Obama Announces Cuban Embassies

But he pushed Congress to go further

President Obama called the reopening of U.S. and Cuban embassies after a half century a “historic step forward,” but pushed Congress to go even further and end the trade embargo with the island nation.

“This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people,” he said in a brief announcement at the White House that was carried live on Cuban television. “We begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.”

The reopened embassies are just the latest step in a rapprochement that began in December when Obama announced the U.S. would normalize diplomatic relations with the communist country. The Obama Administration has also removed Cuba from an official terror list, and Secretary of State John Kerry will visit the country at the end of summer, after the expected July 20 embassy openings.

Republican presidential candidates largely oppose the move, with only Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul backing Obama’s decision. The Republican-led Congress is also unlikely to end the longstanding trade embargo, with the House already including provisions to block Obama from the moves he has already taken on Cuba.

But Obama cited one prominent Republican, former George W. Bush Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who wrote in a New York Times column in June that he has changed his mind and now supports normalizing ties.

Obama said that “nobody expects Cuba to transform overnight,” but he stressed that he believes a new policy of engagement will advance American interests and the cause of democracy and human rights there.

“This is what change looks like,” Obama added.


TIME Essence Music Festival

Essence Music Festival to Get Serious on ‘Black Lives’

Activist Sybrina Fulton participates in a panel conversation at the Manifest:Justice pop-up art space on May 6, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
Amanda Edwards—WireImage Activist Sybrina Fulton participates in a panel conversation at the Manifest:Justice pop-up art space on May 6, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

Much of the annual 4-day event will focus on the black lives matter movement

Correction appended, July 1

Civil rights leaders will join survivors of tragedy for a frank discussion on the black lives matter movement in New Orleans this week.

The 21st annual Essence Festival, hosted every Fourth of July weekend, will take on a more serious tone during a series of daytime events at the Ernest Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. At the festival’s Empowerment Series, Rev. Al Sharpton will share a stage with Sybrina Fulton, mother of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin, in conversations on injustices facing the black community.

Organized by Essence magazine, which is owned by TIME’s parent company Time Inc., the festival comes amid a renewed discussion of race relations in America, especially the relationship between the black community and police and violence against African Americans. Last week, many of the Essence festival’s featured guests were in Charleston, S.C., for the funeral of a pastor gunned down along with eight parishioners by a man allegedly driven by racial hatred.

“The work that the community needs is urgent and pressing,” says Essence Communications President Michelle Ebanks. “We can’t just have a party.”

Essence Editor-in-Chief, Vanessa K. De Luca recently told the Huffington Post that she hopes to focus on positive solutions that can come out of recent tragedies.

“What better place than the festival to bring harsh conversations to light and deliver solutions?”

The event will also commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, with a series of community service events around the city, focusing on still-struggling areas.

For the past 21 years, the Essence Festival has brought a “party with a purpose” to New Orleans, tackling issues of from gentrification to mental health during the day and rocking out to performers like Prince, Beyoncé, and Mary J. Blige every night over the Fourth of July Weekend. City officials credits the festival with helping add energy to the often-quiet holiday weekend in the Big Easy.

Over the past 20 years, the festival has generated over $2 billion for the local economy, according to Ebanks, including over $240 million that was generated in 2014 alone.

“New Orleans is very early to this discussion,” says New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “We’re losing way too many lives on too frequent a basis. It is a conversation that we have had every year in New Orleans around this and we’re going to continue to have it as we go forward.”

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the name of the festival. It is the Essence Festival.

TIME intelligence

CIA Lags in Recruiting Diverse Workforce, Reports Finds

Mission not yet accomplished on diversity

The Central Intelligence Agency’s efforts to bring more minorities into its workforce haven’t been as effective as hoped, according to a new internal report.

The report finds that since 2008, recruitment of minority officers has declined “to levels lower than what is necessary” to maintain the agency’s current levels of minority representation. Currently, racial and ethnic minorities make up about 24% of the entire CIA workforce.

The CIA says diversity and maintaining a diverse workforce is essential to its mission. Without varieties of perspective among employees, CIA Director John Brennan said Tuesday, officers can become susceptible to “group think,” which could lead to lapses in intelligence and security.

Without a diverse workforce, Brennan said, “we’re not going to be able to do our job.”

MORE The CIA’s Latest Mission: Improving Diversity

CIA Director John Brennan commissioned the Diversity in Leadership study in January 2014, shortly after a report led by Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that examined women’s leadership roles across the agency. That study, released in 2013, found that women comprise about 45% of the agency’s workforce and 31% percent of senior leadership positions. The agency is currently in the process of implementing the recommendations of that report. The 2015 Diversity in Leadership study was chaired by famed Civil Rights activist and attorney Vernon Jordan.

Brennan said increased competition in the workforce has likely contributed to the decline in minority recruitment. At a recent trip to a historically black college, he said, the students he met with were impressive—but also courting several offers from private companies that have more attractive salaries and benefits than the agency.

The agency’s challenge is to become an “employer of choice” for applicants who can thrive—and make a lot of money—at private companies.

And once recruits get in the door, impediments to success remain. Only 10.8% of the senior ranks of the CIA are racial and ethnic minorities, according to the study. The number of African-Americans in the senior ranks has declined in both percentage and actual number between 2004 and 2014. The percentage of Hispanics in the CIA workforce is significantly lower than in the civilian workforce. The study also found that the agency lacks an inclusive culture and that many groups don’t have access to formal informal networks that can lead to career advancement.

A survey of officers found that many LGBT, minority, and officers with disabilities felt that they had to “hide aspects of their identity” in order to thrive within the agency. Many officers said they didn’t even feel comfortable advocating alternative viewpoints within their work groups.

In lieu of agency-led networks, African-American officials have historically hosted informal groups where they can talk freely about their experiences and assist officers in efforts to seek new positions.

In an interview with TIME earlier this year, a veteran officer said some still meet regularly for social and networking events. “We made that a point of pride,” he told TIME. “It was a thing of, ‘I may not get there but we want to position you to get to the top.’”

Brennan said he hopes the report sends a strong signal to his workforce that he takes diversity and increasing minority representation across the board seriously.


Beloved Japanese Cat ‘Elevated to Status of Goddess’ at Lavish Funeral

Cat stationmaster Tama, superstar in western Japan, dies
Kyodo/AP Tama, a cat stationmaster of a railway station in western Japan, attends an event at her Kishi Station in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan in Jan., 2013.

Tama wasn't just any old cat to this community

The beloved rail station cat who died in Japan last week had a funeral fit for a goddess.

Rail officials and thousands of fans attended the funeral for Tama, who died last week after years of attracting tourists to a rail station in Western Japan. According to BBC, she was “elevated to the status of a goddess” at her Shinto-style funeral and titled an “honorary permanent stationmaster.”

The feline was more than just a cute addition to the station, BBC reports, she was also a cash cow. By having her as stationmaster, the railway was able to help turn around from near bankruptcy. Her presence helped generate about 1.1 billion yen.

As a thank you, well-wishers are leaving flowers and cans of tuna outside of the station.


TIME relationships

Women Keeping Their Maiden Names More Often, Report Finds

It may not be for the reason you think

More women are opting against saying “I do” to changing their last names.

According to a new analysis by New York TimesThe Upshot blog, about 30% of women in recent years have decided to keep their maiden names in some way after getting married. The Upshot finds about 20% keep their last name in full, while 10% have opted to hyphenate their two names.

The number of women who have decided not to take on their husband’s last name has risen since the 1980s and 1990s, when only 14% and 18% of women kept their maiden names, respectively. Women most likely to keep their names are high-income urban women—like those featured in the Times wedding section, among whom some 29.5% have kept their maiden names in recent years, up from 16.2 percent in 1990.

Not every woman opts to keep her surname in the name of gender equality, the newspaper reports. “It’s not necessarily a feminist reason, but it’s just my name for 33 years of my life,” said Donna Suh, who married last year. “Plus, I’m Asian and he’s not, so it’s less confusing for me to not have a white name. And on social media I thought it might be harder to find me.”


TIME Crime

Feds Investigate String of Fires at Black Churches in South

Church Fire Investigation
Davie Hinshaw—AP Elisha Walker, 9, and his mother Bonita Walker look at the charred remains of the back left wing of Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. on June 24, 2015.

6 black churches catch fire with 3 suspected as arson in wake of Emanuel murders

A string of fires at churches with predominantly black congregations is being examined by federal investigators in the wake of the recent massacre at Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina.

Six churches have burned in the past week, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and three of the fires are being investigated as arson. Given the history of anti-black violence centering around churches, particularly in the south, the SPLC says the incidents may not be a coincidence.

According to the Washington Post, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are involved in the investigation into the incidents — though the FBI says it’s too soon to tell if they’re at all connected.

The College Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church in Knoxville, Tenn. was set ablaze on June 22, along with a church van outside of the building. Investigators suspect arson, though WATE reports it is not being investigated as a hate crime.

TIME reported last week that a fire at a black Baptist church in Charlotte, N.C. is being investigated as arson. The fire at Briar Creek Baptist church was reportedly so big it took around 75 firefighters about an hour to get the flames under control.

In Macon, Ga., investigators believe the God’s Power Church of Christ was also intentionally set ablaze and have been investigating a fire there as an arson.

Three other churches in Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee were set on fire last week, too, though two were believed to be caused by either lightning or electric wires, the Post reports. A cause for one of the fires has not yet been determined.

Scrutiny of the series of fires comes after the killing of nine people at a Bible study meeting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. The suspected killer in that case Dylann Roof, 21, was motivated by racial hatred.

President Obama noted Friday the black church has long been the “center of African-American life” at the funeral for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed by Roof. Violence against black churches dates back to before the Civil Rights movement, though there was a spate of incidents in the 1990s.

TIME White House

Obama Delivers Powerful Eulogy to Slain Charleston Pastor

President Obama delivered a stirring eulogy and meditation on the nature of grace at the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney Friday, one week after the pastor and eight others were gunned down in a church.

For a little over 30 minutes, Obama traded his typical even tone for a more rousing preacherly style, bringing the crowd of thousands at College of Charleston’s TD Arena, to its feet again and again. At one point, he even sang “Amazing Grace,” a hymn written by a reformed slave-trader who converted to Christianity.

Though the touchstone of his remarks was Pinckney, Obama blended personal remembrances with calls for political renewal and a recurring theological discussion of grace, evoking the very kinds of sermons an AME pastor might give.

“We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith,” the president said. “A man who believed in things not seen. A man who believed there were better days ahead, off in the distance.”

He referred to Pinckney, who also served as a Democratic state senator, as a “good man,” and noted that though he didn’t know Pinckney well, he did have the pleasure of knowing him.

Upon meeting the man who friends and family members have said was “anointed,” and destined to be a public servant and leader, Obama said he was drawn to his “graciousness” and “reassuring baritone.” Pinckney in many ways fulfilled the destiny those around him prophesized, entering the pulpit at age 13, getting ordained by 18 and later becoming the youngest black person ever elected to the state legislature.

Obama said Pinckney was, “wise beyond his years in his speech, conduct, in his love, faith, and purity.”

“What a good man,” Obama said of Pinckney. “Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to hope for when you’re eulogized. After all the words and recitations and resumes are read, just to say somebody was a good man.”

Obama remarked that he was proud of Republican Gov. Nikki Haley for calling for the removal of the Confederate flag at the South Carolina state capitol. The alleged killer in last week’s massacre, Dylann Roof, was found to have embraced the flag and a white supremacist mindset that would later fuel his hatred and lead him to open fire in Emanuel AME Church.

Obama would later recall the names of each of the nine victims of last week’s massacre, noting that they had all found grace — a grace that Obama said the alleged killer couldn’t have known they possessed when he entered the church with the intention of ending their lives.

“Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Pinckney and that Bible study group,” Obama said.

Grace, the president noted, was the virtue he’d been reminded up in the week since the brutal killing. “Grace,” he said, “ is the free and benevolent favor of God.”

“As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us,” he said. “For he has allowed us to see where he have been blind.”

But the politics of the moment were not lost on the president. Obama again called for serious reflection on gun reform and gun violence. “I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions and ways of life that make up this beloved country,” Obama said, “by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace.”

Obama called on the nation not to retreat into a “comfortable silence” in the wake of last week’s tragedy in hopes that by refusing to do so, despite the lack of movement on policies from gun control and ongoing debates on race relations.

“It would be a betrayal of everything Rev. Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again,” Obama said.

TIME White House

Obama Declares ‘Victory’ After Historic Same-Sex Marriage Decision

"This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. " Obama said Friday

President Obama declared “our union a little more perfect” on Friday after the Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples have the constitutional right to marriage.

Speaking from the Rose Garden on the second day in a row that the Supreme Court handed down a historic ruling, Obama said Friday’s landmark decision could be credited not only to the Supreme Court, but also to the “countless small acts of courage” of gays, lesbians and allies who stood strong in the face of adversity over decades.

“What a vindication of the belief that ordinary people can do extraordinary things,” Obama said Friday, speaking for just under 10 minutes. “What a reminder of what Bobby Kennedy once said about how small actions can be like pebbles being thrown into a still lake and ripples of hope cascade outwards and change the world.”

Though many Republican lawmakers stand firm in their belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman, there has been a seismic shift in the country’s feeling on the subject. On Friday, the Supreme Court affirmed that point of view, declaring that states do not have the right to keep same-sex couples from getting married, and that gay and lesbian couples have the legal right to marry in the U.S.

Obama’s celebration of Friday’s ruling came just one day after he declared “victory” for his signature health care law, which the Supreme Court saved from being upended, and he used the same word to describe the same-sex marriage decision.

“It’s a victory for gay and lesbian couples who have fought so long for their basic civil rights. It’s a victory for their children, whose families will now be recognized as equal to any other,” Obama said Friday. “And this ruling is a victory for America. This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.”

Obama said that though the U.S. was founded on the principle that all were created equal, each generation has faced its own test to ensure that those words ring true for all.

“Progress on this journey often comes in small increments. Sometimes two steps forward, one step back, compelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens,” he said. “And then sometimes there are days like this, when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.”

TIME Books

J.K. Rowling Had the Best Response to a Harry Potter Fan Who Is Fasting for Ramadan

Rowling tells a fan which book has the least amount of eating

J.K. Rowling is known for interacting with fans (and foes) on Twitter, but this Thursday the author sent a particularly sweet message to a fan who was fasting for Ramadan.

Mujtaba Alvi, a 21-year-old from Toronto on break from school, was rereading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when he tweeted at Rowling, telling her that the descriptions of food in the fifth Harry Potter book were hard to take while fasting. During Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, those who follow the faith abstain from all beverages and food from dawn until sunset.

To his surprise, Rowling tweeted him back with a helpful tip, suggesting that he read the seventh book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, next.

In that book, young wizards Harry, Ron and Hermione are often forced to go without food.

Alvi, who calls himself a “true Potterhead,” told TIME that seeing Rowling’s response was “surreal.” Plus, Thursday was his birthday—Rowling’s tweet, he said, was the “greatest gift ever.”

Alvi told TIME he probably will take Rowling up on her suggestion to read Deathly Hollows next. “JK Rowling told me to,” he said via Twitter direct message.

That should be an easy assignment for the Potter fan, who said he’s read the books “multiple times.”

H/t BuzzFeed.


TIME celebrities

Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris Are the Highest-Paid Celebrity Couple

According to Forbes

Move over Jay Z and Beyonce—there’s a new highest-paid ccelebrity couple.

Forbes reports Taylor Swift and new beau Calvin Harris, a singer/producer, songwriter and DJ, raked in $146 million over the past year. Thanks to Swift’s endorsement deals with the likes of Sony and Keds and Harris’ contracts with Giorgio Armani and Sol Republic, the new couple booted mega-stars Bey and Jay from the top spot on the list.

Jay Z and Beyonce weren’t too far behind, though. According to Forbes, the two brought in $110.5 million over the past year thanks in part to ticket sales from their collaborative On the Run tour.

Forbes teased the “world’s highest paid celebrities” as a part of their rollout of the upcoming annual Celebrity 100, which will be published June 29. On this year’s list, Forbes ranked the world’s highest-paid celebrities by annual income only and there are only three couples—Taylor and Calvin, Jay and Beyonce, and Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton—where each person made the list.

Read more at Forbes.

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