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Obama Takes An Epic Vacation To Recharge For Future Political Battles

(Reuters) – Former U.S. president Barack Obama is trying some new and dangerous water sports that the Hawaii native had to miss out on for safety reasons while serving in the White House.

Obama, whose eight years as president ended last month when he was succeeded by Donald Trump, learned to kiteboard while vacationing last week on a Caribbean island owned by British billionaire and adventurer Sir Richard Branson, who published an account of their trip on Tuesday.

Photographs and video on the website of Branson’s Virgin Group show the former president, a life-long surfer, figuring out the increasingly popular sport in which people ride a board while being pulled behind a kite.

“Being the former president of America, there was lots of security around, but Barack was able to really relax and get into it,” Branson wrote.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, were spotted last week in the British Virgin Islands, and people posted photos of them on social media. Branson owns 120-acre (48-hectare) Moskito Island, which is part of the archipelago.

Kiteboarding was chosen in 2012 as a sport for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, replacing windsurfing. The decision was criticized at the time because the sport can be lethal, and it was reversed within months.

According to Branson, Obama studied the pastime for two days and flew a kite from the beach, “as if going back to being a child again,” before heading out into the waves.

Branson was trying to learn a similar sport, foilboarding, which uses a modified board that rises a few feet above the water. He wrote that he challenged the ex-president over which of them would succeed first.

Obama triumphed, he said, by kiteboarding for 100 meters (328 feet).

“After all he has done for the world, I couldn’t begrudge him his well-deserved win,” Branson wrote.

(Reporting by David Ingram in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Frances Kerry)

IMAGE: Obama sits on a boat during a kite surfing outing with British businessman Richard Branson during his holiday on Branson’s Moskito island, in the British Virgin Islands. Jack Brockway/Virgin Handout via REUTERS

President Trump Threatens U.C. Berkeley After Protests Stop Far-Right Speech

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump threatened on Thursday to cut funding to the University of California at Berkeley after protesters smashed windows and set fires at the liberal-leaning school, forcing the cancellation of an appearance by a far-right Breitbart editor.

“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” Trump wrote on Twitter at 6:13 a.m. EST (1113 GMT). He did not elaborate.

Representatives for the university, which has 38,000 students and a long history of activism, could not immediately be reached for comment outside of the school’s business hours.

Like other major U.S. research universities, Berkeley depends on federal agencies for scientific grants and other support. It was not immediately clear, however, what action Trump could take without authorization from Congress, or without risking legal action.

Trump’s chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon, previously headed Breitbart News.

Hours before Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos was to give a speech at Berkeley’s student union on Wednesday, hundreds of protesters clashed with police at the campus.

Demonstrators tossed metal barricades and rocks through the building’s windows and set a generator on fire near the entrance, footage from news outlets showed. Police ordered the crowds to disperse, and the school was put on lockdown.

“We shut down the event,” one protester told CNN. “It was great. Mission accomplished.”

In a statement, the university blamed about 150 “masked agitators” for the violence during the otherwise mostly peaceful demonstration by about 1,500 people.

The school “is proud of its history and legacy as home of the free speech movement” in the 1960s, the statement said.

Many of the protesters voiced opposition to Trump, CNN reported. The president’s executive orders and proposed policies, including his suspension of the U.S. refugee program and temporary ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, have triggered largely peaceful demonstrations by tens of thousands of people across the United States.

Yiannopoulos, whose Twitter account was suspended last year after he was accused of participating in the online harassment of a black actor, told Fox News he was rushed to safety by his security guards and police after protesters began throwing rocks.

“Obviously it’s a liberal campus so they hate any libertarians or conservatives who dare to express an opinion on their campuses,” he said. “They particularly don’t like me.”

(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lisa Von Ahn)

IMAGE: Police officers prepare to deploy a skirmish line after a student protest turned violent at UC Berkeley during a demonstration over right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos, who was forced to cancel his talk, in Berkeley, California, U.S., February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

New York Governor Calls For Amending State Constitution To Protect Abortion Rights

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday he would seek to ensure that women have access to late-term abortions in the state even if conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court remove federal legal guarantees in place since the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

Cuomo, a Democrat who is considered a potential candidate for his party’s 2020 presidential nomination, proposed an amendment to the New York Constitution that he said would preserve the status quo regardless of future Supreme Court rulings.

President Donald Trump, the Republican who took office on Jan. 20, plans to announce a nominee to the Supreme Court on Tuesday. That person, if confirmed, is expected to restore the court’s conservative majority after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.

The high court ruled four decades ago that the U.S. Constitution protects the right of a woman to have an abortion until the point of viability.

The court defined that as when the fetus “has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb,” generally at about 24 weeks into pregnancy.

The court also recognized a right to abortion after viability if necessary to protect the woman’s life or health.

If the Supreme Court were to overrule Roe v. Wade, as abortion opponents have long hoped, the procedure would remain legal only where state laws allow it.

In New York, a state law that dates to 1970 legalized abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, and afterward only if the woman’s life is at stake, with no exception for health. The law is not enforced, but could be if Roe v. Wade were overruled, abortion advocates say.

The state’s law was “revolutionary back in the day because it legalized abortion before Roe v. Wade, but is now unchanged,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in an interview this month. “The state law is not as protective as Roe,” she said.

Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference, which opposes abortion, predicted that Cuomo’s proposal would fail.

“How many abortions are enough?” he said in a statement, noting New York’s high rate of abortions. “No one can credibly claim that access to abortion is under any threat in New York.”

There were 29.6 abortions per 1,000 women in New York in 2014, compared to 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women nationally, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit group that supports abortion rights.

Cuomo told a Planned Parenthood rally in Albany, New York, on Monday that women’s rights were under attack in Washington.

“As they threaten this nation with a possible Supreme Court nominee who will reverse Roe v. Wade,” Cuomo said, according to a transcript provided by his office. “We’re going to protect Roe v. Wade in the State of New York.”

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a legal opinion in September making clear that federal court rulings supersede the state’s 1970 law.

For a constitutional amendment to succeed in New York, majorities in the legislature must approve it twice, in successive terms, and voters must approve it.

Republicans control the New York Senate, although it is possible some Republicans might support such an amendment if pressured by constituents who favor abortion rights, said Costas Panagopoulos, a political scientist at New York’s Fordham University.

Opposition to Trump may galvanize liberals into being aggressive, Panagopoulos said.

“People are scared, and that might compel them to action in a way that different circumstances might have them sitting on the sidelines,” he said.

For years, states have planned for a day when the Supreme Court might overrule Roe v. Wade. Some 19 states have laws that could restrict abortion in that event, while seven have laws that would still guarantee the right to an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

(Reporting by David Ingram; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Frank McGurty and David Gregorio)

IMAGE: Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, speaks to members of the press at Trump Tower in New York City, U.S. January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith