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A New Era In a move that could possibly be the beginning of opening new lines of communication and opportunities between the United States and Cuba, 10 members of Congress — led by Reps. William Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), co-chairmen of the Cuba Working Group, a bipartisan caucus that opposes U.S. sanctions against Cuba — traveled to the island last month to discuss the possibility of a change in the decades-old Cuban embargo, especially now that power may be shifting from longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who is reportedly very ill, to his younger brother, Defense Minister Ra�l Castro. Flake and Delahunt, who is set to become chairman of the oversight and investigations panel of the House Committee on International Relations, support lifting U.S. travel sanctions and the trade embargo. Washington policy groups such as the Cuban American Alliance Education Fund, the Latin America Working Group, the Washington Office on Latin America, and the Center for International Policy are urging Congress to “restore the right of all Americans to travel to Cuba in 2007.” — Osita Iroegbu
Game On The private equity community needs lobbyists and will take anyone, including those who lobby on behalf of the video game industry. Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association, the lobby arm of the U.S. video game industry, has been tapped to head Private Equity Council, a new group composed of private equity firms. Lowenstein, who declined to comment, will begin work in February. Members of the group include Apollo Management, Bain Capital, the Blackstone Group, the Carlyle Group, Hellman & Friedman, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., Madison Dearborn Partners, Providence Equity Partners, Silver Lake Partners, the Texas Pacific Group, and Thomas H. Lee Partners. — Joe Crea
Competitive Edge The Republican-heavy National Association of Manufacturers laid out its 2007 agenda in late December. Although some of the goals were predictable — the expansion and development of alternative fossil and bio fuels, for example — others sounded more like a list of Republican pipe dreams: free trade, lower tax rates, and tort reform. Unveiling the agenda at a recent press conference, NAM president and former Republican governor of Michigan John Engler said the government must continue with pro-growth tax policies and engage in legal reform. “Our competitors don’t care who controls Congress,” he said of the new Democratic majorities. — Joe Crea
New Hires Eric Dell, former chief of staff to Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), has joined the firm Valis Keelen & Associates. Mark Harris, former executive vice chair of Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania, is now national director of Students for Saving Social Security. And the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has a new compliance director, Kevin Broghamer, formerly of Rep. Geoff Davis’ (R-Ky.) 2006 re-election campaign. — Joe Crea
• AFTER DARK • Luck Be a Lobby As the final seconds of 2006 expired, many resolute and optimistic folks envisioned a brighter 2007. Some, however, didn’t stop at resolutions. They turned to superstition. Call it lobbying fate itself. For instance, some diligently washed every article of clothing in their homes before New Year’s Day to avoid having dirty laundry when the year began, and others refrained from doing laundry altogether on New Year’s because it’s bad luck. Regardless of the tradition, a great portion of New Year’s superstitions practiced in Western society deal with having good luck in the right places — love and money. Kissing at midnight is a tradition widely practiced among many drunken partygoers at countdowns nationwide. Although most are simply celebrating, some are purposely mashing faces as a way of guaranteeing continued ties to the person they are pressing their lips against. New Year’s superstitions aimed at manipulating Cupid’s arrow are as varied as the people that believe in them. Take the “first footing” myth as an example. This superstition, which originated in Scotland, asserts that the direction of a woman’s new year is predicated on who first enters her doorway after the stroke of midnight. There are several variations to this myth that link one’s luck to the aesthetics of the incoming gentleman, but all the beliefs hold that to ensure her good luck, the first person entering a woman’s home should be a man. If another woman enters the doorway before a man, the victim can count on bad luck in the romance department for the coming year. That makes a lot of doors around the world closed to other women for the first 24 hours of the year. In a capitalist society such as the United States, money is naturally an area everybody tries to pepper with some fortune. A practice common in the South that has since spread elsewhere is eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. Supposedly, eating the legume will attract not only good luck but some good cold cash. “The first week of January, supermarket shelves are completely wiped out of black-eyed peas,” says Van Woods, president of Sylvia Woods Food Co., which manufactures Sylvia’s Fancy Black-Eyed Peas. According to other popular New Year’s superstitions, stocking your bank account and refrigerator prior to the beginning of the year is recommended because having no money or groceries is a sign of the year to come. The same can be said for debts and loans: Pay off all your bills and stay away from giving or receiving loans on New Year’s. Contrary to the plans of those who fought sleep and sobriety as the sun peeked over the horizon, some believe that waking early on New Year’s Day will ensure a profitable year at work. It’s not clear whether that works if you never go to sleep. — Michael Martin
• HEARD ON THE STREET • • “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” — President Gerald R. Ford, who died Dec. 27 at age 93 • “Your unity stands against falling into servitude. Do not let them [invaders] divide you. . . . Long live jihad and the mujahdeen against the invaders.” — Saddam Hussein, in a handwritten letter to the people of Iraq • “Hair is the first thing. And teeth the second. Hair and teeth. A man got those two things, he’s got it all.” — James Brown, who died Christmas morning at age 73

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