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President Obama to appear on ‘Running Wild with Bear Grylls’

US President Barack Obama will trek through the wilderness in Alaska this week with British TV adventurer Bear Grylls, the NBC channel has announced.

He is due to tape an episode of Running Wild with Bear Grylls to observe the effects of climate change on the area, it said. He is the first president to appear on the show, to be aired later this year.

President Obama is on a three-day tour of Alaska aimed at highlighting the pace of climate change.

It is part of his administration’s efforts to build support for new legislation significantly capping carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in the US, as well as raise attention to the ways climate change has damaged Alaska’s natural landscape.

Mr Obama follows several other high profile figures, including actresses Kate Winslet and Kate Hudson, who have tested their survival skills on the show.

Bear Grylls – a former British special forces soldier – puts celebrities through their paces in remote forests and mountains across the world, “pushing their minds and bodies to the limit to complete their journeys”.

US President Barack Obama walks towards the Marine One prior to his departure from the White House 31 August 2015 in Washington, DC.

This week Mr Obama will become the first sitting US president to visit the Alaskan Arctic, where he is due to address foreign ministers from Arctic nations at a conference on climate change.

He is also scheduled to visit glaciers and meet fishermen and native leaders to discuss rising sea levels, shrinking glaciers and melting permafrost in the sparsely populated US state.

Before he departed for Alaska, President Obama announced he was changing the name of Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America, to its original native Alaskan, Denali.

Earlier this month, the president unveiled plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions from US power stations by nearly a third within 15 years.

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Obama, in Oklahoma, Takes Reform Message to the Prison Cell Block

AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB

EL RENO, Oklahoma — They opened the door to Cell 123 and President Obama stared inside. In the space of 9 feet by 10, he saw three bunks, a toilet with no seat, a small sink, metal cabinets, a little wooden night table with a dictionary and other books, and the life he might have had.

As it turns out, there is a fine line between president and prisoner. As Mr. Obama became the first occupant of his high office to visit a federal correctional facility, he said he could not help reflecting on what might have been.

After all, as a young man, he had smoked marijuana and tried cocaine. But he did not end up with a prison term, let alone one lasting decades.

“There but for the grace of God,” Mr. Obama said after his tour. “And that is something we all have to think about.”

AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB

Close to one in every 12 black men ages 25 to 54 are imprisoned, compared with one in 60 nonblack men in that age group.

Mr. Obama came here to showcase a bid to overhaul America’s criminal justice system in a way none of his predecessors have tried to do, at least not in modern times. Where other presidents worked to make life harder for criminals, Mr. Obama wants to make their conditions better.

With 18 months left in office, he has embarked on a new effort to reduce sentences for nonviolent offenders; to make it easier for former convicts to re-enter society; and to revamp prison life by easing overcrowding, cracking down on inmate rape and limiting solitary confinement.

What was once politically unthinkable has become a bipartisan venture. Mr. Obama is making common cause with Republicans and Democrats who have come to the conclusion that the United States has given excessive sentences to too many nonviolent offenders, at an enormous moral and financial cost to the country.

This week, Mr. Obama commuted the sentences of 46 such prisoners and gave a speech calling for legislation to overhaul the criminal justice system by the end of the year.

He came to the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution on Thursday to get a firsthand look at what he is focused on.

Accompanied by aides, correctional officials and a phalanx of Secret Service agents, he crossed through multiple layers of metal gates and fences topped by concertina wire to tour the prison and talk with some of the nonviolent drug offenders he says should not be serving such long sentences.

The prison was locked down for his visit. He was brought to Cell Block B, which had been emptied for the occasion. Only security personnel were outside on the carefully trimmed grass yards.

The only inmates Mr. Obama saw were six nonviolent drug offenders who were selected to have a conversation with him recorded by the news organization Vice for a documentary on the criminal justice system that will air on HBO in the fall.

But those six made an impression. “When they describe their youth and their childhood, these are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different from the mistakes I made and the mistakes that a lot of you guys made,”

Mr. Obama told reporters afterward. “The difference is, they did not have the kind of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those mistakes.”

He added that “we have a tendency sometimes to take for granted or think it’s normal” that so many young people have been locked up for drug crimes.

“It’s not normal,” he said. “It’s not what happens in other countries. What is normal is teenagers doing stupid things. What is normal is young people who make mistakes.”

If they had the same advantages he and others have had, Mr. Obama added, they “could be thriving in the way we are.”

Still, he made a distinction between nonviolent drug offenders like those he was introduced to here and other criminals guilty of crimes like murder, rape and assault.

“There are people who need to be in prison,” Mr. Obama said. “I don’t have tolerance for violent criminals; many of them may have made mistakes, but we need to keep our communities safe.”

More than 2.2 million Americans are behind bars, and one study found that the size of the state and federal prison population is seven times what it was 40 years ago. Although the United States makes up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, it has more than 20 percent of its prison population.

This has disproportionately affected young Hispanic and African-American men. And many more have been released but have convictions on their records that make it hard to find jobs or to vote.

In visiting El Reno, Mr. Obama got a look at a medium-security prison with a minimum-security satellite camp, housing a total of 1,300 inmates.

He said the facility was an “outstanding institution” with job training, drug counseling and other programs, but had suffered from overcrowding. As many as three inmates have been kept in each of the tiny cells he saw.

“Three full-grown men in a 9-by-10 cell,” Mr. Obama said with a tone of astonishment. Lately, the situation has improved enough to get it down to two per cell. But, he said, “overcrowding like that is something that has to be addressed.”

Advocates said no president has ever highlighted the conditions of prisoners as Mr. Obama has.

“They’re out of sight and out of mind,” Cornell William Brooks, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., said in an interview. “To have a president say by his actions, by his speech, by his example, ‘You’re in sight and in mind of the American public and of this democracy,’ it’s critically important.”

But the president is not the only one these days. Republicans like Senators John Cornyn of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Mike Lee of Utah have been working with their Democratic counterparts to develop legislation addressing such concerns.

Conservative organizations like Koch Industries, controlled by the billionaire brothers David H. and Charles G. Koch, have joined forces with liberal groups like the Center for American Progress to advocate changes. Many states, both conservative and liberal, have been changing policies lately to reduce prison populations.

“The good news is that we’ve got Democrats and Republicans who I think are starting to work together in Congress and we’re starting to see bipartisan efforts in state legislatures as well,” Mr. Obama said. He vowed to use his remaining year and a half in office to accelerate the trend. “We’ve got an opportunity to make a difference.”

Kevin Spacey on ‘House of Cards,’ Staying in Shape & Saving the Planet

Kevin Spacey Gotham Magazine

With House of Cards, Kevin Spacey helped change the way we watch TV. Now he wants to change the way we look at the planet.

Kevin Spacey takes 10 seconds to dispense with the pleasantries and get down to business. It’s “Hey, how are you?” and then straight to the point, the way his character does it on House of Cards.

“You have to remember, it was just 10 or 11 years ago that everybody thought I was fucking crazy when I decided to pick up and move to London to run a theater company,” he says, referring to his recently completed stint as artistic director of the Old Vic in London’s West End. “I did my job there, and now it’s time to go.” Spacey was seven seasons in when he found the role that made him streaming media’s first superstar, as ruthless politician Frank Underwood on the binge-worthy Netflix drama. You can hear pride swelling in that cosmopolitan purr as Spacey takes in the fact that House of Cards is more popular in its third season than ever. “All those reports over the years that my career was over, that I was done, that I’d run away from Hollywood, they now sound rather….”

Shortsighted? Absurd? Spacey, 55, doesn’t need to finish the thought. The lesson is: Never count out a man of determination and style. The actor spent the 1990s charting a course to international stardom with lead roles in celebrated films like The Usual Suspects (which won him his first Oscar, for best supporting actor, in 1996), L.A. Confidential, and American Beauty (which earned him his second, for best actor, in 2000). A few years later, he was convincing interviewers that he’d had enough. “I love the performing part of being an actor,” he told me over lunch not long after taking the Old Vic job, “but the other bullshit is much, much less interesting to me.”

Kevin Spacey Gotham Magazine

Hail to the chief: Kevin Spacey moves into the Oval Office in Season 3 of House of Cards.

Leave it to Spacey to find a way back to the top that upends any standard approach. He is both the main character and co-executive producer on House of Cards, a show that’s been a big red disrupter to both network and cable TV. (It’s the first Emmy-winning series not shown on cable or regular broadcast TV.) What made him do it? “The script was fantastic, David Fincher [co-executive producer and director of Gone Girl and The Social Network] is a genius, and I liked that it was a brave thing to do,” he says. The series did not have a pilot, it doesn’t rely on commercials or arcane Nielsen data, and there’s never any wait time for “next week’s episode” since an entire season rolls out at once. That last detail has spurred something of a revolution in how we consume entertainment. “I’m not a binge-watcher myself, but I understand the addiction completely,” Spacey says. He’s at home in London, where he spent the predawn hours glued to the Australian Open Tennis Championships beaming live from Melbourne. “People watch what they watch,” he says. “The audience doesn’t care how they get their content. They just want it to be good.”

House of Cards won three Primetime Emmy Awards in 2013 and received 22 Emmy nominations in its first two seasons. Spacey won a Golden Globe and SAG Award this year for playing the most dastardly elected official on TV who’s not actually on TV. Underwood lies, he sleeps around, he kills. Still, President Obama is such a fan that on the eve of last season’s premiere, he tweeted, “Tomorrow: @HouseOfCards. No spoilers, please.” Bill Clinton practically serves as a series advisor. Spacey has been a high-profile supporter and friend of Clinton’s (they used to play poker) since the presidential campaign days, and the admiration is mutual. “He tells me, ‘I love that House of Cards,’” Spacey says in a pitch-perfect impression, which reminds you that the actor’s talent for mimicry is legendary. “He becomes Johnny Carson; you’re looking at Brando,” his costar Robin Wright says. Here, it’s almost as if Clinton is in the room: “Kevin, 99 percent of what you do on that show is real. The 1 percent you get wrong is you could never get an education bill passed that fast.”

But even as House of Cards raises the stakes yet again—Underwood ascended to the presidency this season—Spacey himself remains the most intriguing character of all. He was born the youngest of three in New Jersey, reared in Southern California, launched his career in Manhattan, yet has no particular loyalty to any of those places. “My family moved so much that we’d have Thanksgiving in one house and Christmas in another, so I’ve spent my life trying to make everywhere I go home,” he says.

Kevin Spacey Gotham Magazine

“You can’t control what happens to the world so you try to do the best you can while you are here,” says Spacey, a supporter of Conservation International.

Spacey’s mother did secretarial work to support the family; his father, who he has called a “tough disciplinarian,” struggled to find jobs as a technical writer. Growing up, Spacey didn’t make life especially easy for either of them. He once set fire to his sister’s playhouse and later got booted out of Northridge Military Academy for throwing a tire at another kid. Not that he was an underachiever. Spacey graduated from Chatsworth High School in Los Angeles as co-valedictorian with actress Mare Winningham, but then left The Juilliard School early to find his own way. “I am fairly convinced if I hadn’t dropped out, they would have booted me out a few weeks later,” he says.

It was all part of character building, apparently. Young and broke in Manhattan, Spacey paid the rent by working the stock room at the Public Theater, where he answered a switchboard and requisitioned pencils. Soon enough, he landed an Off-Off-Broadway play called The Robbers. A Village Voice critic compared him to Marlon Brando and Karl Malden. One night, Joseph Papp, the Public’s illustrious theater producer and Spacey’s boss, came by to watch him perform. Papp fired him as the office gofer the next day. As Spacey likes to retell it, “Joe said, ‘I saw an actor last night onstage, and you’ve become too comfortable here.’” Spacey appeared in a New York Shakespeare Festival production of Henry IV in 1981 and made his Broadway debut a year later in Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts.

Spacey is famously circumspect about his private affairs. As he once told Gotham, “I’ve just never believed in pimping my personal life out for publicity. I’m not interested in doing it. Never will do it,” and he’s still committed. Having spent time with him before, I know not even to inquire about his relationships or preferences for this or that. Even innocuous questions get pushback. When I cordially ask how he stays in such good shape, Spacey groans and says, “I’m not going to fucking talk about that. I work out like everybody.” Asked if he meditates, he says, “Fuck! Is this therapy? I thought it was an interview. I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

Kevin Spacey Gotham Magazine

“I’m so pleased to be able to do the stuff I do. I’m living the dream,” says Spacey, now in his third year of House of Cards.

That razor edge is part of Spacey’s allure, too, of course. Michael Kelly, cast as Frank Underwood’s chief of staff, says, “I was scared to death at first. Kevin is a guarded individual in the beginning. You have to earn his trust. One of the most uncomfortable moments of my life was when I had to miss a table read—and I’d only missed one since I’ve been on the show. When I told Kevin, he turned to me slowly and said, ‘That’s okay,’ and there was a chilling pause. ‘Nathan [Darrow, another actor on the show] will read your part.’ But he goes from that to cracking me up with one of his Johnny Carson impressions.”

Dig a little and another side of Spacey emerges. He’s a big giver it turns out. Much of his philanthropic work is guided by a philosophy Jack Lemmon, an early mentor, once shared with him. Spacey also does a dead-on Lemmon impression: “If you have done well, then you’re obligated to send the elevator back down for others.” To that end, Spacey established The Kevin Spacey Foundation in 2010 to support young actors, writers, directors, and producers. This year the initiative brought together 34 emerging talents from around the Middle East, a part of the world not known for supporting the arts. “I don’t think it’s enough to build extraordinary national theaters and palatial cultural centers only to farm things out to Cirque du Soleil,” Spacey says. He’s also an advocate forConservation International. Last year Spacey was the voice of the rainforest itself in an awareness campaign that also featured Julia Roberts, Harrison Ford, Edward Norton, and Penélope Cruz.

“I remember seeing a piece of art that made me laugh recently,” says Spacey. “A group of men are in water up to their noses, standing around having an argument. The piece is called Politicians Discussing Global Warming. These problems are real and we can’t ignore them. We have to do everything we can to make people aware of what we’re doing to our planet and about what we can do to take care of it.”

Spacey’s voice softens for a moment. It’s like a small window opens on a place that’s usually off-limits. “You can’t control what happens in the world, so you try to do the best you can while you’re here. As for my life, I couldn’t have written it better. I’m so pleased to be able to do the stuff I do. Frankly, I’m living the dream. There’s no doubt about it. I am the luckiest guy walking the face of the earth.”

This photo from Obama’s India trip looks exactly like a Wes Anderson movie

Official state visits are always weird — the pageantry, the costumes — but President Obama’s visit to India has become so surreal that he now appears to be filming a new Wes Anderson movie there.

Ostensibly, this photo shows Obama and his wife meeting with Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, but it’s pretty clear that that is just an elaborate cover for some sort of Royal Tenenbaums or Darjeeling Limited sequel.

Obama’s state visit has so many of twee, ironic Wes Anderson hallmarks that one can only assume the White House has brought on the hipster director to stage manage the entire weeklong affair. Here are a few more of the signs:

  • The elaborate costumes, either a nostalgic holdover from British imperial rule, or the mis-en-scene of a hit play directed by star high school student Max Fischer (no relation)
  • The weird smirks of President Obama and his wife Michelle, possibly because they have just filled Bill Murray’s hotel room with bees in revenge for Murray stealing their crush
  • Speaking of Bill Murray, he will be playing the role of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As with his portrayal of Steve Zissou, he will have his character’s name stitched onto his costume:

View image on Twitter

  • A fancy state dinner, which presumably included elaborate stationery with offbeat typefaces, all designed by moody but precocious adolescents
  • Michelle Obama’s beautiful but enormous dress and her towering-over-her-hosts high heels, which at this point is as much as of a no-more-fucks-to-give trademark as Margot Tenenbaum’s cigarettes and fur coats
  • Anderson’s continued practice of casting a short, iconoclastic Indian man in every film, although now that standby Kumar Pallana has passed away, Anderson has instead deployed Indian President Pranab Mukherjee
  • Obama fled the state dinner early to take a long train ride on the Indian rails to find himself

In a show of patience and good diplomacy, Obama’s Indian hosts have so far not protested Wes Anderson’s meddling.

GEORGE CLOONEY: ‘We Cannot Be Told We Can’t See Something By Kim Jong Un, Of All Fucking People’

george clooney on phone

Actor George Clooney isn’t happy about Sony’s decision to pull “The Interview” before its Dec. 25 release, even after a group of hackers threatened any theaters that showed the comedy film.

Clooney, who initially circulated a petition to stand in solidarity with Sony, now believes Sony should release the film online — immediately.

“We should be in the position right now of going on offense with this,” Clooney told Deadline. “Do whatever you can to get this movie out. Not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I’m not going to be told we can’t see the movie.”

“That’s the most important part,” Clooney added. “We cannot be told we can’t see something by Kim Jong Un, of all fucking people.”

In a news conference Friday, President Obama also said he believed that Sony was making a mistake by pulling “The Interview” entirely, despite the damage they had caused by releasing thousands of internal Sony emails.

“I wish [Sony] had spoken to me first,” President Obama said. “I would have told them do not get into a pattern where you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.”

Dalai Lama Brings Message of Compassion to Southern California

Dalai Lama Brings Message of Compassion to LA

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama poses for a “selfie” with blogger and activist Alek Boyd during a break between panel discussions at an event entitled: “Happiness, Free Enterprise, and Human Flourishing.”

The Inglewood visit follows a meeting with President Obama and talks in the Bay Area

The Dalai Lama’s California speaking tour continues Tuesday when he visits The Forum for a mid-day talk on social integrity that is expected to draw protests from hundreds of Buddhist monks and nuns who accuse him of religious persecution.

The spiritual leader, awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet, is scheduled to speak Tuesday at 12:15 p.m. The theme for the event organized by the Lourdes Foundation will be Non-Violence and the Effects of Compassion in the 21st Century.

Tickets for the event start at $38 and cost up to $224 for floor seating.

Compassion was the subject of his talk Monday at Santa Clara University, where he wore a visor featuring the school’s name and posed for at least one selfie with a member of the audience.

“Through kindergarten up to the university we must include teaching of compassion or teaching of warmheartedness,” he said.

The talk was projected on a screen at the school cafeteria.

“I think it would be really shortsighted to focus on getting homework done or not getting homework done fast enough, and not have that experience to listen to his wisdom,” said Katie O’Keefe, a Santa Clara University senior.

Protesters from the International Shugden Community have followed the Dalai Lama throughout his California visit, which began Friday and included speeches in Richmond and Berkeley. About 30 demonstrators gathered outside the sold-out event in Santa Clara.

They are upset about the banning of Tibetan-exiles who make prayers to the Buddhist deity Dorje Shugden, protesters said.

A frequent visitor to the U.S., the Dalai Lama has lived in exile in northern India since fleeing China in 1959. He met last week with President Barack Obama over the strong objections from China that the U.S. was meddling it its affairs.

Beijing decries the Dalai Lama as an anti-Chinese separatist because of his quest for greater Tibetan autonomy. The White House calls him a respected cultural and religious figure who is committed to peace. 

Beijing frequently protests meetings with the Dalai Lama, and the dust-ups have become something of a diplomatic ritual for Obama, who faced Beijing’s ire when he met with the Tibetan leader in 2010 and again in 2011. In his first year in office, Obama put off a meeting with the monk in what was seen as a move to placate China.

“I have severe doubts that the Chinese would proceed to do anything in response or retaliation that would undermine much larger Chinese interests” with the U.S., Jonathan Pollack, a China scholar at the private Brookings Institution, told The Associated Press.

The Dalai Lama told Obama he’s not seeking Tibetan independence. Both leaders said they hoped talks would resume between Beijing and the Dalai Lama’s representatives.

Obama: My Credit Card Was Rejected in NYC

Presidents, they’re just like us — their credit cards get declined.

President Obama’s credit card was rejected last month at a restaurant in New York.

“I went to a restaurant up in New York when I was — during the U.N. General Assembly, and my credit card was rejected,” Obama said Friday while signing an executive order to protect consumers from identity theft. “It turned out I guess I don’t use it enough. They were — they thought there was some fraud going on. Fortunately, Michelle had hers.”

And, yes, Obama had to defend himself.

“I was trying to explain to the waitress, you know, I really think that I’ve been paying my bills,” Obama said. “Even I’m affected by this.”

Obama has been concerned about the state of his credit before. In Austin in July, he ordered more than $300 worth of barbecue and realized he didn’t have enough cash.

So he pulled out his credit card but asked trip director Marvin Nicholson if it was good before handing it over to the cashier. Nicholson assured Obama that the card – photos show it as a black JP Morgan card – would work, and apparently it did.

Despite this, when Obama went to a boutique grocery store in Minneapolis in June he paid for $82.55 in groceries with cash. At the time, he said he only carried cash and his driver’s license in his wallet.

Obama isn’t the only high-profile government figure to run into financial rejection. Former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said in Chicago this month that the market is so tight he couldn’t refinance his home.

“I recently tried to refinance my mortgage an I was unsuccessful in doing so,” he said, according to Bloomberg. “I’m not making that up.”

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