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NEED TO KNOW:
For more than half a century, Cuba has been America's enemy. Diplomacy between the two governments was nonexistent. Relations were marked by distrust, fear, aggression, embargoes, and “crazy assassination plots.” Well, sorry, but those exciting days are now all over.
Today, Secretary of State John Kerry — the first US Secretary of State to visit Cuba in 70 years — will witness the raising of the American flag over the newly opened US Embassy in Havana. It's the final step in a process that began in December when US President Barack Obama announced that Cuba and the United States would work toward normalizing ties.
The day will be dripping with symbolism. The very same Marines who lowered the American flag in Havana 54 years ago will be there today to see it raised again. Outside the embassy there are no protests, no threatening gestures. There are only lines of Cubans, waiting to apply for visas to visit the United States.
And thus brings an end to one of the last remnants of the Cold War. The US broke off ties with Cuba in 1961 largely because the country aligned itself with the Soviet Union. Re-establishing ties with Cuba will go down as one of Obama's most important foreign policy moves.
Like Cuba, Iran has for decades also been one of America's classic enemies. There was a time when the villain in any Hollywood movie was likely to be either Cuban or Iranian. Kerry and Obama are close to improving ties with Iran now, as well. Kerry brokered a deal that could potentially be the start of a whole new era of cooperation between the two countries.
The Iran deal has to get past a skeptical Congress first, though. But if it does, or if Obama forces it through with a veto, he will have ushered forth two major — world-changing, even — diplomatic achievements during his tenure as president.
WANT TO KNOW:
That huge blast at a toxic chemicals warehouse in Tianjin, China on Wednesday is still burning. Firefighters are still beating back the flames. At least 56 people have died from the explosion and more than 720 have been injured. Many of the dead are firefighters.
Once the fires die down, concerns will shift to the dangers of the industrial chemicals and combustible materials the warehouse was holding, and what effect they might have on the health of locals. Tianjin is a major economic hub. It's a city of 14 million people.
The Chinese government, meanwhile, is not helping things. It has remained largely quiet about what happened. And what little it has said has only stoked fears. For example, one Chinese official admitted that the government doesn't really know what specific chemicals the warehouse was storing. That's making residents nearby a little nervous.
China's impressive economic rise over the last few decades has come at a price. The explosion in Tianjin is just one example. Another is the country's air pollution problem. A new scientific study says that 1.6 million people in China are dying every year from air pollution. Most of that pollution comes from industrial cities like Tianjin.
STRANGE BUT TRUE:
A German newspaper, albeit a sensationalist one, thought Russia was about to invade. So it ran a headline saying essentially that. It also ran what it said was photographic evidence.
The newspaper obtained pictures of Russian missiles with the words “To Berlin” written on the side. The missile was affixed to a Russian naval plane at a base in the Baltic Sea just 300 miles from Berlin.
Quick history lesson: The phrase “To Berlin” is actually an old rallying cry Soviet forces used during World War II when they chased the Nazis back to Germany. While fears that Russian might invade another country are not without merit these days, it's more likely the slogan was just a bit of naval humor.