the polls following his awful performance against Romney last week. If the real Obama had shown up in Denver, and not an ill-prepared imposter, the focus here would have been on Ryan: Could he pass the only-a-heartbeat-away test that has given some vice presidential candidates, notably Sarah Palin, such trouble? Instead, this debate was mostly about Biden: Could he stem the Romney-Ryan momentum and dispel the gloom that had settled over the Democratic Party?

Biden succeeded, as evidenced by the fact that the lion's share of post-debate commentary was All About Joe. Critics said he smiled too much, interrupted his opponent too often, came across as too "hot" for a medium that is all about cool. But these complaints only reinforced the fact that Biden was the protagonist of the evening.

I thought Ryan's best moment came at the end, when he gave his closing remarks; they were cogent, polished and well-delivered. It was the only time Biden allowed him to get up a head of steam, and he took advantage.

The worst moment for Ryan came when they were talking about unemployment. Moderator Martha Raddatz asked how and when the jobless rate could be reduced to less than 6 percent. Both men ignored the question. Ryan gave a general answer about economic policy. Biden went on the attack, reminding viewers that Ryan had sent him two letters requesting funds from the 2009 stimulus package for businesses in his home state of Wisconsin – and said the money was needed to create jobs.

According to Republican dogma, the stimulus is supposed to have been a gargantuan waste of money that utterly failed to create jobs. That's what Ryan preached – but not what he practiced. Until Raddatz changed the subject, Ryan looked pretty grim.

Later, during a long exchange about tax policy, Ryan mentioned the Kennedy administration and Biden pounced: "Oh, now you're Jack Kennedy?" It was a perfect echo of Lloyd Bentsen's famous putdown of Dan Quayle during their 1988 debate, and Ryan looked at Biden as if to say, "All right, that was a good one."

Mostly, Biden did the obvious things Obama failed to do. The debate started at 9 p.m.; at 9:24, he made the first of three references to Romney's "47 percent" speech in which he described nearly half of Americans as hopelessly dependent on government and unwilling to "take personal responsibility and care for their lives." Subsequent mentions came at 10:22 and in Biden's closing remarks at 10:30.

Biden pressed Ryan on his plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program. He pressed on Romney's failure to specify what tax deductions and loopholes he plans to eliminate to replace the revenue that would be lost if he succeeds in cutting income tax rates by 20 percent. Would the deduction for mortgage interest would have to go, or perhaps the deduction for health care expenses? Ryan resolutely – and embarrassingly – refused to answer.

Biden challenged Ryan on all his tough talk about foreign policy and the Obama administration's alleged weakness. What would he and Romney do differently about Syria? What would they do differently about Iran? About Afghanistan? Ryan tried to bob and weave, but he came close to acknowledging the truth: Romney would do essentially what Obama is doing.

As I said, these are pretty obvious lines of attack. Biden didn't do anything fancy. But I think his performance will be enough to snap Democrats out of their funk – for now, at least.

At this debate, the real Biden showed up. At the next, on Tuesday at Hofstra University on Long Island, the real Obama had better do the same.

The Washington Post