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U.S. President Barack Obama Makes Last Foreign Trip of his Presidency

Trump has repeatedly spoken against international agreements reached during Obama's presidency

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President Barack Obama back from vacation (representational image) VOA

November 15, 2016: U.S. President Barack Obama departs Monday on the final planned foreign trip of his presidency, and his advisors expect President-elect Donald Trump will be a primary topic of discussion with other leaders.

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said the itinerary with stops in Greece, Germany and Peru is a signal of solidarity to the country’s closest allies and a way to show “support for a strong and integrated and united Europe.”

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The only major planned speech is in Greece, on Wednesday, addressing work that remains to tackle economic challenges there and elsewhere in the world while promoting inclusive growth and combating inequality.

Rhodes said Obama will also, in talks with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, express support for what the Greek people have gone through in response to their economic crisis that brought international bailouts and strict requirements for cutting spending and public services.

FILE - German Chancellor Angela Merkel listens to Chinese President Xi Jinping's speech during the opening ceremony of the G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou, Sept. 4, 2016. VOA
FILE – German Chancellor Angela Merkel listens to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech during the opening ceremony of the G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou, Sept. 4, 2016. VOA

Berlin leg

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosts Obama for talks Thursday. Rhodes highlighted the importance of the relationship, calling Merkel “the president’s closest partner over the course of his entire presidency.”

The leaders of Britain, France, Italy and Spain will also be in Berlin for meetings Friday that are expected to include the ongoing fight against Islamic State, issues related to migration, the situation in Ukraine, and last week’s U.S. election.

Trump has repeatedly spoken against international agreements reached during Obama’s presidency, including the deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program, the international climate deal that went into effect last month and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that has not cleared the U.S. Congress. He also defeated Obama’s fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton.

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FILE - White House Deputy National Security advisor Ben Rhodes speaks to reporters during a press briefing, Aug. 22, 2014, in Edgartown, Massachusetts. VOA
FILE – White House Deputy National Security advisor Ben Rhodes speaks to reporters during a press briefing, Aug. 22, 2014, in Edgartown, Massachusetts. VOA

Ongoing issues

Rhodes said to reporters in previewing the trip that no matter the outcome of the election, Obama and the rest of his administration have a stake in seeing the next one succeed, and that the world also has a similar interest.

“There are many ongoing issues that we’re working on that are deeply relevant to our security that we will want to discuss, and, again, agreements and alliances that have perpetuated over decades under administrations of many different stripes,” he said.

In terms of the TPP, Obama is expected to meet with the other leaders involved in that deal during his stop in Peru to go over how Trump’s election affects the pact and other trade issues. He also has a meeting scheduled with President Xi Jinping of China, which is not part of the TPP.

FILE - Leaders wave as they pose for a group family photo at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila, Philippines. VOA
FILE – Leaders wave as they pose for a group family photo at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila, Philippines. VOA

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Asia

Obama made the Asia-Pacific region a major focus of his foreign policy, and in Peru his main agenda will be talking with leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Trump could decide on a different stance toward Asia, but Rhodes said that because of the region’s growth and the number of treaty and trade partners the U.S. has there, he believes it will remain a priority. (VOA)

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Did You Hear about the New Species of Spiders Named After Leonardo DiCaprio, Bernie Sanders and Barrack Obama?

The new species of spiders have been named in honor of leaders and artists who promoted sensible approaches for a better world

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Did you hear about the Bernie Sanders spider? (representational image) Pixabay

Vermont, September 30, 2017 : What if we tell you that a team of researchers has recognized and named 15 new species of spiders in the Caribbean after your favorite stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders?

Not in Hollywood, Washington, DC or Vermont – but you might now be able to catch a glimpse of Spintharus davidattenboroughi, S. barackobamai, S, michelleobamaae, S. berniesandersi, S. davidbowiei along with S. leonardodicaprioi on the Caribbean islands and some other southern spots.

Ingi Agnarsson, expert of spiders and professor of biology at University of Vermont, who led the new study revealed the rationale behind the undergraduate study and on choosing the intriguing names. “(We) wanted to honor people who stood up for both human rights and warned about climate change—leaders and artists who promoted sensible approaches for a better world”, he said.

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The Smiley-Faced Spider

Popularly recognized as a global hotspot for biodiversity, there continues to be several species in the Caribbean that are outside the spectrum of research and study. This includes the ‘smiley faced’ spider in the genus Spintharus- named for a smiley face pattern on their abdomens.

Previously recognized as one widespread species, researchers from the UVM discovered that there exist many more endemic species within the genus, 15 of which have been recognized in the research.

These samples were collected from Florida, South Carolina, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, Mexico, the Lesser Antilles and Columbia.

Each team member got to decide names for the new species of spiders. Alongside naming them after friends and family members, many species have been named after distinguished figures.

“We all named the Bernie Sanders spider together,” said Lily Sargeant, one of the students who worked on the project. “We all have tremendous respect for Bernie. He presents a feeling of hope.”

Some of the other names include,

Spintharus davidbowiei

Named after the great artist David Bowie, who passed away in 2016. His music will continue to inspire generations and the authors decided to honor his legacy by naming a spider in his name.

Spintharus barackobamai

Named after the widely popular, and largely loved, former President of the United States Barack Obama. The authors love him for his statesmanship and humanitarianism, and named the spider species after him, to honor their president and his devoted service.

Spintharus michelleobamaae

Named in honor of the Former First Lady of the United States for her poise, confidence and elegance, her fight for human rights and for always striving to uphold the principles of justice, fairness and equality for all.

Spintharus davidattenboroughi

The authors of the research also named a species of spiders after the naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, to recognize and celebrate his efforts to educate people of the wonders of the natural world and sowing a seed of caring for nature in humanity.

The study has been published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

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Movies at Toronto International Film Festival will increase audience’s excitement, raise debates on burning issues

Many of the films at Toronto International Film Festival will talk about relevant topics like equality in Hollywood, politics in Washington

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Sally Hawkins, left, and Octavia Spencer in a scene from
Sally Hawkins, left, and Octavia Spencer in a scene from "The Shape of Water." The movie premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival. VOA
  • “The Battle of the sexes” starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell talks about issue of gender equality- in both pay disparity and directing opportunity
  • It’s a great thing for the filmmakers to have what is usually a pretty film-oriented, film-loving audience
  • The filmmakers say they are expecting a variety of opinions in any one audience at Toronto International Film Festival

New York, USA, September 7, 2017: Few institutions in cinema can match the teeming, overwhelming Toronto International Film Festival as a conversation-starting force. It simply has a lot of movies worth talking about.

And this year, many of the films that will parade down at Toronto International Film Festival’s red carpets will hope to shift the dialogue not just in terms of awards buzz, but in other directions, too: equality in Hollywood; politics in Washington; even about nature of the movies, themselves. At TIFF, expect debate.

That’s what the filmmakers behind “The Battle of the Sexes,” one of the anticipated films heading to Toronto International Film Festival in the coming days, are hoping for. After the festival opens today with another tennis movie, the rivalry drama “Borg/McEnroe,” at Toronto International Film Festival with Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (the directing duo who helmed 2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine”) will premiere their drama about the 1973 showdown between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

The movie, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell, holds obvious parallels for a movie industry with its own issues of gender equality, in both pay disparity and directing opportunity. For others, it will recall issues that dominated last year’s U.S. presidential campaign. But “Battle of the Sexes” may surprise moviegoers in its broad sympathies on both sides of the net.

“The one thing we didn’t want to have happened was this polarizing political document,” said Dayton. “Right now, there’s enough of that in the world. We wanted to tell a more personal story and keep it from becoming too binary.”

The filmmakers say they are expecting “a variety of opinions in any one audience” at Toronto International Film Festival.

“It’s really the best way to release a film, at a festival like Telluride or Toronto,” said Faris. “It’s a great way to get the word out about a film. It’s a great thing for the filmmakers to have what is usually a pretty film-oriented, film-loving audience. It gives you hope that they’re still out there.”

Actress Priyanka Chopra, left, chats with the director and CEO of TIFF Piers Handling at the TIFF Soiree, an annual fundraiser and celebratory kick-off for the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Sept. 6, 2017, in Toronto
Actress Priyanka Chopra, left, chats with the director and CEO of TIFF Piers Handling at the TIFF Soiree, an annual fundraiser and celebratory kick-off for the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Sept. 6, 2017, in Toronto. VOA

The Toronto International Film Festival comes right on the heels of the Venice and Telluride festivals, but the size and scope of Toronto have long made it the centerpiece of the fall movie season. It’s where much of the coming awards season gets handicapped, debated and solidified. It’s also a significant market for new films, and this year several intriguing films — “I, Tonya,” with Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding, and “Hostiles,” a brutal Western with Christian Bale — are on the block.

But most eyes will be on the gala premieres of the fall’s biggest films at Toronto International Film Festival, including Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing,” Guillermo Del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” George Clooney’s “Suburbicon,” and maybe the most explosive movie of the season, Darren Aronofsky’s mystery-shrouded allegorical thriller “mother!”

It can be a competitive landscape, with dozens of daily movie premieres and their respective parties, all trying to stand out. But several first-time directors may end up stealing the spotlight at Toronto International Film Festival. Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” will sail into Toronto on waves of rave reviews from Telluride. Aaron Sorkin, arguably the top screenwriter in Hollywood for two decades, will present his directorial debut, “Molly’s Game.”

Sorkin didn’t initially anticipate he’d direct his script. But he became, he says, obsessed with the story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), the former elite skier who was indicted for running a high-stakes poker game in Los Angeles. It’s a potentially career-redefining movie for Sorkin — and he’s appropriately anxious.

“I’d feel the same way if we were launching it in Wyoming. I’m nervous because other than test audiences, this will be the first time people see it,” said Sorkin. “The Toronto Film Festival is a very prestigious place to debut a film, so I’m aware of the company I’m in and what’s expected in the movie. It will be up to others to decide if it delivered.”

“The Disaster Artist” poses a similar turning point for its star and director, James Franco. It’s about the making of what’s widely considered one of the worst movies ever made — the cult favorite “The Room,” by Tommy Wiseau. Franco, who plays Wiseau, considers it a new step for him as a filmmaker and says the film’s parody is laced with affection.

“The characters are outsiders. They are weirdos,” said Franco. “But everybody can relate to having a dream and trying to break into this incredibly hard business.”

The film will premiere to a surely raucous audience at a midnight screening. Franco, who first saw “The Room” with an especially excitable Vancouver audience, expects it to be the perfect debut for his film: “Canadians know how to do ‘The Room.”’

“The Disaster Artist,” which A24 will release in December, might give TIFF what “La La Land” did last year — a happily escapist movie about Hollywood. Other films will tackle less comic real-life tales, including Angelina Jolie’s searing Cambodia drama “First They Killed My Father,” the Winston Churchill biopic “Darkest Hour,” with Gary Oldman; and the documentary “The Final Year,” about the last year of Barack Obama’s administration.

Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the festival, said Trump’s presidency “was not a factor in the films we selected,” though he expects it to color the reception of many.

“Some of them will be received with the current political climate in mind,” said Bailey. “One of the things I think you learn from films like (the Watergate drama) ‘Mark Felt’ and (the Ted Kennedy drama) ‘Chappaquiddick’ and others that we have here is that the process of politics is not a pretty one. It involves a lot of conflicted motives, shall we say.”

And who better to make sense of the current political landscape than Armando Iannucci (“Veep,” “The Thick of It”), the master of rapid-fire political farce. In his second feature film, “The Death of Stalin,” he travels back to 1950s Russia only to find an expectedly timely tale of the madcap machinations of political power.

“It is bizarre, isn’t it? When I started showing it to people in January and February earlier this year, people said it resonated with Trump and Putin and fake news,” said Iannucci. “It is about autocracy. It is about what happens when democracy falls apart and one person decides everything. I’m kind of glad it does resonate now. But am I pleased?” (VOA)

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Donald Trump to Revisit Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) if Congress Stumbles

DACA did not promise participants citizenship or permanent U.S. residency, instead promising a reprieve from deportation

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Jennifer Hernandez (L) and Paola Rodriguez, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipients, participate in a candle vigil at the San Jacinto Plaza in El Paso, Texas, Sept. 5, 2017. VOA

Sep 06, 2017: President Donald Trump says he will revisit the decision to end a program that shielded nearly 800,000 young, undocumented immigrants from deportation if Congress doesn’t act on the issue.

Hours after administration officials said new applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, will no longer be accepted, Trump tweeted late Tuesday that “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!”

Action by Congress is not certain. Lawmakers have been unsuccessful for years in their efforts to revise substantially U.S. immigration policies. During Obama’s eight years as president, the Senate – controlled by members of his Democratic Party for most of that time — approved major policy changes only to see the legislation fail in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

President Trump approved the decision to end DACA but sent Attorney General Jeff Sessions before news cameras Tuesday to announce the controversial policy change.

“DACA is being rescinded,” Sessions announced. The action revoked an executive order former President Barack Obama issued five years ago after the U.S. Congress repeatedly failed to agree on an immigration reform bill.

WATCH: Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Sessions argued that Obama’s “open-ended circumvention of immigration laws” was in violation of the U.S. constitution and unlikely to survive a legal challenge brought by several Republican-controlled states.

Former President Barack Obama, who has refrained from commenting on most of the policy changes Trump has enacted this year, challenged Sessions’ legal argument in a strongly worded statement, saying the decision was “purely political” and that it targeted young people who “have done nothing wrong.”

Demonstrators opposed to the administration’s decision massed in Washington, Los Angeles, New York, Denver and other cities.

WATCH: ‘Dreamers’ Vow to Fight to Keep DACA Until the Bitter End

Activist Gustavo Torres told a crowd outside the White House: “This president lied to our community. … He told us, ‘I have a big heart for you dreamers.’ He’s a liar!”

Protesters react to the cancellation of DACA outside the offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washington, Sept. 5, 2017. (PVohra/VOA)
Protesters react to the cancellation of DACA outside the offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washington, Sept. 5, 2017. (PVohra/VOA)

The future status of the hundreds of thousands of young, foreign-born students and workers is unclear for now, since they are no longer protected from summary deportation by the DACA program. Congress will have six months to act if it wants to continue to allow them to remain in the United States.

The young immigrants, also colloquially known as “dreamers,” typically entered the United States as young children. Many trace their heritage to Mexico or Central American countries, but some arrived so young that they have grown up knowing nothing other than American society and customs.

DACA supporters march to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office to protest shortly after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), will be suspended with a six-month delay, Sept. 5, 2017.
DACA supporters march to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office to protest shortly after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), will be suspended with a six-month delay, Sept. 5, 2017. VOA

Anyone who joined the “deferred action” program for work and study was required to have and maintain a clean criminal record. DACA did not promise participants citizenship or permanent U.S. residency, instead promising a reprieve from deportation.

DACA Changes Explained

The program was initially intended as a stop-gap measure to protect aspiring young immigrants, while Congress was to come up with a more lasting solution to their problems.

“I have a love for these people,” Trump said at the White House late Tuesday, “and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly.” Earlier he had issued only a written statement stating that federal immigration patrols would not make seeking out DACA recipients for detention and deportation a priority issue. (VOA)