TIME Venezuela

Venezuelan President Calls Obama’s Outreach to Cuba ‘Courageous’

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures during the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) trade bloc annual presidential 47th summit in Parana
Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro, right, gestures during the Southern Common Market trade bloc's annual presidential 47th summit in Paraná, Argentina, on Dec. 17, 2014 Enrique Marcarian—Reuters

Cuba’s staunch Latin American ally approves of the renewal of diplomatic relations between the old foes

U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba was nothing short of “courageous,” according to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

Following dual announcements in Washington and Havana on Wednesday, the Venezuelan head of state openly lauded the new chapter in American-Cuba relations during a trade summit in Argentina’s southern city of Paraná.

“You have to recognize the gesture of Barack Obama, a gesture that is courageous and necessary,” said Maduro, according to Reuters.

Caracas has been one of the most outspoken supporters of Cuba since late President Hugo Chávez first rose to power in the country during the late 1990s.

[Reuters]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 17

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Independent and third party candidates could break D.C. gridlock — if they can get to Washington.

By Tom Squitieri in the Hill

2. A new software project has surgeons keeping score as a way to improve performance and save lives.

By James Somers in Medium

3. The New American Workforce: In Miami, local business are helping legal immigrants take the final steps to citizenship.

By Wendy Kallergis in Miami Herald

4. Policies exist to avoid the worst results of head injuries in sports. We must follow them to save athletes’ lives.

By Christine Baugh in the Chronicle of Higher Education

5. Sal Khan: Use portfolios instead of transcripts to reflect student achievement.

By Gregory Ferenstein at VentureBeat

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 12

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Eel drones are the future of undersea warfare.

By Patrick Tucker in Defense One

2. This interactive map points the way to breaking gridlock in Washington and reconnecting Americans to the policy conversation.

By the Hewlett Foundation Madison Initiative

3. Fear of terrorism has radically changed America’s public spaces.

By Susan Silberberg in The Conversation

4. By dividing Muslims, ISIS might be sowing the seeds of its own destruction.

By Mark Mardell in BBC

5. Yesterday, the FCC boosted access to free, high-quality internet at America’s public libraries, opening the door to digital opportunity for all.

By Reed Hundt in the Aspen Idea

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: From California’s Pineapple Express to Another Shutdown Drama

Watch this week's #KnowRightNow to catch up on all the latest stories

The House passed a $1.1 trillion spending package late Thursday to ensure that the government will avoid another damaging shutdown. “This compromise proposal merits bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and hopefully will arrive on the President’s desk in the next few days, and if it does, he will sign it,” stated White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

A tropical storm called the Pineapple Express pummeled the Pacific Northwest on Thursday. In drought-stricken California, flooding and mudslides prompted rare school closures in the north of the state. Powerful winds knocked out power to more than 150,000 homes in Washington.

Gas prices hit a 4-year low this week, with the average price of gas in the United States sinking to $2.72 per gallon. That’s the lowest gas prices have been since November 2010. Prices are dropping due to higher North American oil production and less demand. New Mexico has the lowest gas prices at $2.38 per gallon, and San Francisco has the highest gas prices at $3.04 per gallon.

And lastly, on Wednesday, TIME Magazine chose the Ebola fighters as 2014’s Person of the Year. “They risked and persisted, sacrificed, and saved,” TIME editor Nancy Gibbs wrote.

TIME apps

See Uber Protests From Around the World

As Uber expands around the world, the rideshare service has found tough opponents in city governments, taxi drivers and even its own employees, who have faulted the company for deregulating an industry protected by strict laws

TIME technology

Photographing the White House Christmas Decorations With an iPhone 6

White House photographer Brooks Kraft used his iPhone to document this year's Christmas decorations at the presidential residence

Photographer Brooks Kraft has been covering the White House since 2000, and over the years, he’s had plenty of opportunities to document the unveiling of Christmas decorations at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This year, however, he decided to mix things up a bit — and shot the event with Apple’s new iPhone 6.

“I’ve covered this event about 10 times before,” he told TIME. “It’s a very light event, obviously, and the president is not even there. So there’s no real, intrinsic news value, which is a good opportunity to try out new gear that I might use later in more news-oriented environments.”

The unveiling also offers Kraft and other journalists the rare opportunity to walk freely around the grounds of the presidential residence, “which,” he notes, “you normally don’t get to do.”

With his mind set on getting a different sort of imagery than in previous years, Kraft chose to shoot in the square format with an iPhone 6 Plus. “I thought that format would work well with the formality of the architecture in the White House, and it was a different way to look at this event — compositionally.”

The results, he feels, were good. “There are a lot of mixed lights in these rooms and there’s also [natural] light, and the new iPhones do a really good job of balancing colors right out of the camera. Kraft also likes to shoot with an iPhone because it allows him to work rapidly. “The iPhone has a lot of depth-of-field, which allows me to shoot the [picture] and move around quickly, which worked in this situation because we were sort of ushered through the rooms and didn’t have a lot of time. I wanted to photograph most of the spaces with few people in them, so the window of opportunity in which to shoot was brief.”

Kraft uses both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, but in this case, he wanted to test the larger model’s new image stabilization technology, which is supposed to help in low-light situations. “Some of the rooms are quite dark, and I used the 6 Plus for that. And the larger screen also helps. There were situations when I was holding the camera above my head to try to make vertical lines more parallel on the edges of the frame, and in that case having the larger screen helped me [compose the shot].”

Kraft says the iPhone won’t replace his professional DSLR. “I look at the iPhone as another piece of equipment. But the majority of my professional work is shot on a DSLR.” Nevertheless, the iPhone can help in certain situations. “I notice that people just don’t react the same way [when you’re using an iPhone]. If you are looking to capture something candid, people are so used to seeing mobile devices that their reaction time is slower. You have a better chance of getting the shot, and that was the case at the White House.”

Brooks Kraft’s five tips for shooting with an iPhone:

  1. Make sure you get the best exposure you can when you’re shooting, because it’s pretty hard to correct a bad exposure on the phone. It’s worth taking the extra minute to get it right.
  2. Don’t use the flash. With steady hands, the iPhone is frequently capable of capturing images in low light situations, and the results often look better then with the flash. But in some cases, you don’t have a choice.
  3. Don’t use the zoom function because it’s not an optical zoom. It’s just blowing up the pixels you have.
  4. Pay attention to the image settings of the app you’re using to photograph. Some will downsize your files. I use the native camera app because I’m sure to have a clean, maximum resolution file that I can go back to.
  5. Think about what you do with your images once you’ve shot them. There’s a tendency when you’re using a mobile device to let your images sit there instead of organizing them, archiving them or printing them. I really think that when people look back at their visual histories, they [might find big gaps in their archives].

Brooks Kraft is a freelance photographer based in Washington D.C. and a regular contributor to TIME.

Marisa Schwartz, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

TIME China

Obama Issues a Warning Over Xi Jinping’s Growing Power

President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a press conference at the Great Hall of People on Nov. 12, 2014 in Beijing.
President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a press conference at the Great Hall of People on Nov. 12, 2014 in Beijing. Feng Li—Getty Images

The Chinese President worries his neighbors with his fierce nationalism, Obama says

U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday gave a stern assessment of what he called Chinese President Xi Jinping’s quick consolidation of power, expressing worries about China’s dubious human rights record and insistent nationalism.

Obama told members of the Business Roundtable in Washington that the Chinese President “has consolidated power faster and more comprehensively than probably anybody since Deng Xiaoping,” referring to the Chinese leader who succeeded Mao Zedong in 1978, Reuters reports.

“Everybody’s been impressed by [Xi’s] clout inside of China after only a year and a half or two years,” he said. A recent TIME cover described the leader of the world’s most populous nation as an “emperor” and opined that he would be China’s most consequential leader since Deng.

Yet that clout, Obama said, has been put to regressive uses, including the enactment of policies that suppress dissent and harm human rights, as well as encourage a fierce “nationalism that worries his [Xi’s] neighbors.” Despite a highly publicized anti-corruption drive, China has also backslid 20 places to #100 on the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, a Berlin-based watchdog’s well-respected ranking of countries by transparency.

Still, Obama added that Xi appears to be sincere in his wish for “good relations” with the United States. Obama traveled to Beijing last month to meet the Chinese president and attend the APEC summit, where the two leaders announced a blockbuster deal on addressing climate change. Obama told the roundtable that American businesses in China should speak up if they feel “strong-armed” by Chinese authorities on various issues, even if doing so jeopardizes their success in the Chinese market.

The Obama administration always walks a fine line between courting a cooperative relationship with China and critiquing the nation’s attitude toward human rights. It has found doing so all the harder in recent months, as the central government in Beijing and protesters in Hong Kong remain deeply opposed over the future of China’s most open city.

Xi’s government in Beijing says it has the right to vet candidates for Hong Kong’s top leadership role, an election plan that Hong Kong protesters say flouts democratic principles. China’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, has accused the U.S. of being involved in Hong Kong’s so-called Umbrella Revolution, which erupted in protest over Beijing’s restrictions on candidacy.

The U.S. has said that it supports a “meaningful” choice of candidates for Hong Kong voters, but denies any involvement in the protests that have been going on for 68 days.

Obama told the Chinese president at APEC that the U.S. will “consistently speak out on the right of people to express themselves” and support elections in Hong Kong that are “transparent and fair and reflective of the opinions of people there.” Xi has stressed that the conflict is a domestic affair on which the U.S. should not have an opinion.

TIME europe

U.S. Envoy Blasts Kremlin Ahead of NATO Meeting

BELGIUM-NATO-UKRAINE-RUSSIA-AFGHANISTAN
US Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute gives a press conference on Dec. 1, 2014, at the organization's headquarters in Brussels. John Thys—AFP/Getty Images

The war of words between the Western military alliance and Moscow heated up ahead of a NATO gathering in Brussels on Tuesday

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute accused the Russian military on Monday of engaging in irresponsible aerial maneuvers that put civilian aircraft in unnecessary danger.

The envoy’s remarks follow the alliance’s public announcement in late October that accused the Russian military of conducting an unprecedented number of unannounced aerial forays into Europe’s skies. NATO says it has scrambled its own aircraft over 400 times in response to Russian incursions this year — a more than 50% increase than the total number during 2013.

“These Russian actions are irresponsible, pose a threat to civilian aviation and demonstrate that Russia is flagrantly violating international norms,” said Lute during a press conference in Brussels ahead of a NATO foreign ministers meeting on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

NATO says Russian forces have repeatedly refused to submit flight plans to civilian air traffic control stations when flying exercises and, in multiple instances, have flown with their transponders turned off.

The Kremlin’s alleged indifference toward civilian aviation procedures is seen as particularly concerning to NATO members following Washington’s insistence that a Russian-supplied weapons system was responsible for downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in southeastern Ukraine this summer. Russia vehemently denies responsibility.

As relations between Moscow and the alliance continue to sour, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg boasted on Monday of the organization’s increased presence in Eastern Europe.

This year has been one of “aggression, crisis and conflict. But NATO stands strong,” said Stoltenberg during a press conference. “Russia’s aggressive actions have undermined Euro-Atlantic security.”

Meanwhile, the Kremlin unleashed its own criticisms of NATO and panned the alliance for destabilizing northern Europe and the Baltics.

“They are trying to shake up the most stable region in the world, which is Europe’s north,” Alexei Meshkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, told his nation’s Interfax news agency. “Those endless military exercises, rebasing of aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons to the Baltic nations. This is the reality, a very negative one.”

NATO has been steadily increasing its defensive capabilities in Eastern Europe following Russia’s forceful annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in March. In September, the alliance unveiled plans to build a new expeditionary outfit that would be able to “travel light but strike hard if needed.” On Monday, NATO’s secretary general said he expected the “spearhead force” to be ready by 2016.

TIME Ukraine

Russia Wants a ‘100% Guarantee’ That Ukraine Won’t Join NATO

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with members of the All-Russia Popular Front in Moscow on Nov. 18, 2014 Alexei Druzhinin—AP

Comment's come as NATO's secretary-general accuses Kremlin of "destabilizing" Ukraine

A top adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that the Kremlin wants “a 100% guarantee” that Ukraine will be prevented from joining NATO.

Dmitri Peskov told the BBC that NATO’s eastward expansion continued to make Russia “nervous.” His comments echoed similar tough talk coming from President Putin, who promised a crowd attending a forum in Moscow on Tuesday that Russia would never be subdued by Washington.

“Throughout history no one has ever managed to do so toward Russia — and no one ever will,” RT quoted Putin as saying.

Putin’s remarks came as NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg accused the Russian leadership of “destabilizing” Ukraine and breaking a two-month-old truce by continuing to support separatist forces fighting in the country’s southeast.

“We see the movement of troops, of equipment, of tanks, of artillery, of advance air-defense systems, and this is in violation of the cease-fire agreements,” said Stoltenberg, after arriving at the European Union headquarters in Brussels. “We call on Russia to pull back its forces from eastern Ukraine and to respect the Minsk Agreements.”

The alliance, along with independent monitors, has issued numerous reports during the past two weeks claiming that the Russian military is moving armored columns across the border into Ukraine, where rebel militias have been shelling strategic locations in the war-torn Donbass region on a daily basis.

In Moscow on Tuesday, Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned during a press conference that there was no end in sight to the conflict in Ukraine unless all parties to the Minsk accord stuck to the cease-fire.

“There are no grounds for optimism in the current situation,” Steinmeier told reporters, according to Agence France-Presse.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel struck an even harsher tone — labeling Russia’s incursions into Ukraine as “dangerous and irresponsible.”

“The violations of sovereignty and international law that the Russians have perpetuated continue to require responses,” said Hagel, adding that the U.S. has begun working with NATO “in shifting our entire rotational rapid deployment focus.”

But as politicians verbally spar over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the humanitarian disaster inside the country continues unabated. Last week, the U.N.’s refugee agency, UNHCR, warned that Europe was facing its largest displacement crisis in more than two decades as winter arrives.

“By October, UNHCR estimated that more than 800,000 people have been displaced, representing the largest displacement of people in Europe since the Balkan wars,” read a statement released by the U.N. “It is the latest refugee crisis in a year that has seen several, and is stretching resources thin.”

Read next: Putin’s Loss of German Trust Seals the West’s Isolation of Russia

TIME G20

Russian Incursions Into Ukraine Will Loom Large at the G-20 Summit

Putin looks back at Obama as they arrive with Xi Jinping at APEC Summit plenary session in Beijing
Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, looks back at U.S. President Barack Obama, left, as they arrive with Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit plenary session in Beijing on Nov. 11, 2014 Reuters

Talks about the global economy may well be overshadowed

Leaders from across the world are set to gather in Australia for the G-20 summit this weekend to discuss the health of the global economy; however, tensions between the White House and the Kremlin over Russian incursions into southeastern Ukraine are casting a long shadow over the forum.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told media that “the focus of this G-20 is growth and jobs,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported. However, White House officials say they’re ready to press the Ukraine issue with European leaders once President Barack Obama arrives in Brisbane.

“At the G-20, I imagine the President will have a chance to see his European counterparts — Chancellor [Angela] Merkel and others — and be able to have discussions on the margins there about the situation in Ukraine,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Burma on Thursday.

During the past week, the Obama Administration has been particularly strident in its criticism of Russia’s fresh forays into Ukraine. At a U.N. Security Council session earlier this week, U.S. envoy Samantha Power accused Moscow of systematically undermining a two-month-old peace accord between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels.

Power’s comments followed the publication of numerous reports from European monitors confirming the movement of unmarked, heavily armed columns in separatist-held territory this week, sparking fresh fears that Russia may be helping the rebels prepare for all out conflict with Kiev.

Experts say that Russian support for the separatists shows no sign of abating, even as falling oil prices and Western sanctions continue to pummel the country’s floundering economy.

“Putin’s aggression seems to just to keep on getting greater and greater,” says John Besemeres, a professor and adjunct fellow at the Australian National University’s Center for European Studies. “This is strange behavior from someone who wants to get sanctions lifted.”

But even as Washington and Moscow continue to trade barbs over Ukraine, Putin may be privy to a harsher welcome from the Australian public. The G-20 summit in Brisbane will mark the first time President Vladimir Putin has visited Australia since the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which killed nearly 300 people including 38 Australians.

Anger continues to simmer throughout the country over Russia’s alleged role in providing rebel forces with the sophisticated weapons system that shot down the jet, even though Moscow has denied having a hand in the downing of the flight.

In September, Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten issued several calls to ban Putin from attending the summit. Online petitions have also echoed the demand. Last month, Prime Minister Abbott threatened to “shirt-front” Putin when he saw the Russian leader at the G-20, using a term from the Australian football code that refers to the illegal making of a head-on charge to bring an opponent to the ground.

“There is public anger about that issue. That public anger hasn’t entirely gone away,” Rory Medcalf, security-program director at Australian think tank the Lowy Institute, tells TIME.

During a question-and-answer session with reporters in Canberra, Abbott called on Moscow “to come clean and to atone” for its alleged role in the downing of MH17. Keeping the agenda focused on jobs and not on Russia is going to be a tough call.

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