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Obamas Choose Artists to Paint Official Portraits

The United States’ National Portrait Gallery has announced that two up-and-coming African-American artists, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, have been selected to paint the official portraits of former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

The Smithsonian Institution, parent organization of the National Portrait Gallery, said Friday that President Obama had specifically requested to be painted by Wiley, 40, whose portraits of young black men have made a sharp impact on the art world.

Wiley places his young models in poses reminiscent of famous court painters of previous centuries, such as Diego Velazquez, Peter Paul Rubens, and Hans Holbein. He paints many of his subjects larger than life, using gauzy realism and vivid colors to arrest the viewer’s attention.

Wiley, born in Los Angeles, California, has been considered a successful artist for more than a decade.

His images replace the white subjects of his forbears with handsome young African-American men and women in front of decorative backdrops that resemble wallpaper. Some of the backdrops contain designs that overlap the figure in the portrait, raising questions about whether the subject has power over his environment or is trapped by it.

​Some of Wiley’s subjects are famous, such as rapper-turned-actor LL Cool J, whose portrait shows him seated, larger than life, coolly aloof as he gazes down on his audience in front of a vibrant red and green damask pattern.

In recent years Wiley has conducted what he calls his World Stage project, painting subjects from a variety of far-flung places, such as China, Jamaica, Haiti, Sri Lanka and Brazil. His paintings place people of color in settings where they radiate power, beauty and grace equal to the light-skinned subjects who for centuries were the focus of similar portraits.

First lady’​s portrait

Michelle Obama chose Sherald, winner of the National Portrait Gallery’s annual portraiture competition in 2016, to paint her portrait as first lady.

Sherald is a 44-year-old African-American woman from Baltimore, Maryland, scene of protests in 2015 over the death while in police custody of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man.

With racial tensions still running high in her hometown, Sherald’s portraits, like Wiley’s, focus on her African-American subjects in a way that emphasizes grace, dignity and each person’s unique features.

Sherald’s work is full of poised energy. Some of her images look almost flat, like cutouts, but the faces and bodies of her subjects look as though they were asked to stop and pose in the middle of a movement, a thought or a breath.

The painting for which Sherald won the National Portrait Gallery is called “Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance)” and features a young black woman dressed in a navy blue dress, white gloves and a striking red hat, holding an oversized white teacup and saucer. The subject looks graceful and relaxed while her eyes bore into the viewer in an unspoken challenge.

The work of both artists examines and challenges ideas about black identity, a prominent concept in the legacy of the nation’s first African-American presidential couple.

National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery and the White House work together at the conclusion of each presidency to commission two official sets of portraits, with one set for display at the White House and one at the National Portrait Gallery. Both collections are in Washington, D.C.

In a statement Friday, Director Kim Sajet said the National Portrait Gallery “is absolutely delighted that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have agreed to create the official portraits of our former president and first lady.”

Sajet noted that both artists have been very successful, but more importantly, she said, “they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the 21st century.”

The portraits are expected to be unveiled in early 2018.

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Lawyer: Priebus Interviewed by Mueller Investigative Team

Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was interviewed Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team as part of an investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential campaign, his attorney said.

“He was happy to answer all of their questions,” the lawyer, William Burck, said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear what questions Priebus was asked or how long the interview lasted.

Priebus is one of several current and former White House aides expected to be interviewed by Mueller’s team in the coming weeks. Those investigators, besides looking into whether campaign aides coordinated with the Kremlin to influence the outcome of the presidential election, are also looking into a series of White House actions since the start of the administration, including the firing in May of former FBI Director James Comey.

They’re also investigating the short-lived tenure of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign in February, and the drafting of a public statement about a June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in New York.

Key observer

As head of the Republican National Committee during the presidential campaign, Priebus would have insight into the inner workings of the Trump campaign, particularly during the general election. He also was present during the presidential transition and served as White House chief of staff during times crucial to the Mueller investigation, including while Flynn served in the administration and while Trump made the decision to fire Comey.

In a prepared statement in June to the Senate intelligence committee, Comey described how Priebus had briefly interrupted a private White House conversation with the president in which he said Trump told him he hoped Comey would end an FBI investigation into Flynn and his contacts with the Russian ambassador.

“After he had spoken for a few minutes about leaks, Reince Priebus leaned in through the door by the grandfather clock, and I could see a group of people waiting behind him,” Comey’s statement said. “The president waved at him to close the door, saying he would be done shortly. The door closed.”

Priebus, who was ousted from his position in July, did not answer his cellphone Friday evening. His voicemail box was full.

Mueller has requested a large batch of documents from the White House. Among the other officials his team is expected to interview are former press secretary Sean Spicer and White House counsel Don McGahn.

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California Declares Emergency to Fight Hepatitis A Outbreak

California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency to combat a hepatitis A outbreak that has killed 18 people in San Diego.

Brown said Friday that the proclamation would allow the state to increase its supply of vaccines. The state can now purchase vaccines directly from manufacturers and distribute them.

California is experiencing the largest hepatitis A outbreak in the United States transmitted from person to person — instead of by contaminated food — since the vaccine became available in 1996.

There have been 576 cases reported throughout California, the vast majority in San Diego

 

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Congressional Reaction to Trump’s Announcement on Iran Deal

In announcing that the United States would not certify the nuclear deal with Iran, U.S. President Donald Trump has required Congress to reconsider the agreement.

The Trump administration said it will continue to live up to its commitments under the deal, but said Congress must address flaws within the agreement. If not, Trump said the United States will withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal agreed upon by Tehran, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Germany and the European Union.

Here are how some of the key members in Congress have responded to Trump’s announcement.

 

REPUBLICANS

House Speaker Paul Ryan

Ryan says the Iran nuclear deal reached during the Obama administration is “fatally flawed” and has backed Trump’s decision to re-examine it. “Simply enforcing a fatally flawed agreement is not sufficient. I support President Trump’s decision to re-evaluate this dangerous deal, and the House will work with his administration to counter Iran’s range of destabilizing activities.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Like every Republican in Congress, McConnell voted against the Iran nuclear agreement. He has not expressed a position on how he will respond to Trump’s decertification.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker

Corker says he will introduce legislation in the next two weeks that will address flaws in the nuclear deal without violating it. His proposals include allowing the United States to reinstitute sanctions against Iran if Tehran gets within one year of acquiring nuclear weapons, as well as giving the International Atomic Energy Agency more powers to verify Iran’s compliance. His proposals would also require the president to certify that Iran is complying with the pact twice a year instead of every 90 days.

Several other top Republicans

“We are committed to work with the president to address these flaws [in the nuclear agreement], hold Iran strictly accountable to its commitments, and support efforts to counter all the Iranian threats,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, and Representative Liz Cheney in a joint statement.

 

“We’ll take an important step to that end on the House floor by passing bills to increase sanctions unrelated to JCPOA that target Iran’s support for terrorism and its ballistic missile program when Congress returns in the coming weeks,” their statement read.

DEMOCRATS

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi

Pelosi called Trump’s decision not to recertify the Iran nuclear agreement a “grave mistake” that threatens American security, and argued that the Iranians are in compliance with the 2015 agreement.

“I say the Iran nuclear agreement was the best way to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear armed state,” Pelosi said during a press conference Friday. “The president, I think, is being frivolous with this.”

Senator Ben Cardin

Cardin, who is the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described Trump’s announcement as “one of the most dangerous and consequential decisions the president has made imperiling U.S. national security.”

Senator Bob Menendez

Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that while he opposed the original nuclear deal brokered by the Obama administration, he believes Trump’s decision to not recertify it is “more about campaign promises and less about our national security interests.”

“Not certifying now does nothing but create uncertainty among our allies and embolden an already belligerent Iran,” he said in a statement.

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Trump Expected to Decertify Iran Accord, Lay Out New Strategy

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to withdraw his support for the Iran nuclear agreement Friday, but stop short of completely scrapping the deal. The U.S. leader is expected to outline a new strategy.

Trump will likely declare that it is not in the U.S. national security interests to certify the 2015 deal that Washington reached with Iran and five other countries.

The move would start a 60-day period during which Congress must decide whether to re-impose some or all of the economic sanctions that had been lifted as part of the agreement.

Many Republicans and Democrats are opposed to reinstating sanctions, which would effectively kill the agreement, and media reports suggest Trump may hold off on urging Congress to do so.

Trump has called the pact “one of the dumbest deals ever” and repeatedly suggested that he may do away with it.

The president has said Iran has “not lived up to the spirit” of the agreement.

Under U.S. law, the president must certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal and that it is in nation’s interests to stay in the agreement. Trump has twice certified the deal, but done so unhappily, reports suggest.

The next certification deadline is Oct. 15.

The Trump administration has continued to accuse Iran of sponsoring terrorism, threatening U.S. allies in the Middle East and testing ballistic missiles. Trump has publicly lamented that the agreement does not cover these issues.

Iranian officials have stressed that the deal is not up for renegotiation. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has threatened to leave the deal “within hours” if the U.S. imposes new sanctions.

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Gas Lines in Puerto Rico Shorter, But Problems Remain

For Puerto Ricans in the San Juan metro area, the once interminable eight-hour-plus lines for fuel have eased to little more than an hour in some places and disappeared altogether in others. For the two weeks after the devastating impact of hurricane María, the strongest to hit the island in almost 100 years, residents feared a possible fuel shortage, which led to moments of tension and anxiety, and even the threat of violence in some areas. Gianpaolo Pietri reports for VOA.

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Turkey Blames US Envoy for Souring Ties; Won’t Buy US Guns

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lashed out at the United States, saying Washington is “sacrificing ties” by supporting its ambassador to Turkey amid a diplomatic spat.

Erdogan said: “It is unacceptable for America to sacrifice a strategic partner like Turkey for an impertinent ambassador.”

He also slammed Washington for providing arms to Kurdish fighters in Syria, whom Turkey considers terrorists, while blocking the sale of U.S.-made weapons to Turkish security personnel. He said Thursday that Turkey would retaliate by canceling plans to supply its police force with American guns.

Turkey arrested a Turkish national working for the American Consulate in Istanbul, leading the U.S. to suspend issuing visas at its missions in Turkey.

Erdogan also accused holdovers from the Obama administration of obstructing the Trump administration’s relations with Turkey.

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