Paul Vale   |   December 3, 2015    1:40 AM ET

NEW YORK -- US President Barack Obama welcomed Wednesday night’s House of Commons vote that authorised British military forces to target members of the Islamic State group inside Syria. The commander in chief added that RAF jets would be integrated into coalition strike missions straight away.

Domestically, the vote is a boost for the president, firming up the American-led international coalition in the face of heavy criticism from the administration’s detractors. It could also go some way to realigning the two countries following the Commons defeat two year ago when the same vote was rejected by parliament to the chagrin of Washington.

obama syria

Obama: 'the United Kingdom has been one of our most valued partners'

Speaking after the vote, using the acronym Isil, Obama said: “Since the beginning of the counter-Isil campaign the United Kingdom has been one of our most valued partners in fighting Isil. We look forward to having British forces flying with the coalition over Syria, and will work to integrate them into our coalition air tasking orders as quickly as possible.”

The US Ambassador to the UK also welcomed the result. Writing after the vote, which was won by the government by 397 to 223, Matthew Barzun called the decision “testament to the shared determination between our two countries to degrade and destroy Isil in Iraq and Syria.”

However, Senator John McCain earlier offered a more reserved evaluation of Britain’s entrance into the conflict.

Speaking before the vote, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and current chairman of the Senate armed services committee, told the BBC that while he welcomed Britain as an ally into the Syria fight, the RAF campaign would amount to no more than “token aircraft,” suggesting the real value to the US would be in allowing Obama to parade a broader international coalition.

“We will have some token aircraft over there from the British and they'll drop a few bombs, and we'll say thank you very much,” he said. “The president will be able to say 'now we have the British who will be helping us', and that's good."

“Airstrikes alone won’t win a conflict but it’s good to have increased airstrikes, it’s good to have increased air activities, it’s good to have shows of support from our British friends. So I’m glad of it, thank you, we appreciate it,” McCain added.

john mccain

McCain: 'I'm glad of it, thank you, we appreciate it'

White House press secretary Josh Earnest quickly rebuffed those comments. He said: “I’m disappointed that Senator McCain would speak so cavalierly to diminish the important contribution of one of the United States’ closest allies.”

“The fact is we’ve asked every member of our 65-nation coalition to ramp up their contributions to this effort, and if the British parliament were to vote in favour of this decision and the British government were to follow through on this commitment of additional resources to the effort, that’s obviously something we would warmly welcome,” Earnest added.

Earlier this week, the German government pledged to send 1,200 troops to fight Isis, as well as potentially deploying reconnaissance aircraft and tanker aircraft pending ratification by the German parliament.


COP21: Why I Cycled From Bristol to Paris

Charley Pattison   |   December 2, 2015    3:19 PM ET

Is that? Is that really? It is. It's an ostrich.

A flat light fighting through the drizzle at the top of a one kilometre climb and only the sound of my thoughts for company I considered whether our 258 mile cycle from Bristol to COP21 in Paris would change anything, I pondered how else I could communicate the scale of the problem of climate change. Just at the brow of the hill though, my breathing heavy and my legs burning, out of the corner of my eye I saw an ostrich, with its head buried in the sand. My musings after that point focused on whether I would in my mind call that ostrich Dave, or George.

Cycling from Bristol to Paris in November isn't something that immediately springs to mind as a great idea, but that was kind of the point, we needed people to ask us why we were doing it. This initial thought process was compounded when I told friends and colleagues that it was to get to COP21, and they responded by asking what COP21 was. I explained that COP21 is arguably the most important climate conference yet and the platform for negotiations about the greatest challenge the planet and its people face; a bigger challenge than terrorism, than migration and than the pursuit of limitless economic growth. The questions that tended to follow were more pointed and can be summarised in the following sentiment: 'alright then, you go and sort that out, and leave us real people to deal with the real problems.'

This to me highlighted one of the Government's biggest environmental failures. The 'greenest government ever' has failed to communicate the scale of climate change, the urgency of climate action and the impact and relevance of climate injustice. Removal of solar subsidies and willful ignorance of the economic benefits of investment in renewable energy alone is enough to raise the blood pressure of anyone who cares, for example, about food shortages leading to increased prices hitting the poor the hardest, extreme weather events that will leave many less developed areas of the world isolated, diminishing biodiversity and fish stocks and increasing global inequality.

So why doesn't the government care? Why did it abandon its 'zero carbon homes' policy? I suspect the pressure from industry outweighed the passion of the people (a balance I strongly believe needs readdressing). When short-term political gain defeats meaningful long-term strategy, we must stand together and say that everyone's voice counts, especially those who are going to be the most affected when the proverbial hits the fan.

So that's why I cycled to Paris. Passion. It was of course fitting to use a low carbon method of transport, and it was certainly a bonus for the wallet, but really I just felt I had to do something else, something more. If everyone did just a few things differently, the horizon may look a little brighter. I've always thought cycling is a great metaphor for challenge. And so to mix my metaphors, I want the people of the UK to put pressure on the government to get their heads out of the sand and get back on their bikes and pedal up the hill, not stand around mid way talking about the quickest route to the bottom.

Jack Sommers   |   November 28, 2015    9:37 PM ET

This video brilliantly explains Syria's four-year civil war became so complicated, as we teeter on the edge of becoming militarily involved in it for the first time.

Taking us from the first protests against Assad's regime in early 2011, the Vox video explains how different factions emerged over time and the war evolved into a confrontation between regional powers as well as the US and Russia.

Next time someone argues for or against whether we should bomb Islamic State in Syria as if it's straight forward, suggest they watch this.


David Cameron Syria 'Slur' Backfires As Bombing Poll Shows 'Every Other Person Is A Terrorist Sympathiser'

What Time Will MPs Vote On Syria, How Will My MP Vote And Will David Cameron Win?

All These Very Normal People Are Outing Themselves As 'Terrorist Sympathisers'

Labour MP Sent Photo Of Dead Baby In Post For Backing Syria Airstrikes

'Odious Trolls' Attack Sick Labour MP For Backing Syria Air Strikes

This Video Brilliantly Explains How Syria's Civil War Became So Complicated

UK Government Must Not Give Up on Climate Change

George Ferguson   |   November 23, 2015    2:28 PM ET

Next week I will be joining world leaders in Paris to negotiate a climate agreement for the next generation. This will be an opportunity to combine national policies and international development strategies to avert the worst impacts from CO2 emissions. Throughout the fight against climate change, the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of responding to this global threat, from Margaret Thatcher's surprising call for action in 1989 to passing the 2008 Climate Change Act. We have led the charge with allies in Europe and around the world until now. Recent policy reversals endanger the climate, the economy and the UK's standing in the world.

Following the 2015 elections, the Government is making new history in the fight against climate change--this time by reneging on existing policies and promises, endangering our transition to a low carbon economy for which Bristol has high ambitions. We have brought the community together around the ambition to make Bristol one of the healthiest and most liveable and resilient cities in Europe. As European Green Capital 2015, we take on a responsibility to set an example for cities across the world in sustainability and low carbon living.

I am proud that in Bristol we are leading this debate and are a clear step ahead of a nation that is now choosing to follow rather than lead the charge against climate change. While the Conservative rolls back the green agenda, Bristol is committed to a massive energy saving and renewables programme aimed at 40% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020, from a 2005 base, 50% by 2025, 80% by 2050 and an ambition to reach zero CO2 by 2065. While the national government is damaging the UK's successful renewables energy industry over off-the-cuff subsidy roll backs, Bristol's Green Capital Partnership has a civil society membership of over 800 businesses, community partners and third sector organisations committed to promoting sustainability in the Bristol city region. In looking toward the future, our partisan political platforms are generally silent on long-range sustainability plans beyond 2020.

A green agenda is not only a responsible path to follow for the environment, it brings social and economic benefits to the city, helping to reduce poverty, improve communities and spur investment around the city. Research by the University of Bristol shows that efforts inspired by our European Green Capital project will save the city up to £300 million in energy bills and could create upwards of 10,000 jobs--many of which are in the construction and operations sectors. Installing solar panels can save families in social housing around £250 a year on electricity bills. Investments in renewable heat generation and district heating systems are poised to benefit social housing communities around the city. As mayor of Bristol, my ambition to make Bristol the most environmentally friendly city in Europe knows no limits. It will be good for us all.

It is a moral and economic necessity that we take action now to build more sustainable cities. Rather than backtrack on existing commitments, I ask the UK Government follow Bristol's lead as we approach the UN Climate Summit in Paris. I shall be taking this strong message to Paris where we are, as this year's European Green Capital, co-hosting the Cities and Local Government Pavilion at the summit.. Bristol's commitment to living in a responsible, sustainable way should inspire cities across the globe to join us in building a society we shall be happy to pass on to the next generation. I will continue to push for this locally, nationally and internationally.

Nine Reasons to Fall in Love With Wales   |   November 23, 2015   11:14 AM ET

On a visit to Wales last year, Barack Obama was blown away - praising the country for its "extraordinary beauty, wonderful people and great hospitality". It's easy to see why he was so impressed: with medieval castles, rugged cliffs and grassy plains, Wales offers myriad opportunities for escaping into history and nature.

If it's good enough for the President, it's certainly good enough for us. From awe-inspiring coastal hiking routes to heritage railways, here are nine reasons to fall in love with Wales.

1. Snowdonia


(Source: Kosala Bandara, Flickr)

One of the country's best known landmarks, Snowdonia is one of the most prominent natural features in Great Britain. Named for Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, the area is a national park renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty and slate-mining history. Though sparsely-populated, the region encompasses several traditional Welsh villages, and these are popular with tourists.

2. Conwy Castle


(Source: Giles Williams, Flickr)

Known as the 'Castle capital of the World', Wales has been home to over 400 castles in its history, of which around 100 remain. Conwy Castle, on the northern coast of the country, is one the most iconic. Originally built between 1283 and 1289 by Edward I during his conquest of Wales, the castle withstood several attacks over the centuries before falling into ruin in the 17th century. Today its partially-restored state is a recognised UNESCO World Heritage site.

3. Tenby


(Source: Richardjo53, Flickr)

Tenby is a walled seaside town in Pembrokeshire in the South-West of the country, which is known for its pretty coloured houses. The town also has 2.5 miles of sandy beach, which was named the best in Europe in 2014 by Europe Best Destinations. In summer, ferries run to Caldey Island, a Holy Island, where Celtic traditions are still observed by Cistercian monks - the island's chief inhabitants.

4. The Wales Coast Path


(Source: Reading Tom, Flickr)

The opening of the Wales Coast Path in 2012 made waves. A long-distance footpath, the route is the first of its kind in the world to cover an entire country's coastline. Spanning 870 miles, the walkway runs from Chepstow in the south to Queensferry in the north. Offering sweeping views of the sea and the Welsh landscape, the path passes through eleven national nature reserves and several cities, including Aberystwyth, Cardiff, and Swansea.

5. Festivals


(Source: TomGough, Flickr)

From the beautiful to the bizarre, Wales has some of the most interesting festivals in the world. Llanwrytyd Wells, for example, has played host to the World Bog Snorkelling Championship every year since 1976, while the boutique Festival No. 6 (pictured) celebrates music, art and culture in the picturesque setting of Portmeirion, a faux-Italian village found on the coast of Gwynedd.

6. Cardiff


(Source: Tony Hisgett, Flickr)

Wales' capital, Cardiff is not just an important centre of Welsh culture and history, but also a thriving modern city. Combining the old and new, the city's attractions include both the medieval Cardiff Castle and the 21st century architecture of Cardiff Bay, as well as rugby ground the Millennium Stadium and the shopping area centred on the Hayes. In recent years, the city has gained a reputation for its dynamic nightlife.

7. Llandudno


(Source: Ted and Jen, Flickr)

The largest seaside resort in the country, Llandudno is a well-loved classic. The town is well known for its beautiful sandy beach and grade-II listed pier, its Victorian sea-fronting houses and the Great Orme limestone hill, which dominates Llandudno's backdrop. For sweeping views over the bay and the wider Creuddyn Peninsula, visitors can easily reach the summit of the hill via cable car or tramway.

8. Beddgelert


(Source: Ed Webster, Flickr)

Combining the best of Snowdonia and Wales as a whole, Beddgelert is a picturesque village found on the river Glaslyn. Filled with sleepy grey stone houses, the town is surrounded by the natural beauty of Snowdonia, with the Welsh Highland Railway running through the town. Popular with tourists, the town is linked to the legend of Gelert, the local hound. Beddgelert means "Gelert's Grave' in English.

9. The Welsh Highland Railway


(Source: Herbert Ortner, Flickr)

The longest heritage railway in the UK, the Welsh Highland Railway is a beautiful way to see the Welsh countryside. A narrow gauge railway, the track was lovingly rebuilt to Porthmadog by a team of dedicated volunteers, reopening in 2011. Running through Beddgelert and the Aberglaslyn pass to Caernarfon, the route traverse the heart of Snowdonia, offering some of the best views in Wales.

'Is It That Hard For Cameron To Ask China To Help North Korean Refugees?' Asks Yeonmi Park

Lucy Sherriff   |   November 21, 2015    2:17 AM ET

A North Korean defector who fled her country and was sold as a sex slave in China has criticised David Cameron for not tackling the issue with the Chinese president.

Speaking to The Huffington Post UK, 22-year-old Yeonmi Park called for action against China, which she says turns back "helpless" refugees who manage to escape North Korea's dictatorship.

China, which borders North Korea and is the main passage used by defectors, has been widely criticised for its treatment of those fleeing Kim Jong-un's regime, and Park is the latest to bring the issue to light.

"I think the first thing we can do is directly embarrass China," Park, who left North Korea when she was 13, says. "Like, what is that? What is this big country doing? These people, these helpless and worthy people are being sent back.

one young world

'My mother was sold for $65. She was less valuable than an iPhone'

"I’m so embarrassed by the rest of the countries too - like Britain. When I was in London last time Xi Jinping came, and I was like, is it really hard for David [Cameron] to tell him ‘don’t send the refugees back to their country’?

"Is it so hard for Obama to say something to him? I’m not even saying stop trading with China, do it! Make money, whatever, economy, I get it.

"But why so hard for them to just mention, make a comment, [about] these lives. If they really believe in justice they have to tell them, you know? 'We are still going to trade with you but can you just let these refugees go to freedom?'

"We are not even asking China to accept us, just to let us through."

Park, who says she was forced to watch her mother be raped when she arrived in China, compares the North Korean president to Hitler, saying he is killing "mass people".

"Just to keep the country and have his power. I do think sometimes, I wonder is it true that every life is equal in this world? Do we care about North Korean lives? They [the rest of the world] would if other people died like the North Koreans are.

"What's happening in that country is unimaginable. The people are not having human rights."

See Also: Yeomni Park Slams Western Media For Treating 'Murderer' Kim Jong-Un As A Joke
Yeonmi Park, The Girl Who Escaped North Korea, Warns World Of Country's Holocaust

During an address at the One Young World summit on Friday, Park criticised Western media for its lighthearted portrayal of Kim Jong-un, saying the press should focus on the atrocities the president is committing instead.

"The first time I saw the media joking about him, I couldn’t actually process it," she reflects. "I thought, how come people can laugh about this tragedy? For us it’s real lives being killed and tortured, mercilessly.

"I have been in that situation. To me [Kim Jong-un] is not just a name, just a face. What he is doing is injustice.

"But now I see people never see this horrifying things, so I don’t blame them [for making] fun of him, that’s what we do.

"We made fun of Hitler too, but that’s not all we did. We were told ‘never again’, we promised to try to never let that tragedy happen again.

"And that’s what I’m saying. Making fun of [Kim Jong-un] is not enough. Making fun of him actually can reduce is dictatorship power, but that is not enough and that is what I’m talking about."

This year, the One Young World summit is based in Bangkok, Thailand, and Park is keen to express her gratification at the country's attitude towards North Korean refugees.

"It's a very historical place for us," she explains. "Because when we come here, Thailand is one of the only governments who is friendly to North Korean defectors and they assist us to find freedom and go to South Korea or America.

"There are countries who are right to accept us and Thailand is the best example of that, so why not China?"

"But I’m not even asking China to accept us as refugees," she continues, getting increasingly agitated and raising her voice. It's the first time I've seen her angry.

"Let us go freely! Let us go to Thailand or somewhere just to be free.

"And that’s what I’m talking about in the news. Why are we portraying Korea as something like an impossible situation? There are solutions! There’s things can be done, it’s not like there is nothing that we can do."

Here Park stops and recomposes herself, and reverts back to her normal softly spoken tone.

"Sorry, I’m just getting emotional about it," she apologises, managing a laugh. "Stupid! I know."

one young world

Yeonmi Park addressing the One Young World conference in Bangkok

After her first public speech at One Young World last year, which has since been watched more than 2m times, Park shot to fame and has now released a book about her escape from the hermetic state.

"I didn't think I'd get the support of so many people," she recalls. "I didn't know people can be good. I didn't know people are designed to be good and help one another.

"To me they were always trying to take advantage of me and abuse me." Park says, referring to the moment she arrived in China and was sold into the sex slave industry along with her mother - who was bought for a mere $65.

"But last year at One Young World [people] showed me that no, humanity is different, humanity is good, and we try and help one another.

"How lucky I am to know that."

Park says it was it was "scary" deciding to tell her story, particularly after her close friend Shin Dong-hyuk's experience.

Dong-hyuk is the only known person to have escaped after being been born in a North Korean gulag. His book 'Escape from Camp 14', which has since been made into a film, was met with concerns over whether he was telling the truth.

"Despite that I hope more refugees speak up," Park continues. "Because after that it was very hard for defectors especially. But don't lose hope."

Not to mention, of course, drawing attention from the watchful eye of North Korea.

"Yes, it was very scary. Risking your life is not an easy thing to do. I have a dream to have a normal life, someday have a child, get older. But it is hard, it’s a big commitment.

"And also to be in public, it’s not easy. It's painful," she adds, "all the attention."

In recent times, Park's home country has committed to a major drive to attract foreign tourists. The secretive regime hopes to welcome 2m tourists, compared to the meagre 100,000 visitors a year it currently pulls in.

But Park says although things aren't black and white, and visiting North Korea is "not good or bad", she has her reservations about the country's tourism boom.

"People go there and they are fooled by the propaganda," she explains. "You know: 'I had enough food, I stayed in hotel, I had electricity, a TV. People are not starving.'

"And it’s kind of more of a problem I think when people are so oppressed and people are dying in concentration camps. We are not animals. But these people come [here] like [it is] a zoo.

"It’s not their intentions when people go to the country they have to bow down to the statue of Kim Il-sung and that means 'we respect your dictator and we justify the dictatorship'.

"I’m happy for them to go to the country but can’t they just request that ‘I’m not going to bow down in front of Kim Jong-un and Kim Il-sung and let me go to see some other parts'?

"We have to be more forceful. If you are going to spend your money on freedom you’ve got to ask what it means, not just listen to what a dictator tells you. It’s funny to me, you know.. Unbelievable."

Since sharing her story in November last year, Park has campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness of the plight of her people. But, she says, her work has barely begun.

"My concern is we have not even started [the] conversation yet.

"It is ridiculous that lives are being sold for $65 in the 21st century. It’s unacceptable. If we have rights, if we say to [North Koreans] 'you are human beings, better than other animals', then we have to protect their rights."

She lets out a long sigh, admitting: "It’s hard to say what’s going to work.

"But I think we do have to carry on our conversation with China. We have to protect these people’s lives.

"Another thing is we need to get information through the borders so [North Koreans] can see what is happening outside in the rest of the world. It will free people’s minds.

"We also have to keep talking to all the world leaders about how to get Kim Jung-un to stop killing his people and respect their human rights.

"But," she laments, "it's not even on the world's agenda.

"ISIS is a big threat now, it is a big threat to everyone on earth, but North Korea is a big threat to everybody too.

"This dictator is a big threat to everybody. He is starving 25m people and he has a nuclear bomb. How do we know he is not going to bomb us?

"People forget about North Korea. They treat it as if it’s in a different universe, like it doesn’t exist. 'It’s our world, let’s talk about our problem here', they say. But we forget the normal people living there, trapped. I hope we can remember them.

"And because I am alive now so I can talk about my story. But if I’d died in the Gobi desert, nobody would have even known that I’d existed in the world."

Yeonmi Park is an ambassador for One Young World, a global forum for young leaders aged 18-30 which gathers youths from every nation in the world to develop solutions to some of today and tomorrow's most pressing issues.

Kathryn Snowdon   |   November 20, 2015   10:14 AM ET

A CNN journalist has been suspended from the network after she criticised the House of Representatives for passing a bill limiting the number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees entering the US.

Covering the news that the House had voted to bar refugees from the two war-torn countries as the US tightens its border security, Elise Labott, tweeted : "Statue of Liberty bows head in anguish."

The Global Affairs Correspondent's tweet has been 'liked' more than 4,000 times and retweeted 2,500 times.

A few hours later she apologised for her comments, saying they were "inappropriate and disrespectful".

While many people criticised Labott's comment, saying it showed bias:

Others felt that she made a valid point and should not have to apologise:

Labott's comments came after the Republican-controlled House voted 289-137 against President Barack Obama's plans to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the US next year.

Whether or not refugees should be allowed to enter the US has been a key topic in the presidential nomination race, particularly since last Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris, which saw the deaths of at least 129 people.

The frontrunner in the Republican contest, Donald Trump, has described letting Syrian refugees into the country as allowing a "Trojan horse" in, adding: "We cannot let them into this country, period."

Ben Carson, Trump's closest rival in the presidential leadership race, has compared refugees of the Syrian conflict to "rabid dogs".

Speaking in Alabama, the former neurosurgeon, said: "If there’s a rabid dog running around the neighbourhood, probably not going to assume something good about that dog and you’re going to want to put your children away."

Carson was responding to a question on whether Christian organisations should be assisting refugees.

Earlier this week, candidate Jeb Bush floated the idea there should be a religious test for those wishing to come the US. Christians rather than Muslims would be granted access under the Texan's plan.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton, who is the favourite to secure the Democrat vote, is taking a completely different approach, calling for an increase in the number of Syrians allowed to enter the US in 2016 to 65,000.


Many Republican State Governors have said that Syrians would not be welcome in their districts.

There is clear opposition to the President's plans, even from within his own party, with 47 Democrats going against Obama's administration during the vote on Thursday.

But Obama maintains that Syrian refugees present no more a threat to the US than tourists.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, the President accused Republican presidential candidates of promoting fears about refugees in order to gain a political advantage.

Obama said that the "overwhelming numbers" of Syrians who are applying for entry to the US “are children, women, families — themselves victims of terrorism”.

Paul Vale   |   November 19, 2015    5:54 PM ET

NEW YORK -- The US is racked with fear and paranoia. Following last week's attacks in Paris, a raft of ugly sentiment has surfaced from across the political right demonising not only Syrian refugees but anyone who professes to follow the Islamic faith.

The fear was stoked on Tuesday when Republican governors from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas signed a pledge promising to ban refugees from being resettled in their states. Constitutional experts suggest such a ban would be illegal, but the move is symbolic of the type of rightwing rhetoric infecting the country following the massacre in France.

Also on Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush suggested there should be a religious test for entry into the United States -- if you're Christian you're in, if you're Muslim you're out. How this test would be administred, the younger Bush failed to answer.

This type of overt bigotry was quickly reflected in the populace when on Wednesday a man interrupted a presentation for the building of a new mosque in Virginia, lambasting the speaker with racist abuse. “All Muslims are terrorists,” he shouted at Samer Shalaby, who was presenting the plans.

I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that does not happen," he continued. "We don’t want it because you are terrorists. Every one of you are terrorists. I don’t care what you say. You can smile at me. You can say whatever you want, but every Muslim is a terrorist.

Others expressed concern that the new mosque would be used to house refugees from Syria, such was the sweep of suspicion gripping the assembly. President Obama has promised to take in 10,000 refugees to ease the crisis that has seen more than 5 million escape the conflict in their homeland. However the attacks in Paris and GOP fear mongering has reduced the displaced to nothing more than a clandestine Muslim fifth column army sent to launch domestic attacks.

As Obama said about the US hysteria during his meeting in Manila on Wednesday, “It has to stop because the world is watching."


Chris York   |   November 16, 2015    2:32 PM ET

We've all been there - you find yourself in a room with the two most powerful men in the the world, walk in front of the camera and then...

Actually, who are we kidding, this doesn't happen to anyone ever - until now.

What. Is Going. On?

Is he lost? Was he trying to take a selfie? Is he an incredibly inept assassin?

The bizarre incident took place on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Turkey on Sunday.

The two leaders are attempting to thrash out a solution to the ongoing and seemingly intractable conflict in Syria

Louise Ridley   |   November 11, 2015   10:37 AM ET

Most people would drop anything for the chance of a White House meeting with the President of the United States, but not David Attenborough.

The broadcaster and naturalist spent his 89th birthday with Barack Obama, and said it was a "great, great privilege" to visit the White House earlier this year.

But though he was impressed by the invitation, Attenborough wasn't about to cancel prior commitments to see him.


Attenborough meets Obama

After the pair's meeting was reported earlier this year, it has now emerged that just before the date, the President's office asked if Attenborough could alter the timings and visit 24 hours earlier than planned.

But having already promised to speak at Kew Gardens, Attenborough turned the president down, The Evening Standard reported.


"Attenborough was apologetic but firm," editor Sarah Sands wrote. "He had agreed to speak at Kew the night before. He fulfilled that engagement."

"A lesson for the over-invited," she added.

Luckily, the scheduling worked out and the meeting did take place in May. The White House released a video of the pair "discussing and contemplating the natural world" to prove it.

Watch David Attenborough's full interview with Barack Obama

Chris York   |   November 10, 2015    7:47 AM ET

Fact 1: President Obama finally has a Facebook page.

Fact 2: The White House garden is actually a national park.

Fact 3: Obama likes watching squirrels.

While obviously the last one is the most important, it is the first that has taken hold the most recently.

The page has all the big things backdated - his birth, marriage and political highlights (y'know the whole president thing) - but his first new post is all about Climate Change.

Hello, Facebook! I finally got my very own page. I hope you’ll think of this as a place where we can have real conversations about the most important issues facing our country – a place where you can hear directly from me, and share your own thoughts and stories. (You can expect some just-for-fun stuff, too.)I’m kicking it off by inviting you to take a walk with me in my backyard – something I try to do at the end of the day before I head in for dinner. I say this often, but that’s because it’s always at the front of my mind: We’ve got to preserve this beautiful planet of ours for our kids and grandkids. And that means taking serious steps to address climate change once and for all. Now, we've made a lot of progress to cut carbon pollution here at home, and we're leading the world to take action as well. But we’ve got to do more. In a few weeks, I’m heading to Paris to meet with world leaders about a global agreement to meet this challenge.I hope you'll join me in speaking out on climate change and educating your friends about why this issue is so important. At a time when nearly three in four adults online use Facebook, this feels like a great place to do it. Share your thoughts in the comments, and pass this message on to folks you think need to see it.If we're all in this together, I'm confident we can solve this and do right by future generations.

Posted by President Obama on Monday, November 9, 2015

"I hope you'll join me in speaking out on climate change and educating your friends about why this issue is so important," Obama wrote on his Facebook Monday. "At a time when nearly three in four adults online use Facebook, this feels like a great place to do it."

Obama is a late-joiner to Facebook having launched a personal Twitter account back in May, which broke the Guinness world record Monday for the "fastest time to reach 1 million followers on Twitter".

This insane infographic shows how that looked.

His Facebook page is growing at a slightly more sedate pace with 580,448 likes (and rising).

Is South Korea Ready to Join Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Preetam Kaushik   |   November 3, 2015   10:15 AM ET

The recent slug fest between Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress on granting President Obama Trade Promotion Authority (TPA or fast track authority) that will allow him to craft trade agreements and then force a Congressional vote under expedited procedures and without amendments has implications beyond the American shores. For one, it will help the US President bring in South Korea as one of the negotiating countries as part of Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP.

The TPP is a proposed regional regulatory and investment treaty being negotiated by 12 countries Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the US. The proposed pact for which initial talks started in 2005 intends to enhance trade and investment among the TPP partner countries; promote innovation, economic growth and development and support the creation of jobs. The countries taking part in it initially aimed to wrap up negotiations in 2012, but contentious issues such agriculture, intellectual property and services & investments have caused negotiations to continue, with the last round meeting in Ottawa in July 2014.

Four of the 12 countries ratified the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement in 2006, while eight more have joined negotiations for TPP whose text has not yet been finalised.

South Korea was invited to the TPP negotiating rounds by the US after the successful conclusion of the free trade agreement between the US and South Korea in December 2010. South Korea already has bilateral trade agreements with some TPP members.

Taiwan, the Philippines, Laos, Columbia and Thailand are among other countries which are said to be joining TPP sometime in the future. Cambodia, Bangladesh and India too are listed as potential members. Notable exclusions from TPP negotiations are China--which has been accelerating its own trade initiatives in Asia and maybe interested in joining the TPP eventually--and Japan, the world's third largest economy. Bringing these two behemoths into the negotiation would set the stage for a final agreement covering more than 50 per cent of world economic output.

During her visit to Washington, DC recently, South Korean President Park Geun-hye indicated East Asia's third-largest economy's willingness to TPP. She described the Republic of Korea as 'a natural partner' in TPP, in part because it has bilateral free trade agreements with almost all TPP members. Despite being a 'natural partner', why has South Korea been reluctant to join the partnership? Seoul's reluctance to join TPP is said to be due to its intention to distance itself from US-led regional coalitions so that its relations with China will remain intact. South Korea has been perceived as more keen on seeking a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with China, which absorbed 26 per cent of South Korea's exports last year as its number one trade partner (the bilateral trade between the two countries has already reached $221 billion), than joining a coalition led by the US.

Also, since it has bilateral free trade agreements with nearly all TPP members, it thought it would be redundant to join the forum. In addition, Korean policymakers relied more on economic data (according to a 2014 study by the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, a government think tank, joining TPP would increase Korea's GDP between 1.7 and 1.8 percent over 10 years) to assess the merits of TPP without weighing other geopolitical benefits. The purely economic perspective missed the fact that the TPP is more about extending global standards to the region at a time when regional powers are vying to dictate how business gets done. President Park's recent announcement in Washington that South Korea is ready to join TPP reflects a strategic shift in South Korea's trade interests. It seems the country is realising that to be a regional player, it needs to go broaden its perspective and consider both tangible and intangible benefits of trade deals.

South Korea's new-found interest in TPP reflects a similar desire by Indonesia--recently Indonesian President Joko Widodo said his country is ready to join TPP in two years, arguably triggered by concerns that Indonesia--a G20 member with about a $1 trillion economy--may fall behind its neighbours which have joined the accord, including Australia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

However, South Korea renewed interest in TPP is likely to anger its critics who oppose South Korea's entry into TPP negotiations, citing its deteriorating human rights record.

A United Nations investigation into South Korea's human rights abuses points to the fact that migrant labourers and immigrant families from the Philippines, Vietnam, China and elsewhere in South Asia are treated badly in the country. According to a human trafficking watchdog, South Korea is a source, transit and destination for human trafficking of men and women subjected to forced prostitution and labour. The country also has a bad reputation of being racist towards people from other countries especially those from China, Vietnam, Philippines and Japan. Last year, The Korea Herald reported instances of discrimination against those who wish to immigrate to the country from Cambodia, Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Thailand in addition to China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

A study by Hyundai Research Institute showed that 44.2 per cent South Koreans do not think of immigrants or migrant workers as their neighbours. This figure was significantly higher than in many other nations. For example, only 21 per cent of Germans, 10 per cent of Australians and just over 3 per cent of Swedes say the same thing. In addition, according to the study, an alarming 31.3 per cent of South Koreans said they do not accept different religions while only 3.4 per cent of people answered the same in the US. Amnesty International also published a report recently highlighting widespread use and exploitation of forced migrant labour in the agricultural sector in South Korea.

The US' move to welcome South Korea to join negotiations on an Asia-Pacific free trade agreement is amid Japan's bid to enter the same set of talks. South Korea, the world's 15th largest economy, has been much more aggressive than Japan in negotiating free trade agreements, having already struck deals with the US and the EU.

The TPP that aims to overhaul trade relations among member nations and establish new rules in areas as diverse as intellectual property, labour and the role of the governments in private enterprise, has also been seen as a threat to China's international trade influence. However, the US has made it clear that China and other nations are free to join the TPP as long as they can abide by partnership's rules.

Roping in China into TPP would enhance South Korea's interests considering its strained relationship with Japan, another Asian giant which is also seen as a possible TPP member.

While South Korea is likely to part of TPP talks and eventually be a member, how soon that should happen is the question that needs to be answered considering its unimpressive human rights record and its poor relationship with Japan.

Ryan Barrell   |   October 29, 2015   10:38 AM ET

YouTuber Baracksdubs is back with another masterful mash-up.

This time, the editing genius has stitched together some clips of the US President to make him sing 'Thriller' by Michael Jackson, just to get us into the Halloween spirit.

It's almost as awesome as the time he did MC Hammer's 'U Cant Touch This'.


Assault At Spring Valley High

Aaron Vallely   |   October 27, 2015    5:09 AM ET

I had only been having dinner with my cousin, Andy, while we watched the recent Vice Documentary where President Obama made a visit to a federal prison in Oklahoma. Amongst the things highlighted, was the unequal treatment of black people compared to that of white people in federal prisons. The two of us then discussed this, and spoke to one another about how ghastly ridiculous it is that so many black people get life sentences in prison for first time drug offences. How there is a thumping inequality between the proportion of black people in jail with that of white people, and it being the consummate injustice.

I only just got in the door home, when I casually scrolled down my Twitter feed to be confronted, quite frankly, by one of the most outrageous videos I have seen in quite some time. It shows a police officer, Deputy Ben Fields, violently man-handling and dragging a young black female student from her desk on front of a group of her fellow students. The young gentleman who dutibly and sensibly recorded the incident, was allegedly arrested for having so done. On what grounds, I wonder? This vicious interaction took place at Spring Valley High School in Richland County, South Carolina. If an assault is determined as a physical attack, then surely this qualifies. Imagine it was a member of your family? One can, and should, view the videos below:

Another angle:

I found irresistible the righteous compulsion to email the Principal of the school, Mr. Jeff Temoney. Making staunchly my concerns regarding the incident, hoping for a thorough investigation, and extending my well wishes to the students. Martin O'Malley, Presidential Candidate, Former Governor of Maryland, and Mayor of Baltimore, had a powerful live reaction on television. I thought, as he did, that if it actually had been a member of my own family, I would be incensed by a formidable anger. Watch below:

A young gentleman, and fellow student, who tweeted that he was himself in the classroom during the assault, described the incident. Apparently it all kicked off because the girl was chewing gum. And what on earth was the teacher doing standing there watching it all?

One of the students, Tony Robinson Jr., who videotaped the incident said he and other students were scared as the incident played out. A second student who was arrested, Niya Kenny, spoke out about what happened.

Deputy Ben Fields, the 34-year-old senior school resource officer at the high school, has been placed on administrative duty while an investigation takes place within the sheriff's office. The school district said it instructed Fields not to return to any school in the district until the investigation has been concluded. The video, predictably went viral, with #AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh trending worldwide on both Twitter and Facebook. It also surfaced that Fields has been sued twice in federal court. One of the lawsuits is still pending with a jury trial set for January 2016. It concerns allegations that Fields is accused of falsely claiming that a black student was a gang member The other lawsuit, in which Fields was accused of attacking a man over a noise complaint went to a jury, which ruled in his favour. According to the lawsuit, Fields later confiscated a mobile phone from Mr. Carlos Martin's wife, Tashiana Anita Martin, who had reasonably recorded the incident on video and then never received back her phone. Ms. Martin was then also arrested.

A tweet that got some attention regarding the incident from a lady stating she was a graduate of Spring Valley High, was not at all surprised.

She is also, apparently, not the only one:

The utility and swift immediacy that social media enables is perfectly vindicated in an incident such as this one. Now that so many incidents are being recorded, whether it is an officer throwing a young girl around at a pool party, or a woman, Sandra Bland, who dies in a jail cell under suspicious circumstances after being arrested for a broken tail light, or an unarmed black gentleman, Eric Garner, who was choked to death in broad daylight here in New York City, or the shooting of musician - and you can still listen to his Music if you would like to remember him - Anthony Hill, despite the fact he was unarmed and had his arms up, or the numerous other cases of police brutality.

I recently sat beside relatives of the late James Baldwin, at a screening of the documentary "The Price Of The Ticket", by Karen Thorsen and Douglas K. Dempsey, in the Lincoln Center in Manhattan. I wonder, so very often, what Jimmy would say about us. Again and again, when anger strikes, I turn to 'The Fire Next Time', a letter to his nephew James and a blistering analysis of America's racial divide. Those words Baldwin wrote to his nephew are burned into my memory, and they remind me, not only of injustice against Black people, but injustice against all people. Everyone should read those words.

"The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what that believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear. Please try to be clear, dear James, though the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words acceptance and integration. There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them."

I also think of Gore Vidal, who said "we learn nothing because we remember nothing".

What a world.