Former President Barack Obama, First Lady Unveil White House Portraits

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden invited Obama and the former first lady back to their former home to unveil their official portraits.

Former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle returned to the White House on Wednesday for the unveiling of official portraits with a modern vibe: him standing expressionless against a white background and her seated on a sofa in the Red Room wearing a formal light blue dress.

“Barack and Michelle, welcome home,” President Joe Biden said before he invited the Obamas to the stage to unveil the portraits. Some in the audience gasped, others applauded.

“It’s great to be back,” Obama said when it was his turn to speak. He praised Biden — his vice president — as someone who became a “true partner and a true friend.”

The artist whom Barack Obama selected to paint his portrait says the “stripped down” style of his works helps create an “encounter” between the person in the painting and the person looking at it.

Robert McCurdy likes to present his subjects without any facial expression and standing against a white background, which is how America’s 44th and first Black president will be seen here for posterity, in a black suit and gray tie.

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden invited Obama and the former first lady back to their former home to unveil their official portraits. It was Mrs. Obama’s first visit since her husband’s presidency ended in January 2017. Obama himself visited in April to help celebrate the anniversary of the major health care law he signed.

The former first lady chose artist Sharon Sprung for her portrait.

The portraits do not look like any others in the collection to which they will be added, in terms of style and substance.

McCurdy told the White House Historical Association for the latest edition of its “1600 Sessions” podcast that his style is “stripped down for a reason.” He’s also done portraits of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and the Dalai Lama, among others.

“They have plain white backgrounds, nobody gestures, nobody — there are no props because we’re not here to tell the story of the person that’s sitting for them,” McCurdy said. “We’re here to create an encounter between the viewer and the sitter.”

He compared the technique to a session with a psychiatrist in which the patient and doctor tell each other as little as possible about themselves “so that you can project onto them.”

“And we’re doing the same thing with these paintings,” McCurdy said. “We’re telling as little about the sitter as possible so that the viewer can project onto them.”

McCurdy works from a photograph of his subjects, selected from hundreds of images. He spends a year to 18 months on each portrait and said he knows he’s done “when it stops irritating me.”

Sprung, who also was interviewed for the podcast, described feeling as though she was in a “comedy sketch” when she met with the Obamas in the Oval Office.

She kept sinking into the couch she sat on while they sat on sturdier chairs. Then the president “flicked” away the printed talking points she had handed out to everyone in the room. Then she just “went still” and had to “gasp for air a little bit” when someone else in the meeting asked her why she paints. Then she started to cry.

“So who knows what put the interview over the top, but that’s how it went,” Sprung said.

She had planned on having Mrs. Obama stand in the portrait, “to give it a certain dignity,” but said the former first lady “has so much dignity that I decided to do it sitting just because … it was too much looking up at her. I’m that much shorter than her.”

Sprung worked on the portrait for eight months, day and night, the most time she’s ever spent on a single painting. She worked entirely from photographs taken in various locations on the State Floor of the White House. Getting the dress just right was the hardest part, she said.

“The color was so beautiful and I really wanted to get the strength of the color and the light,” said Sprung, who has done portraits of the late Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii, and Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman elected to Congress.

Recent tradition, no matter political affiliation, has had the current president genially hosting his immediate predecessor for the unveiling — as Bill Clinton did for George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush did for Clinton and Obama did for the younger Bush.

Donald Trump, who criticized almost everything about Obama and deviated from many presidential traditions, held no ceremony for Obama. So President Biden, who was Obama’s vice president, scheduled one for his former boss.

Obama’s portrait is destined for display in the Grand Foyer of the White House, the traditional showcase for paintings of the two most recent presidents. Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s portraits currently hang there.

Mrs. Obama’s portrait likely will be placed with her predecessors along the hallway on the Ground Floor of the White House, joining Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush.

Both McCurdy and Sprung said it was hard to keep their work on the portraits secret. McCurdy said it wouldn’t have been a problem “if it had not gone on for so long.” Sprung said she had to turn the portrait to the wall whenever someone came into her studio in New York.

The White House Historical Association, a nonprofit organization that is funded through private donations and sales of books and an annual Christmas ornament, helps manage the portrait process and, since the 1960s, has paid for most of those in the collection.

Congress bought the first painting in the collection, of George Washington. Other portraits of early presidents and first ladies often came to the White House as gifts.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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President Biden To Help Unveil Obama White House Portraits

President Biden will be the rare president to host a former boss for the unveiling; he was Obama’s vice president.

It’s been more than a decade since President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, welcomed back George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, for the unveiling of their White House portraits, part of a beloved Washington tradition that for decades managed to transcend partisan politics.

President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, are set to revive that ritual — after an awkward and anomalous gap in the Trump years — when they host the Obamas on Wednesday for the big reveal of their portraits in front of scores of friends, family and staff.

The Obama paintings will not look like any in the White House portrait collection to which they will be added: They were America’s first Black president and first lady.

The ceremony will also mark Michelle Obama’s first visit to the White House since Obama’s presidency ended in January 2017, and only the second visit for Barack Obama. He was at the White House in April to mark the 12th anniversary of the health care law he signed in 2010.

Portrait ceremonies often give past presidents an opportunity to showcase their comedic timing.

“I am pleased that my portrait brings an interesting symmetry to the White House collection. It now starts and ends with a George W,” Bush quipped at his ceremony in 2012.

Bill Clinton joked in 2004 that “most of the time, till you get your picture hung like this, the only artists that draw you are cartoonists.”

Recent tradition, no matter the party affiliation, has had the current president genially hosting his immediate predecessor for the unveiling — as Clinton did for George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush did for Clinton and Obama did for the younger Bush.

Then there was an unexplained pause when Donald Trump did not host Obama.

Two spokespeople for Trump did not respond to emailed requests for comment on the lack of a ceremony for Obama, and whether artists are working on portraits of Trump and former first lady Melania Trump.

The White House portrait collection starts with George Washington, America’s first president. Congress bought his portrait.

Other portraits of early presidents and first ladies often came to the White House as gifts. Since the middle of the last century, the White House Historical Association has paid for the paintings.

The first portraits financed by the association were of Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson, and John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy, said Stewart McLaurin, president of the private, nonprofit organization established by first lady Kennedy.

Before presidents and first ladies leave office, the association explains the portrait process. The former president and first lady choose the artist or artists, and offer guidance on how they want to be portrayed.

“It really involves how that president and first lady see themselves,” McLaurin said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The collection includes an iconic, full-length portrait of Washington that adorns the East Room. It is the only item still in the White House that was in the executive mansion in November 1800 when John Adams and Abigail Adams became the first president and first lady to live in the White House.

Years later, first lady Dolley Madison saved Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of Washington from almost certain ruin. She had White House staff take it out of the city before advancing British forces burned the mansion in 1814. The painting was held in storage until the White House was rebuilt.

President and first lady portraits are seen by millions of White House visitors, though not all are on display. Some are undergoing conservation or are in storage.

Those that are on display line hallways and rooms in public areas of the mansion, such as the Ground Floor and its Vermeil and China Rooms, and the State Floor one level above, which has the famous Green, Blue and Red Rooms, the East Room and State Dining Room.

Portraits of Mamie Eisenhower, Pat Nixon, Lady Bird Johnson and Lou Henry Hoover grace the Vermeil Room, along with a full-length image of Jacqueline Kennedy. Michelle Obama’s portrait likely will join Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush along the Ground Floor hallway.

The State Floor hallway one floor above features recent presidents: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Gerald Ford’s portrait and the likeness of Richard Nixon — the only president to resign from office — are on view on the Grand Staircase leading to the private living quarters on the second floor.

Past presidents’ images move around the White House, depending on their standing with the current occupants. Ronald Reagan, for example, moved Thomas Jefferson and Harry S. Truman out of the Cabinet Room and swapped in Dwight Eisenhower and Calvin Coolidge.

In the Clinton era, portraits of Richard Nixon and Reagan, idols of the Republican Party, lost their showcase spot in the Grand Foyer and were replaced with pictures of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Truman, heroes of the Democrats. Nancy Reagan temporarily moved Eleanor Roosevelt to a place of prominence in the East Room in 1984 to mark the centennial of her birth.

One of the most prominent spots for a portrait is above the mantle in the State Dining Room and it has been occupied for decades by a painting of a seated Abraham Lincoln, hand supporting his chin. It was placed there by Franklin Roosevelt.

Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s portraits hang on opposing walls in the Grand Foyer.

Clinton’s would be relocated to make room for Barack Obama’s if the White House sticks to tradition and keeps the two most recent Oval Office occupants there, McLaurin said.

“That’s up to the White House, to the curators,” he said.

The association, which is funded through private donations and the sale of books and an annual White House Christmas ornament, keeps the portrait price well below market value because of the “extraordinary honor” an artist derives from having “their work of art hanging perpetually in the White House,” McLaurin said.

Details about the Obamas’ portraits will stay under wraps until Wednesday.

President Biden will be the rare president to host a former boss for the unveiling; he was Obama’s vice president. George H.W. Bush, who held Ronald Reagan’s ceremony, was Reagan’s No. 2.

Betty Monkman, a former White House curator, said during a 2017 podcast for the White House Historical Association that the ceremony is a “statement of generosity” by the president and first lady. “It’s a very warm, lovely moment.”

The White House portraits are one of two sets of portraits of presidents and first ladies. The National Portrait Gallery, a Smithsonian museum, maintains its own collection and those portraits are unveiled before the White House pair. The Obamas unveiled their museum portraits in February 2018.

Linda St. Thomas, chief spokesperson for the Smithsonian Institution, said in an email that a $650,000 donation in July from Save America, Trump’s political action committee, was earmarked for the couple’s museum portraits. Two artists have been commissioned, one for each painting, and work has begun, St. Thomas said.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Planning for Your Retirement, and for a Child’s Special Needs, All at Once

Rachel Nagler, 39, has worked part time since she was 22, but she will never be financially independent, according to her father. She is legally blind with a seizure disorder and mild cognitive impairment, the result of birth trauma.

For her parents, Sam and Debra Nagler of Concord, Mass., planning for retirement required them to focus on Rachel’s future as well as their own.

“She has very limited earning capacity,” Mr. Nagler, 70, said. “The concern is, is this sufficient for her for the rest of her life?”

His wife, who is 68, has been their daughter’s primary caregiver since her birth.

“Nobody knows Rachel, and takes care of Rachel, and knows every need of Rachel, and is on top of everything other than my wife,” Mr. Nagler said. “That’s a worry because she’s not going to live forever.”

For parents of children who have serious disabilities or special needs, the challenges of growing and preserving their wealth are magnified exponentially, and the stakes are much higher. While they are trying to plan for their own retirements, these parents need to simultaneously secure the ‌ stability of a son or daughter who will be dependent on them‌ until — and even after — their deaths.

“We want to make 100 percent sure that after we’re gone, there’s no issue,” Mr. Nagler said.

Under the best of circumstances, caring for an adult child with special needs is physically and emotionally taxing. As these parents age, the question of who will house, feed and drive their son or daughter after they no longer can becomes an urgent one.

But not all parents in this situation are aware of the myriad challenges they face. “Getting them to understand that they need to think differently about their retirement in this scheme of things is a key step. And it’s not simple,” said Mary Anne Ehlert, a certified financial planner and founder of Protected Tomorrows, a financial planning firm that specializes in families with special needs.

For example, Ms. Ehlert said, she has to consider a multigenerational time horizon for these clients’ portfolios. “We might be a little more conservative, but we still need growth. We need growth longer,” she said. But a conservative-leaning asset mix has drawbacks, too. “Conservative doesn’t always give us the growth we need,” she said. In addition, many families opt for a portion of their portfolio to be in cash or cash-like liquid investments in the event that their child suddenly needs a new piece of expensive equipment, like a speech-assistive device.

Often, one spouse will sideline a career or leave the work force entirely to provide care, reducing their own ability to save for retirement. These families find their budgets strained by a host of ancillary costs: paying for gas to drive their children to therapy appointments and day programs; buying supplies like adult diapers and waterproof bedding, compression tights to promote circulation, specialized diets — the list goes on.

Even when the disabled individual qualifies for public health assistance, finding affordable, adequate housing is especially difficult. Some people require supervised care in a group home, while others need in-home care in a dwelling modified to accommodate physical limitations. In both cases, waiting-list times are measured in years.

As a result, many parents feel they have no choice but to keep their son or daughter at home, said Harry Margolis, an estate planning lawyer near Boston who works with families with special needs. “Often, they’re still living with parents even when everybody’s getting older,” he said.

This can be expensive in terms of lost opportunity costs. To spare their child the upheaval, parents might forgo the opportunity to downsize into a less-expensive or more accessible home while they are still healthy enough to do so.

Since most of the public benefits available to special-needs and disabled people are administered at the state level through Medicaid, parents of a special-needs child might not be able to move to a state with a lower cost of living. Doing so could mean the adult child would lose access to their benefits and be placed at the bottom of waiting lists for services in a new state.

Some families, however, move to states that offer more generous benefits, even if it means a higher cost of living. “That’s a real struggle for these families, particularly as Mom and Dad age,” said Debra Taylor, founder of Taylor Financial Group in Franklin Lakes, N.J. “Some look to relocate to different states because some states are more hospitable than others.”

Douglas and Susan Rohrman moved out of the Chicago area five years ago, alarmed at the declining health of their daughter Liz, who suffered a traumatic brain injury just before the age of 2. Now, 38, the younger Ms. Rohrman has a host of physical challenges, including partial paralysis that impairs her mobility and ability to swallow and cognitive impairment.

“Liz was not getting great care in Illinois, so it was time to sell the house and move everything,” Ms. Rohrman, 74, said. “I researched this up the wazoo.”

The Rohrmans moved to the San Diego area because resources such as housing and day programs were more readily available. But when Covid struck, the couple felt that the only way they could keep their daughter safe — she had been hospitalized with pneumonia three times in 2019 — was to take her out of the care home they had moved her into just a few years earlier, the one they’d uprooted their lives for.

It was an enormous adjustment in responsibilities, but also in finances.

“When we were doing our taxes, I sort of sat down to see where my money was going. And Liz is a large part of it,” Ms. Rohrman said, ticking off items for which she has to pay out of pocket now that her daughter is living at home.

For example, swallowing difficulties mean that the younger Ms. Rohrman has to have a thickening agent added to her water. That alone costs several thousand dollars a year, her mother said, and there are a host of other unique expenses, such as for stabilizing footwear that helps her daughter walk. “I came up with like $9,000, not counting everything I buy at the grocery store and Walmart,” she said.

Mr. Rohrman, 80, had deferred his retirement at a law firm several years to keep earning income, but he stopped working when the family moved. The combination of much higher expenses, a drop in income and a flagging stock market demanded they re-evaluate their finances.

These financial struggles are magnified for single parents. “Care is inevitably more expensive when you have a single parent,” Ms. Taylor said, because they have to rely much more on paid caregivers.

Laura Weinberg, 59, became the sole caregiver for her son Will, who is autistic and nonverbal, when her husband, a lawyer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I was in the weird situation of being widowed when I was 38, dealing with a 4-year-old who was a danger to himself,” she said. She was also a caregiver for her ailing mother and maintaining the family home in northern New Jersey. “I was overwhelmed,” she said.

“Estate planning was confusing and extremely expensive when I started to put a toe in the water,” she said. “I got all kinds of wrong information.”

Ms. Weinberg said she would like to have speech-assistive equipment for her son so that he can communicate, but the cost is prohibitive. Instead, she has pieced together a solution with an iPad and specialized apps. “It’s more modest than it might have been, but some of them are in the many thousands of dollars,” she said.

For parents of special-needs children, retirement planning and estate planning have to take place in tandem. Special-needs trusts and life insurance policies in one or both parents’ names are two of the most commonly used tools. Both have to be structured in compliance with the complex eligibility regulations for public health benefits, since many are means-tested.

Mr. Margolis said that even wealthy families have to navigate the byzantine landscape of government benefits, because many of the services available, including housing, are administered entirely through these programs. “In order to qualify for S.S.I. and Medicaid, in most cases you’re limited to $2,000 in countable assets,” he said.

“For a disabled individual, a lot of time, maintaining eligibility is critical,” said Joellen Meckley, executive director of the American College of Financial Services’ center for special needs. “I can’t tell you how many times family members, with the best of intentions, will name a disabled adult child as a beneficiary, not understanding that getting that money could immediately jeopardize their ability to access public benefits,” she said, referring to parents’ wills, retirement plans or life insurance policies.

This makes it imperative that money intended for a disabled individual be held in a specialized financial instrument such as a special-needs trust.

The money in a trust can go toward quality-of-life enhancements for the special-needs individual like cable TV, a cellphone or computer, better food, care providers and rent or utilities, without jeopardizing their public benefits, Mr. Margolis said.

There are two main categories of special-needs trusts. First-party trusts are established with assets that belong to the individual. The drawback is that these trusts have a payback clause: After the individual dies, any money remaining in the trust goes to reimburse the state for the cost of their care over the years.

Third-party special needs trusts are established and funded by someone else for the benefit of the disabled individual. “A third-party one takes in the assets of other people, like gifts, inheritances or life insurance proceeds,” said Brian Walsh, senior manager of financial planning at SoFi.

These trusts are often funded or supplemented with parents’ life insurance proceeds. “A lot of times, life insurance can be used to kind of create a funding source when one or both of them passes away,” Mr. Walsh said.

A “second-to-die” life insurance policy is a frequently used tool. Both members of a couple are covered under it, and the policy pays out after the second spouse dies, providing a more affordable option than insuring each parent separately.

“The purpose of this policy is that it’s going to pay out a death benefit to fund the child’s remaining needs no matter when the parents die,” Mr. Walsh said.

Since the funds in these trusts are generally conservatively invested, experts say the final challenge is making sure that the amount in the trust will provide an adequate income stream.

Getting that balance right is something that the Rohrmans, in California, struggle with.

When Mr. Rohrman stopped working, that meant not only paring back household spending, but revisiting their investing strategy as well.

“We’re financially very conservative. We know we can’t be like we were in our 30s and 40s in terms of our investment mix, spending and so forth,” Mr. Rohrman said. “We think about it a lot. We don’t let it dominate us.”

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Thai PM Suspended While Court Mulls If He Defied Term Limits

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s removal is likely to only be temporary going by past trends. But letting him stay poses some risks.

Thailand’s Constitutional Court suspended the prime minister from his duties on Wednesday while it decides whether the man who led a military coup in 2014 has violated the country’s term limits, potentially opening a new chapter of turmoil in the nation’s troubled politics.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s removal is likely to only be temporary since the court has generally ruled in the government’s favor in a slew of political cases.

Any decision to allow the general to stay on risks invigorating a protest movement that has long sought to oust him and reopening deep fissures in Thailand, which has been rocked by repeated bursts of political chaos since a coup toppled then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006.

Since then, Thaksin, a telecoms billionaire whose populist appeal threatened the traditional power structure, has remained at the center of the country’s politics, as his supporters and opponents fought for power both at the ballot box and in the streets, sometimes violently. The 2014 takeover ousted his sister from power.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, a close political ally of Prayuth and part of the same military clique that staged the coup, will take over as acting prime minister, a spokesman for the prime minister’s office said Wednesday. Anucha Burapachaisri added that Prayuth would respect the court’s decision and called on others to do the same.

But those who want Prayuth gone don’t want Prawit in power either.

“No Prayuth. No Prawit. No military coup government,” a leading protest group said in a statement after the court decision Wednesday.

The group known as Ratsadon, or The People, issued a new call for protests, but only a small number came in response.

Prayuth’s detractors contend he has violated a law that limits prime ministers to eight years in power — a threshold they say he hit Tuesday since he officially became prime minister on Aug. 24, 2014.

But his supporters contend his term should be counted from when the current constitution, which contains the term-limit provision, came into effect in 2017. Another interpretation would start the clock in 2019, following the election.

The case — in which the court is deciding whether a coup-leader has stayed in power too long — highlighted Thailand’s particular political culture: Often the soldiers who overthrow elected leaders then try to legitimize their rule and defuse opposition by holding elections and abiding by constitutional restrictions.

For instance, while Prayuth initially came to power in a coup, he won the job legally after a general election in 2019.

By a vote of 5 to 4 on Wednesday, the court agreed to suspend the prime minister from his duties while it considers a petition from opposition lawmakers. The court’s announcement said Prayuth must submit his defense within 15 days of receiving a copy of the complaint, but it did not say when it would rule.

He will remain in his other post of defense minister, according to Anucha, the spokesman.

Polls show Prayuth’s popularity is at a low ebb, with voters blaming him for mishandling the economy and botching Thailand’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demand that Prayuth and his Cabinet resign, while also calling for the constitution to be amended and the monarchy to be reformed.

Several confrontations between the student-driven protest movement and authorities became violent. A legal crackdown on activists further embittered critics.

Small protests appealing again to Prayuth to step down and the Constitutional Court to force him to if he didn’t have been held daily since Sunday, but drawn only small crowds.

“I am very pleased. Gen. Prayuth has stayed for a long time and had no vision to develop the country at all,” Wuttichai Tayati, a 28-year-old who works in marketing, said while protesting in Bangkok on Wednesday. “At least taking him out for now might make Thailand move forward a bit.”

Even if Prayuth does go, replacing him with Prawit will not resolve the standoff.

In addition to his close association with the military clique that seized power, Prawit, 77, was tainted by allegations he had illegally amassed a collection of luxury watches he couldn’t possibly afford on a government salary, though a court accepted his explanation they were gifts and cleared him of wrongdoing.

Whether Prawit would or could take the prime minister’s post if the court rules against Prayuth is not clear. He has publicly acknowledged his health is not good and is better known as a behind-the-scenes political organizer.

Also, some legal scholars think the eventual replacement would have to come from the small pool of candidates that the country’s political parties nominated for the job after the 2019 general election. That list did not include Prawit, though it appears possible he could be nominated in case of a deadlock.

If he is not forced out of office, Prayuth must call a new election by March next year, though he has the option of calling one before that.

The eight-year term limit was meant to target Thaksin, whose political machine remains powerful. The 2014 coup ousted the government of Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

Thailand’s traditional conservative ruling class, including the military, felt that Thaksin’s popularity posed a threat to the country’s monarchy as well as their own influence. The courts have been stalwart defenders of the established order and ruled consistently against Thaksin and other challengers.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Parkland Jury Making Rare Visit To Bloodied School Building

and Associated Press
August 4, 2022

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has been sealed and preserved since the 2018 massacre that left 14 students and three staffers dead.

Jurors in the trial of a Florida gunman were taken to see the still blood-spattered rooms of a three-story building at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Thursday, an extremely rare visit to a crime scene sealed off since he murdered 14 students and three staff members four years ago.

The seven-man, five-woman jury and 10 alternates were bused under heavy security 30 miles from the Broward County Courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale to the suburban school, where classes don’t resume until later this month. Law enforcement was sealing off the area and plans called for closing the airspace above to prevent protesters from interrupting or endangering the jurors’ safety.

The panelists and their law enforcement escorts were being accompanied into the building by Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, prosecutors and the gunman’s attorneys. The gunman waived his right to go with them.

Prosecutors, who are winding up their case, hope the visit will help prove that the former Stoneman Douglas student’s actions were cold, calculated, heinous and cruel; created a great risk of death to many people and “interfered with a government function” — all aggravating factors under Florida’s capital punishment law.

Under Florida court rules, neither the judge nor the attorneys are allowed to speak to the jurors — and the jurors aren’t allowed to converse with each other — when they retrace the path the 19-year-old followed on Feb. 14, 2018, as he methodically moved from floor to floor, firing down hallways and into classrooms as he went. The jurors have already seen surveillance video of the shooting and photographs of its aftermath.

Once the jurors leave, a pool of journalists will be escorted inside — allowed to carry paper and pen but no cameras — for the first public look.

The building has been sealed and surrounded by a chain-link fence since shortly after the massacre. Known both as the freshman and 1200 building, it looms ominously over the school and its teachers, staff and 3,300 students, and can be seen easily by anyone nearby. The Broward County school district plans to demolish it whenever the prosecutors approve. For now, it is a court exhibit.

The gunman, now 23, pleaded guilty in October to 17 counts of first-degree murder; the trial is only to determine if he is sentenced to death or life without parole.

The building’s interior has been left nearly intact since the shooting: Bloodstains still smear the floor, and doors and walls are riddled with bullet holes. Windows in classroom doors are shot out. Rotted Valentine’s Day flowers, deflated balloons and other gifts are strewn about. Only the bodies and personal belongings such as backpacks have been removed.

Miami defense attorney David S. Weinstein said prosecutors hope the visit will be “the final piece in erasing any doubt that any juror might have had that the death penalty is the only recommendation that can be made.”

Such site visits are rare. Weinstein, a former prosecutor, said in more than 150 jury trials dating back to the late 1980s, he has only had one.

Prosecutors are expected to rest their case shortly after the visit.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Inflation Costs For Wedding Guests

The pandemic pushed back many weddings, and now many wedding guests are struggling to attend due to inflation costs.

As weddings are upon us, a record number of ceremonies are happening this year thanks to the pandemic, which has postponed a lot of celebrations until now.

But for wedding guests, attending can carry a hefty price tag, especially with costs rising due to inflation. 

Cameron Robertson was invited to eight weddings this year, not just in various states but in various countries like Spain and Lebanon.

“It’s been pretty rough in terms of the finances of it,” Robertson said. 

She’s gone to three weddings so far, but had to say no to two events. She’s undecided on the other three.  

“It has been a struggle financially. But those that I’ve been able to attend have been wonderful and obviously I’ve had to have those rough conversations. I’m not one to necessarily want to say no to any wedding they’re so fun,” Robertson said.  

The flights, hotels, gifts, cabs, and food can all add up.  

Guests spend an average of $1,000. 

Robertson agreed and said she’s spent about $1,000 on each wedding. 

That’s around what Credit Karma says is the average for guests. 

But their survey finds that 73% of guests say inflation is negatively affecting their ability to join celebrations. Polled guests say they are forced to take on debt or miss events completely.  

“It’s a lot of financial burden for one person to take on. And. You know, I’ll make up for it other ways. But you know I can get you a good registration gift,” Robertson said.  

To make it work, Robertson stayed at friends’ and family’s homes, put some expenses on credit cards, and even got some financial help from her family.  

“I’m not necessarily proud of saying that, but I have had to receive some financial support and to attend these weddings,” she said. 

Joseph Kraemer was invited to four weddings and extended parties. 

“I’ve kind of had to pick and choose with, you know, the extended wedding functions such as bachelor parties,” Kraemer said.   

He decided to forgo one bachelor party resulting in one disappointed friend, but he thought of another option.  

“I would love to celebrate you separately and, you know, maybe do something smaller, kind of closer to both of us. That way I can still be there and celebrate you, even though I’m not able to kind of join in the larger parties,” he said. 

Avshalom Gad, a certified financial planner at Eagle Strategies with New York Life, says if multiple wedding invites are in your future, don’t let your heart overrule your head. 

“You want to make sure that whatever you spend is based on your budget. You’re not overspending just because you really miss your friend and you don’t want to look bad and you have to go because everybody is going,” Gad said.

He warns you don’t want to spend all your savings now, and not just so you can retire some day. Because there will be more weddings ahead. 

“Some of your friends are going to get married twice and three times. What? You’re not going to go? You’re going to go. So you’re going to save money for that, too,” Gad said. 

Source: newsy.com

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Pope Lands In Canada, Set For Apologies To Indigenous Groups

On Monday, the pope is meeting with school survivors in Maskwacis, where he is expected to deliver an apology.

Pope Francis began a historic visit to Canada on Sunday to apologize to Indigenous peoples for abuses by missionaries at residential schools, a key step in the Catholic Church’s efforts to reconcile with Native communities and help them heal from generations of trauma.

Francis kissed the hand of a residential school survivor as he was greeted at the Edmonton, Alberta, airport by Indigenous representatives, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mary Simon, an Inuk who is Canada’s first Indigenous governor general.

The gesture set the tone of what Francis has said is a “penitential pilgrimage” to atone for the role of Catholic missionaries in the forced assimilation of generations of Native children — a visit that has stirred mixed emotions across Canada as survivors and their families cope with the trauma of their losses and receive a long-sought papal apology.

Francis had no official events scheduled Sunday, giving him time to rest before his meeting Monday with survivors near the site of a former residential school in Maskwacis, where he is expected to pray at a cemetery and apologize.

Francis exited the back of his plane with the help of an ambulift, given his strained knee ligaments have forced him to use a wheelchair. The simple welcome ceremony took place in airport hangar, where Indigenous drums and chanting broke the silence. As Trudeau and Simon sat beside Francis, a succession of Indigenous leaders and elders greeted the pope and exchanged gifts. At one point, Francis kissed the hand of residential school survivor Elder Alma Desjarlais of the Frog Lake First Nations as she was introduced to him.

“Right now, many of our people are skeptical and they are hurt,” said Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, who greeted the pope. Yet he expressed hope that with the papal apology, “We could begin our journey of healing .. and change the way things have been for our people for many, many years.”

Indigenous groups are seeking more than just words, though, as they press for access to church archives to learn the fate of children who never returned home from the residential schools. They also want justice for the abusers, financial reparations and the return of Indigenous artifacts held by the Vatican Museums.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald, one of the country’s most prominent Indigenous leaders, said several members of her family attended residential schools, including a sister who died at one in Ontario. She described it as “an institution of assimilation and genocide.”

During her fight to Alberta, “I was just so overcome with emotion and there were different times on the plane where I really had to stop myself from breaking into a deep sob,” she said. “I realized that I am an intergenerational trauma survivor and there are so many people like me.”

Francis’ week-long trip — which will take him to Edmonton; Quebec City and finally Iqaluit, Nunavut, in the far north — follows meetings he held in the spring at the Vatican with delegations from the First Nations, Metis and Inuit. Those meetings culminated with a historic April 1 apology for the “deplorable” abuses committed by some Catholic missionaries in residential schools.

The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse were rampant in the state-funded Christian schools that operated from the 19th century to the 1970s. Some 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their homes, Native languages and cultures and assimilate them into Canada’s Christian society.

Then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a formal apology over the residential schools in 2008. As part of a lawsuit settlement involving the government, churches and approximately 90,000 surviving students, Canada paid reparations that amounted to billions of dollars being transferred to Indigenous communities. Canada’s Catholic Church says its dioceses and religious orders have provided more than $50 million in cash and in-kind contributions, and hope to add $30 million more over the next five years.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 had called for a papal apology to be delivered on Canadian soil, but it was only after the 2021 discovery of the possible remains of around 200 children at the former Kamloops residential school in British Columbia that the Vatican mobilized to comply with the request.

“I honestly believe that if it wasn’t for the discovery … and all the spotlight that was placed on the Oblates or the Catholic Church as well, I don’t think any of this would have happened,” said Raymond Frogner, head archivist at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

Frogner just returned from Rome where he spent five days at the headquarters of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which operated 48 of the 139 Christian-run residential schools, the most of any Catholic order. After the graves were discovered, the Oblates finally offered “complete transparency and accountability” and allowed him into its headquarters to research the names of alleged sex abusers from a single school in the western Canadian province of Saskatchewan, he said.

The Inuit community, for its part, is seeking Vatican assistance to extradite a single Oblate priest, the Rev. Joannes Rivoire, who ministered to Inuit communities until he left in the 1990s and returned to France. Canadian authorities issued an arrest warrant for him in 1998 on accusations of several counts of sexual abuse, but it has never been served.

Inuit leader Natan Obed personally asked Francis for the Vatican’s help in extraditing Rivoire, telling The Associated Press in March that it was one specific thing the Vatican could do to bring healing to his many victims.

Asked about the request, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said last week that he had no information on the case.

At a news conference Saturday in Edmonton, organizers said they will do all they can to enable school survivors to attend the papal events, particularly for the Maskwacis apology and the Tuesday gathering at Lac Ste. Anne, long a popular pilgrimage site for Indigenous Catholics.

Both are in rural areas, and organizers are arranging shuttle transport from various park-and-ride lots. They noted that many survivors are now elderly and frail and may need accessible vehicle transport, diabetic-friendly snacks and other services.

The Rev. Cristino Bouvette, national liturgical coordinator for the papal visit, who is partly of Indigenous heritage, said he hopes the visit is healing for those who “have borne a wound, a cross that they have suffered with, in some cases for generations.”

Bouvette, a priest in the Diocese of Calgary, said the papal liturgical events will have strong Indigenous representation — including prominent roles for Indigenous clergy and the use of Native languages, music and motifs on liturgical vestments.

Bouvette said he’s doing this work in honor of his “kokum,” the Cree word for grandmother, who spent 12 years at a residential school in Edmonton. She “could have probably never imagined those many years later that her grandson would be involved in this work.”

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Silvio Berlusconi Angles for Italy’s Presidency, Bunga Bunga and All

ROME — Early this month, Silvio Berlusconi sat at a dining room table in his mansion with his girlfriend, more than a half-century younger, and an old political ally. As they feasted on a pumpkin souffle and truffle tagliatelle, the 85-year-old Italian former prime minister and billionaire made hours of phone calls, working his way down a list of disaffected lawmakers he hoped to persuade to elect him president of Italy next week.

“‘We are forming the Bunga Bunga party and we want you with us,’” Christian Romaniello, a lawmaker formerly with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, recounted Mr. Berlusconi as saying, referring to the sex-fueled bacchanals that Mr. Berlusconi has deemed merely “elegant dinners.” According to Mr. Romaniello, Mr. Berlusconi then added, “‘But I’ll bring the ladies.’”

The Italian presidency, the country’s head of state, is a seven-year position usually filled by a figure of unimpeachable integrity and sobriety whose influence flows from moral authority. The current holder, Sergio Mattarella, is a quiet statesman whose brother was murdered by the mob. Another contender is Mario Draghi, the prime minister and a titan of European politics who has led the country to a period of unusual stability.

Then there is Mr. Berlusconi, who despite his recent bad health, waxen appearance and weakened political standing, is making an unabashed push to win a career-culminating position that he hopes will wash away decades of stains — his allies say unjustly thrown mud — and rewrite his legacy.

mob links and bribing lawmakers; the tax fraud conviction; the ban from office; the sentence to perform community service in a nursing home; his use of his media empire for political gain; his use of the government to protect his media empire; the wiretapped conversations of his libertine party guests regaling the Caligulan extent of his bunga bunga debaucheries; his close relationship with the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, who gifted Mr. Berlusconi a large bed; his appraisal of Barack Obama as “young, handsome and sun tanned”; his comparing a German lawmaker to a concentration camp guard; his second wife’s divorcing him for apparently dating an 18-year-old.

It’s an unorthodox résumé.

Mr. Berlusconi’s conflicts of interest, judicial problems and past behavior made him less than an excellent candidate, said Emma Bonino, a veteran Italian politician and civil rights activist who once ran for the office herself. “I don’t think he would give a good image of our country in the world,” she said.

Mr. Berlusconi declined to comment for this article. But he and his team of longtime advisers are selling him as a moderate, pro-European champion of democracy and can-do capitalism. “I think Silvio Berlusconi can be useful to the country,” Mr. Berlusconi, speaking of himself in the third person, said in October.

In usual fashion, he is using all the levers at his disposal to reach the requisite majority of 505 votes in the secret balloting for the presidency among lawmakers that starts on Monday.

read the headline) and published an insert on his qualities (“hero of liberty”). Weeks ago, lawmakers opening their mailboxes found a photograph of Mr. Berlusconi, arms up and bathing in adoration, on the cover of an anthology of his speeches.

the great-grandfather has remained the father figure of the center-right, which now has — if united — the largest bloc of lawmaker electors in Parliament and a strong desire to choose the next president.

But Mr. Berlusconi’s insistence has caused a major headache for Matteo Salvini, the leader of the nationalist League party, both at work and at home. Mr. Salvini’s girlfriend is the daughter of Denis Verdini, one of Mr. Berlusconi’s closest advisers, who is publicly applying pressure — from house arrest after his conviction in a bankruptcy fraud case — to elect Mr. Berlusconi.

After years of promising Mr. Berlusconi that he would back his candidacy for president, Mr. Salvini sent a stinging message to Mr. Berlusconi this week, saying that, “We must verify if Berlusconi has the numbers before the start of voting next week.” Mr. Salvini indicated that he had somebody else in mind.

Giorgia Meloni, the hard-right leader of Brothers of Italy, the third party in the center-right alliance, spoke on Tuesday of the possibility of Mr. Berlusconi’s stepping aside, prompting speculation that he might drop out.

the cover of Espresso magazine.

For all Mr. Berlusconi’s seeming unsuitability to fill the role of head of state, his allies argue that Italians elected him multiple times, that political considerations motivated the magistrates who hounded him for decades and that he was a self-made and brilliant businessman who built an empire.

But his outsize appetites and self-interested use of power fueled a backlash that seeded and grew the enormous anti-establishment Five Star Movement, co-founded by the comedian Beppe Grillo, who once derided Mr. Berlusconi as a “psychotic dwarf.”

Five Star took power in 2018 as Italy’s leading party, and Mr. Berlusconi’s support dwindled. He took a back seat to the rising nationalists, first Mr. Salvini and then Ms. Meloni, and railed against Five Star as incompetent good-for-nothings and a threat to democracy. He mocked their trademark universal welfare plan as a joke. He called their power structure communist.

Five Star has since imploded and scattered members into a mixed group of lawmakers desperate to avoid new elections that would almost certainly cost them their jobs and pensions. Mr. Berlusconi has explicitly promised to keep the legislature going as president, has called the universal income plan good for the poor and showered gifts on former rivals.

Luigi Di Maio, the Five Star leader who once refused to join any government with Mr. Berlusconi, this Christmas accepted a centuries-old oil painting of Venice from the mogul’s collection, according to a person close to Mr. Di Maio, who declined to comment.

As Mr. Berlusconi worked the phones alongside his girlfriend, who is also a member of Parliament in his political party, he sat next to Vittorio Sgarbi, one of his former ministers and a lawmaker and television personality who is well liked by many Five Star members.

When Mr. Sgarbi called Mr. Romaniello, the former Five Star lawmaker, who was interrupted while making Carnevale masks with his two small children, he jokingly introduced Mr. Berlusconi as “a Grillo-following friend.”

In an interview, Mr. Romaniello said that he was flattered by the call and added that friends contacted by Mr. Berlusconi also respected the former prime minister’s phone banking and “positive charisma.” But Mr. Romaniello said that he still considered himself, politically, “an adversary,” adding that Five Star had been born “as the antithesis of Berlusconi.” A phone call, he said, would not win his vote.

By Tuesday, even Mr. Sgarbi had bailed on Mr. Berlusconi and was urging him to be a kingmaker.

“I don’t think he can do it,” he said in an interview, saying that the duo had only persuaded about 15 lawmakers to back him, far short, even if he had a base of about 450 conservative supporters, to win the election. “It’s useless to try if you don’t have the numbers.”

On Wednesday, as Mr. Berlusconi’s lawyers in Milan successfully argued for a delay in a bribery trial related to his bunga bunga tribulations until after the presidential vote, his team snapped back and vowed that he would persist and, as always, speak for himself.

“I will not disappoint those who have trusted me,” Mr. Berlusconi said.

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