Ever Wanted To Go To Cuba? Starting Today, You Probably Can

Also: Mark Wahlberg asks for a pardon, Rikers Island bans solitary confinement for inmates under 21, and why you might have trouble finding pork at Chipotle.
Amanda Lauren
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Also: Mark Wahlberg asks for a pardon, Rikers Island bans solitary confinement for inmates under 21, and why you might have trouble finding pork at Chipotle.

It’s Friday and if that means you want to take a weekend jaunt to Cuba, for the first time in 50 years, as an American citizen, you can. Plus, remember way back in the day, when Mark Walhberg was Marky Mark (okay, a few years before that) and he was a criminal? Well, now Wahlberg is a big movie star and he wants some racially motivated violent crimes he committed as a teen to be pardoned, but not everyone is so forgiving. Plus, an epic Oscar nomination fail.

There’s also some unfortunate news for fan of Chipotle’s carnitas.

Is anyone planning to travel to Cuba? Do you think Wahlberg deserves to be pardoned so be can open up a Wahlburgers on every block? Chat it up in the comments or tweet me directly (or just follow me) @AmandaLauren

If You Want To Go To Cuba, You Can Just Go There, Starting Today

As of today, the US is officially easing travel restrictions with Cuba and essentially, if you are American and just want to go, you can.

Okay, there are a few little restrictions, sort of. The government will require you to travel to Cuba for any of twelve specific reasons including journalism, family visits, U.S. government business, professional research, religious and educational activities, as well as “support for the Cuban people.” But, you don’t need to obtain a license from the government beforehand. Plus, starting soon, there will be direct flights because the government is not requiring commercial airlines to have an official license to fly there. In previous years, if Americans wanted to travel to Cuba (illegally), they had to fly from another country like Mexico.

Another huge restriction that’s been lifted? Tourists will now be permitted to use credit cards in Cuba. Plus, new laws will also make it easier for financial institutions and telecommunications companies to set up there.

Americans will also be able to purchase up to $400 in souvenirs, including up to $100 in alcohol or tobacco (yay for Cuban cigars). It’s also legal to send up to $2000 every three months to the country, which is a marked increase from the $500 currently permitted.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement on Thursday:

These changes will immediately enable the American people to provide more resources to empower the Cuban population to become less dependent upon the state-driven economy, and help facilitate our growing relationship with the Cuban people. We firmly believe that allowing increased travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba will allow the United States to better advance our interests and improve the lives of ordinary Cubans. The policy of the past has not worked for over 50 years, and we believe that the best way to support our interests and our values is through openness rather than isolation. The United States remains committed to our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a more prosperous Cuba that respects the universal rights of all its citizens.

Not Everyone Is A Big Fan of Mark Wahlberg

If you don’t remember, way back before Mark Wahlberg was Marky Mark, or even a Calvin Klein model, he committed some pretty heinous crimes. Three of them were racially motivated. In 1986, Wahlberg threw at rocks at black school children and called them expletives.

Two years later, when he was 16, Wahlberg beat a Vietnamese man with a stick. According to court documents, this is how it went down:

Wahlberg was carrying a large wooden stick. [He] approached Thanh Lam calling him a "Vietnam fucking shit," then hit him over the head with the stick. Thanh Lam was knocked to the ground unconscious.

But, as he tried to flee the scene, he committed yet another racially motivated violent crime.

Wahlberg ran up to Hoa Trinh, put his arm around Hoa Trinh's shoulder, and said: "Police coming, police coming, let me hide." After a police cruiser passed, Wahlberg punched Trinh in the eye, causing him to fall to the ground.

Wahlberg was charged as an adult, and sentenced to 90 days, but only served 45.

Today, Wahlberg is trying to get a pardon for his crimes because, among other things, he is trying to become an LAPD reserves officer, but also because he has been denied a concessionaire’s license. Without one, he can’t execute his plan of opening up 300 more locations of his successful burger chain, Wahlburgers.

One of his victims, Hoa Trinh, has publicly forgiven the actor, but the prosecutor of his case, 26 years later, recently told the Boston Globe, despite all the good Wahlberg has done, she doesn’t think he deserves to be pardoned:

A public pardon is an extraordinary public act, requiring extraordinary circumstances because it essentially eliminates all effects of having ever been convicted. It is reserved to those who demonstrate “extraordinary contributions to society,” requiring “extensive service to others performed, in part, as a means of restoring community and making amends.” On this, I am not sold.

First, Wahlberg has never acknowledged the racial nature of his crimes. Even his pardon petition describes his serial pattern of racist violence as a “single episode” that took place while he was “under the influence of alcohol and narcotics.” For a community that continues to confront racism and hate crime, we need acknowledgment and leadership, not denial.

Lastly and most importantly, Wahlberg’s status as a “role model to troubled youth” would not be helped by a public pardon, as he claims. In fact, a formal public pardon would highlight all too clearly that if you are white and a movie star, a different standard applies. Is that really what Wahlberg wants?

The state of Massachusetts has not approved a pardon since 2002.

Rikers Island Bans Solitary Confinement For Inmates 21 and Younger

Infamous New York City prison Rikers Island has just banned solitary confinement for inmates 21 years and younger. Rikers is the country’s second-largest jail complex and mistreatment of inmates there has been a hot-button issue there for years. In 2013, Mother Jones declared it one of the ten worst prisons in America.

The city is even being used for the treatment of adolescent inmates. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, is heading up the suit. A report he filed in August stated that young inmates have been locked away for weeks, sometimes even months to over a year and that the use of solitary confinement is “excessive and inappropriate.”

Scientific evidence has shown that solitary confinement can be particularly damaging to adolescents because their brains are still developing and periods of isolation can cause or worsen mental illness.

Mayor deBlasio made an interesting statement regarding this reform:

For years, New York City has locked people up without the provision of adequate programs and treatment to change their thinking and their behavior. We are pursuing evidence-based practices that will lead to a safer and more humane system.

But, not everyone is so happy with this change. Sidney Schwartzbaum, who leads the union that represents assistant deputy wardens, thinks the change puts prison workers in danger:

Eighteen- to 21-year-olds are a very violent group. If we can’t secure them, violence is going to go on unabated. What do we do with a guy who slashes someone’s throat?

The new reform also lowers the maximum amount of time adults can stay in solitary confinement to 30 days from 90.


· People looking to order carnitas at Chipotle are going to have a whole lot of trouble because the healthy(ish) food chain is suspending pork sales at a third of its locations. Why? One of the company’s suppliers didn’t meet the company’s animal welfare standards. A company spokesperson said, “The differences in animal welfare between pigs raised this way and pigs that are conventionally raised [are] stark, and we simply won’t compromise our standards this way.”

· Dick Pope has been nominated for an Oscar in Cinematography category for his work in Mr. Turner. But, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of the academy, wasn’t quite sure how to pronounce his name on the live broadcast, accidently called him “Dick Poop.” And yes, you could hear the audience snicker. However, Isaacs had no problem pronouncing Ryszard Lenczewsk’s name. Pope took the whole thing in stride, telling USA Today, “You know what, I have been called a lot worse in my time. I don't think twice about anything like that. I am happy to be nominated.”

· After shaking things up at the long-running ABC talk show The View, things are changing once again. After only four months on the show, actress Rosie Perez has allegedly been fired. After taking the month of January off to perform in the Broadway show Fish in the Dark, reports are saying she won’t be back. So, why are things not so rosy with Rosie Perez? A source told Variety, she “never got a hang of the show’s mixture of hard and soft news, and she had trouble reading from a TelePrompTer.” Other reports are saying due to chaos behind the scenes with the other Rosie (Rosie O’Donnell), ABC is considering scrapping the show all together.