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Travelers wait to check in for charter flights from Miami to Havana at Miami...
Miami businesses expect an upsurge in trade and travel to Cuba under new rules, but travel for tourism is still prohibited and the island has only a limited number of hotel rooms.

New rules that went into effect on Friday mark the biggest change in U.S. relations with Cuba in more than 50 years.

While tourism remains off-limits, the Obama administration opened new opportunities in Cuba for banks, airlines, telecommunications companies and regular Americans.

For the first time in decades, under the new rules, Americans who don't have family on the island can travel to Cuba without receiving special permission from the U.S. government.

No Tourists Allowed — Yet

Currently, a dozen flights a day leave Miami International Airport for Havana and other Cuban cities. Most passengers are Cuban-Americans and Cubans returning home after visiting relatives — usually carrying bundles of goods that are hard to find on the island.

"We're having hundreds of calls to all of our offices," says Armando Garcia of Marazul Charters in Miami.

There are caveats: Americans can't travel to the island for tourism, but they will be able to fly to Cuba to take part in performances or sporting events, as well as religious, educational and humanitarian activities.

Another major change: U.S. airlines will now be allowed to offer regularly scheduled flights to Cuba, although they'll first have to negotiate with the Cuban government for landing rights and gate space. Garcia says the question now is how many U.S. visitors Cuba — a country with just 35,000 hotel rooms — will be able to accommodate.

"They have limited hotel space for large demand," he says. "So in that case, if they don't have that kind of possibilities, they will have to limit, in a way, certain kind of trips."

Trading With 'Terrorists'

Under the new rules, U.S. companies can ship building materials and equipment to private entrepreneurs in Cuba, a relaxation likely to give a big boost to the island's tourism sector. The rules permit U.S. banks to establish relationships with financial institutions in Cuba and allow Americans, for the first time, to use their credit cards there.

But Peter Quinter, head of the International trade law group at Gray Robinson, points out that Cuba is still on the State Department's list of countries that support terrorism.

"Right now, because of that listing of Cuba as a terrorist organization, technically there's an argument that banks should not or cannot do business in Cuba," Quinter says. "So we'll see how this all works out."

President Obama has asked the State Department to look at whether Cuba should be taken off the list, but that decision is thought to be months away. In the meantime, the embargo on trade with Cuba remains in place, and Congress appears unlikely to lift it soon.

An Opening Door

Even so, Florida businessman John Parke Wright says the relaxed travel rules are a big deal.

"This opens the door," Parke Wright says. "There's no one in Washington, I don't care what political persuasion they might happen to be, that's going to stop this train."

Parke Wright is a member of a prominent family in Florida, the Lykes, which has traded with Cuba since the 1850s. The Lykes had a 15,000-acre cattle ranch on the island before the revolution. Parke Wright says Cuba used to be a great beef producer, but not now.

"There's no milk and there's no beef," he says. "That can be changed very quickly, with Florida and Texas agriculture."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

It's happened enough that it's a thing: A stellar actor is awarded for a not-so-stellar role. Many feel it happened again this week with the Oscar nominations.

"The right actors win Oscars, but for the wrong roles," Katherine Hepburn once said.

The Motion Picture Academy has a history of rewarding stars for less-than-celestial performances, and this week's Oscar nomination announcements left a lot of people scratching their heads — over the snubs for Selma, for example, and the nomination of Robert Duvall for best supporting actor in The Judge.

"I think most people hadn't even heard of The Judge before that nomination," says Alyssa Rosenberg, culture columnist for The Washington Post.

Rosenberg says most critics were not impressed by the movie, about a judge who is aging, cranky and hates his new dependence on his criminal-lawyer son.

To be clear, Rosenberg loves Duvall.

"He is wonderful," she says. "But it's not a particularly notable performance. It's weird. It's like they woke up and said, 'You know who hasn't seen a statue in some time?' "

Robert Duvall hasn't seen one since 1983 and Tender Mercies. Rosenberg says recognizing actors out of a sense they're overdue is an Academy tradition that goes back to at least 1935.

That was the year Bette Davis won her first Oscar for a thoroughly mediocre movie, Dangerous. The Academy had ignored her incandescent performance the year before as a manipulative waitress in the film, Of Human Bondage.

"It's using the awards to back up and say, 'We know you're good. Really, we know you're good, even if we missed it before,' " Rosenberg says.

That's what happened in 1960, she adds, to a certain violet-eyed 28-year-old, Elizabeth Taylor.

Taylor went unrewarded by the Academy for National Velvet, Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly Last Summer. She won for Butterfield 8, a movie she herself called a stinker. But the actress' third husband had recently died in a plane crash, six months after the birth of their daughter.

"People felt bad for her," Rosenberg says.

Other consolation Oscars might include Denzel Washington's in 2001, for playing a vicious cop in the movie Training Day. Critics preferred Washington in an earlier movie, The Hurricane, not to mention in Malcolm X.

Or Dame Judy Dench, who won not for her layered portrayal of Queen Victoria in the movie Mrs Brown in 1997, but won, instead, the next year. Dench had a sense of humor about accepting her best supporting actress statuette for her eight-minute appearance as Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare In Love.

"Um," she said, "I feel, for eight minutes on the screen, I should only get a little bit of him."

Sometimes it takes a little while for a great performance to sink in. Sometimes the field is too crowded with too many great performances.

The phenomenon goes beyond the Oscars. Playwright Edward Albee did not win the Pulitzer Prize in 1963 for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf because it was seen as too controversial. A few years later, the Pulitzer committee basically backtracked, rewarding Albee for another play, A Delicate Balance.

Far better, says Rosenberg, if the cultural horse races that are awards shows were guided not by sentimentality or nostalgia, but singularity and guts.

"If you want people to take your awards ceremony seriously as an arbiter of artistic quality, these are strange decisions," she says.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Provo, Utah, is one of three cities in which Google is rolling out its Googl...
Some U.S. cities are bypassing private Internet providers and creating their own, faster networks. But laws in 19 states impede those efforts, and some cities want the FCC to get involved.

Americans increasingly see decently fast Internet as more like a functioning sewer line than a luxury.

And a number of cities are trying to get into the Internet provider business, but laws in 19 states hamper those efforts. President Obama announced this week that he wants to lift those restrictions, and supporters of what is known as municipal broadband can't wait.

During a speech in Cedar Falls, Iowa, the president presented a plan promoting high-speed Internet for the country's more remote cities and towns. The executive director of Next Century Cities, a coalition promoting high-speed Internet, Deb Socia, says dependable high-speed broadband has become a social justice issue.

"This is about people, and people in communities who need resources for businesses, for e-government, for participatory democracy, for health care, for transportation, for education," she says. "Everything we do is related to our access to technology."

Anyone who's waited for a page to load or a stalled movie to resume wants faster Internet. But the major Internet service providers don't face much competition in many places, so they're not that motivated to upgrade. Faced with that, some towns have gotten into the Internet service business themselves.

"They started their municipal electric utility over a century ago, long before we had computers and toasters and microwave ovens, on the faith that this electricity thing was going to be important to the local economy," says Mikel Kline, who works for a municipal broadband company in Chanute, Kan. "Well today, the city fathers have that same vision about this broadband network."

Chanute's broadband network runs about 100 times faster than typical American Internet. Kline says it's given his remote Kansas town one of the fastest growing junior colleges in the country, and connected its hospital to distant specialists.

Kline, who's an engineer, says all of this was feasible because Chanute already ran its own electric utility.

"They already have line workers, they already have utility poles, the rights of way. The infrastructure is largely in place," he says.

But the cable industry has a warning for towns that don't have that ready-made infrastructure, says Brian Dietz of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

He says there have been "several examples where government-run networks have failed because they aren't able to compete effectively with private-run networks."

Dietz points to Provo, Utah, which spent more than $39 million building a fiber network. The system lost money, and the city wound up selling it to Google for $1. Dietz says Internet service providers have invested more than $230 billion nationwide building networks.

They've also been pretty successful at convincing state legislators that taxpayer-funded municipal broadband is a bad idea. Nineteen states now prohibit or at least discourage public involvement in the broadband business.

"We've got the largest city-wide, robust, gigabit network in the country," says Ken Hays, who works with the gigabit network serving Chattanooga, Tenn.

The city built it on its publicly owned electric utility, just like in Chanute. Chattanooga wants to expand service to outlying areas, where Internet speeds plunge, but it ran into one of those prohibitive state laws.

"Our electric utility actually petitioned the [Federal Communications Commission], along with Wilson, N.C., to ask the FCC to use their authority to override the legislatures," Hays says.

That's what Obama wants in all 19 states, but Internet service providers and some Republican members of Congress say the FCC has no authority to meddle in the way states regulate the Internet.

Copyright 2015 KCUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.kcur.org/.