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President Obama is reversing a US policy established before he was born, beginning to normalize ties with Communist Cuba. We hear what it might — or might not — mean in Cuba itself, and in the western hemisphere.

Also, President Obama faces the press, and Stephen Colbert moves on — with Santa Clause, Abraham Lincoln and Alex Trebek.

Photo: Krestavilis

Obama Faces the Press 6 MIN, 30 SEC

On his way to a Christmas break in Hawaii, President Obama held his end-of-the-year press conference today.

Michael Crowley is senior foreign affairs correspondent for Politico.

Michael Crowley, Politico (@MichaelCrowley)

Washington Opens Ties with Havana 36 MIN, 23 SEC

President Obama says isolation and punishment have not forced Communist Cuba to change, so he’s reversing 50 years of diplomatic policy.  He said the US will end its isolation of Cuba and begin establishing normal relations by opening an embassy in Havana.

Critics call normalizing relations an "undeserved bailout" of the Castro regime, based on the "illusion" that renewed ties will translate into political freedom.  But supporters say it puts the onus on Cuba itself to further liberalize its economy, allow more dissenting voices and, ultimately, to establish democracy. Will it produce a historic transition or more of the same?

Ted Piccone, Brookings Institution (@piccone_ted)
Carlos Alzugaray, former Cuban diplomat and political analyst (@zuky43)
Jorge Mas, Cuban American National Foundation (@vozdecanf)
Andrew Gomez, 29-year-old Cuban American
Ann Louise Bardach, journalist and author (@albardach)

Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 (Helms-Burton Act)
Florida International University's 2014 Cuba poll
Piccone on the historic move to normalize relations with Cuba

Cuba Confidential

Ann Louise Bardach

Stephen Colbert Returns as Plain Old Stephen Colbert 6 MIN, 39 SEC

With Randy Newman on piano and a cast of almost 100 celebrities -- actors, athletes, newscasters, pundits and political figures -- Stephen Colbert said goodbye to Comedy Central last night. Colbert declared himself "immortal" and jumped on a sleigh with Santa Claus, Abraham Lincoln and Alex Trebek. He'll next be seen as David Letterman's replacement on the CBS Late Show.

Colbert's character is said to be modeled on Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, and the two have maintained an on-camera rivalry.

During the presidential election year, 2012, Colbert started his own Super PAC to give viewers a crash course in the new political finance regime, after the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. He sat down with Ted Koppel to talk about the influence of Super PACs.

James Poniewozik writes about TV for Time magazine.

James Poniewozik, New York Times (@poniewozik)

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