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March 21, 2016

After President Obama landed in Cuba on Sunday, the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island in 88 years, he and his family walked through Old Havana, dined at a restaurant, and visited the Catholic cathedral. On Monday, Obama gets to work, meeting with Cuban leader Raul Castro at the Palace of the Revolution. It will be the fourth encounter between Obama and Castro, and the longest and most substantial. "That's the future that we hope for: young American children, young Cuban children, by the time they're adults, our hope is that they think it's natural that a U.S. president should be visiting Cuba," Obama told staff at the recently reopened U.S. Embassy on Sunday evening. "They think it's natural that the two peoples are working together."

But it's not clear how far Castro is willing to go, or Obama can go. Castro is expected to press Obama to end the U.S. embargo, something only Congress can do, and Obama says he will push Castro to respect freedom of speech and assembly. "I will raise these issues directly with President Castro," Obama told a dissident group, Ladies in White, in a March 10 letter. Hours before Obama landed, Cuban police broke up a Ladies in White protest, arresting dozens, in a weekly occurrence.

Later Monday, Obama will attend a state dinner in his honor, and on Tuesday he will meet with dissidents, watch a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba's national team, and give a speech carried live on state TV. You can watch Obama walk through raining Old Havana with his family in the AFP video below. Peter Weber

1:56 p.m.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has an ambitious to-do list for 2019, and legalizing recreational marijuana is right at the top.

In a Monday speech revealing his plans for the first 100 days of his new term, Cuomo said he'd push to "legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana." Cuomo had been resistant to legalization as recently as last year, calling weed a "gateway drug," but his new take would put New York in line with 10 other states that have legalized and taxed marijuana, The New York Times notes.

Cuomo acknowledged Monday his view had changed, citing a report compiled by New York's health department in July that showed the "positive effects" of legalization outweigh the negatives. He said current criminalization of marijuana use has "for too long targeted the African American and minority communities," and added that the $1.7 billion in potential marijuana sales could bring in much-needed tax dollars. That revenue could fund education or other public works, or, as some suggest, much-needed repairs to New York City's subway system.

Cuomo's push to change marijuana legislation comes after a Quinnipiac University poll in May showed 63 percent of New Yorkers backed the legalization of recreational marijuana. Neighboring New Jersey has indicated it could legalize weed by January 2019, and Massachusetts took the plunge in 2016.

Also in Monday's speech, Cuomo pledged to make New York carbon neutral by 2040, per CBS News. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:10 p.m.

Two of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's former associates have been hit with indictments.

Bijan Kian and Ekim Alptekin were charged Monday with counts of conspiracy and illegally acting as agents of a foreign government, reports CNN. The Justice Department says they were both involved in a "conspiracy to covertly influence U.S. politicians and public opinion" against Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania whose extradition has been requested by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The two men sought to delegitimize Gulen with the goal of getting him extradited, all while hiding the fact that they were being directed by the government of Turkey, the DOJ says. Flynn's lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group, was used as part of this effort, NBC News reports.

Additionally, Alptekin is charged with four counts of making false statements to the FBI. Documents that have been unsealed as part of this case show that Flynn was working to promote Turkey's agenda even as he was angling for a role in President Trump's administration, per The Washington Post. Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced for lying to the FBI on Tuesday and has previously admitted to lying about participating in lobbying for Turkey, per Politico. Brendan Morrow

1:01 p.m.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is about to start his last two years in the Senate.

The 78-year-old senator announced Monday he would not run for re-election in 2020, seemingly hinting at his retirement. A longtime politician, Alexander served as Tennessee's governor from 1979 to 1987 and as the Secretary of Education before heading to the Senate in 2003.

Alexander thanked "the people of Tennessee" for "electing me to serve more combined years as governor and senator than anyone else from our state," he said in his Monday statement. "But now it is time for someone else to have that privilege," Alexander continued.

Fellow Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker didn't run for re-election in 2018, and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) won his seat. Corker quickly responded to Alexander's news with a statement of his own. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:56 p.m.

Working in big cheese is really starting to stink.

American cheese exports are down drastically this year, largely thanks to Mexico and China issuing dairy tariffs in response to President Trump's trade war. Now, there's a 1.4 billion pound pileup in cold storage facilities across the country as cheddar prices continue to tank, The Wall Street Journal reports.

U.S. cheesemakers are currently sitting on the largest stockpile in recorded history. But it's not because Americans aren't tolerating the lactose, seeing as they "ate a record 37 pounds of natural cheese per capita last year," the Journal says. It's because cheesemakers increased production to meet that higher demand, only to see it sliced amid Trump's trade war. Mexico's intake of American cheese went down by more than 10 percent in the past year after issuing tariffs on cheese and whey, while China's imports fell by 63 percent, per the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

Americans are also largely rejecting traditional American slices in favor of foreign varieties like Gouda and Havarti. Mexican and Chinese buyers would've typically gobbled up the processed slices, but in the face of the trade conflict, that cheese is simply aging away in cold storage. Cheddar prices are down 24 percent this year from 2014 prices, leading producers to worry tariffs "could eat into profits," the Journal writes. Milk prices are also down 40 percent from 2014, and more than 600 dairy farms in Wisconsin have closed this year.

Read more about the cheese crisis at The Wall Street Journal, or answer this poll/trivia question from the Department of Agriculture, who clearly didn't read the cheese-filled room when tweeting. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:06 p.m.

Instagram, not Facebook, may be Russia's most effective tool for spreading propaganda.

A new report prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee shows that posts from the Russian Internet Research Agency, a troll farm, received 187 million interactions on Instagram from 2015 through 2018, and only 77 million interactions on Facebook and 73 million on Twitter, reports Bloomberg.

This suggests Instagram has been a much more significant factor in Russia's attempt to manipulate American politics through social media than previously thought, and the report notes that this is "something that Facebook executives appear to have avoided mentioning in congressional testimony." The researchers also say that Instagram could be "more ideal" for spreading propaganda through memes than other platforms and that it is "likely to be a key battleground on an ongoing basis."

Additionally, the report says that not only did Russian trolls seek to promote President Trump's campaign and damage Hillary Clinton's, but the "most prolific IRA efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted black American communities," The New York Times reports. While the Russian troll farm targeted some other specific groups with a handful of accounts and pages, "the black community was targeted extensively with dozens," researchers conclude. On Facebook, for instance, among 81 Facebook pages the IRA created, 30 targeted black Americans. Efforts to encourage people to skip voting or vote against Clinton targeted both black Americans and supporters of Clinton's primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Read more at The New York Times. Brendan Morrow

11:32 a.m.

Just four in 10 Americans — 38 percent — said they'd vote re-elect President Trump in new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll results published Monday.

But those numbers sound like good news for the president with a little historical context, NBC reports: They're quite close to the support former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama pulled after their party suffered midterm defeats in 1994 and 2010, respectively. Both went on to win re-election handily.

Still, the survey found a key difference between Trump's standing now and Obama's position eight years ago. Only 10 percent of respondents said "President Trump has gotten the message from the elections and is making the necessary adjustments" to his governing agenda. Fully 35 percent said the same of Obama in 2010.

Some, but not all, of that difference may be attributed to a larger proportion (31 percent in 2018 to 15 percent in 2010) claiming the midterms were not a message to the president at all. That was Trump's own argument after the midterms; before the election, he said he was on the ballot in a "certain way," but after GOP losses in the House Trump noted he "wasn't on the ballot." Bonnie Kristian

11:23 a.m.

Catholic priests accused of abusing Native people in Alaska weren't just quietly dismissed or transferred to a new location, like so many others across the U.S. and world. They were sent to retire on Gonzaga University's campus, an investigation from Reveal News and the Northwest News Network found.

The Jesuit-owned Cardinal Bea House, nestled right next to Gonzaga's business school, has been home to at least 20 priests accused of sexual misconduct, internal correspondence obtained by Reveal shows. This location, on campus but not officially part of the university, allowed priests to be "monitored" so they didn't abuse more people, a former church leader said.

Of the 20 men who lived at Cardinal Bea House, most were accused of "sexual misconduct that predominantly took place in small, isolated Alaska Native villages and on Indian reservations across the northwest," Reveal writes. One of the worst alleged offenders, Father James Poole, reportedly "abused at least 20 women and girls," impregnating one 16-year-old and abusing another who was just 6, court documents and testimonies show. His conduct "was well-known to his superiors," and he was shuffled from community to community before being forced into retirement, Reveal says.

Poole then ended up on Gonzaga's private college campus, staying there from 2003 until his death in 2015. If he lived "without church oversight, he surely would have abused more people," the Jesuit leader who ordered Poole to live at Cardinal Bea told Reveal. This arrangement allowed aging priests like Poole to receive medical care and be monitored, while simultaneously "protect[ing] the perpetrators from prosecution," Reveal writes.

No abusive priests are known to have lived at Cardinal Bea House after 2016, having mostly been moved to the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, California, Reveal reports. Gonzaga administrators didn't respond to requests for an interview. Read more at Reveal News. Kathryn Krawczyk

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