Oscar Williams   |   January 18, 2017    1:31 PM ET

Barack Obama has transferred half a billion dollars to the UN’s Green Climate Fund, just three days before Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The president-elect has promised to stop all payments to UN global warming programmes.

But announcing the grant, John Kirby, the State Department’s spokesman said there was no “nefarious desire or intent” behind the timing, adding that “the investment had long been planned”.

Trump, a long-time climate change denier who once described global warming as a Chinese conspiracy, initially said he planned to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement, although his stance has since softened.

Investment in the climate fund is a key part of America’s responsibilities under the agreement.

The latest move will go some way to protecting the fund, which was created in 2010 as a way of ensuring that developing nations could adapt to and mitigate the effects of global warming.

More than 100 organisations and nearly 100,000 people had called on Obama to transfer the US’s remaining $2.5bn commitment to the fund. Despite the fact the investment fell short, the move was praised by climate activists.

“The Obama administration is refusing to let president-elect Trump’s posse of oil barons and climate deniers dictate how the world responds to the climate crisis,” said Tamar Lawrence-Samuel, of Corporate Accountability International, which led the campaign.

Sarah Harris1   |   January 18, 2017    8:06 AM ET

WikiLeaks has indicated Julian Assange is ready to face extradition following Barack Obama’s decision to free Chelsea Manning - but few seemed to have any sympathy for the Wikileaks founder.

The outgoing US president used his final hours in the White House to commute the sentence of the former soldier jailed for 35 years for handing over classified documents to Wikileaks.

The former intelligence analyst said she had passed on government and military documents to raise awareness about the impact of war.

Assange, who has been living at the Ecuadorian embassy in London since the summer of 2012 due to fears he will be extradited to the US, praised campaigners for their role in the Manning decision, the Press Association reported.

He said: “Thank you to everyone who campaigned for Chelsea Manning’s clemency. Your courage & determination made the impossible possible.”

Melinda Taylor, a member of Assange’s legal team, insisted previous comments made about the implications of the Manning case still stand.

“Everything that he has said he’s standing by,” she said.

Manning’s planned release in May, following seven years of incarceration, appears to pave the way for the Wikileaks founder’s self-imposed exile to come to an end.

The organisation last week tweeted: 

Assange was interviewed in the embassy in November in the presence of prosecutors from Sweden, where he faces a sex allegation.

He denies the claims, but believes he will face extradition to the United States - for questioning over the activities of WikiLeaks - if he leaves the embassy.

But while many praised Obama’s decision to free Manning, there seemed to be little sympathy for Assange...

Manning attended Tasker Milward comprehensive in Pembrokeshire and still has family and friends in the area.

Conservative former Cabinet minister Stephen Crabb praised Obama for showing “mercy” in a complicated case.

The Preseli Pembrokeshire MP said: “I think the actions of President Obama reflect extremely well on him. He has shown compassion and mercy. This was clearly not a straightforward case.”

WikiLeaks later tweeted: “Assange is confident of winning any fair trial in the US. Obama’s DoJ prevented public interest defense & fair jury.”

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Graeme Demianyk   |   January 17, 2017    9:26 PM ET

President Barack Obama has commuted the jail sentence of Chelsea Manning, who is to be freed from jail in May.

The soldier was branded a traitor for leaking classified government and military documents to WikiLeaks.

Manning, who is serving a sentence at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, has served seven years of her 35-year sentence.

The commuted sentence will allow Manning to be freed on May 17 of this year.

The 29-year-old confessed to sending the secret military and diplomatic documents to the anti-secrecy organization, but was hailed a whistleblower and hero by some.

The former intelligence analyst was convicted in August 2013 of espionage and other offences for leaking more than 700,000 classified documents while working in Iraq.

Manning has also been on a hunger strike in a bid for gender reassignment surgery.

The army private formerly known as Bradley Manning, began receiving hormone treatment for gender reassignment while in prison in 2015. She changed her legal name in April 2014.

 

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A source within the Justice Department told NBC News that Manning’s commutation was on Obama’s short list before it was announced.

Obama also commuted the sentence of 209 other individuals on Tuesday, and pardoned 64 others, according to a White House press release. 

But US House Speaker Paul Ryan led the chorus of disapproval from top Republicans:

He said:

“This is just outrageous. Chelsea Manning’s treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation’s most sensitive secrets. President Obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won’t be held accountable for their crimes.”

In November, Manning asked to have her sentence reduced for time served. 

“I am not asking for a pardon of my conviction,” she wrote in a statement provided to The New York Times. “I understand that the various collateral consequences of the court-martial conviction will stay on my record forever. The sole relief I am asking for is to be released from military prison after serving six years of confinement as a person who did not intend to harm the interests of the United States or harm any service members.”

Wikileaks’ Julian Assange announced in a tweet posted to Wikileaks last week that he would agree to U.S. extradition if Manning was released.

Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project representing Manning, said in a statement: “I’m relieved and thankful that the president is doing the right thing and commuting Chelsea Manning’s sentence.

“This move could quite literally save Chelsea’s life, and we are all better off knowing that Chelsea Manning will walk out of prison a free woman, dedicated to making the world a better place and fighting for justice for so many.”

Amnesty International, which had campaigned for Manning’s release for several years, applauded Obama’s decision but stressed that there is still work to be done.

“Chelsea Manning exposed serious abuses, and as a result her own human rights have been violated by the U.S. government for years,” Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.

“President Obama was right to commute her sentence, but it is long overdue. It is unconscionable that she languished in prison for years while those allegedly implicated by the information she revealed still haven’t been brought to justice.”

National Citizen Service Should Be A Rite Of Passage For All Young People Across The Country

Dan Jarvis   |   January 16, 2017    5:00 PM ET

As I listened to Barack Obama give his farewell speech last week, I was struck by his warning that for too many, it has become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook, and to never challenge our assumptions. It's a lesson that applies as much to our country as it does to America.

2016 was a year when the divisions in our country became more apparent than ever. Often it has felt as if social integration - the act of mixing and forging bonds with those from different backgrounds - is going backwards. Last December, Louise Casey's report on social integration showed that we have much to do if we are to rebuild our communities as cohesive places for people from all backgrounds. One of the things we can do is to make sure our young people don't retreat into the bubbles President Obama talked about. That's why I am so supportive of the National Citizen Service.

NCS is a brilliant scheme which has already benefited 130,000 15 to 17-year-olds since it began in 2009. It builds skills for work and life and brings together people from different backgrounds to support community engagement, social action and social mixing. It brings together schools, community organisations, businesses and individuals to build a stronger and more cohesive society.

This week the National Citizen Service Bill, which makes the scheme permanent and gives the NCS its Royal Charter, comes to the Commons where it will receive cross-party support. I hope the Bill will embed NCS as a national institution central to our social fabric. As the Prime Minister has said, National Citizen Service should be a rite of passage for all young people across our country.

For many, NCS is the first step on their youth social action journey - their involvement in the programme embeds the value of service within them. It's one part of a youth social action sector that is going from strength to strength - as we can see from the good work of organisations like City Year, V Inspired, The Princes Trust and The Scout Association.

The NCS pushes people out of their bubbles by bringing together young people from different backgrounds, across socioeconomic and ethnic lines.

It is crucial we build upon the excellent start NCS has made and ensure there are more opportunities for people to come together and meaningfully engage with those from different backgrounds, in order to bridge the divides that have grown in our society.

Integration should be at the heart of the National Citizen Service, but it can also play an important role in enabling social mobility. For many young people, taking part in NCS is the beginning of creating the diverse social networks they need to flourish and get on in life. So we must focus on ensuring the hardest-to-reach young people are able to take up the opportunity afforded to them by NCS.

Programme providers, such as The Challenge, are doing fantastic work to this end. They employ dedicated Personal Coaches to support young people with complex needs both prior to, and after completing, NCS, so as to ensure there are as few barriers to entry as possible for these young people. We need to build on that and ensure that NCS continues to grow and that it is properly resourced.

My life, both outside and inside politics has showed me the value of service and active citizenship. The National Citizen Service is a 21st Century manifestation of these values. As we look ahead this week to the inauguration of President Trump, whose victory owes much to the growth of division and fear in the United States, we need to listen and act to ensure that Britain becomes a country that takes integration seriously, and offers opportunities to young people to meet and mix with people from different backgrounds to themselves. The NCS is an important part of that challenge.

Don't Go Down With The Ship: How The Democratic Party Should Reform To Succeed

David Winston   |   January 13, 2017    6:57 PM ET

In Bernie Sanders' town hall interview on Monday the 9th he was asked what Democrats should do to win in the next election. He responded, "If we were going back in history to the 30s, 40s and you asked the average working person which party is the party of the working class in America, overwhelmingly people would have said it was the Democratic Party. Today people do not say that, and for good reason". Truly, workers' rights and labor unions used to be as synonymous with the Democratic Party as the color blue. But somewhere down the line they lost their way, and special interests from corporations and lobby groups have become the only constituencies that seem to have any influence on the party. This has disenfranchised Democrats and damaged the brand of the Democratic Party.

We can trace this shift all the way back to July of 1944 at the Democratic National Convention. Henry A. Wallace served under Franklin D. Roosevelt for 11 years, 4 of those spent as Vice President. A staunch proponent of New Deal economics, Wallace advocated for labor union protections and sought to establish national healthcare. His policies were ahead of his time, fighting for equality for women and minorities when those were not popular talking points of the establishment. Yet, the people loved him. A Gallup survey in 1944 showed he had 65% support from Democrats.

Despite the will of the people, the 'powers that be' decided he was a threat to their interests and utilized their political might to prop up a candidate who would allow them to operate unfettered. A Manchester Guardian editorial summed it up: "The party bosses,...the machines, and the conservatives of the South could not stand Mr. Wallace who in the popular mind embodied the New Deal and racial equality. So they turned to the colorless Truman who has never upset anyone's prejudices."

The practice of special interests superseding public interests in the American election cycle continues to this day. When Bernie Sanders made reforming unfair trade agreements and fighting Wall Street influence the main points of his run on the 2016 election, much as they had done to Wallace before him, the DNC machine worked to maintain the status quo.

While Bernie won 43% of the popular vote in the 2016 primaries, he only received 6% of the unpledged delegate vote. This created controversy among Democrats who believed the almost unanimous support behind Hillary of unpledged delegates early in the primaries gave the impression that a Bernie win was virtually impossible, despite being much more competitive in pledged delegates. When asked on CNN about voter concerns that the process felt rigged, Debbie Wasserman Schultz responded, "Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don't have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists." The Chair of the DNC herself admitted they were trying to subvert the will of the populous.

Once again, the Democratic establishment decided they knew what was best for the party and the American people, despite the will of the American people. When a political party demonstrates that the interests of everyday people take a backseat to their own, those people will take their votes elsewhere.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side where there are no unpledged delegates, Donald Trump struck a chord with the working class with his positions on trade, like with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), falling out of step with his Republican counterparts by calling it, "the death blow for American manufacturing". Conversely, Hillary's stance on TPP had been shaky, once saying it set the "gold standard" in trade agreements and later reversing her position, leaving many working-class Democrats feeling uneasy and skeptical of her true motives.

Trump's position on TPP resonated with many in swing states like Michigan, with an economy largely dependent on maintaining manufacturing jobs in the auto industry. Significantly, Hillary Clinton never visited the United Automobile Workers (UAW) while campaigning in Michigan, let alone held any meeting with a labor union in the state. In the words of Michigan Senator Gary Peters, "Labor simply cannot be taken for granted in Michigan. Not doing that sort of event certainly was a major oversight."

The DNC ended up backing a candidate who was seen as out of touch with the concerns of the working class. And while Trump's approach was brash and offensive to many, he addressed the working class and appealed to their sense of disillusionment in the establishment. The DNC made the fatal decision of ignoring their working-class base. Without that support, Donald Trump, the single least popular candidate ever to run for president, will soon be the 45th President of the United States.

The DNC has the chance now to recalibrate their focus going forward and fix their sinking ship. With the recent announcement of the DNC hiring former Hillary staffers and members of associated super PACs for their "war room", it seems the Democrats are content to go down with the ship. Instead of focusing on the issues that resonate with American voters, like trade protections and job security, their focus will be to, "protect President Obama's legacy." This strategy did not resonate with the electorate in 2016, so how could it work going forward?

Further evidence that the DNC has not learned from their mistakes is Sen. Chuck Schumer taking over from Harry Reid as the Senate Minority Leader for the Democratic Party. Sen. Schumer, who the New York Times has called "A Champion of Wall Street", limited efforts to regulate credit-rating agencies - a move that led directly to the 2008 global financial crisis. With Schumer at the helm of Senate leadership, all people will see is a continuation of the "New Moneycrats"- not a moniker people will associate with working-class values.

The Democratic Party has been steadily straying from their electorate for too long. The American public seems to be cognizant now more than ever of compromised values and the betrayal of the working class. This approach will no longer work to get politicians elected, so for the party's own sake - change course.

The Democrats were blindsided by the loss of the 2016 election because they forgot what they were fighting for. If they want to remain relevant and competitive, they need to put forth candidates who represent core Democratic values, who fight for the workers who can't fight for themselves. Their biggest concerns must be the struggles of everyday people, not the concerns of the 1%. As Bernie said in his town hall interview, "The Democrats have got to make a very fundamental choice and that is which side are they on. You can't be on the side of... big money interests and go to working people and say I'm on your side, because they're not going to believe that."

Graeme Demianyk   |   January 12, 2017   10:13 PM ET

Joe Biden struggled to hold back tears as Barack Obama awarded the outgoing Vice-President the Presidential Medal of Freedom - the highest US civilian honour.

Just days before handing over power to Donald Trump, President Obama hailed his number two as “the best Vice-President America has ever had” and acknowledged: “This also gives the Internet one last chance to talk about our bromance.”

When concluding his remarks, he surprised Biden by announcing the honor - a special version of the medal that has only been awarded to three other people: Pope John Paul II, former President Ronald Reagan and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Obama said.

Biden, already teary during the tribute, began crying when the award was announced.

“I had no inkling,” Biden said, taking the podium after Obama awarded him the medal.

Obama honored Biden’s lifetime of public service, including his decades in the Senate and eight years as vice president, from championing the Violence Against Women Act, his diplomacy, his “cancer moonshot,” and his “It’s On Us” campaign to combat sexual assault on college campuses.

“That’s a pretty remarkable legacy, an amazing career in public service. It is, as Joe once said, a big deal,” Obama said, pausing between the “big” and the “deal.”

Obama’s tribute built on remarks he made during his Tuesday farewell address, when he called Biden his “brother.” 

“To Joe Biden, the scrappy kid from Scranton who became Delaware’s favorite son: You were the first choice I made as a nominee, and the best,” Obama said in Chicago on Tuesday. “Not just because you have been a great vice president, but because in the bargain, I gained a brother.”

 

Both men have been outspoken about the deep friendship they have forged over their eight years in the White House, and Thursday’s event was no different, with both speaking in personal terms about each other and their families.

“Behind the scenes, Joe’s candid, honest counsel has made me a better president and a better commander in chief,” Obama said. “From the Situation Room, to our weekly lunches, to our huddles after everybody else has cleared out of the room, he has been unafraid to give it to me straight, even if we disagree. In fact, especially when we disagree. And all of this makes him, I believe, the finest vice president we have ever seen.”

Hope To Reality: Goodbye, Barack

Kumail Jaffer   |   January 12, 2017    4:29 AM ET

As Obama gave his farewell speech, many across the political spectrum watched in nostalgia as the first black President of the United States bowed out, giving way to the...entity that is Donald Trump. Of course, 2008 to 2016 signified a period of time where the mistakes of the past were learned from: the US didn't intervene to devastating effect in foreign nations, Guantanamo Bay was closed, and the working class was allowed to flourish.

Of course, that last sentence was in jest. The following is a list of people that the Obama administration and its policies actually worked for:

1) Big banks, which were bailed out using taxpayers' money. This is of course, in response to a crisis caused by reckless decisions by these same banks, hedging their bets on a housing bubble. Who caused the crisis? The bankers. Who suffered? The people, who not only lost their homes but were then hit with cuts to social programmes and welfare as a result of the bailout.

2) Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, known funders of both terrorism and the ideology behind it, Obama was keen to maintain relations with the US ally, supplying them with plenty of arms to commit genocide in Yemen with.

3) Corporate media; with the 'fake news' hysteria of the past new months, it's clear to see that it's not quite big bad Putin brainwashing his people, but America's very own loved news channels. On the 27th of December, Obama passed into law the NDAA, essentially handing over the right for news channels to spread state propaganda. The law, intended to "counter foreign propaganda and disinformation", could further narrow the media spectrum we have already. This comes in light of the recent US intelligence report (though I would hardly describe it that way) which theorised that Russia Today was one of the causes of Donald Trump's victory. Naturally, Obama agrees with the Establishment that the role of the media is not to hold the government to account, but to prop it up instead.

4) Corporations, which, through the TPP and TTIP, should they be passed, will be granted a legal status higher than even the nations they reside in.

5) Censorship, which ran a huge victory as whistle-blowers were persecuted. While Manning has been arrested and detained for releasing information to Wikileaks documenting US crimes in Iraq, Edward Snowden is seeking asylum in Russia for making it known to the American people that they are under the watchful eyes of a mass surveillance system, and Julian Assange is still holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy.

6) Radicals, ranging from far right nationalists in Ukraine to ISIS in Syria and Libya. The disastrous decisions made to fund rebels makes Bush's foreign policy seem tangible.

7) Donald Trump, who naturally benefited from the gradual deterioration of Obama's legacy. Obama was complicit in the rigging of the Democratic primaries and the subsequent fall of Bernie Sanders. It's telling that when Hillary Clinton promised "more Obama", Obama voters flocked to the other side.

Barack Obama, when elected on that fateful day in 2008, promised radical change to a broken system. He himself is an incredibly decent man; charismatic, an orator, a family man. However, through a reluctance to challenge the Establishment, Obama instead embraced the very system that had failed the very Americans who had trusted him.

George Bowden   |   January 11, 2017    4:26 PM ET

Donald Trump has suggested that intelligence agencies may be responsible for the release of a report alleging Russia holds compromising information about him.

The US president-elect described the report as “a disgrace, an absolute disgrace” during a press conference in New York.

He said intelligence agency involvement would amount to a “tremendous blot” on their record.

Beginning the conference, his first since the US election in November, Trump praised media organisations which did not publish the report in full.

He singled out “one group and one television station” for publishing the dossier.

“I think it is a disgrace that information would be let out. It’s all fake news, it’s phoney stuff, it didn’t happen,” he said.

“Outside of the meeting [with intelligence chiefs] someone released it. I read what was released and I think it’s a disgrace, an absolute disgrace.”

Trump was asked later during the conference about a tweet he wrote after the report was published online.

In a blistering answer, he said: “That’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do, I think it’s a disgrace that information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public.”

He described the BuzzFeed website as a “failing pile of garbage” over its decision to publish the report in full.

“We had much hacking going on,” Trump said when asked about alleged Russian involvement in the hack of computer servers linked to the Democratic Party.

“We have some of the greatest computer minds in the world assembled. We are going to put those minds together and we’re going to have a defence,” he said.

He later said: “Hacking’s bad, it shouldn’t be done. But look at what was learned from the hacking.”

Asked if President Vladimir Putin engaged in hacking to benefit him in the election, Trump said: “If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset not a liability.”

Responding to questions about his behaviour during trips to Moscow, Trump said: “I told people be careful, you don’t want to be on television, camera’s all over the place.”

Apparently in reference to some of the leaked report’s more salacious allegations, he quipped: “I’m also very much of a germaphobe, by the way, believe me.”

The US broadcaster CNN on Tuesday afternoon published the story based on a dossier produced, in part, by a former British spy that has been presented to Trump and outgoing President Barack Obama. It is being investigated by the FBI for credibility and accuracy.

CNN published no details of the information contained in the 35 pages. Later, however, BuzzFeed News published the documents in full - documents the ex-MI6 officer had told other reporters about.

During the conference Trump and his lawyer confirmed arrangements to voluntarily hand over control of his business empire to his two sons Donald Jr and Eric.

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Passing The Baton To The People - The Obamas' Final Speeches

Dr Paul Breen   |   January 11, 2017    3:37 PM ET

Barack Obama has reached out to the American family in his final speech as President of the United States. From the outset, he echoed the words, ideas, and values of his wife Michelle in her final speech last Friday, while at the same time offering a more sobering vision of the challenges that lie ahead. Where The First Lady's speech appeared to flow effortlessly towards a conclusion of undiluted hope, her husband burdened his speech with more direct reference to the challenges faced by their country in this time of change. Yet, Barack Obama's speech also served an important inspirational purpose and reinforcement of an ideal that history does not just exist in the tempus of the present.

Taking up the baton from his wife in his farewell address in Chicago last night, the outgoing President placed a similar underlying emphasis on hope, diversity, and a continuation of tradition. Though he enacted his vision in a different language, he employed many of the same linguistic devices as his wife four days previously. Where hope had been the key word of The First Lady's Speech, one of the President's most recurring sentiments was that of America as a home.

Seven times he raised this image, in various forms of wording from a "homeland" of the present to "homesteads" of the past. A sense of continuation characterised his speech too. Though this was a farewell speech, he made no reference to chapters being closed, despite some notes of caution that he sounded. Seemingly driven by a desire to sound positive, while pragmatic, he spoke of new opportunities opening up, and the many positive changes that had occurred during his tenure in office, which remained as yet unfinished. Like Michelle, he spoke of the work that remained to be done, not just in terms of economics, democracy, and security, but in upholding America's tradition of diversity. Here again, the outgoing President placed an emphasis on continuation, evoking images of newcomers from the past such as the Irish, Poles, and Italians. They too had faced hostility, and accusations of threatening to "destroy the fundamental character of America."

However, once again echoing his wife's earlier speech, the outgoing President stressed that diversity had enriched the United States rather than divided it. Last Friday Michelle made a subtle series of suggestions for the next generation. She stressed the importance of fighting for the future, using the language of aspiration to offer suggestions for challenges she never labelled directly. Barack, on the other hand, adopted a more direct problem and solution approach. He was more explicit in defining the problems that his country faces in modern times, domestically and internationally. Although Donald Trump's name entered the equation only once, Obama made several subtle allusions to features of the divisive campaign that had ushered in the President elect. This included mention of the ways in which people had interacted, via the Internet, and could again be taken as a continuance of Michelle's aspiration for more active participation in politics and society.

While staying true to his wife's aspirations for the future, the outgoing President placed a greater emphasis upon history, and the lessons it provides. Stressing that division is not a new phenomenon, Obama decidedly situated his speech in the broader context of American and world history. This has been a feature of his political speeches from the outset when he drew upon the words and ideas of Martin Luther King in his inaugural address in 2009. This too tends to be an abiding feature of speeches given by American Presidents, and male political leaders. Where Michelle could concentrate her thoughts upon the everyday lives of Americans, in their family homes and their classrooms, Obama realised the need for his words to have resonance far beyond these ordinary contexts. Perhaps in doing so, his speech lost some of its natural emotion, and Michelle's may well prove to be the one, in the long term, that speaks more to America's heart and the direction in which it is headed in this time of uncertainty.

From a structural and linguistic perspective too, Michelle's speech, being shorter, seemed to be packaged in a better overall form. In a time of grand ideas, and an era described as post-truth politics, she touched a rawer nerve of emotion. Though her speech was more feminine in some ways, it was also powerfully feminist. Serving almost as a call to arms for the next generation of political activists, her message was one that touched the hearts of ordinary Americans. The language she used and the verbs employed throughout suggested that such change could be enacted by anyone. Her husband, on the other hand, bore the expectations of his office in putting forward a more expansive vision of America. This is one that still remains a home for all its people in their glorious diversity, but needs to get its house in order too, and stay at the forefront of global politics, militarily, economically, and addressing climate change.

Perhaps in the end these speeches truly reflect the character of the two people who made them. Obama, the great idealist and thinker who has had to become more pragmatic during his time in office, but has remained true to his underlying values and risen to the level of world statesman. Michelle, on the other hand, has been able to stay true to the everyday concerns of people, not just in America but worldwide, and offer a more emotional, aspirational vision of the future. Above all as they say goodbye, despite some malaise, they leave behind the echo of one word that sums up everything they have stood for - HOPE.

Dr Paul Breen is a Senior Lecturer in the University of Westminster's Professional Language Centre and author

Sara C Nelson   |   January 11, 2017    3:05 PM ET

A soldier jailed for leaking classified government and military documents to WikiLeaks is reportedly on President Barack Obama’s shortlist for commutation.

Chelsea Manning, who is serving a 35-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, could see her jail term reduced, sources have told NBC News.

Political correspondent Cynthia McFadden tweeted the news on Wednesday afternoon, noting that if Manning’s sentence is commuted it will mean her punishment will be reduced but she will not be pardoned.

A Justice Department source said a commutation is being “actively considered” by the president.

Manning, who has attempted to commit suicide at least twice, has served seven years of her sentence. She has also been on a hunger strike in a bid for gender reassignment surgery.

The army private formerly known as Bradley Manning, began receiving hormone treatment for gender reassignment while in prison in 2015. She changed her legal name in April 2014.

The 29-year-old former intelligence analyst was convicted in August 2013 of espionage and other offences for sending more than 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks while working in Iraq.

Fellow whistleblower Edward Snowden has tweeted an emotional plea to President Barack Obama, calling for Manning to be freed.

Presidents have two clemency options: commutations, which reduce sentences being served but don’t erase convictions, and pardons, which generally restore civil rights, such as voting, often after a sentence has been served.

Obama has granted 1,176 commutations and 148 pardons - fewer pardons than some presidents, but more commutations than any other, the White House said.

A Scandal Surrounding Donald Trump Is Quite Different To Scandals Around Other World Leaders

Lydia Suffield   |   January 11, 2017    1:38 PM ET

To be honest, dragging myself awake from a day spent in flu-induced slumber sometime after midnight, the only thing I expected to be trending was Obama's tearful farewell speech, accompanied - to the great joy of millenial teenagers like myself, who seem rabidly interested in the lives of the First Daughters - by Michelle Obama, who has probably thought about giving Trump a swift kick up the backside, and their daughter Malia, who has survived teenage years in the White House to become, as Obama described, "a smart and beautiful, but more importantly, kind and thoughtful" young woman. (These adjectives also apply to his younger daughter Sasha who, thanks to a sadistic twist of fate by the American education system, was unable to attend her father's final speech due to an unfortunately-timed exam).

Instead, what I found was that my timeline seemed to be filled with an array of jokes surrounding urine, Trump or preferably, urine and Trump. It didn't take long to discover the reason.
Yes, it has been claimed by some sources that the information that the President-Elect of the United States hired prostitutes to urinate on one another - and a bed used by the outgoing President - is "complete nonsense", and has been denied in characteristically humble, mature fashion by the President-Elect himself (I fully expect World War III to be declared in an all-capitals tweet one of these days), but none of us would let that stop us. I entered into the fun with a tweet referring to Bill Clinton's vociferous denials of liaisons with Monica Lewinsky, which, to my surprise, appears to have entered the infancy stages of "going viral."

Many in the Twitter population quickly pointed out that it was mainly funny because it was Trump - by entering into the fun, I'm sure very few were attempting to engage in kink-shaming. Partly, there were more serious issues to consider - if the allegations were true, then, among other things, Trump is straying worryingly close to that career-ending word "treason". But also, quite simply, the humour came not just from the nature of the allegations themselves, but that they centred around Donald Trump.

Now, I'm usually not too fond of this justification. Indeed, when the #piggate scandal was proved to be more than likely untrue last year, my friends and I rolled our eyes at the amount of whining that some of the more childish lefties descended into on our Twitter feeds- "I'm still going to make jokes about it! I deserve this schaedenfreude! I don't care about creditable sources, and you can get out of my life if you do!" Translation: "I haaaaaate that the Tories won, I should be allowed to make jokes all I like, it's sooooo unfair, how dare everyone not vote for my favourite party", complete presumably with childish stamping of feet and self-righteous sniffing.

But, here's the thing. Old Dave - our former PM and possible future Secretary-General of NATO-for all the whining from the Left regarding him, has never had a bunch of women coming out claiming he sexually assaulted them. He has never happily declared to a friend that women would allow him to grab them by the vagina due to his celebrity. He did not launch into the General Election campaign by waving his arms like a demigod to the Tories, leading chants of "Lock him up" at Ed Miliband, an opponent a great deal more hapless than Hillary Clinton ever was. He has never launched into an imitation of a disabled reporter to uproarious laughter from an audience.

I could go on, because Trump is the sort who provides endless accounts of horrific actions to cite, but the point is pretty clear. Cameron, no matter what you thought of him, was not in anywhere near the same league as Trump - and indeed, I'm hard-pressed to think of a head of state who is. Therefore, while other world leaders can attract sympathy when subjected to various allegations, Trump supremely fails to.

Trump is that rare specimen who has done and said so many awful things that he defies pity. People make fun of Hitler with relative impunity (and he provides an easy comparison on the internet). While I won't go quite as far as drawing comparisons between the two - I'll leave that to others - Trump too, has managed to close down any empathy the public might have shown him, simply through being appalling. It's actually a quite extraordinary feat of awfulness. Whether he'll boast of that in any future tweets has yet to be seen.

Sarah Harris1   |   January 11, 2017    8:21 AM ET

There have been countless memes about their bromance - and now at the end of Barack Obama’s time in office he has paid tribute to his vice-president by describing him in the closest possible terms.

In his final speech as president, Obama said of Joe Biden: “To Joe Biden, the scrappy kid from Scranton who became Delaware’s favourite son: you were the first decision I made as a nominee and the best.

“Not just because you have been a great vice president, but because in the bargain, I gained a brother.

“We love you and Jill like family and your friendship has been one of the great joys of our life.”

Biden was visibly moved by Obama’s words but reacted in a typically Biden-esque way... he unholstered the finger-pistol one final time.

 

Although Obama and Biden ran against each other in the 2007 Democratic presidential primary, they formed a close bind.

When Biden’s eldest son, Beau, died of cancer in 2015, Obama delivered the eulogy.

The pair have said they intend to remain firm friends after they leave the Oval Office.

Biden told CBS’s “Face the Nation” last year: “We’re still going to hang out a little bit.”

The friendship has captured the imagination of many a meme-creator - so here’s a look at some of the best...

 

Joebama, we’ll miss you.

Obama also paid tribute to his wife and daughters, Malia and Sasha, in his speech in Chicago.

He described Michelle as “my best friend”, becoming visibly emotional as he told her: “You took on a role you didn’t ask for and you made it your own with grace and with grit.”

He told his daughters: “Of all that I have done in my life, I’m most proud to be your dad.”

Sarah Harris1   |   January 11, 2017    7:31 AM ET

If you’re not yet sad to see Barack Obama leave the White House, this is probably the moment that will do it for you.

Speaking in Chicago in what will be his final speech as president of the United States, Obama urged Americans to protect democracy, to remain “vigilant, but not afraid” and to reject complacency and fear.

But perhaps the most emotional moment of his entire farewell was the moment he turned to address his family.

He first spoke to his wife, saying, “Michelle Robinson, girl of the South Side.

“For the past 25 years, you have not only been my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend.

“You took on a role you didn’t ask for and you made it your own with grace and with grit and with grit and with style and good humour.”

He paused to wipe his eyes, before continuing: “You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody and a new generation sets it sights higher because it has you as a role model.

“So you have made me proud and you have made the country proud.”

The roaring crowd gave Michelle a standing ovation.

Obama next addressed his daughter, Malia, who was sitting with her mother, as well as his daughter Sasha, who was not present because she had an exam the next morning.

He said: “Maria and Sasha, under the strangest of circumstances, you have become two amazing young women.

“You are smart and you are beautiful but more importantly you are kind and you are thoughtful and you are full of passion.

“You wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily.

“Of all that I have done in my life, I’m most proud to be your dad.”

Many people watching also seemed to feel the emotion of his tributes to his family...

Obama’s address, which lasted for more than 50 minutes, only mentioned Donald Trump by name early in the speech, noting his commitment to the transition of power.

But many of his cautions appeared directed at his successor, particularly his reminder that “democracy can buckle when we give in to fear,” and his apparent references to Trump’s controversial and divisive campaign.

Obama framed his speech as a prescription for democracy. He said threats to the country’s foundation include income inequality, racism and bigotry, political polarisation, the jettisoning of facts and reason in political discourse, and low levels of civic engagement.

He ended his address by urging young people to get involved in politics and public service, just as his historic presidential candidacy in 2008 inspired a generation of public servants and organisers. 

He said: “It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours,” he said.

“Because for all our outward differences, we all share the same proud title: Citizen. Ultimately, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you.”

He signed off: “Yes we can, yes we did, yes we can.

“Thank you, God bless you. May God continue to bless the United States of America.”

Barack Obama Must Continue To Be 'President'

Maria Karvouni   |   January 11, 2017    1:28 AM ET

Barack Obama serves his last hours as the US President. Some people have expressed their will Obama to have been able to remain for more years in the position, but this isn't possible according to the law, which says that a president can't be elected more than twice. However, Obama must continue to be 'President.'

What I mean is that Obama should keep on influencing society with his ideas. He is a rational individual who fights for the fair of the world. He is a humanitarian who acts with values that all the nations endorse. Obama respects everyone regardless from beliefs or origin. He promotes fairness and equality. His morals guide him through his target to make earth a better place and bring prosperity for every single citizen in this planet. His deeds are purposed for the defense of peace. It is not accidental that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2009. Humanity needs what he represents. For this reason, he has to provide his views as often as he can, even though he won't be President anymore.

The fact that many people have revealed their wish his wife Michelle to be a candidate for the US Presidency in the upcoming years is an indication that Barack Obama, through his attitude to life, has left an indelible mark. Citizens around the globe recognise that Obama deserves praise for his work and wanting Michelle Obama as President is a demonstration of gratitude for him. He has created a family that will inevitably follow his paths, in any field of life they choose to be engaged in, as far as their behaviour towards others is concerned. Obama has built such strong bonds with world's moralities that influences and inspires greatly everyone that surrounds him and anyone that observes his occupations.

His merit is not only reflected in his actions. His presence speaks for itself too. He smiles, and at the same time he spreads positive vibes with his pleasant aura. He talks with confidence and determination. He thinks reasonably before he acts. He is able to accurately predict what might be wrong and what might be right. This shows a well-educated man with unique insight for the future. All these render him as the perfect role-model and idol for the children that are growing up. These children should listen to his speeches and adopt his words. They should have the will to be like him. Actually, they must have the need to become humans with Obama's characteristics. This have to be their main dream, so as to be able to make their other dreams and all people's dreams come true.

I don't know what Obama's plans for the future are, but my opinion is that he should stay in the limelight of politics. He is a person that has rare qualifications, from every aspect, and especially that of propelling the interests of humanity as a whole forward. People like him have inherently the responsibility of maintaining themselves in the public scene so as to benefit the world with their gifted mind. Obama owes it to current times to expand his vision beyond his Presidency period.